Let us walk together through a typical design process that shows how we might collaborate to create your piece.
For a family with keen chess players and regular visits from a chess master, a dedicated table was in order. Storage was needed for the pieces and a timer, as well as enough knee room for adults, while still being comfortable for children.
To begin with, we reasoned together that since the chess board was square, the table should be rectangular. The idea was supported by the fact that there was rectilinear English library furniture in the room. So for the first design, a sketch was created of a rectangular table with coves inside the legs that concentrate energy inward, and a beaded drawer that opens from both sides with oval brass pulls.
Note: A bead is a half round molding on the edge of a board. When used on a drawer, it is called a cock bead.
The second design was intended to harmonize with French style pieces that would also be nearby. The French style suggested a more florid apron and turned legs with chased brass drawer pulls.
Note: “Chased” metal is carved or tooled after casting to make a pattern.
It occurred to us that splayed legs would allow more leg room, and would gather an observer’s attention to the top, dramatically, and elegantly. An oval top was also a possibility, and it would also concentrate mental focus on the board.
There is precedent for splayed legs in a “porringer” style table, so this tradition was included in our design. First, the table was drawn with customary two-centre turning to make simple Queen Anne legs. This table has a square apron and brackets to support the top, which has rounded ends.
The final design was on Queen Anne legs, but the splay angle was changed inward. It also retained the oval apron with its edge bead, and the cock beaded drawer front. Since the table top was oval, oval brass pulls were fitted. The playing surface was now flush with the top, which allowed a broader use of the table, and, when not being used for chess, made the table more versatile. Along with the beading, the table edge was moulded, and the drawer bottom covered with green felt. We chose walnut for the table, using maple and rosewood for the playing surfaces.
Technically, this is a very demanding piece. To make the apron, an ellipse must be calculated and transferred to the wood. In order to curve the wood like this, we must first cut the wood into thin strips, steam, and then bend them to the correct form, gluing each layer together in what are called laminations. We curved the grain of the wood into an oval shape, which preserves its strength and beauty. The joints of the laminations must be staggered, and the final one must disappear under the leg boss. The leg angle must be extremely accurate for the table to have the proper stance, and also for the splay to be “invisible”.
The selection of wood was critical. The top must be allowed to expand and contract with the humidity without cracking, yet since it is a chess board, the board must have no gaps or filler. Moreover, stain cannot be used because it would darken the maple. The colours of the different kinds of wood must naturally balance and emphasize one another.
The elegance of the table belies the meticulous technical work necessary to perfect it. The chess board must be made first and fitted into a recess in the top. We bored air escape holes to ease installation. The drawer sides must be dovetailed to curved fronts, which are cut from the formed apron. The beading, too, must be worked on curved surfaces, and mitred as required. Drawer clearances must also be very small, and the drawer must slide perfectly straight and parallel so the drawer can be used from both sides. We placed magnets in the drawer and table to help centre it.
All surfaces are wood to wood on this grade of furniture. The piece was finished with Tung oil, let dry, and then the top coated with clear lacquer.
Note: A mitre is a 45 degree joint on the drawer cock bead(s).