Sunday, September 29, 2013

Grand Designs: Timber Framed Barn

A British television series I have enjoyed for years is called Grand Designs. I thought this episode from season 11 would be of interest to readers here:

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sidling up to Sideboards

Since the last post in the Mizuya thread,  I have put many hours back into the design process, going right back to square one with considerations of stuff like the primary massing and dividing up of the cabinet. Do I have a design now completed, wrung out to the last latch screw and peg? No. In fact, while I have journeyed fairly far I am not so sure I haven't spent most of my time on a treadmill.

After exploring several different paths, however,  what it came down to was a reflection of several factors:

- the available space in my dining room where the piece will be situated (which happens to be: 96" high, 52" wide, 19.5" deep).
- the dimensions of boards available to me, and which species to use (bubinga, and possibly others)
- various techniques of cabinet construction I could use to build it (frame and panel or joined board, or a mix of the two systems?) Other construction options were discarded.
-consideration of weight of the completed piece lead to the conclusion to use two stacked cabinets instead of one massive one, and then the question comes up, where to divide, assuming a total height of x? Two equal-sized cabinets stacked up? Or, one could make the decision to have them be different sizes... which case the question arises, big one on bottom or on top? Putting it that way sounds a bit risque, does it not? hah!

I've considered this issue of 'larger on top' or 'smaller on top' a bit, and it seems to me that the big one will be heavier to lift, but if placed as the upper cabinet, you don't have to lift it very high off the ground. The smaller one would be easier to lift, however if it is placed up high on a bigger cabinet below, the task of lifting the cabinet up to the upper chest level is physically more demanding and awkward. And if it is more demanding, how often would you tend to want to do that? If the idea is that the smaller upper cabinet would be convenient to use it would be best kept light as possible, given the lifting aspect. Is the lifting aspect a big part of the picture here - do I plan on frequently demounting the cabinet sections? No. But thinking about which arrangement of cabinet section might be more convenient to handle at some point down the line did tend to push the design in a certain direction, shall we say.

So, in considering the idea of having a smaller cabinet on the bottom, I then thought - "no, perhaps not a cabinet so much as a stand" -- hmmm? I started liking the idea of having a larger cabinet sitting on a smaller lower stand. The lower stand can have a shelf and some drawers built in, and the upper cabinet can have various arrangements of compartments, drawers, doors, lattice, etc.. Seemed pleasing to me.

There happen to be some Chinese Ming furniture pattern examples of this arrangement of cabinet on stand:

The material in the above piece looks a bit like Padauk. I like it! This form of cabinet is termed yuan-jiao-gui, 圓角櫃,  in Mandarin Chinese, meaning round '' corner '' cupboard ''.

Here's a pair of such cabinets:

Cabinets like these were often made in pairs, and wow, those are spectacular main door panels!

As you can see, the form, if you compare the last two photos at least, appears somewhat standardized with this type, though in truth it is much more common to find the top cabinet with no stand.

In the heyday of the Ming period in China (1368-1644) a certain Wen Zhenheng (1585–1645), a painter and scholar from a family of famous painters, wrote the work Zhang Wu Zhi, in English called the Treatise on Superfluous Things. It was published circa 1620, and Professor Craig Clunas wrote a dissertation on it called Superfluous Things: Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China. Zhenheng's work is a guide to what the cultured classes, the cognoscenti, considered chic or gauche at the time -well, it is also very much an essay on the moral nature of things in a developing material culture - and there are some sections within that treatise on furniture and furnishings. It ran to twelve volumes altogether.

He was, I suppose, the Martha Stewart of his day, minus the jail time for tax evasion. I think his contribution to culture will live on far longer than Martha's will I suspect.

According to Sarah Handler, in her work Austere Luminosity of Chinese Classical Furniture,

"Wen Zhenheng did not like cabinets with legs unless they had a separate stand (chucian); if the stand was open like a rack (jia), he considered it especially elegant"

Wen Zhenheng is also the fellow who said, upon reflection of the attitudes of a bygone era,

"In making utensils the men of old valued utility without sparing expense; thus, their manufactures were extremely well prepared, unlike the slap dash attitude of the men of later times...they delighted in refined elegance and did not vainly add inscriptions and value only signatures."

