Constructing Arts and Crafts Sofa and Coffee Tables With Book-Matched Veneer Tops:-- Resawing of "Big-Leaf" Maple Burl

While I have been an amateur woodworker for over forty years, for most of that period, my interest in veneering was low. For the pay off, veneering just seemed too complicated.


On the left is an image of the finished table in our living room.

Hard-Working Bandsaw

This attitude toward veneering began to change, however, when in June, 2001, I bought my first bandsaw, a Laguna 18-incher. At over 3-HP. it is a machine with power and heft. However, it took quite a little time and patience for me to learn how to operate it. You just don't turn it on and begin making marvelous creations. Little irritations, like blade drift, a table that's too-small and -- most disconcerting -- breaking blades, forced me to rethink some of my original assumptions, namely that the bandsaw worked just as it was captured by professional woodworkers in the magazines.

After struggling for quite a while -- and building the larger table and fence -- things began to come together more satisfactorily. In addition, after volunteering to create a seminar on the bandsaw for the woodworking group that I belong to, I decided to follow one of my practices from my earlier professional career in the academic world -- create a web-based syllabus, primarily so that I, myself, would become better informed about bandsaws.

(I was also helped enormously by Doug at Bob's Supersaw, my local blade sharpener. He steered me away fro a 2-1/2-tpi to a 1-tpi, and solved my problem asssociated with my blade breaking while resawing. Removal of sawdust is too inefficient with a 2-1/2-tpi blade; the gullet is just too small to remove the extra sawdust that accumulate in resawing large workpieces.)

These exercises seemed to have a liberating effect, because my own vision of a bandsaw shifted, ever so slowly, and my skill in using the bandsaw changed, changed to a point where actually trying my hand at veneering no longer seemed "alien territory".

Purchase of Veneering Vacuum Bag

The next hurdle was the actual veneering. When I read instructions about veneering in woodworker's manuals and woodworker's magazines, frankly it seemed strange and undoable, unless you could use a vacuum-bag process.

My wife helped me here: after hearing about my plans to buy a vacuum bag kit, and built a system "from scratch", so to speak, she insisted that I simply buy an affordable, "complete" vacuum bag system, with a Venturi pump. (I have an air compression system in my shop, so I wanted a vacuum system that connects to it.)

After some investigation, I settled on one of the models sold by Quality VAKuum Products.

Initially, I practiced with small projects, using resawn old growth western red cedar and douglas fir. These experiments turned out quite satisfactory. Then, through a friend, I had the good fortune of getting some local Big leaf Maple burl blocks. See account here.

Four Sets of Book-Matched Veneer

Out of the largest block -- images below -- I cut four sets of book-matched veneer. (Some claim that since these sheets are about 1/8 inch thick, they are "laminates", and not "veneer". To be accurate, they say, to be veneer, the sheets should be 1/16th inch or thinner. So, by that logic, this is a "laminating" project, not a "veneering" project.)

Right off, I have a confession about my limitations as a woodworker: while I can rough out drawings and/or plans of projects that I am building, I don't have the skill of capturing these drawings to scale, and thus, for proportions in my projects, I have to rely on my intuition, and -- with judging proportions appropriate for projects which have no specific plans -- my intuition is sometimes faulty. You get what I mean by faulty proportions immediately, if your reactions to the width of the "feet" on my table is the same as my reactions: the table's "feet" seem slightly larger than they should be. The lyrics that famous tune by Fats Waller, "My Feet's too Big", from "Ain't Misbehavin?", keep coursing through my mind.

On the next three tables -- coffee table size -- I reduced the "feet" from 3-1/2" to 2-3/4" in width. In my mind, this scale creates a much better appearance.

For the source of the burl and the story of its milling, please see account here.

Sources of my Ideas on Design

Much inspiration for this table's design -- especially the configuration of the veneer pieces on the table's top -- comes from my reading of books Percy Wells: -- read more here

For the design of the table's base -- below -- I was drawn to this table designed by Rodney Hooper, an associate of Percy Wells, both of whom are disciples of William Morris's Arts and Crafts Movement.

The table -- Plate XXXII, in Rodney Hooper's Modern Furniture Making and Design, Peoria, IL: The Manual Arts Press, 1939 -- is what I used for the legs treatment.


(See also Rodney Hooper, Woodcraft in Design and Practice 2nd ed. London: Batsford, 1948. Hooper's book was first published in London in 1937, and then in 1939. Rodney Hooper is the brother of John Hooper, both of whom are associates of Percy Wells.)


The idea for the configuration of the four book-matched sheets of burl veneer, and the crosses of either Hemlock or Vertical Grain Douglas Fir, comes from a 1935 book, Design in Woodwork, by one of my woodworking heroes, Percy Wells.  (See the image of grain configuration below on right.

