Sometime during 2018, in an auction room on viewing day, a piece of furniture caught my eye and for a moment there wasn’t another piece in the room. In fact at that precise moment there wasn’t another piece of furniture on the planet that I was faintly aware of. More interesting and more shocking to me was that the object was everything I’d trained my eye to ignore. Three-legged tables, or to use their vernacular term, cricket tables, have been on my radar and my bench ever since.
To begin with I should point out that cricket tables weren’t made to an existing plan by people who read the classics, let alone understood the principles of composition through an elaborate and arguably questionable formula. Instead, they were made by people in tune with something far less esoteric, something earthly and perhaps even divine: necessity and ingenuity. Fibonacci might be the talisman of choice for accountants, but that the extrapolation of number sequences that suggest a golden ratio can and should be used to design anything is, to my mind, unimaginative and restrictive to the point of being just plain dull. I know, I know, statements like this are bound to ruffle a few feathers – but just for a second consider the value of a system where perfection is the benchmark of success and eventually you’ll see that it’s neither precise or workable.
The dozen or so examples of cricket tables I’ve made to date have been either replicas of period pieces or interpretations of the form, and they’re helping me to understand what I enjoy most about this style of work. It’s required me to let go of a lot of concepts that were hard-wired into my methodology from an early age. Of course it’s therapy – I know that, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed that I’m both patient and therapist – but the results are still valid. For example, I’ve hit upon a few principles that nearly always lead me towards producing tables that appear slightly squat. I’m also at the point where I can predict a relatively harmonious blend of ratio and proportion, but thankfully still light years away from anything like perfection. In short, I guess I’m learning to embrace a process where mistakes are more valuable than perfection.
Maybe a year into experimenting with two basic designs I figured the information might be of interest to other makers, so I kept notes with the view of one day publishing them. I’m excited to say that day, sometime in the future but hopefully not light years away, will happen through Lost Art Press.
The core content shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that’s familiar with the LAP back catalogue. It’s aimed at encouraging you to engage with concepts involving furniture that might at first appear awkward, unfamiliar and difficult to reproduce. Cricket tables range from the most basic stick variety to complex joined examples that can only be resolved when you’ve broken free of 90° and square. I’ll talk a lot about techniques and the transition of one form to another, and of course I’ll offer my explanation for how cricket tables got their name. Spoiler alert – the gentle thwack of leather against willow doesn’t feature in the soundtrack to this story.
Q: I have a question about using a handplane to make a spring joint.
I am using a No. 8 Stanley that I reconditioned, meaning that I flattened the bottom as best I could on float glass and sandpaper and installed a new Hock blade sharpened straight. I am using it to make a joint 7′ long for a dining room tabletop. I am using my No. 8 because it is the widest plane I have and the top is 1-1/8″ making the edge 2-1/4″ wide when folded over.
My question is why does it feel like I am hitting and missing along the length of the cut? I apply all the pressure I can on the knob at the beginning and on the tote at the end of the pass. To make the gap in the middle, I take a short cut in the middle, then a slightly longer cut in the middle, then another etc. But every pass, the plane cuts in some places along the length and not in others. Some hits and misses are approximately in the same places, but not always. Also, even though I apply pressure in the beginning, I usually get a couple of inches of a gap, maybe 0.003″, along the start of the joint instead of being tight there when the boards are stacked before clamping. Clamping does not close the gap.
I have made two passable joints out of the five I need to make, and they took several tries, so I am a little frustrated. I think I have read every article in Fine Woodworking, Popular Woodworking and Woodwork on spring joints, but there they are making short joints.
A: Without watching you work and seeing the edges in person, it’s difficult to diagnose the problem…but know that a perfect 7′-long glue joint by hand would be difficult for me, too. That’s a big one.
My best guesses, however, are: • You are applying a LOT of pressure at the beginning of the cut but not as much pressure as you move farther onto the edge, then a LOT of pressure again at the end. That’s a pretty common problem, because one thinks about transferring pressure at the beginning and end when part of the plane sole is off the board, but in the middle, not as much. So concentrate on keeping constant pressure through the whole cut.
