Back in April of this year, my friend Chris Schwarz wrote a post about a staked table he built. I’ll confess – my first reaction to the photo was “WTF?” – but there was something about the table’s aesthetics that intrigued me and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was as if the photo of the table begged me to stare at it longer, goading my brain to make sense of it. I should have responded with an anyeurism emoji.

I know from personal experience with some of the staked pieces in The Anarchist’s Design Book (and other similar forms) that photographs don’t express the (potential) spatial elegance of these forms very well, so I was willing to look past the picture. And as I did (I studied that photo three or four times the day I received it), the more I wanted to “riff” on Chris’ table. So I started sketching.

{"focusMode":1,"deviceTilt":0.03907515481114388,"whiteBalanceProgram":0,"macroEnabled":false,"qualityMode":3}It became clear that I had to build the thing I kind of-sort of had in my head in order to move on with life. But even after sketching, it was more of a conceptual puzzle that needed working out rather than a design. Whatever it ended up being, it apparently had the following criteria:

  1. Three legs. I thought four would resolve “too well” or too easily.
  2. Round. I wanted something to place next to my “big chair” which has a Scandinavian aesthetic that lends itself to curves. Also I thought that the roundness would help alleviate some of the M. C. Escher problems that occur when your brain has corners against which it can “register” what it’s perceiving.
  3. Funky geometry – square or round, everyone knows what an end table with equally ordered legs looks like. I wanted the legs to look like they were wrapping around a column that wasn’t there.

I would normally spend a few hours in Sketchup trying to work this out into something that would then come together in the shop. But I’ve spent the last year doing home improvement projects in plywood, particleboard and veneer and wanted to get to work immediately. So after taking some measurements of my chair, I decided to make good on my commitment to clear out my lumber rack and go straight to prototyping, knowing that the best outcome would be a failure to learn from (followed by a funeral pyre for the prototype).

{"focusMode":0,"deviceTilt":-0.07968433300522371,"whiteBalanceProgram":0,"macroEnabled":false,"qualityMode":3}As suggested in The Anarchist’s Design Book, I first made a quick model by turning a small disc and using coat hanger segments to play with angles. My goal was to get a very rough idea of the issues at play, not to faithfully represent the piece (because I had no real clue on where it was going yet). The model proved to me that the concept wasn’t completely bonkers, but also that it needed more careful consideration than banging a bunch of sticks into the bottom of a circle and calling it a day. It was clear that much of the overall design would be “derived” from a number of elements:

  • The radius between each leg and the center of the tabletop (I’ll call this the leg radius)
  • The angle between the legs and the bottom of the tabletop (I’ll call this the splay)
  • The angle of the legs from the center (I’ll call this the rotational angle)
  • The length of the legs, which would determine the proportional distance at which the legs would appear to intersect (I’ll call this the fleemkoopen stropfheimer)

Though I love incorporating curves into the things I build, I don’t work on round furniture very often, so while many of these design considerations are also present in rectangular furniture, it took my brain some time to reorient itself to working on radii off a circle’s center rather than more Cartesianally-oriented distances from edges.

I had 11” wide stock in the lumber rack so the table was going to be some multiple of that–I decided 22″. I decided to work first on a small square piece of 8/4 poplar. This would allow me several attempts at finding a good set of angles for the mortises and experiment with different ways of marking them out and drilling them. My plan was to drill the mortises and use dowels to evaluate the angles–basically a larger version of the disc-and-coat hanger model.

{"focusMode":0,"deviceTilt":-0.006697782780975103,"whiteBalanceProgram":0,"macroEnabled":false,"qualityMode":3}I failed over and over, each failure more exciting than the last. Some failures were cognitive failures (e.g. forgetting which layout line was the rotational angle) and some were construction failures (sloppy brace-and-bit handling). But after a few attempts on a couple of boards I landed at something that was close enough from a design perspective. I had also streamlined techniques for markup and drilling with a brace and auger bit.

In the end, on an 11“ square piece of poplar, I landed on:

  • A leg radius of 3–7/8”
  • A splay of 124° or 56° depending on which way you splay. (I think in conventional terms this would be 34°, measured as the acute angle between the leg and a line perpendicular to the bottom of the tabletop, but my brain won’t accept that. In this case, I want to capture the angle to which I set my bevel gauge and to also reflect that the legs point into the table, not out)
  • A rotational angle of 17°
  • A fleemkoopen stropfheimer of 18–19“ for a total table height of 21–22”

Knowing that it was going to be way easier to work on an 11″ square piece than on a large round piece, I drilled the holes with a brace and auger bit (leaving the tapered mortise for later), laminated the block to the bottom of a 22” wide, 8/4 poplar panel. I marked and cut out a rough circle, affixed a face plate and went to the lathe. While at the lathe I realized that the curve I was shooting for needed more wood than I had laminated onto the bottom of the tabletop, so I made some design compromises. Turning the top was otherwise pretty straightforward (and lots of fun!), though by the time it was all said and done I would end up taking the tabletop back to the lathe three times to refine the shape.

