Thursday, October 27, 2011

Italian Empire Dining Table Project

We are still working on projects in these difficult times, but two things have changed. We are accepting more diverse types of jobs these days, like gilding, sharkskin/parchment, upholstery, etc. And we are not able to produce the continuous flow of work we had previously enjoyed for several decades.

In the past we normally had a minimum of 6 months backlog of good work sitting in the shop. At the same time we were putting jobs out the front door, new work was being bid and brought in the back. Therefore, we could work full time and never see the end of the work. The importance of this backlog of quality work, properly bid, meant that I could continue to bid new jobs at the best price.

It also meant that I could bundle projects with similar activities for each week to gain maximum efficiency. One week might be spent hand sanding all jobs that were at that stage. The next week the shop could be cleaned and all those projects would begin the finishing operation. After that, I could spend a week upholstering, since the shop was clean. In a small, two man shop with not a lot of space, this method of processing the work was very profitable.

These days we still have work, but the backlog is down to 6 weeks instead of 6 months. Also, we do not have the quantity of similar jobs, since we are accepting more diverse projects, and it is difficult to do the same activity for a full week. The result of this is that the shop needs to be reset more frequently during the week for each type of project. Much less efficient.

At the same time, a large project, which was not a problem in the past, can completely block the flow of work.

We are building a large Italian Empire Table and matching chairs for a client. It has taken us longer than we estimated, and the client has been patient. (Note the recent post: It Always Takes Longer...) Although it has been in pieces all over the shop for several months, we can easily visualize it in our minds. The client, however, can only look at the parts laying here and there and wonder if we know what we are doing.

Lately, the parts have been coming together. The bases are nearly assembled, the gold bronze mounts will be shipped from Paris next week, and the top is completed and sanded, ready for the polishing to begin.

The top has been on my workbench for the past month. You can imagine how that has interrupted my work space. It takes two men just to move it, so I cannot do it alone. It has been completely fabricated using only hand tools. All the joints were made with hand planes and the top and back of the top were surfaced using a sequence of hand planing and sanding methods.

The single mahogany board was cut into four pieces and the edge was cut in for the Greek key using a basic old fashioned router. Not the router you plug into the wall, but a chisel mounted vertically in a piece of wood, set to a 2mm depth. Using this tool around the top, I was able to remove all the wood evenly for the Greek key to fit flush with the solid top. Then I added a solid mahogany edge to protect the veneer from damage.

The reason I started this post talking about the flow of work is that I need to make several dovetailed drawers and I hope to have this Empire table off my workbench and on its own base soon. I miss my workbench; I haven's seen it for a month!


Anonymous said...

Simply beautiful...How is the top going to be finished?

W. Patrick Edwards said...

Patrice and I will start filling the pores this weekend and then begin the process of French polishing it, which will take some time.

We do not recommend using a French polish on dining table tops normally, but this client wants to just look at the table. Some clients never eat at home.

There are so many great restaurants...

Anonymous said...

That's what I was thinking that a French polish wouldn't be called for.
I know the client is the Client but since this table could be around for 500 years, way past the lifetimes of the original owners do you feel any obligation to the future owners?
I'm just asking in reference to your answer about never changing the structure of an antique that comes into your shop for repair.

Autumn said...

I enjoy your posts so much, Patrick. Thanks for keeping us updated on your project developments.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

Just a note about the polish. I understand and appreciate "original" finishes on antiques. However, I have not yet seen a valid scientific analysis that could determine that the finish is the "original" to that surface. All the papers I have reviewed on the subject only report what is the first layer of finish detected on the surface of the wood or in the pores. It is a fact that refinishers have been working as long as people have made furniture, and the scraper is the tool of choice, removing not only the finish but the top layer of wood.

Therefore, the important question is this: "Is the finish the same type of finish, both in materials and process, as the maker of the piece used?" That means that, if the maker used wax, or oil, or shellac, or varnish, then the refinisher must use the same material and method of application.

When (not if) the French polish is damaged on this table, it will be necessary for me or another finisher to repolish the surface, using the same technique. That will not devalue the table at all.

Remember, the finish protects the wood, and the wood is what we are trying to conserve.