In other words, in the preparations of a master artisan, his 'inscription' and 'signature' is apparent in the conception and execution of the piece itself. Of course, we live in a very different age, where there are many people who cannot tell something well made from something run-of-the-mill and in a society in which things of subtlety and repose are largely drowned out by the roar going on everywhere else, at all times. I can't do much about that of course, other than to try and walk in another direction.

Wen Zhenheng is a person whose words I tend to respect and appreciate, even if we come from different planets, so to speak, so if he liked cabinets on open stands in preference to other forms, well, I'm going to give that a bit more consideration than I might otherwise give some dead guy's words....

Notice on the preceding photos that the cabinets are slightly splayed, tapering in mass from bottom to top. The thing to realize with the splay is that the front legs are in compound splay while the back legs are in simple splay. The posts themselves can be square section, rectangular, circular, polygonal I suppose, however it seems to me that the subtleties of compound splayed posts, which are best made using slightly diamond-shaped (rhomboid) sections of timber, would have had their joinery cut when in that rhomboid form, and afterwards shaped into round or other sections. It seems that Japanese sawhorse joinery might have other applications eh?

It seems that in some of the examples of stacked cabinet you see, the splay of the upper and lower cabinets varies, while in other examples it remains the same. A particularly nice one I saw was part of the Dr. SY Yip Collection of fine and important Classical Chinese Furniture, sold on auction at Christies New York in 2002. Here's what that one looked like:

Excuse the glare in the photo - my old Sony camera does not like to take pictures of pages out of books, at least there is no special setting to reduce glare.

I have long liked the tapered cabinet form, as it is a shape which is stable, connoting 'planted', and the tapering also lessens the visual mass up high, dampening the unnerving effect of the piece seemingly  looming over you, or giving the impression it could teeter. It is an elegant way to lighten and stabilize the piece at the same time.

The above piece is obviously too narrow for my situation, and this leads me to consider whether the basic arrangement couldn't form a sort of non-tapered core structure, with very slightly splayed corner posts, using the large cabinet on stand idea?

I like the detail on that piece of how the upper cabinet feet are retained at the formed lip on the lower tabletop's frame:

That's a good solution to the puzzle of how to nest the cabinets so they can't slide relative to one another, a way that leaves the lower table not too 'disfigured' for the eventuality that the cabinets are used in a separated configuration for some reason and you'll want to use that lower stand as a table surface of some sort. Looks better, and works better, if it doesn't have sliding dovetail mortises, bolt holes and such mechanisms shown in the surface. With that piece, I think if you took the upper cabinet off, the lower table would be a useful piece on its own and would not look obviously like it was a support stand for another cabinet.

Now, having the cabinet with a splayed form is one choice, and in many cases I tend to prefer it. Another way to go is to have the cabinet with no post slope:

The above piece, a favorite of mine in huang-huali (a now near extinct variety of rosewood) could also look good sitting on a stand,  and maybe with very slight post slope - -  or not. I think the un-tapered cabinet would look better if it was below eye height, as a taller rectangle of a case cabinet starts to 'loom' a bit. I prefer the un-sloped framing for the door hinging though.

Notice on these doors there is a basic choice between having them hinged in metal on the front, or riding on wooden pins extending from the inner door frames, like this:

The central stick with lockplate can also be swung out of the way and removed if necessary to give complete access to the interior. Not sure I want to duplicate this system with the removable divider, though it is certainly a candidate for 'tried and true'. Not sure I want the wooden hinge pins, but I'm not wild about the big plate hinges on the front. How heavy and big are the doors going to be?

