Since many of these blog entries are being published both on my company’s blog and on my blog at the WoodWorkingNetwork, I figured I should share with the readers a little history of my young company.

I cannot talk about the beginnings of J. Alexander Fine Woodworking without first discussing our other company, Shutter Crafts, for the two small businesses are intimately connected.

In 1989, when I was 7 years old, my parents decided that San Francisco was not the best place to raise a family, so they moved us (me, my 3 year old brother,and my 1 year old sister) to Boise, ID, where my parents had lived a decade earlier.

My father, who was previously a salesman for Pella Windows, decided that he wanted to own his own business, and purchased a small company, Shutter Crafts, that manufactured and installed custom interior shutters. I spent many days as a young kid in that shop building bows and arrows, swords, boxes, tables, and untold numbers of Christmas presents for my family.

When I grew up and needed a job, I worked in the shop, slowly gaining knowledge of just about every technical aspect of the manufacturing process. After I graduated from high school, I took on more of the office work, like creating the cut lists from the measurement sheets, and tracking our inventory of raw materials.

Initially, I majored in civil engineering at Boise State University, but advanced math and a burgeoning love for small business and entrepreneurship, steered me towards a degree in operations management instead.

I began working full-time for my father two years before completing my degree in 2006. Each step of the way I was using the tools learned in business school to make our small company better and more efficient. I designed an inventory management and a job scheduling spreadsheet in excel, and tried to implement the lean manufacturing tools I was learning in class into our small 12,000 square foot, 7-person operation. . . until the downturn hit.

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.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.