Cardboard Creativity

There is a lot to be said about the importance of creativity to our overall well-being.  While I was planning out the latest build outlined further below, the process of creativity was something I was thinking about.  I ran across a great quote a long time ago and can’t remember the author but something to the effect of “Life is not about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself”.

For me the resistance to creativity and opening new doors stems from fear, doubt, anxiety.  While I am greatfull to have opportunity too challenge myself creatively in this new endeavor, the focus to succeed leaves openings in other areas of my life vulnerable.  Fact is we all have aspects of our lives that challenge us positively and bring forth creativity but on the other hand we also all have things that lay stagnant and it holds us back.

If I’m not pushing against the resistance in areas of importance (usually this involves Lisa pushing as well  in order to get any measurable progress!), then I become blindly content and life is too short to be content.  What I’m trying to say may be better served by the age old metaphor about the frog and boiling water.  Is this a call to action?  It’s more of a reminder, I have a lot to work on.

For anyone out there curious about the process I go through in creating one of the natural leg pieces, please keep reading this and future blog posts.  In this series of posts I will be highlighting my process of designing and building a natural leg coffee table. The title of this post is telling in that you don’t need sophisticated methods to generate a design or idea for furniture or anything really.

I use cardboard and pencil and paper almost exclusively in the process of working out proportions and “feel” of a design.  For these natural leg pieces I simply draw what I call a story board or story stick to build a pleasing ratio of height, width, depth, etc. Honestly, sometimes I nail it, sometimes I don’t.    I draw this out based on the material I plan to build with.  The photo is hard to see I know.  The second photo is the finished top of the table and the legs as I cut them off the tree, is that inspiring or what!  Like any furniture it is critical that your material be dried sufficiently unless you like really warped furniture.



The construction is similar to a windsor chair where round leg tenons are inserted into round mortises.  The trick is drilling compound angle(s) into the receiving piece of wood knowing that you are using a leg that is not symmetrical in any sense of the word.  Assuming that the top of the table is cut to its final size, shape, thickness, etc.  Flip the top upside down for the following steps in the design process.

1. Getting the final orientation of each leg-

This final design step if you will is done with the components of the piece in hand.  The actual angles you end up with in this type of build are irrelevant.  Don’t waste your time trying to draw it out on paper or hit a specific angle of 11.2234433 degrees. You will end up as frustrated as a cat scratching turds on an ice pond.

It is important that the legs be cut to about 1-1/2″ longer than the final length prior to determining the angles of the legs.  If the legs are longer than they need to be it is really easy to deceive yourself on where the legs will be in relationship to the edge of the top and each other when they are cut to final length later.  For example the leg(s) can stick too far out or in, or just not look like what you thought.  Trust me on this.

I eyeball the legs and move them around to determine the ideal location of each hole, noting the distance from the leg to the edges of the table. I like the distance from the edge of top to the edge of leg roughly the same for each leg, leaving enough material to support the connection, in this case I measured in about 3″.  I also look carefully at the rotation of the leg making a mark on the leg and table top that I can align again later.

Then I mark the approximate center point for each leg on the table top (which I have flipped upside down so as not to drill into the wrong side) and number each leg, the angles will be determined in the next step.


2. Getting the final angle of each leg-

Place the leg you selected in the location marked out in the above step and at an angle that pleases the eye without it being too steep as to jeapordize the strength of the leg or stick out or in too far as mentioned above.  This is the last opportunity to save yourself from disaster by taking a hard look at the final location and angles.

Without boring (no pun intended) you with terminology and reasoning behind it, when you look at a piece of furniture with legs that sit at a compound angle you’d see the front legs are pitched forward, which is called rake, and to the sides, which is called splay.  The combination of those two angles is what is called the resultant angle.  This is the angle we are interested in and the angle that will be drilled.  I will show you how I drill these holes to the “right” angle in the next post but its relevant now because we have to draw lines that show these angles visually on the bottom of the table top in order to accurately drill the holes.    I wont go into the layout of these angles for this piece because I honestly just eyeballed it based on my previous experience.

Once you have calmed yourself down, set a bevel gauge parallel to your resultant angle line and lock it in at the approx. centerline of the leg while holding the leg in position. Yes, you need 4 hands to complete this process which is why the next photo is a setup.  The photo below illustrates this step, but this was actually me checking the leg after the final fitting of the joint as there is no way I could have held everything in position and take a photo.


Again, It does not matter that you know what the angle is as long as you have a way to transfer that angle from one object to another.  In the case of this table I had each leg at a slightly different angle.  I just transferred the bevel gauge measurement to my cardboard piece for each leg and that allows me to reset the gauge later when setting up to drill the holes.

So that’s about all there is too it on the design and layout of these natural leg tables.  My next post will focus on the actual setup and drilling of mortises for the legs, sizing and fitting the legs, and I might talk about sticky situations.  Anyhow I have to get my hands on some wood, thanks for hanging in there on this post and shalom.

One thought on “Cardboard Creativity

  1. Pingback: Where to focus | Eric McKenna Designs

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