A variant form of storage/display cabinet I considered in my wanderings is one with an upper display cabinet built in (i.e., not a construction involving two boxes, one stacked atop the other), the wàn guì,萬曆櫃,which means ten thousand '' era '' cupboard '':

This one has framing members carved to resemble bamboo, and is not standing on feet but a sill, but it gives you the idea of how the upper portion of a one-piece cabinet might be configured as a display and storage area. While interesting, it's a bit too powerful a piece in visual terms for the space in which I am intending to place my cabinet.

I'm looking to make a cabinet that does not loudly pulse with life in the room, blocking out consideration of all other aspects to the space, or competing with them - - something a bit more quiet on the outside, so the standard form of Chinese paneled cabinet appeals to me, as does having some open shelves or a work area as part of a cabinet.

Backtracking a bit now, I looked for a while at making the lower cabinet about 32" tall and employing a thicker slab of wood as a work table, a place to keep stuff if need be, and an upper cabinet build around it. Working on that premise, I did some sketches to work out the framing. Here are some of the early versions I was playing with:

I did develop an interesting solution to attaching a half-mitered bread board end to a larger board, and I have filed that away for future reference. The one in the foreground has slimmed down elements in comparison to the one behind, and non-molded feet, otherwise they are rather similar.

For a while I tried to make the division between the two cabinets happen at the table top, however after a time exploring that idea I then began to look at making the bottom cabinet a tier or so taller:

In the above sketch the posts are continuous from the ground to the top. The bread board end joinery has been further elaborated to allow the posts to come through, and I'll say no more about that. The extra stick in there above the sliding doors was a beginning of another idea as to possibly dividing up the work area. And, as you can see, I was now working at keeping the vertical divisions of the cabinet - into 1/3rds - consistent in pattern at the top and bottom of the cabinet. The triple sliding doors, however, take up too much track width, just as I feared, driving the width of the posts up concomitantly if they were to be integrated. I also don't find myself liking the 'large cabinet on the bottom' thing.

I also wanted to find a way to visually lighten the upper cabinet, and recessing it back a step, or sideways a step, from the lower cabinet wasn't a particularly workable/elegantly achievable option with the framing system I was exploring. The above design seemed to be going nowhere fast. It's certainly salvageable, but with the shortcomings apparent, I started to look at other ideas.

When I have looked at making the upper cabinet in a stack the smaller, narrow, or shallower one, I haven't really liked the options. I've looked at heaps of western hutches, sideboards, buffets, and the arrangement of lower unit with a table top, having a smaller upper cabinet perched on top, just doesn't look good to me. The cabinets don't look well integrated with one another in many examples I have seen.

I came to realize though that the idea of having the cabinets work as well when used as stand-alones, and the idea of a 'work' surface, which is really a storage/staging area, was less important or relevant than I had imagined it might be when first considering it. No one is going to be rolling bread dough out on the sideboard table surface, or chopping veggies. Also, working the steps of the design in around the table I found can become a bit complex when combining a tabletop slab with the frame and panel construction on the rest of the cabinet. Getting the table top to float on the frame and panel superstructure is no big deal, however bringing posts through the table top, all the while allowing for seasonal movement in that slab top, and incorporating a mitered bread board end, is a trickier piece to work out satisfactorily, though I did find a way that worked. It's one of those places where I envy slightly someone designing a similar looking piece but made with veneered plywood: one would have no concern at all in regards to wood movement. A certain freedom in design, but who wants a piece of furniture made from plywood? Not me.

I realized that a table top which was also a frame and panel system, while it was less desirable as a work surface, does suffice perfectly well as temporary storage and staging, and uses a lot less material and is more seamlessly integrated with the rest of the frame and panel system. So, the thick slab top idea faded from consideration.

I kept looking at classic Ming furniture examples, as I have loads of books and other materials on the topic. I don't find much good stuff online in that regard, and I can search using Chinese to a reasonable enough extent. I can't read Chinese, especially when in the modern simplified script, but searching using older forms of Chinese characters works well enough. Older Chinese characters, especially those ideograms common to the Japanese language, are more my cup of tea.

