The Champion Table

After about five months the Champion Table is finished and in its new home outside of Chicago.  The woods in this table are Kansas Black Walnut and White Oak (the base uses oak from Kansas, the top uses oak of lesser known origin, beyond my friend, the lumber man), the top features also a small amount of Ebony and sulfur.  The design is original, and evolved throughout the building process.  Central, is a crucifixion theme and the arc.  There are other symbolic elements as well, throughout.  I am deeply grateful to the Champion family for the opportunity to build a significant piece of furniture for their home and living.  I am also humbled and thankful for all the encouragement I have received throughout the building process.  Ultimately I am glad in my heart, laboring to make something that celebrates the goodness of God.

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The Champion Table Build, Part 5: Carving and Inlay

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sanding and refining the shape of the legs
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carving some details into the lower horizontal member of the leg assemblies
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“C” for Champion
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the lower leg joints, reinforced with screws, concealed by pegs
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cut flush and sanded
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the legs are finished, awaiting only final sanding immediately prior to finishing
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refining the shape of the arc, the brace between the leg assemblies
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one of many facet transitions and chamfers across the arc
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another of those transitions, in this case, the arcs contribution to the connecting joint
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adjusting the shoulder of the arc where it meets the walnut of the leg assembly
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a lot of enjoyment watching the play of light and shadow
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lets of test fitting of the base
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my son roughing out a billet of walnut for some stubby spindles. The spindles will connect the arc to the top-central horizontal rail connecting the leg assemblies, preventing any propensity to rack along the length of the table
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here are the spindles in place as well as a bit of carving on the side of the arc
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another view of the arc, upside down, an enjoyable shape- part moon, part smile, part rainbow, part horns, it is one of my favorite parts of this table
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beginning work on the table-top again- softening the edges with a block plane
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after making paper versions, laying out some walnut shapes that will be inlayed into the table-top
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re-sawing bits of highly figured walnut for all of the special details
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along with the decorative inlays, being positioned here are some butterfly-keys, which help to stabilize the splits and inclusions in the walnut making up the table-top
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after determining the composition and placement, all the parts get some double-sided carpet tape…
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…and are then stuck in place so that they don’t shift when their outlines are being scribed into the top with a knife
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after everything has been scribed, the majority of the cavity is established with a small spiral carbide bit in the electric router
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the rest of the inlay cavity is cut out with sharp chisels. The scribe-line is particularly nice at this stage, giving a positive registration for the tip of the chisel
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there was a place on one of the walnut planks that had a corner that couldn’t get reconciled in the flattening stages without making it too thin- the remedy was a patch of really pretty walnut
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clamps were used on the top, where they could reach whatever was being inlayed
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cleaning the floor and corners of one of the recesses for those butterfly keys
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glue and clamp…
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a little congregation of butterflies ready to be made flush with the top, the crack itself, will get filled with epoxy, after the bark has been removed
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cutting out some of the inlay cavities for the central design
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lots of chopping up to the line
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there are a lot of pictures of me hunched over the top of this table, because I was hunched over the top of this table a lot
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piece by piece, being tapped into place with my indispensable two-sided rubber mallet
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planing the first round of inlays fush to the surface
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glueing up some ebony for the next round of inlay work
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the elements of the central design positioned and ready
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a few more ebony details being cut out at the scroll saw
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the slow process of accurately scribing every edge with an “Exacto” knife
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clearing out as much as possible with the router, carefully to stay just shy of my lines
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my life for a good portion of October
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ofter hours of knife, chisel, and dental tool work, the inlay cavity for the crown of thorns is about ready for the ebony
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a modified dental tool in action clearing out the acute corners of the cavities, somewhat appropriate
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…still hunched over…
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some of the inlay uses molten sulphur… being melted here in a spoon
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molten sulphur is an eerie and beautiful thing, if not pungent to the point of being toxic
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poured into carved voids it marks a lovely luminous contrast to black walnut
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also very porous- not so good for a table top- an improved sulfur inlay was devised. First grinding some sulphur crystals with mortar and pestle…
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the sulphur pigment is then introduced to some two-part epoxy
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the resultant paste is pressed into the top layer of the earlier sulphur inlay, filling the pores and yielding a slightly tougher surface
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the inlay work done and all the other voids being filled with epoxy, final sanding has begun
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as the process goes, there are many flaws in my inlay work that need to be addressed. Out come the pigments and filler
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it is an enjoyable process that takes me into the realms of another of my lines of work
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then more sanding
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this marks the end of this second to last post in the building of the Champion Table, I won’t reveal the finished piece until it’s new owners have had a chance to see it in person. Thank you all for offering your support and comments, or just following along silently. I remain immensely grateful for the kind encouragement which each represents, and I look forward to sharing the finished piece with you all as well.

