Posts Tagged With: Blacker Table

Blacker House Serving Table – Construction

I came across an image of this table on the web a while back, and I knew it had to go on my list of projects.  I blogged in the past about going through the process to model it in CAD, and I think I got pretty close.  I made one change intentionally, adding the leg indent that was found on other pieces in the Blacker house.

Blacker House Serving Table

Blacker House Serving Table

There will be several challenges in building this table, and I’ve already tripped over the first one.

I started by milling six legs out of 8/4 full-sawn Sapele.  Rough cut, this is about 2.125″ thick, I machined it down to slightly over the 1.875″ I called out in my model so I had stock for smoothing.  I had really bad tear out with this stock, so I’ll probably have to scrape and then sand through several grits to get this smooth.  On the other hand, all of the grain reversals should make it pretty.

Rough Stock

Rough Stock

I rough cut the stock into six 2.125″ square blanks, slightly overlong, and mocked them up with a bit of scrap to simulate the proportions of the table.  It’s too early to have a clear picture from the mock up, but al least it looks reasonable so far.

Everything has to start somewhere...

Everything has to start somewhere…

Then I milled everything to size and started laying out the ebony plug locations, and mortises.  I mentioned that there are several likely problem spots, the first is the mortises.  The layout is fairly complex, there is a wide stub tenon, and two full tenons on each skirt end.  The tenons on the sides bypass the tenons on the front and back, and there is a 1/2″ of solid material in the leg between the two adjacent mortises for strength.  That is, none of the mortices holes intersect.

I went over my CAD model, and laid out the mortises carefully, both the shallow mortise for the stub, the deeper sections for the full tenons and the mortises for the stretchers.  Then I immediately proceeded to cut one of the mortises in the wrong place.  Crud.  That sort of thing really takes the wind out of my sails.  I guess this is why I cut six legs.  I also put a ding in one of the other legs, but I think I can repair it, it should be all but invisible.  Greg Merritt has been using a Japanese ink pot to mark in where the waste is, that seems like an awfully good ides right now…

Dimensioned legs, starting to mortise for joinery and ebony pegs.

Dimensioned legs, starting to mortise for joinery and ebony pegs.  The blue tape is something new, to help me keep my orientation.

I’ll add a couple pictures of the first completed mortise, I think you’ll see what I mean about the layout in the pictures.  If the layout anywhere on the four legs is wrong the table won’t go together.

Mortise for the front and back skirts

Mortise for the  left and right side skirts


Mortise for the front and back skirts

Once I make it past the mortises I’ll rough in the skirts.  The most scary part of the project is the silver and abalone inlay in the legs and top.  I won’t do that until late in the project, and if it goes badly it will be kind of a problem.  I’ll do a practice run on my scrap leg as a confidence builder.  One step at a time I guess.

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Boards for the Blacker Serving Table

I drove down to Watsonville today, to Jackel Enterprises, which it the local specialty lumberyard.  I picked up three 7′ 4/4 Sapele boards.  All were at least 12″ wide — this is a great thing about Sapele, you can get nice wide quarter sawn boards.  Most boards in the stack were around 9″, but in the top 3 layers there were these three nice wide boards.  One will cover the skirts and stretchers, one should make up the top, which leaves one to take care of any screwups.  If it all goes smoothly, I’ll make a batch of cutting boards or something.

Wide Sapele - the one on the left was 13" I think, the one on the right was over 15"

Wide Sapele – the one on the left was a bit over  13″, the one on the right was over 15″

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Blacker Serving Table Design Completed

I’ve reached a state of equilibrium with the design for my semi-reproduction of this Greene & Greene serving table from the Blacker house.  Which almost guarantees that I’ll think of three changes I want to make before I finish writing the blog post…

Blacker house serving table - Final Design?

Blacker house serving table – Final Design?

There were some missing details that I needed to fill in, including joinery and embellishments.  I think I have those done now, but I’d appreciate feedback on goth the aesthetics and the functionals.  In terms of the latter, I settled on twin 2″ wide tenons on the skirts with a wide stub tenon across the end of the skirt to prevent cupping.  The longer tenons will hold the base together, the stub tenon probably don’t be glued but is there just to prevent cupping on the wide skirts.  The tenons are offset between the sides so that the deep mortises don’t intersect.  I can think of other ways to do this joint, so I’m curious if anyone sees a problem.

Exploded view of joinery details in the "final" design

Exploded view of joinery details in the “final” design

I added in the joinery details on the table top as well.  A wide stub tenon and four 2 1/2″ wide longer tenons.  I’ll screw through the breadboard end caps into the end of the long tenons.  I added rectangular Ebony caps to indicate these locations on the breadboard ends, although I might want them a tiny bit longer.  Also new in this “final” version are the Ebony applies that join the top and breadboard end.

I had mentioned that the transition in the cloud lifts was more gradual in mine than in the original.  I tweaked it in my design to make it a bit more abrupt like the original, and I like it better.  This is a detail I might play with a little in the future.  I didn’t update the inlay design in the top, but I probably will eventually — ok there are the three changes I predicted that I’d find in talking about my final design.