This example following has frame members with a round-faced profile, yuan-jiao-gui, and is fitted with lattice-work doors in the upper incorporated section:

Similar to the ten-thousand era cabinet but with a much more enclosed upper section.

I could see something like those latticed doors, but with the shippō-gumi overlapping circles lattice I designed for the previous design iteration...and using sliding doors instead, perhaps?

The presence of lattice also poses the question of whether to use it with glass, or paper, or neither, and if you do go with glass whether to place that glass on the inside or on the outside of the lattice? If it is on the outside it does hide the lattice from view somewhat, making that element effectively more subdued in nature, but it also keeps the dust off both lattice bars and cabinet contents. If on the inside, the lattice is strongly expressed but the dusting will be tedious, as it would be with no glass employed.

There are some Japanese kitchen cabinets which have wire mesh screens in behind latticed doors or panels, to allow certain food items to be kept, but the wire mesh, at least in the examples I have seen, just does not comport with 'fine' furniture to my way of thinking. In certain settings, like a rural farmhouse kitchens, it would be fine I'm sure.

Our house is not a museum, nor does it have the kind of regular maid service that others with furniture can afford to splurge on, so our house is not what you might call completely dust free all the time. I would say in fact, rarely. The idea of the glass on the outside of the doors, keeping both the lattice and the contents of the upper area free from dust, seems the pragmatic route at the very least if I go with latticework. Lattice doors with the glass on the outside is easy to clean, lets some light into a section of the cabinet, and it turns down the 'volume' on those lattice. Thoughts to move forward with....

Glass added to doors however bumps the weight of the doors up, which might make metal hinges of some sort overly large, or prone to wearing out sooner, and the frame of the door can tend to sag eventually from the weight. I certainly have no interest in big clunky hinges. Not sure if small knife hinges are a good choice on a heavier door - I'll have to look into the weight capacities of different hinges.

It did occur to me though that the shippō-gumi framework - or similar diagonally joined lattice forms -  is more or less configured so it works akin to a series of slender and well side-stiffened 'mini-braces' within the door. Aha! A door with that framework, the 'braces' oriented correctly to run from lower hinge diagonally out and up, should resist frame sagging for a long time, certainly longer, one would think, than a door without bracing and using only the joinery to resist the frame deformation resulting from gravity.

So, maybe a hinged door arrangement would work fine, but sliding doors do have their attractions: well-supported, easy to remove in seconds, never taking up space into the room when opened, and, trapped as they are within tracks, tending towards remaining flat and free of twist over time, as noted by a commenter in the previous post. These are pluses for sure. Cleaning the tracks can be tedious - and the doors limit access to one-half of the cabinet at a time. It seems to me that a pair of hinged doors is more a necessity if what you place in the cabinet is sufficiently wide that both doors need to be open for the thing to be taken in and out. I can't think of anything dining-related that would be so wide, so I tend to think the sliding doors make a lot of sense here. They do work poorly if their height to width ratio goes above about 3:1, so there are circumstances where hinged doors would be a better choice. That height to width aspect I can of course consider in design when dividing the cabinet up horizontally.

One more thing: see in the preceding picture what a difference the hardware can make? It's not long afterward, when metal plates are applied, before the piece starts to look a bit, um, 'armored'. That's the direction things start to head, at least in my mind. Some people like that 'heavy metal' look, but if 'toned down' is what one is looking for, then the hardware might be better kept on the discrete side of the line. Lots of voices can 'speak' in a piece of furniture, however it can be hard to decipher the message if all are speaking at the same time. I'm get to decide which ones get to speak, and which ones will be on 'mute'. Hah -I try not to let this solemn responsibility eat away at me - my god the pressure (I'm kidding, sorta).

Also, while I'm not sure I like the carved spandrel assembly below the main doors on that cabinet in terms of its overall height, I do like the use of the negative space at the corners of that assembly. Interplays of solid and negative space are often intriguing. That spandrel assembly, even if of modest thickness, and if given at least, say, 2" of section height, will considerably stiffen the rail above, so having them incorporated is a good idea from a structural perspective. They are also a visual element which can be repeated throughout the cabinet, at different scales if need be. There are numerous stylistic possibilities for these spandrels and, as noted, they work add to stiffness to the cabinet.

