Designing with Chalk - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Designing with Chalk

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Roubo-iterationYou may recall that a few months ago, I tore out my old kitchen and built new cabinets, installed a new floor, a farmhouse sink, etc. etc. But once everything was fully functional, well, I moved on to more pressing things. (I still need to finish the backsplash, the door thresholds, the toe kicks…)

But it’s been bugging me to not have the small island built (because that will also serve as my kitchen table; for months, I’ve had to – gasp – eat in the dining room); I finally got around to buying the lumber at the end of August, and er, it’s been acclimating in the shop since. (It was already dry; it’s been sitting in a stack at Midwest Woodworking for nigh on 50 years, I think.)

Today, I got started on the build by surfacing the walnut intended for the top. And in the midst of that work, I revised my plans. I think.

Th4widthe table/lsland SketchUp model above was what I thought I was making when I drove to the shop this morning, but the wood seems to have other plans for me. Instead of a 3″-thick top and legs, the 2″-thick rough walnut I had cleaned up to about 1-3/4″ – and  I think it looks substantial enough to use at that thickness, rather than rip it to 3″ strips and glue up a top from many pieces. The grain looks pretty sweet, and I don’t need an actual Roubo workbench in the kitchen

So from one board glued up down the center, I’ll able to get the 22-1/2″ wide top I want, and without any white wood –  take away that white 1/2″ in the center, then a 1/2″ from either edge, and I’ll have a nice walnut tabletop.

So now I’m rethinking the legs and joinery, though the original plan would still work, as long as I make the legs a little less beefy.

The biggest challenge with the build has nothing to do with construction. It’s designing a piece to meet my needs and fit the space. It has to fit to the wall at the narrow end between and door and window, have clearance and airflow at the bottom for the heating duct in the floor, not stick too far out into the center of the room, allow for a shelf for a microwave, and have space at which to eat.

So, with the lumber surfaced I drew it out. SketchUp is a powerful tool and I do use it, but seeing the chalk on the wood really helps me visualize more clearly. I located the rear legs joints allowing 4″ at the far end to clear the window sill, then moved forward 24″ for the front legs (the microwave needs 22″ of clearance; there’s a dotted line indicating it’s eventual under-the-top location). Then I chalked in place settings for two. Mine’s the smaller one. Who the larger one is for is still to be determined (not the cats; they aren’t allowed on tables).

3overallTomorrow, if nothing else gets in the way of it, I’ll head to the shop to get the top glued up, then get started on the legs and joinery.

— Megan Fitzpatrick

p.s. I already found the stools I’ll buy (if I don’t make my own). Check out the copper wedges – very cool.





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Showing 18 comments
  • amoscalie

    Love the walnut top, I have always liked working with walnut, if nothing more then the aroma. It definitely going to be too nice to use as a workbench.

  • Michael Crow

    I like the pragmatic approach to design here, but is it too late to suggest a variation on the Gamble House kitchen cart as an alternative to the Roubo?

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      Not too late at all. I’m rethinking it now, given my thinner top. Leaning toward something more like a library table. (The G&G kitchen cart doesn’t fulfill all the functions I need, though)

      • Michael Crow

        Omit the large drawer in favor of a slot for a microwave, or do the single column layout as in your original design, and it could meet your needs.

        • Megan Fitzpatrick
          Megan Fitzpatrick

          And extend the top on one end. (I’m determined to have room my knees under it!)

  • tpobrienjr

    The chalk place settings suggest a nice design for an inlay.

  • Fraise

    Isn’t this the way home built tables work in the real world? Find/size the right top, then figure out the support after? It’s going to be great. I often do crazy stuff with drawing out too. My wife thinks I’m nuts.

  • Tom

    What a great looking piece for an island! Personally, I like the sapwood left on. All too often the sapwood is steamed out to blend with the heartwood. Most commercially available walnut doesn’t have the contrasting sapwood. I also thought you would set the seating (i.e. place settings) at the ends of the island where you can have more knee room/ overhang as in the sketch-up model.

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      On one end, yes – the other end is against a wall and next to a door and window. So there’s really only room for two (which is fine, because in reality, I need room only for one)

    • corgicoupe

      I agree with Tom. Don’t bother to remove all the sapwood; it adds a bit of variety to the walnut top. This is a hand-made kitchen table, not a formal dining room table.

      • Megan Fitzpatrick
        Megan Fitzpatrick

        Well I have to remove something, or it won’t fit!

  • rootertooter

    love the stools, but build them yourself, now for the art work, I like it, Just build it like now. please…

    • corgicoupe

      I, too, like the Scout Tall Stool. I wonder what it would cost to have a low back installed on them; It would only need to be a 90 degree arc.

  • tms

    Hey Megan,
    That top looks like a perfect candidate for a trestle. If it were mine, I’d do a version with tusk tenons.
    Trestles are great for crowded tables with lots of human legs under them.

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      But for the need for a shelf (possibly two) underneath, I’d concur.

      You have, however, put in my head the idea of a modified library table…flat “trestle” (aka shelf) to connect two uprights…Hmmm…

      • hmerkle

        Shelves – O.K. but no cabinets under the workbench (I heard someone say that a couple thousand times) 🙂

        The stools – invite Bob, Glen and Chuck over (make sure to have a little (lot) of beer, some wood and viola! seating for four! (Crowd-source!)

  • pmac

    That will be beautiful top. I’d lose the through tenons and dovetail and just screw the top to the base. You’ve already said you don’t need a Roubo in the kitchen.

    Also, wish i could have made it to Midwest.

    • Roger

      I agree with the through tenons. Now that you’ve made the top thinner, I don’t think the tenon/dovetail would be as good a detail.
      I also agree the top is beautiful. It will be an excellent custom piece.

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