As for the legs, I wanted something round-ish. I’ve had an 8′ long piece of oak stair rail sitting on my back porch for over a year, and by using my Jedi powers to check off the “mount new stair rail” item in my household to do list (i.e. I convinced myself I didn’t want a new stair rail), I decided to use that for prototyping.\

{"focusMode":1,"deviceTilt":0.6824432015419006,"whiteBalanceProgram":0,"macroEnabled":false,"qualityMode":3}It was convenient in that it was mostly round and made from wood, but was a piece of crap in all other respects (namely that it was laminated in both thickness and in length). But it got used and is no longer sitting on my back porch. In any case, I started with a pretty chunky ovular design by using offset turning, but unhappy with that I put them back on the lathe and turned them to be more svelte. I then planed two sides into each leg and did some rough shaping with some spokeshaves to get them to communicate “not round, not flat”, which is what I was going for.

I dry-fit the legs into the table and decided that the crappy grain from the stair rail was drawing too much attention to the legs, making it hard to evaluate the overall form. So I charred them and that helped immensely, as did reducing the contrast of the top by giving it a quick coat of stain.

{"focusMode":1,"deviceTilt":0.2292278250071664,"whiteBalanceProgram":0,"macroEnabled":false,"qualityMode":3}After staining the top and leveling the legs, I called this first prototype done. I almost tossed it right after inserting the legs, but I’m glad I took it through a rough “coloring” process because that changed my impression of the piece significantly.




It’s very much built as a prototype–I concentrated on stuff that I wanted to resolve in the design rather than fit-and-finish or engineering. I will probably give this to a friend or burn it, but I’ll keep it around a bit and ponder my next moves.

I’ll leave my more specific opinions on the piece itself this out of this post except to say that as a prototype, it was successful. It came together quickly (maybe 5–6 hours actual build time across a few days) and allowed me to experiment and refine both form and process. Most importantly: through the process of repeatedly failing, it’s very clear to me what I want to change as I go forward.

And that is what the second prototype is for …

Many manufacturers offer cork flooring and as with any building material, it’s easy to get lost among a dizzying number of stylistic options. After some research, I went with a company named APC, selecting a style called Eros (on the left) for the playroom and the cheaper Athene (on the right) for the shop.

cork styles

Images from the manufacturer

The flooring boasts impressive technical specifications. Their panels feature “6 coats WEARTOP-ARMOUR HPC super matte finish with anti-slip effect,” which yields a sliding co-efficient of 0.7 and a Class DS rating. Its thermal conductivity is 0.092 W/m.K and its Domestic is Class 23. I have no idea what those specs mean. None whatsoever. But I assume that six coats works better than five, and that Class DS is more desirable than a classy FU.

APC flooring was one of several brands procurable through a local flooring distributor and came highly recommended. At the time, I found a comparison online in which The Comparer submerged cork flooring for several days and afterward, assessed swelling and damage. APC came out on top with the least swelling. I didn’t intend for it to rain from the ceiling in my basement again, but things happen when kids, drinks, and playrooms coincide, and I’ve seen small spills wreak havoc on some floating floors. So I sold some plasma and went with the APC.

acclimating boxes of cork flooring

Acclimating boxes of cork flooring

So what has roughly 18 months of cork flooring been like? Even better than I had expected.

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Just before moving into our house in 2010, I consolidated two spaces in the basement for my woodshop–a small workroom and a craft area. Both of these spaces featured a utilitarian but whimsical (read: wholly unappealing) linoleum tile floor. I’m pretty sure the color of the tile in this part of the basement was “Smallpox Barney” – a variegated periwinkle that either looked like a) Barney the Dinosaur just threw up or b) like an interior designer threw up – on Barney.

As my first goal when moving in was to just have a shop, the easiest and cheapest path to that goal was to simply extend the existing flooring to the new shop boundaries. Though by no means my favorite option, it allowed me to focus on other aspects of the shop’s infrastructure: walls, lighting and electrical. And oh yeah, moving the family across the country and getting them settled in.

Woodshop V1 under construction

Woodshop V1 under construction

Then came the flood.

Since the flood essentially ruined the ceiling and walls in the shop, the whole shop was going to be gutted and most of the reconstruction (thankfully) covered by insurance. As everyone knows, however, linoleum tile can only be damaged by a combination of black magic and Kenny Loggins. The floor was unharmed by the flood and as such, I was on my own financially for replacing it. Still, with everything moved out of the shop for a few months, there was no better time to replace the indestructible Barney vomit floor with something more appealing both aesthetically and ergonomically.

I’m writing these posts because while researching different flooring materials for use in woodshops, I found no information on using cork. Though I’m sure cork has been used by others before me, I was pretty much going into it blind. So I thought I’d contribute my experience with cork to the intertubes so that others could benefit from my experiment. But to cut to the chase: cork is an outstanding woodshop flooring material, at least for me.


The handtool area of the current workshop

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Watershop Down

October 4, 2014 — 4 Comments

As most of you probably know (some of you firsthand)–last winter was a hard one in the middle of the US. In our town, school was canceled on more than one occasion due to cold–not due to snow–and in Chicago, we had more snow this year than any year on record except one.

