Thursday, April 28, 2011

Greek Key

We are building a large Italian Empire Dining table for a client, along with 8 chairs. The wood we are using is genuine Honduras mahogany, which was purchased over 35 years ago.

I clearly remember buying the wood. The lumber yard at that time was downtown, in a run down industrial district, near the harbor and on the railroad line. Today the same site is the location for a tourist attraction, Seaport Village. Where I remember walking dusty isles of rich hardwood lumber, now kids are buying candy and balloons and tourists are taking pictures of the palm trees by the water.

The reason I remember that particular purchase is that the good mahogany was kept on the second level, under the skylights. The trucks could pull up in the alley and you just slid the lumber from the stack down over the edge of the walkway onto the top of the lumber rack on the truck. On this particular day another truck was in the way, so I slid the boards down on the side, leaving them standing vertical against the rail.

There was some particularly wide and figured mahogany planks in the stack, and I picked out three that looked special. When I reached the ground and turned around to examine my selection, the image of such wonderful wood, nearly 30 inches wide, a full inch thick and over 16 feet in length took my breath away. I remember the price was less than $3 a foot, and I barely had enough money to pay for it, or I would have gotten more.

Needless to say, those trees are gone and the price on similar material today approaches $20 a foot.

This table project is using the last of those boards, and the top of the table, which is 1 meter wide by 2.5 meters long is made from one piece of wood, hand planed and jointed. The picture shows it laying on its side next to my bench, waiting for the greek key banding around the top to be finished.

We needed to produce 7 meters of a complicated Greek key in sawn ebony and mahogany for the band, so we purchased a saw guide for the japanese saw that allowed us to make the elements. A total of 1,696 elements were needed to make the pattern, and the parts are sorted into a tray for assembly. We are making the band using hot glue and Kraft paper on an assembly board. One of the photos shows Patrice working with the tray, checking the design. The elements must be cut to a very high degree of accuracy or the pattern will change over the length of the table.

The use of the saw guide as well as the japanese saw made this part of the project much more efficient, and all the parts were cut out in one day. There was a lot more time spent in design and material preparation, but when it came time to saw everything worked well. Spacers were used on the jig to adjust the length of the part, and the angles were either 45 or 90 degrees.

I will let you know more about this project as we put it together.

PS: The Greek key pattern is the same pattern as you see in the Senate chambers in Congress.

PS2: Note the special veneer saw with different blades in the first photo. This saw is being manufactured by Gramercy Tools and distributed by Tools For Working Wood. It is a wonderful design and I will discuss it more later. See the link posted on this site.


TIM said...

Nice blog, Patrick. I wonder how well you like the z saw guide? Sounds like a (much) less expensive alternative to the Bridge City Jointmaker. How accurate is it? For example could you precisely cut out the pieces for a chess board top?

Hope all is well, and I hope to make it back out to you're shop in the Fall.


Tim M. (Texas)

W. Patrick Edwards said...


We purchased the saw guide for this project, after considering other options. It was the least expensive tool we could use and worked perfectly.

There was some initial set up time to adjust the wood jig for all the different dimensions. The accuracy needed to be precise. Note the metal stop in the jig for determining the length.

Since we were cutting sawn Gaboon ebony veneer the teeth on the saw quickly dulled, but continued to work well enough to complete the project.

The guide was easy to use and fairly easy to adjust. Once we were set up we cut all the elements in one day.

TIM said...

Patrick, where can one get that little gizmo, anyway?

Tim M.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

We googled "mitre saw japanese" and found the Dick saw with the "Z-saw" saw guide.