Completing the history of launching J Alexander Fine Woodworking, I started sharing the history of my young company. We covered to the wood industry downturn  and it's impact on Shutter Crafts, my family's company- the key reason I launched my custom woodshop.

That last blog entry left off in March of 2008. The economy had started its downward spiral, sales at Shutter Crafts were dropping, and my father was going to have some hard choices to make in the coming months if something didn’t change. That change, I decided, was to start a new woodworking company, J. Alexander Fine Woodworking, designing and building custom furniture and cabinetry, in order to pursue new sources of revenue.

This decision was not entirely out of left field. I had built myself countless dining, end, and coffee tables, and bookcases over the years. I had also recently completed two large built-in entertainment centers and two office bookcase commissions from random word-of-mouth customers. Still, there is a huge difference between completing a few commissions and running a business that requires a steady stream of work.

The first two years were miserable in terms of sales. The only reason I was able to get a paycheck was because Shutter Crafts was subsidizing J. Alexander. If I had to begin the company from scratch, it would not have survived. The fact that I had to outlay $0 for machinery, and had a 12,000 square foot shop to use, with no overhead payment each month, gave this business a fighting chance.

Many woodworkers dream of running their own shops, but then struggle with having to run a business, and all the tedious paperwork, accounting, and sales and marketing challenges that comes along with it. Luckily, I am not one of them. I love the great game of business and managing the financial numbers. Although, in those early years there weren’t many numbers to manage.

I began chasing after sales in a down economy by creating a spreadsheet with every interior designer we had ever sold shutters to, and calling them and letting them know that we had launched a new company and would love their business. Once I exhausted that list, I added the names of every interior designer I could find in Idaho, eastern Oregon and Washington, and western Wyoming and Montana. The list was huge! I was hungry for work and I was going to do whatever I had to do to make this new company successful, so I began the arduous task of cold calling all of those interior designers and introducing myself.

In those early years of J. Alexander, I had a lot of time to devote to building the business, since I had very little furniture to build, so I tried to blog every week. This was not just a pointless way to use up hours each week, but, I hoped, a free and simple endeavor that would draw in some eyes to my little company. As a result, I have a plethora of material to remind me of what those early days were like.

Next time I'll pick up the alder armoire project that I was covering

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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