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?