Given the size of my Big Leaf Maple Burl veneer sheets -- again in sets of "four" --  Percy's panel on the lower right is the one that caught my eye as most appropriate. However, for in configuring the direction of the grain of  the "middle cross" of  veneer -- i.e., separating the four panels, I thought it looked best with the grain going lengthways, rather than cross-ways, as Percy shows.

Below, a "Dry Fit" of the four panels and the Douglas Fir "Cross". layout of a set of four book-matched veneer slices

(In the near future, using vertical grain Old Growth Douglas Fir, on another project,  I will try Percy's grain directions for both the set of four panels and the cross.)

The edge treatment I copied from several pieces in my living room, roughly from the same era:-- I found this design in a manual by Verne C. Fryklund, a prominent figure in Industrial Arts teaching in the 1920s and 30s.

Diagrams below are adapted from Fryklund's , "How to Lay Out and Cut a Thumb Mold" Popular Homecraft March-April, 1933, page 563; also "To lay out a thumb mold." In Verne Fryklund and Armand J La Berge General Shop Woodworking, 1940 ed., pages 67-68.

(There is an "irony", here, I think, because General Shop Woodworking is designed for woodworking courses at the "junior high school" level! On the strength of the cross-reference to the instructions on making the "thumb nail mold" in PH, I ordered a copy of General Shop Woodworking. When it arrived, I was astonished -- especially for its attention to rudimentary details about technques and skills in woodworking, this woodworker's manual (over one hundreds pages) -- rivals those manuals that I have vigorously commended: Charles G Wheeler and Chelsea Fraser.)

"Creating Thumb Mold for Table Top"


Says Fryklund, "Modern furniture requires molded effects on the tops of tables and chests. Here is a simple method that enables shaping with hand tools. Determine the dimensions from the drawing and proceed as follows",

    Lay off lines 1, 2, 3, Fig. 1, by the thumb gage method. Clamp a straight edge firmly on line 1 and use it as a guide to saw down to line 3 as in sawing a rabbet, Fig. 2. 1

    Keeping the straight edge in place, chip the stock to line 2 with a mallet and chisel. Fig. 3.

    The chisel should have its bevel down to be most effective. Remove any remaining chips carefully with a chisel in the direction of the arrow shown in Fig. 3. Use the Bull-Nose plane, or a Rabbet Plane, to shape the thumb mold in steps as shown in Figures 4, 5, and 6, keeping in mind that the arris at line 1 must be carefully preserved. In the absence of a special plane, a block plane may be used although it does not work well in the corners. A chisel may be used to trim stock in the corners.

    Carefully finish with sandpaper, wrapped on a block, using No. Y2 first and No. 0 last. Note how the corners are finished in Fig. 6.

    The side and end molds meet to form a perfectly straight line.

    This can be perfected readily with the sandpaper! When sandpapering on the end grain, work only one way. You will get results with less effort than by sanding back and forth. moldings_wells3_1908

Aside: What Fryklund doesn't mention is that the thumb mold originated in in England during the Jacobean period, 1603-1660. I mention this for a couple of reasons; one, I find this molding interesting as a feature on the edges of table tops and on the edges of tops of other similar pieces, and also personally satifying to create as a finishing touch on my own projects. Writing about the age in which the molding appears, Charles Harold Hayward -- the renowned "self-employed carpenter" and author of English Period Furniture, a book that I think is the "best" book available for understanding the evoluton of furniture in teh English-speadking world -- says that this molding and others used by the "carpenters" of the Jacobean took these designs "from classical sources" (i.e., the classical world of Greece and Rome) but interpreted them freely for their needs.

Source: Charles Harold Hayward, English Period Furniture, London: Evans, 1933.

Thumb Mold Edge and Skirting Design


This example of a table top and edge fastening arrangement comes from Herman Hjorth's Basic Woodworking Processes, 1933, but it is a common technique, shown frequently in woodworker's manuals on furniture construction.

Thinking that the skirting needed something to dress it up, just a bit, I added the bead molding at the skirt's bottom. See bead on left side of "messy" scrap, below.


Resawing Big Leaf Maple Burl

The next set of photos show views of resawing the sixteen sheets out of the maple block

resawing big leaf maple burl 1 resawing big leaf maple burl 2
resawing big leaf mape burl 3
resaqing big leaf maple burl 4 resawing big leaf maple burl 5 resawing big leaf maple burl 6 resawing big leaf maple 7

Yield:-- Four Sets of Book Matched Sheets

The burl block yielded four sets of book matched veneer sheets, each sheet measuring at least 9-inch by 21-inch.