• And if you haven’t attempted it already, clamp the two board together tightly, but in opposite directions, i.e. match planing. If you can plane them together well, minor errors can cancel each other out. (I find a long match-planing job pretty difficult, though, FWIW.)
Looks like I better start brushing up on my cephalopod language skills.
The bad news: Shortages of cotton cloth for the cover made us change course in the manufacturing process three times. We were finally able to get a good supply of a new brand of cotton cloth shipped to the printing plant. And, after delay because of Southern snowfall, the books are now being packed up in Tennessee to travel to our Indiana warehouse.
The good news: The book is gorgeous. We were able to get a couple of advance copies today to check some specs. I think you will love it when you receive it. The original book used graph paper for the book’s endsheets, which we reproduced. And we were even able to squeeze in some cute contrasting headbands on the book’s spine.
We also used stochastic printing to sharpen up the printing, plus a super-white paper to make the text easier to read. This was a stupid amount of work for a $13 book, but “stupid amount of work” was my nickname in high school.
Thank you for your patience. It won’t be long now.
This is a problem that faces every man who does woodwork. Provision has to be made for keeping tools so that they are out of harm’s way, for nothing is worse than a bench littered with tools piled one on top of the other. At the same time they must be easily to hand when needed. At the outset it should be realised that a distinction has to be made between tools in everyday use and those used only occasionally. It is of no use to keep, say, a hammer in a drawer or cupboard which has to be opened every time the tool is needed. The usual way is to keep it in the well or trough of the bench where it is always to hand yet does not interfere with items placed on the bench top. Much the same thing applies to pincers, chisels, screwdrivers, etc., though these are not normally kept in the trough but rather in a simple rack.
It is interesting to see what used to happen in professional workshops. A nail in the wall was invariably all that was used for such items as saws, and chisels, pincers, and so on were held in the simplest of racks fixed to the wall with a screw at each end; cramps were hung over a batten projecting from the wall or fixed to a convenient beam. Altogether a primitive yet effective method. On the other hand his more delicate tools such as the shoulder plane, compass plane, plough, etc. he usually kept in his tool chest in a special drawer or compartment. The everyday, more robust items he put in a drawer beneath the bench.
The reason for this rather crude arrangement for tools was twofold. First, there was frequently nothing permanent about a man’s job. He might be taken on and put off again in quite a short time. Secondly, he would certainly not be allowed to spend time in making any special tool rack arrangement. Hence nothing more pretentious than the homely nail was used, and even these might already be in the wall, an inheritance from the previous incumbent.
For the man working at home a somewhat more elegant system can be devised because he is more or less permanent in his workshop and can spend as much time as he likes in making fitments. Another point is that his workshop may be just a garden shed, and nothing rusts tools quicker than hanging them on a damp wall. The nail itself will bear witness to this in a short time.
The simplest form of rack is shown at (A), Fig. 2, and is the sort widely used in a workshop. It is simply a plain batten fixed to the wall with distance pieces at the ends. If there is a convenient wood window frame to screw to this simplifies matters, but in the case of a brick wall there is an advantage in fitting a plywood or hardboard backing held on uprights as at (B). It avoids damage to chisel edges against the brickwork and it lifts the tools away from the wall. A quite good idea is to make one distance piece thicker than the other so that tools of varying size can be gripped. A 1-1/2 in. chisel has a larger handle than one of 1/4 in. size and in an equidistant rack either the big one will not go in or a small one will drop through. The tapering gap will hold both.
A fitting that has become popular is the tool clip. It is made in various forms, the simplest being fixed with a centre screw. This however needs either a wood wall or a batten screwed to the wall as at (C). It is far better to fix a batten to the wall with plugs and screw the clips to this than to attempt to plug the clips individually. The value of peg board as a means of display has also caused a new form of clip to be devised which can be entered from the front. This has a cranked centre rod which is passed through the hole and held by tightening a nut as at (D). Clips can therefore be fixed through any convenient holes to suit the shape of the tool to be gripped.
