Since my blog entries published here and on my company blog at J Alexander Fine Woodworking, I started sharing the history of my young company. Last time we got up to the wood industry downturn  and it's impact on Shutter Crafts, my family's company.

What I was learning in class at college I brought into our small 12,000 square foot, 7-person operation.

Things were going well. I was enjoying the mix of production, operations, and managerial duties on my plate and my father and I would discuss issues and opportunities facing the business late into the night. We were having incredible sales throughout the 00′s, much like many of you guys, and then late 2007 hit.

We sold shutters direct to homeowners and through window covering wholesalers throughout Idaho. By early 2008, due to the downturn in the housing market, our wholesale client list plummeted from 30 or so active accounts to around 6. That, as you can imagine, does not bode well for sales.

This is when J. Alexander Fine Woodworking was born. In March of 2008, rather than see my father be forced to lay off an employee, or spend his hard-earned savings keeping employees on staff waiting for a turn-around in the market, I decided to start a custom furniture business to create a new source of revenue.

Looking back four-and-a-half years, it seems a bit crazier now than it did then, but I didn’t really feel like there were many options for my father and for Shutter Crafts. The high-end window covering market was drying up and we had a pretty big operation to support, so why not start a new company and bring in more revenue?

We didn’t have to invest in any machinery and didn’t have to hire any personnel. We just had to create a company and begin the long and arduous task of finding sales.

And that is where I will pick up the story next time.

In the last entry, I left off with the top of the console table in the vacuum bag. In this entry, we will begin with the top fully veneered.

Console Table 7 400x300 Sapele Console Table 2

As you can see in the picture, all of the ribbon Sapele veneer on the sides has the grain oriented vertically and the grain of the top is parallel to the longest side. We veneered each surface individually, which meant that the tabletop took five rounds to complete the veneering. Each time, the tabletop spent three hours in the bag, and at least four hours outside the bag to help the glue cure. After each round we spent a few minutes checking the edges of the veneer and re-gluing any places that had not fully adhered.

A quick note about vacuum pressing. The bag itself exerts up to 1700 psi worth of pressure on the veneer. As the veneer is pressed into the substrate, the air is expelled from the glue joint and a bond is created within an hour or so. But, for the glue to for a permanent bond, it requires the water to be evaporated, which is impossible since the vacuum bag is air tight and therefore void of air in the first place. Thus, when a project is removed from the vacuum bag, it feels clammy and damp and needs a few hours in the open before the veneer is fully set.

Console Table 8 300x400 Sapele Console Table 2

We repeated the veneering process on the base of the table; it was a bit easier since the sides were not as angled as those of the top.

Console Table 9 400x300 Sapele Console Table 2

It was now time to drill the hole for the decorative metal bar that would be on the top point of the front and back of the base. We ordered two 1.5″ lengths of 1″ diameter solid aluminum bar from a local metal supplier, sanded the pieces with 320 grit paper to give them a brushed look, and eased over all the edges. On the drill press we then set up a shim that would drill a 1″ hole parallel to the floor. Since the faces of the front and back are not vertical, but angled inward about 3 degrees, if we set the back flat on the drill press table, the hole would be drilled at a -6 degree angle to the face and -3 degrees horizontal. By shimming the piece by .5″, we were able to drill the hole at a -3 degree angle to the face, which translates to horizontal. This may seem to be over-thinking, since only .5″ of the bar would be seen, but the details are what matter in custom furniture.

Console Table 10 400x300 Sapele Console Table 2

Next, we turned our attention to connecting the two pieces. The space that the two pieces share is pretty tight and did not make for an easy work space. We decided that the best way to connect the two pieces would be to use dowels. We drilled and glued six dowels into the base.

Console Table 11 400x300 Sapele Console Table 2

After the dowels were glued into the base, we turned the top upside down, and attached the two pieces. We used a polyurethane glue for this final glue-up because the glue would expand and help fill any small voids that were present inside the top and base.The tape and paper ensured that the expanding polyurethane glue would collect on top of the paper rather than on the veneer’s surface.

Console Table 12 400x300 Sapele Console Table 2

We allowed the glue to set overnight before we flipped the table right side up. We removed the tape and paper, scraped off any excess glue, and gave the entire table a final hand sanding with 220 grit paper. We then took the table into the finishing room and applied a dark brown oil-based stain, two coats of sanding sealer, and a coat of bright-rubbed conversion varnish.

Console Table 13 400x300 Sapele Console Table 2

The final product came out absolutely beautiful! The brownish red of the Sapele work perfectly with the whites, grays, and blues of the living room.

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