New Project: Thorsen Side Table

Yesterday I planned to make the metal framework to hold the stained glass for the little Greene & Greene styled cabinet I’m making.  I got the strops of copper fit into the door opening, and scribed the trim lines, but when I went to cut them my trusty Do All bandsaw died.  I think it’s the magnetic starter overheating, but it’s just a guess.  I’m not looking forward to having a 70 year old bandsaw that weighs 3,500 pounds repaired.  Crud.

So I retreated to my computer.  I’ve wanted to make this little Thorsen House side table for a while, and I might actually have enough wood to pull it off.  Maybe.  If I could re-saw some of the 8/4 stock I’m sure I have enough, but my bandsaw is down.  Grumble, grumble.

Anyway, the table.  As I understand it, this was actually designed to be a plant stand and the SketchUp model from Bob Lang shows the major dimensions to be about 21″ tall with a top about 14″ square.  There were plans in Popular Woodworking that were slightly scaled up, about an inch taller and a top that was 17″ square.  I like the larger size for where I’m going to put this, but I didn’t like the details in the Popular Woodworking version.  I decided to model my take on it, mostly because I wanted patterns for those weird cutouts in the aprons.

CAD Model for the new project

CAD Model for the new project

I picked up most of the major dimensions form the Popular Woodworking version, but interpolated the details from Bob Lang’s model.  His, I believe, is closer to the original both in details and scale.  I’m tempted to try using the “waterfall step” leg detail instead of the more-correct taper on the legs.  I should probably add ebony pegs at the joint with the stretcher too.

Waterfall Leg Detail

Waterfall Leg Detail – should I use this instead?

The construction follows Bob’s design, with offset tenons.  I’m a little concerned about the skirts staying flat, but the single wide tenons on the Pop Wood version seem like it would badly weaken the legs and cause cross-grain wood movement problems.  Who knows?  The big concern in building this is the fit of the lower shelf around the legs.  I’m a little concerned about the breadboard ends too.  The layout of the ebony pegs doesn’t lend itself to hiding screws in slotted holed to allow for movement, so I’m limited to glueing in the middle and hoping it all stays together.  One step at a time though.

Exploded view to chow construction

Exploded view to chow construction

The main point of modeling this myself was to end up with a set of full scale templates for the cut outs that I can use to make patterns.  A secondary benefit was to get a good feel for the construction of the table and get my thoughts organized to build it.  I made a set of plans that you can download if you want to build it — or if you are looking for full scale templates like me.  There should be enough details here to build the table if you’re so inclined.  I didn’t put as many details into these as I might otherwise, but all of the parts and critical measurements are there.

Things to pay attention to if you do build this:  The legs aren’t all the same due to the asymmetrical mortises and ebony plugs.  The dimensions cover where everything goes, plan on being careful with this part of the layout.  The taper on the bottom of the legs is laid out to taper from 1/4″ at the bottom to zero at 5 3/16″ up.  The legs are milled 1 1/4″ square, so I’d lay out by striking a mark 1″ from the outside faces, another 5.1875″ from the bottom on the inside faces, and then connect those.  Once the taper is cut, go ahera and round over the end of the leg and sides.

My next step is to make a cup of coffee and go measure up my wood stock to see if I have enough to at least make a good start on this project.  If I have enough wood to make this it will end up in the same room as the cabinet, which is the next room in the house I want to “make over” anyway.  I’ll probably be in Big Trouble for starting another project before the bookcase for my wife though.

Download plans for the Thorsen House Table

Download plans for the Thorsen House Table



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8 thoughts on “New Project: Thorsen Side Table

  1. theindigowoodworker

    I say if you want waterfall legs instead of tapered legs then make them waterfall legs. Where would we be in civilization if everyone did things exactly as it has always been done? (nowhere)

  2. Right – I was thinking more about which would look better as the decision criteria rather than the accuracy of the reproduction. I’m already off the reservation on scale. I think they might actually look better, I’ll change the model to compare the looks.

  3. Joe, you might need to make a scaled mock-up of the base with the waterfall legs out of pine or poplar or what-have-you before you can tell whether they appeal to you. Which is all that counts.
    Or go for broke and do it on the actual table. Worst case is just a little more firewood and a little more experience, right?


  4. “FWIW, the original according to the G&G virtual archives is 22″ x 14.25″ x 14.25” ( I’m often surprised at how cavalier they were about wood movement, but most of the time they seem to have gotten away with it, probably in part because the climate in Pasadena is pretty constant. Since I moved from L.A. to the midwest, all of my old pieces are getting sticky drawer syndrome, and I am re-learning about relative humidity and moisture content like a newbie – no more getting away with everything!

    • Thanks for that John. I think with the larger top mine will be a little more suited to holding my coffee cup and laptop in the mornings. It’s interesting to see that the original had the top in two pieces — I assume that was intentional. I believe they also made a larger version of this same table for the Thorsen house. I was there recently, most of the original furniture is gone (some is at the Huntington apparently).

      Original Thorsen Plant Stand

  5. Hi Joe, all of the Thorsen furniture was donated to the Gamble house. A lot of it is on display at the Huntington (the dining set especially) and some is in storage. They rotate the exhibit occasionally, but it is always worth a visit. I didn’t mean to criticize your dimensions, I just wanted to point out that the original dimensions are available, since you were juggling numbers from other sources. Almost all of the pieces which are held by the Gamble house are posted on the Virtual Archives with overall dimensions. This includes all of the Gamble and Thorsen pieces, and some from the Robinson house and perhaps one or two other things.

    I don’t know if the gap in the top is intentional- There are a couple of pieces in the Gamble house which have opened up over time (so forget what I said in my earlier post about them getting away with ignoring wood movement!). They typically doweled boards together and you can see the dowels in gaps. I missed my chance to look closely at the gap in this piece. It is a plant stand, though, so moisture fluctuation problems would not be surprising. I also think the big honking knot in one apron is an odd choice – maybe there wasn’t another stick of teak to be found that day.

    Good luck with the table, you are doing some fine work!

    • Hi John,

      I didn’t take any of what you said as criticism, I always enjoy your comments.

      I need to take another trip to LA and visit the Huntington again, I’ve only been once. I’d like to catch some of the Thorsen furniture in rotation, I don’t think any of it was on display when I was there. Ideally I’d time the trip with the next time John Hamm does the “stained glass tour” of the Gamble house. I did the “joinery” tour led by Jim Ipekjian a year ago.

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