I added in the inlay design on the legs — I’m pretty happy with this part.  I think it adds a lot to the style of the table.  I feel like I got the “rhythm” of the design right, although it’s not identical to the original

Details of the inlay design for the legs

Details of the inlay design for the legs

Overall I think I’ve captured the scale and feel of the original design, although it’s different in some of the details.  The inlay is a little bit of a concern, but I think if I do a practice piece or two I  can probably figure it out.  I took today off work, so I’ll be starting the finish on the Thorsen cabinet.  Maybe during drying time I’ll run down to Watsonville and pico up a couple of wide boards of Sapele for the skirts and top of this table…




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Blacker Table Design

I want to thank John Vernier for his comments.  John always has valuable input and has shared some great insights on both history and techniques.  Yesterday I mentioned that there were two versions of the table — I was alluding to two different sizes that were produced, but John clarified that there were also two of the smaller version of this table produced for the Blacker house originally:

You are right that there are two versions of the table. There are two identical serving tables, the one in Chicago and the other in the Oakland Museum (you should pop over and take a look). There is also a breakfast table which is larger, and scaled so that it can butt up to the main dining table and act as an extension. I think that one is in private hands but I’ll get back to you if I find out differently.

The two identical smaller tables were both originally in the Blacker dining room. Jim Ipekjian’s copies are there now, against one long wall, opposite the sideboard. I think they have silver tea service displayed on them, and they really are just auxiliary serving tables. The breakfast table was in a separate room which is connected to the main dining room by a set of double-fold french doors, so that the space can be opened up into one large room, and the breakfast table scooted up to the main dining table. The dining table also has extension leaves which mount on each end, so the resulting table would be extremely long, just the thing for 32 person dinners. On the whole it really is the largest and most elaborate dining set the Greenes designed.

When Nellie Blacker died in 1947, the people who bought the house sold off the furniture in basically one big yard sale. One of the neighboring families bought most of it, and kept it for many years. When interest in Greene and Greene began to pick up, they realized the importance of their collection and sold it off slowly over a couple of decades (I don’t know if this is still going on, a lot came to market in the 70s and 80s). Many different museums have bought a piece or two as representative examples of G&G work, so it is dispersed all over the place.

Thanks John!  I would go see the one in the Oakland museum, but it’s not on display.  I wonder if they’d let me see it anyway?  I may actually have an “in” there…I’ll investigate that.

For comparison, here are the two different sizes of the Blacker table.  First off, here is the version that I’m thinking of building.  The chair in the picture puts the scale of the “smaller” table into perspective, it’s still a fairly large table at about 36″ wide by  22 1/8″ deep by 29 7/8″ tall  .  The chair would be an interesting project too, although that scares me.  Chairs in general, but G&G chairs with tapered trapezoidal curved legs and angled mortises and so forth. If you look closely you can see some subtle “stepping” on the lower stretchers of the chair too.  Wow.  Something to file away for another day…

"small" blacker serving table

“small” blacker serving table

The larger version clocks in at 59 9/16″ wide by 51 5/8″ deep by 30 3/8″ tall, with a base that is 23 1/2″ square.  You can see that the style is identical, although the larger version appears to have supports under the table top.

Larger Blacker table

Larger Blacker table

So here is my updated CAD model.  I am not trying to get it to be a complete clone of the original, but I want it to be visually very close.  I spent time making the legs thicker up to 2 3/16″ to try to match the original, then backed them down to 1 7/8″ with the thought that I could make them out of the 8/4 stock I already have.  I think they look large enough visually at this dimension.  I spent a lot of time playing with the details on the bottom of the leg, eventually adding some subtle shaping to taper the leg in the last inch and a half, and then adding the “Blacker leg indent” on the two outer faces.  The indent is not on the original version of this table, but it was on a number of furniture legs in the Blacker house.

Close up of leg ends

Close up of leg ends – the wood texture is getting in my way here…

I changed the height of the skirts and stretchers, making both slightly smaller, and reduced the round over on the edge of these parts too.  I moved the stretcher a little closer to the skirt.  I played with different widths for the start and end of the cloud lift design — this is the most obvious different between mine and the original.  The “lift” on the original is more abrupt, the transition from one horizontal surface to the other is vertical, where on mine it’s angled.  I may change mine to match the original in this aspect.  The hight of the lift on mine is taller than the original too, I’m on the fence about whether to change that.

I added the ebony pegs on the legs, although as I look at them I may want to increase the sizes one step.  I have 1/4″, 5/16″ and 3/8″ — I will probably increase them all a step.

I removed the inlay on the legs, only because it was just a quick mockup and was getting in the way of the other changes I was making to the leg shapes.

Version 2 of my Blacker table design

Version 2 of my Blacker table design

So, I want to experiment a bit more with the skirt and stretcher profiles, and work out the joinery for those parts (I just have a single wide stub tenon right now).  Then model the actual inlay that will be on the legs.  The top needs some attention too — joinery details, ebony plugs and ebony spline and changes to the inlay layout.  Another couple of hours and I’ll have a workable CAD model that I could build.

I measured a space where I think this could go in the house — right under where I want to put the Thorsen cabinet.  It’s narrower but deeper than the sofa table that is there now, which might leave enough room for a pair of chairs to flank it…

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