Champion Table Build, Part 4: Base & Arc

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preparing to fit the base to the leg assembly
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defining a semicircle with 3 saw cuts
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3 saw cuts get refined into facets with a paring chisel
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and again
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then shaped with a rasp
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the base of one of the leg assemblies after the 1/2 lap-tapered dado has been cut
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here, mated with the white oak leg
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a different piece of white oak being shaped with a rasp, one of three slats joining the top of the leg assemblies together and to the table top
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the slats also receive a long bevel
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the slats will rest in the notches being cut into the top of this leg section
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clearing out material from the notch with a 1″ chisel
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establishing the final depth with a router plane
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here the slats are temporarily in place
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an arsenal of shaping tools to begin sculpting the legs
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shaping inside-curves of the leg assembly with an aggressive rasp
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forming a radius where the legs meet the base
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the preliminary drawings had a horizontal stretcher connecting the two leg assemblies at floor level. Having rough-shaped the components and taking a look, I started visualizing an arc instead. PVC pipe (already bent from a previous life in some low garden tunnels) offered a quick prototype to help see how it would look.
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the arc made sense, so now setting about squaring up a white oak timber for re-sawing
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re-sawn white oak and a glue-lamination form ready to make an arc
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the glue lamination in the form- my 8 year old son was indispensable in this process, helping to roll glue, assemble, and clamp
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rhythm is in unity to woodwork
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the white oak timber, reconfigured as a messy arc
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work for the jack plane
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now the smoothing plane
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cutting the tapers along the length of the arc at the band saw
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marking the taper at the width
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cutting the taper at the width
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more elbow grease with the smoothing plane
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shaping the many curves and facets along the arc, first with a drawknife
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then with spokeshave
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establishing details with knife
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facets ease into curves
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test fitting- some refining-shaping to go yet
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setting the location of the chamfers on the leg-base
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shaving away rasp markings
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carving corner transitions
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so many details to bring together- here the leg base is about done.

That’s it for this round- next week there will be lots of sanding, also carving and inlay work as the table finally starts to become unified. Thank you to everyone for following along, and for your encouraging comments.

The Champion Table Build, Part 3: Leg Joinery

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flattening walnut stock with a wooden joiner for the top rails of the leg assembly
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using winding-sticks to make sure there is no twist in the board
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finishing up with a #7 jack plane
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squaring up the remaining edges and dimensioning the walnut on the bandsaw
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layout lines
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initial shaping of the curves on the top rail of the legs
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testing it against the table-top
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sawing lengths of white-oak for the vertical posts of the leg assembly
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the white oak after squaring-up
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testing the concept and a few angles before committing
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laying out the leg joints
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establishing the sliding dovetail angle with a knife
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cutting the front of the sliding dovetail
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all the bandsaw work done, now the hand-tools will finish
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paring the back cheek of the tenon
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the joint is most of the way there- the waste between the mortise and the dovetail is yet to be removed
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the four white oak legs all cut
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the arsenal of tools to accurately transfer the dimensions of the tenon/ dovetails onto the walnut rails
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marking
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starting the cut for the sliding dovetail socket with a carcass saw
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another view cutting sliding dovetail sockets
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chopping out the waste in the socket
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paring the sidewalls unreached by the saw
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using a router plane to achieve an accurate floor of the joint- the leg on the cutter allows it to reach the angled corners
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another view of the router-plane
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starting the mortise with a 3/4 mortise chisel
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the first row is delicate- just establishing the shape and protecting the corners
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going the full depth of the mortise with an auger – you can see the round-topped sliding dovetail socket parallel to the mortise
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squaring the mortise the rest of the way with the mortise chisel
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cleaning the sidewalls with my extra-big paring chisel
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thank God, they fit!
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step one is successful- to get to this point took endless drawings and two complete practice joints and a lot of patience
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marking the leg rails for some shaping/ sculpting cuts on the band saw
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the top rails post rough-shaping, and the taper of one of the white-oak legs marked with blue tape
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dry re-assembly just to make sure
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the glue-up
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next week will concern the joining of the bottom rail and the final shaping of the leg assemblies

Der Aufbau des Champion-Tisches, Teil 2: Rand

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surface preparation with a Stanley #80 scraper
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the swirly walnut grain is difficult to plane but the scraper is able to deal with it efficiently
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beginning to fit the side rails and bread-board ends
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marking the end cuts with a sharp knife
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then creating a shoulder along that line with a chisel assures a clean cut without tearing the grain
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cutting along the shoulder with a sharp crosscut saw
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a small array of saws to do this job
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cutting the central breadboard tenon
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coming up to the other side with a pull-saw
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both ends of the table are now cut
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cutting the base of the tenon “cheeks”
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really no other position to accurately make this cut
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cutting away the “cheeks”
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the finished tenon, and a groove has been cut to receive a floating tongue to align the breadboard
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laying out the positions of the mortise and tenons on the side rails and breadboards
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cutting the tenon on the side rails
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checking for a tight fit. the side rails are attached with glued tongue and groove joints, while the breadboards are “floating”, held in place by a tongue and groove joint and two “draw-bored” mortise and tenon joints, which will allow for expansion and contraction where the grain intersects perpendicular rather than parallel, yet holding the boards tight to the edge of the table. Two opposing corners are pinned miters and the other two are mortised.  imagine the table being able to expand in width along the length of the two boards left long to see the allowance for seasonal cross grain movement.
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treating the edges before the final assembly
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drilling for the dowels for the pinned miter joints where the live edges come together
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a brad point drill marks the center of the tenon inside
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re-marking the tenon with an offset so that the dowel pin will “draw” it tight to the edge of the table.  the holes will be elongated laterally to allow for joint movement.
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altering geometry with violence
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shaping the dowel pins by pounding the straight oak through a succession of smaller holes drilled in a steel plate until they are round and the size I need
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nearly there
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a batch of pins
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planing a taper
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the taper will allow the pin to engage the offset hole in the tenon and slowly pull it tight
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pounding the pins home for the final assembly
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a little help form a ratchet strap to pull the center tight
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cutting away the exposed ends with a saw
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a tightly pinned joint
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the top all joined. there will be a considerable amount of detail work on the top yet, but first the base