Wenge and Cherry Hall Table

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Project by jsheaney posted 03-11-2010 05:30 AM 5837 views 30 times favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I made this table as a gift. It is the first piece of furniture I have made. This is not my design. I found pictures of this table on the WoodWhisperer site. Original table It was designed and built by Jonathan Crone. I saw the pictures and thought I could do it without too much difficulty. Holy crap, was I wrong. The main problem was working with Wenge. The other problem was that almost every step was a first for me.

The first step was to use Google Sketchup to model the table based on the pictures. The PhotoMatch feature of Sketchup makes this pretty easy. I looked at a pile of hall tables online and determined typical dimensions. I scaled the height and width and length of the top to those dimensions and then dimensioned the rest of the parts based on that. Beyond that, I only made two (intentional) design changes.

He “pillowed” the front of his legs by cutting 1/4” deep bevels on the 1.5” square leg blanks. I tried that, but I had expended some significant effort during milling to get my leg blanks to be rift sawn, so that the grain would be consistent all around. The bevels negated that effort to some degree, giving me alternating faces of tight, medium and loose grains. I cut the bevels off, so my legs are actually 1.5” x 1.25” rectangular.

The other change involved the sliding dovetails, which I thought a very clever way to attach the top to the base while allowing for movement. My natural inclination was to fix the top in the center only to allow expansion equally on both sides, but I couldn’t figure out any way to get glue just in the middle. So, I cut 45 degree notches into the centers of the dovetail rails and the dovetail channels in the top. I made those small curved decorative parts and cut a 45 degree notch into the edge that would abut the top and rail. Then I glued a small floating tenon into it. When I assembled the rail and top, I lined up the notches, forming a mortise at 45 degrees into both. I glued the tenon in place, mechanically fixing the centers in place. I assembled the table in February, so I left the dovetails slightly proud of the top edges. I’ll be curious to see what they look like in the summer.

[UPDATE: June 25] I added a sixth image that clearly shows how the table width has increased to the point where the sliding dovetail is now shy of the table edge. Considering this is mirrored on the other side of the table, I think it’s a pretty dramatic change. It clearly shows how the dovetail is doing its job. I can only imagine what would have happened if it was glued all across the table width. Something would have to give with that much movement. I’m curious if you all have a reaction to the aesthetic of this exposed joinery. Should I have made the dovetail protrude even further in the dry weather so that it didn’t fully retract with the humidity? Or would it look unseemly to have it protrude too far out in the winter months?

The base is finished with two coats of Bush Oil, which is another wipe-on, oil/varnish blend. The pores in Wenge are really deep and open, so I filled the pores just on the top. I first applied two coats of shellac (Bullseye Sealcoat) cut a bit; maybe 1-1.5 lb.?). Then I sanded it all off, leaving just the shellac in the pores. My intent was only to seal the pores. Then I added Bush Oil and sanded with 150 grit, creating a slurry to pack the pores. Then I scraped and sanded that back and did the same thing again. Sanded that down one more time. I applied four coats of Bush Oil and then rubbed it down with steel wool and added one more coat. I then added a coat of Minwax wipe on poly. The can says to sand with 220 before adding a second coat. That seemed pretty heavy to me so I sanded lightly with 320 and put on the second coat. I really did not like the scratch patterns left by the sanding. I sanded again with 600 wrapped around a foam sanding block and put on a third coat. That helped quite a bit, so I don’t think I will ever use anything less than that in the future. It wasn’t quite as smooth as I wanted (my shop is fairly dusty) so I rubbed it out with Rottenstone mixed with water. That produced a very nice effect. Finally, I added a coat of Renaissance wax to protect against fingerprints.

I found working with Wenge to be very difficult; especially with hand tools. It very hard and brittle, but the biggest problem is that the pores are so deep. They actually get loaded with silica from the tree pulling up water from the ground. As a result, it’s like planing sandpaper. When you take a shaving, you release silica onto the surface and you can feel the grit with your hand. It also makes scratch marks on the plane soles. Your blades and chisels don’t just get dull; they get knicked. As with any dark wood, seeing your pencil marks and knife lines is challenging. It’s especially difficult when you have knife marks in the direction of the grain. Inevitably, either your knife or your chisel wants to fall into an adjacent pore. Doing the through mortises by hand was very difficult and frustrating.

I learned quite a bit on this project. Moving on to the next one, now.

-- Disappointment is an empty box full of expectation.

21 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


117615 posts in 3935 days

#1 posted 03-11-2010 05:33 AM

Great work a cool design an super woods too.

View jsquared's profile


61 posts in 3395 days

#2 posted 03-11-2010 05:36 AM

Beautiful table! Quite an undertaking for your first piece of furniture! My first piece is a 2 door linen cabinet mounted on the wall in the little toilet closet – out of sight. Great work and tremendous effort.

-- Jsquared, Texas

View woodworm's profile


14471 posts in 3948 days

#3 posted 03-11-2010 05:48 AM

Beautiful, beautiful.
Excellent work on the construction & finish!

-- masrol, kuala lumpur, MY.

View bigike's profile


4056 posts in 3646 days

#4 posted 03-11-2010 06:01 AM

very nice, love the detail.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop, http://[email protected]

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3419 posts in 3467 days

#5 posted 03-11-2010 06:08 AM

I am astonished that the wenge got that shine on top- nice job! That bit about silica has completely put me off wenge from now on. I’ve tried some small pieces in the past, and had quite a time with the brittleness and blowout. I love the color and grain. Oh, well, there’s a lot of other nice woods out there…like Bolivian rosewood, which is just drop-dead sexy, as far as I am concerned.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3666 days

#6 posted 03-11-2010 06:21 AM

Excellent craftsmanship. I like the dovetail on the top. I know what you mean about working with the Wenge. it is as difficult to work as it is expensive.

View matt garcia's profile

matt garcia

1909 posts in 4030 days

#7 posted 03-11-2010 06:23 AM

Very nice!!!

-- Matt Garcia Wannabe Period Furniture Maker, Houston TX

View kosta's profile


946 posts in 3712 days

#8 posted 03-11-2010 06:39 AM

looks good man

View Konquest's profile


171 posts in 3802 days

#9 posted 03-11-2010 06:59 AM

The joinery on that thing is making my head explode with frustration and I didn’t even build it. This is a woodworker’s woodworking project. The layman would be like “oh, nice table” whereas a woodworker like me is just astounded.

-- 9 3/4 fingers remaining.

View JustinB's profile


10 posts in 3389 days

#10 posted 03-11-2010 07:11 AM

Wow. Gorgeous wood and well executed joinery. Very nice.

View deon's profile


2522 posts in 3384 days

#11 posted 03-11-2010 10:38 AM

Looks good. Thanks for the explanation, very informative

-- Dreaming patterns

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3432 days

#12 posted 03-11-2010 03:19 PM

That is a great looking table. I really appreciate the thorough explanation of how you built and finished this table.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Cozmo35's profile


2200 posts in 3394 days

#13 posted 03-11-2010 03:32 PM

VERY nice design!

-- If you don't work, you don't eat!.....Garland, TX

View JoeinDE's profile


444 posts in 3681 days

#14 posted 03-11-2010 05:48 PM

Excellent execution of a very complicated design. Nicely done. Thanks for the info on Wenge – I think I will avoid it.


View Loucarb's profile


2388 posts in 3803 days

#15 posted 03-12-2010 02:11 AM

Fantastic craftsmanship. Well done.

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