Below, the four sets of book-matched sheets banded together.

(I find that any holes, gaps, perforations, in a sheet can be filled successfully with a mix of yellow glue and sawdust from the resawing.)

three sets of four slices of book-matched BLM layout of a set of four book-matched veneer slices

The burl block yielded four sets of book matched veneer sheets, each sheet measuring at least 9-inch by 21-inch. (I find that any holes, gaps, perforations, in a sheet can be filled successfully with a mix of yellow glue and sawdust from the resawing.)

Home-Made Clamping System of Torsion Box Glue-Up

Some may question why bother to create a special clamping system like this when, to do the trick, plenty of examples -- see how Tom Caspar does this task simply with commercial clamps and blocks in the September 2008 American Woodworker, on page 50 -- exist of simply using clamps and blocks.

My motive for building the clamping system is that I am "a jig and fixtures freak", and -- since I have four torsion boxes to make for the four tables-- creating the system seemed like the logical thing to do. Moreover, given the ease with which glue-ups can be achieved with this system, I think that I will be using it for more than torsion boxes.

Table for Clamping "Skins" on Torsion Box Grid

early stages of a torsion box as base for  veneer top T-B_clamp_system5
T-B_clamp_system7 T-B_clamp_system2
T-B_clamp_system9 T-B_clamp_system10

See below the veneer-press table recommended by Charles Hayward.

Charles Hayward's Veneer-Press Table


While I found this table that Charles Hayward recommends for gluing large thick saw-cut veneer sheets after I created my table for clamping MDF "skins" for making torsion boxes, when I saw Hayward's veneer-press table, immediately it occurred to me how my table could be improved. (Note that my table is used for the glue-up of the torsion box, and not for glue-up of the veneer sheets on the torsion box top. Instead, I use a vaccumm bag for the veeneer gluing. However, it seems logical to bleieve that the sturdy 1 and 1/2" particle board table top -- reinforced underneath with 4" X 4" timbers would create the desired "flatness" needed for a good glue bond.)) I also found Hayward's comments about "Caul Veneering" instructive:


This method is used chiefly for thick saw-cut veneer -- see my resawing on bandsaw above -- and for built-up patterns and marquetry. Instead of the glue being pressed out with the hammer, a wide flat board, known as a caul, is cramped over the work. The caul should be slightly larger than the panel to be veneered, and should be planed perfectly true, and of equal thickness. Pine about 4 in. thick is suitable for the purpose. A number of hand-screws or cramps is required, the number varying according to the size of the work in hand. Three or more bearers, too, are necessary. ["Bearers", evidently is what Hayward and his English call the sturdy, timber-like cross-pieces that are screwed down to apply great pressure on the caul.] These [bearers] consist of lengths of wood 1 in. thick, and flat on one their bottom edge, and slightly curved at the other. (The curvature should be about 4 in. in 2 ft.) They are placed over the caul, curved side downwards, and are ramped at the ends. The effect of this is that the pressure occurs in the middle first, thus driving the glue out at the edges. In order that the pressure may be taken up on the underside, another set of bearers is necessary. These should be stouter than those at the top, and should be straight, the idea being that the top bearers "give" under the pressure whilst those below remain straight.

Source: Charles H. Hayward, "Veneering", in Joinery and Carpentry: Practical and Authoritative Guide Dealing With All Branches of the Craft of Woodworking; edited by Richard Greenhalgh, Volume v, London: Pitman, 1929, page 1082-1083.

veneered_table_feet_mortise veneered_table_feet_tops
veneered_table_legs1 veneered_table_legs_chamfer veneered_table_legs_top-bot
Sources: Herman Hjorth Basic Woodworking Processes,Peroria, Il: Manual Arts Press, 1933; Rodney Hooper, Woodcraft in Design and Practice 2nd ed. London: Batsford, 1948.

Methods of Securely Attaching Torsion Box to Table's Base

Vacuum Bag "Frame" is necessary because of the method devised to attach the support legs to the underside of the torsion box. To me, it seems inadquate as a secure glue joint to simply glue the top surface of the two "legs" to the bottom "skin" -- Ian Kirby's term -- of 3/8-inch MDF in the torsion box. With children -- and maybe adults -- jumping on the top of the coffee table over generations, there was a danger in my mind that a glue joint would not hold. If I'm incorrect about this, chalk it up to lack of experience! label for source code

carriage bolt 1

carriage bolt 2

Below are photos of the stages of creating a scheme for mechanically -- i.e., carriage bolsts -- attaching the support legs to the "skin" on the underside of the torsion box.

carriage bolt 3
carriage 5 carriage bolt 1