David Upfill-Brown is one Australia’s most highly esteemed designer/makers and also a sought-after teacher. He made the Cabot’s Cabinet while at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine, USA where he has taught many times. In Australia also David teaches at Sturt School For Wood, and will soon commence teaching at the Centre for Fine Woodworking in New Zealand until the end of the year. In the photos below, David gives us a short-form guide to the making of a very complicated piece.
Mock up in wire and ply fixed to back board. Givens: height and desk size (ergonomics). Variables: Position and proportions of drawer pods, overall style. curves consider stance and stability.
The patterns for the leg formers taken off the shaped wire.
A pillar held the desk at the right height on the floor plan.
Two formers for each leg were used to set the laminations after steaming.
Released steamed laminations after 12 hours, separated to dry. Note the spring back. I pre-wet and mounted each set of laminations in a rig with a kerf sawn plywood comb to ensure even steaming and slid this into the steam box for 20 minutes. Glued up using tinted urea formaldehyde.
The legs after lamination and machining. My practice is to plane these true and then use a spar maker’s gauge to scribe the points of the octagon down the tapering sections. I shape to these reference marks to establish the octagonal section with a drawknife and then spokeshave to a 16-agon. Laminated material is much easier because the grain runs with you. I finally true up with a chair scraper and paper. The polystyrene mock-up is to determine the point of bifurcation. This is lying on the floor plan.
Legs mostly shaped and sanded, still not joined. Curves are housed into the side of the desk mock-up — ‘dental work’!
The legs are fitted to the mock-up desk, now I can make patterns of the cut-outs for the actual desk. Note the stock for the desk and pods sitting on the bench. Note too, these 5am starts are killing me!
Legs glued up at last — these must fit into something around here.
Cleaning up the glued-up legs. The holes are for the threaded rod dowels which along with epoxy attach the legs. The thinner pair run into the bottom of the desk and so can be surprisingly long. The larger set run into vertical grain insets in the insides of the outer walls of the desk (more meat). This dowelling technique is inherited from John Makepeace. It’s a standard boatbuilding procedure. I like to drill about 0.5mm larger than the outer diameter of the threaded rod and tap the holes with either an engineers tap or simply bruise a thread by forcing in a larger bolt.