The coffee table my son is making requires mitering corners of two boards of different widths. Posted several ways of solving that problem, along with one method often used in Chinese furniture, to a.b.p.w.
Since then I've been studying just one of the twenty or so pieces of Chinese furniture I inherited from my folks - 72" long, 20" deep and 34" tall - frame and panel top, four side by side drawers over two pairs of doors all on "horse hoof" feet -all in rosewood.
It was the triple mlitered ends that got my attention since it involved mitering an 1 1/2" "apron" to a 1 3/4" "leg" - and a triple mitered corner at that.
I guess with a 5,000 year wodoworking tradition, and a penchant for evolving designs and techniques over hundreds of years, refining in tiny increments, the finesse (sp?) of today's pieces shouldn't be that surprising. Unlike Western styles which come and go in a decade or two, Chinese "styles" last long enough, in many cases several centuries, to become truly refined and elegant, both in design and execution.
Now by elegant I don't mean froo-froo, fancy smantzy, rococco (sp?), baroque or Louis XIV (or was it XV?) swirls, inlays, marquetry or "gold" leaf elegant. By elegant I mean that every line, every curve, every relation of one surface to another, every joinery selection, is there for a purpose - to make a beautiful, strong, functional, coherent piece of furniture.
I'd previously noticed, when trying to put the four drawers back in the "carcase", that each one would only fit one opening properly. On close examination I notices there was a small saw cut on the bottom inside edge of one drawer front, and a corresponding small saw cut on the inside edge of the drawer opening. Drawer #1, opening #1 with one saw cut, drawer #2 and opening #2 with two saw cuts, etc.. Much more subtle than numbering them with a Sharpe pen, or stamping "1", "2", "3" etc. on the parts that go together.
But now I'm REALLY examining this piece, taking some measurements and doing some drawings. I'm just starting to understand the interaction between the design elements and the fabrication techniques that went into this one piece. The rounding over of edges to blend together the parts, the use of a bead to transition one part to another, curves going from concave to convex, subtle shadows making surfaces that interest the eye but don't grab its focus - for long, all blending into one another in a pleasant flow.
I contrast this design/exectution appproach with that of the current "HOT STYLE" - Arts and Crafts - fumed oak with "honest" visble joinery as design elements -shaped ends of through tenons (real or not), chamfered pegs (real or not) and visible "ebony" splines on bread board ends, lots of only eased sharp corners and edges - horizontal grain colliding with vertical grain square on, rail to stile, apron to leg, the eye jumping around like a flea on a hot skillet, contrasting colored details yelling "LOOK AT ME" and "honest" joinery that may in fact be fake, hiding perhaps a screw or two - or maybe strictly there as a decorative element.
The Chinese piece I'm studying has no visible joinery. In Western furniture would be added cock beading, is an intergral part of the "adjacent" piece rather than an added piece of trim. The top's frame and panel construction, with its mitered corners, allows the top's "panel" to move - without any "spline" showing or grain bumping into each other square on.
What impresses me more is that the structural elements are only as big as they need to be for strength and then made to appear more delicate by subtley rounded edges and other edge treatments.
This particular piece is at least 35 years old, has lived in both humid and dry conditions, has been moved numerous times - and still hangs together nice and tight - no joints opening/failing, no splits or cracks, no runs, no hits, no errors - no man left on base.
So back to the question D'ja ever REALLY study a nice piece of furniture?
If so, can you share a discovery?