Cue dramatic woodshop music. It’s time for a montage.

On January 8, 2014, a $1 piece of copper looked like this when it burst in the ceiling above my woodshop:

Burst Pipe Elbow

And so it rained inside my woodshop, which in turn made my tools look like this:

Rusty Plane

But later that evening, a good friend, some bourbon, those fabulous Klingspor rust erasers, and some serious elbow grease made my tools look like this:


The next day, my shop looked like this:

The Day After

And in fits and spurts over the next few months, the shop looked liked this:

Bare Walls
New Insulation
New Drywall

And by early summer the shop looked like this (Click these images to view larger versions)

Details to follow in upcoming posts, but here’s the summary:

  • Removed built-in cabinet and counter
  • New lighting fixtures and relocated / centralized lightswitches
  • New electrical and network connections
  • Better mounting job for air cleaner
  • Chalkboard wall
  • Antique library card catalog for hardware and tools
  • New sink
  • Cork flooring

It was a good thing the new woodshop was ready to go by early summer, because that was just in time to not have any time to work on projects. Work, family, and farm claimed my summer months, and those plus a new back injury, a couple of new puppies, and a side project are claiming my fall. But I’m itching to build and have a backlog of projects drawn up in Sketchup.

Computer Riser Stand

November 29, 2013 — 8 Comments
iMac Riser Stand: Installed

The almost-finished project

I recently replaced my 27“ iMac with… another 27” iMac. What I love most about these computers is the ability to use them as an external monitor with a MacBook Pro. This gives me the power and “consistency” of a desktop machine for personal use, but also a very capable mobile setup for work that can be used comfortably for design when I’m working at home.

Apple apparently decided that in order to mount the new iMac on a monitor arm via a VESA adapter (as I have been doing for the last decade or so), I’d have to buy a completely different computer–a special version of the iMac that has a built-in VESA mount. For all sorts of reasons, I did not want to buy a computer that could only be used on a monitor arm, but the stock iMac posed a problem:

Height Problem

The “normal” height of the iMac does not clear the top of the MacBook Pro’s screen. First world problem, I know.

Impetus to make something!

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Bike Bench

November 16, 2013 — 2 Comments
Bike BenchThis photo pretty much characterizes my spare time this year

A New Old Cruiser

November 3, 2013 — 4 Comments

As mentioned earlier, this summer my woodshop became a bikeshop. Now that Fall’s here, I’m in the process of reclaiming my woodshop, though that doesn’t mean the biking will stop. One of my favorite projects from this summer was rebuilding a commuter bike I’ve had for a long time, and I intend to continue riding it through at least part of the winter.

My rebuilt Electra cruiser

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The XO-1 Returns

August 7, 2013 — 8 Comments

I had every intention to use the summer to design and build some much-needed side tables for the house (the “just-put-your-mug-on-the-floor” thing is getting old), but shortly after finishing the raised garden boxes, my woodshop quickly turned into a bikeshop.

Late last fall, despite some significant reservations, Ray learned how to ride his bike without training wheels–just in time for winter. Then, during winter, he outgrew his tiny person bike. So in May, I purchased a new bike for him with the stipulation that I would not put training wheels on it. And within a few weeks, we were riding up and down the block together. And in no time, riding around town together. It wasn’t long before we wanted the whole family to join in on our adventures, so I set my wife up with a new bike for her birthday, order a bike trailer for Anya, and bought a bike rack for the car.

This sudden ability to bike as a family was impetus to bring a long-lost friend out of storage: my 55cm 1993 Bridgestone XO–1.


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Standing Room Only

May 27, 2013 — 5 Comments
Our H.O. Studley Toolchest talk at Handworks was well-attended.

Our H.O. Studley Toolchest talk at Handworks in Amana, IA was well-attended this weekend.
I took this iPhone panorama during Don’s presentation.

My favorite moments? The absolute silence in a barn full of roughly 600 people (so I’m told) during the 15-image slide sequence at the end of my presentation. Seeing some good friends that I don’t get to see often enough. But also getting to meet the many of you who came up to me and introduced yourselves afterwards. Glad you enjoyed the talk.

This year, I wanted to make good on a long-standing promise to set the family up with a garden. I’ve looked at raised bed gardening because I don’t know too much about the quality of soil in our rather urban suburb. But like many people with bad backs, when I see people gardening (raised bed or not), my first thought is, “Aren’t farmer’s markets great?”

We visited some good friends in Sonoma a few years back and they had built some raised garden beds unlike any we had seen before. These were roughly 3.5–4 feet high and seemed like a brilliant way to improve the ergonomics of gardening. But I have some big ideas for the backyard over the next few years and I don’t want to commit to large, immovable containers of soil. I looked into commercially available elevated garden beds but I find them ugly, find them expensive, and like all woodworkers, I immediately resent the very notion of purchasing something I know I can make.

gb planters

Spoiler alert! The result, already sprouting some tomatoes.

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