To hold a saw to the wall the simple nail is effective enough, but the handle is liable to become damaged with continued use. The better fixing is that at (E) in which the front thin piece (ply or hardboard) will pass easily through the hole in the handle. At the back the distance piece (slightly thicker than the handle) is narrower so that the handle drops down after being passed over. In some cases it is an advantage to have a front piece pivoted on a screw (F). This has only to be turned when the saw is slipped over.
Planes can be stored in various ways. When there is space for the plane to be in a horizontal position it can rest on a pad of cotton wool kept lightly oiled, or a thin crosspiece can be fitted to one end of the shelf to raise the cutter from the floor as at (G). It is generally recommended that the plane does not lie flat, though the writer has never found any harm in it providing the wood on which it rests is not damp.
Sometimes there is room at the end of the bench for a plane rack to be made as at (H). Alternatively the rack could be fixed to a wall or cupboard side. Another system is that at (I) in which the plane is pushed up at the top, passed inwards, and lowered. There must be clearance at the top for this, but the front lip must be wide enough to prevent the plane from falling outwards.
Those who do wood turning will find the rack at (J) useful. The tools face opposite ways alternately as in this way they occupy less space. The notched uprights are shaped accordingly. At the bottom can be a trough in which other items can be kept, spanners, tommy bar, chucks, centres, odd scraping tools, etc.
Various racks can be made as at (K) to hold small tools; bradawls, punches, marking awl, files, and so on. The rack can either stand on a shelf as shown, or be made with end brackets (L) if to be fixed to a wall. The same idea is useful to hold boring bits as at (M), or for router cutters.
Cramps can be conveniently kept on a narrow shelf with brackets as at (N), being lightly tightened to hold them in position.
All of these suggestions can be separate items fixed to the wall and left open—at any rate in a dry workshop. For those who have the space, however, there is an advantage in having fitments with enclosing doors providing that there is space for these to remain open when work is in progress. In fact an excellent idea is to have a cabinet in which the upper part at least has built-out doors which can be fitted with shelves, racks, etc. The entire thing is then exposed and no time is lost in seeking tools and (equally important) putting them away when finished with.
I wrote a little bit about this new book in December, but it deserves a lot more ink as it has been a near-constant companion since I received it.
“Irish Country Furniture and Furnishings 1700-2000” (Cork University Press) by Claudia Kinmonth is a complete update to her 1993 book with a similar title. That 1993 book became difficult to find at a sensible price, and so this new version is most welcome.
If you have any interest in traditional crafts, furniture or utensils, you will love this book. It is filled with hundreds of full-color photos of beds, spoons, stools, chairs, settles and dressers. But it is not merely a picture book. Kinmonth’s sharp text puts the pieces in context using historical records, poems, historical illustrations, paintings and vintage photos of Irish interiors.
So much of this wonderful historical stuff has disappeared in Ireland. Old pieces were discarded for modern steel and linoleum. Many of the traditional cottages have disappeared. And the people who made them left Ireland in waves (many of them settling here in the United States). This Irish history is an important part of America’s history, as so many of us have Irish blood.
Last year, Lucy and I toured Ireland for a week and spent most of our time exploring museums and places that specialized in the decorative arts. So there are some familiar pieces in this book. But Kinmonth has uncovered many new finds. Things you’ll never see on the Internet.
That trip filled my sketchbook with drawings of vernacular pieces, everything from settles that convert to a bed to Sugan chairs to mealbins. This book supplied even more gorgeous examples for inspiration.
Also important to note: as a physical object the book is nice. The interior is printed on a quality, bright, coated paper. The signatures are sewn for durability. And the cloth-covered boards are wrapped with a dust jacket. It is absolutely worth the retail price.