Frame and panel continues to be my preference for construction system. The decision about whether to edge glue boards for wider panels, or to use one-piece panels instead comes up and hasn't been concluded yet, though I'm leaning towards non glued-up, single-board panels. With bubinga I can obtain 20" wide vertical grain panels, and that is about all the room I have available anyway in terms of cabinet depth. The question arises when looking at door width however, given the 52" available and the potential for having two doors spanning such a width.

So, after some hours drawing, and finding the direction taking me places where I wasn't finding 'rightness', I have taken a bit of time to consider the overall picture again and am now leaning towards a large paneled cabinet on a stand with a shelf and a couple of drawers. If I make the outer posts in the splayed form, and the inner posts plumb another advantage crops up -  the outer posts, with more surface exposed to view, can be kept fairly light in section for a lighter visual effect, while the inner posts, less viewable perhaps, could possibly be made deeper in section to accommodate sliding door tracks. I can see how that would be combined. So, that is the direction I am intending to explore next with a drawing. I have taken the past week away from this drawing to let things percolate a bit and am now feeling that it is time to embark on the next exploration. Stay tuned for the next post.

Cabinet design is tough! So many things to consider, so many different roads one could go down. There's no guarantee my next exploration won't take me out into a weedy patch, but you never know, it might just get me through this time. We'll see. I'm not moving forward with high confidence, but I am willing to explore and see where things come out. Designs can be endlessly tweaked and refined, and any furniture maker will tell you that, given the chance to make a piece again, there is something they would likely improve with every piece they have made, especially if they have had time to live with the piece in their own house. I'm living with a cabinet, a chair, a coffee table, and a room divider, all my own design and manufacture, and i cannot look at them without seeing something I could improve or tweak somehow. So, maybe in a sense design is never done - the question is, at what point does one say, 'that's the design I'm going to go with?' At what point do you settle? How patient can you be?

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way, and comments are always welcome. On to the next post in this series.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mizuya (12): Total Makeover?

In the last post in this series discussing the design process for a kitchen sideboard, or hutch - what the Japanese call a mizuya - post 10 (post 11 relating to acquiring some wrought iron for potential hardware), I felt I had brought the design to a good spot for a pause in the process:

While the hardware left much to be desired at the spot where I had left off, I thought I had come to an arrangement which was satisfactory in terms of the wood bits. With other work on the slate, the sideboard  project was left to brew for a time. That was 10 months ago, and other than gradually acquiring some materials, I haven't in truth given the project a heck of a lot of further thought. Until recently, that is.... What follows is a fresh look at design issues with this cabinet - forgive me if I ramble at times.

My design inspiration began with a Japanese mizuya, but as I worked through that design it has taken on, in my view at least, some Chinese furniture aspects, with a side trip also to consider Korean cabinets for design ideas.

Sizing Parts.

As mentioned in previous posts, a typical mizuya is constructed with softwood, and then lacquered or stained. The size of the posts on the carcase with this form of Japanese cabinet is governed largely by the interface of the post with the sliding door. I say this while setting aside for the moment aesthetics, and 'tradition'.

The width of the sliding door tracks, given the presence of two joined door frames running within, and the possibility that one door can be slid by the other in either direction all the way over to the post, needs to be at least 2" I would say. This track width requires a post wide enough to backstop the two sliding door thicknesses, and accept the track section, with some added width required if the track and post do not meet each other flush at one face. A post minimum size might be on the order of 2.25~2.5 inches. The current design has the post at 3.5".

The requirement for accommodating the track produces a post, in softwood,  that is somewhat wider than it needs to be for strength alone. When using a tough hardwood such as the bubinga that I have intended from early days in this design, one ends up  with post sections which are probably double the width they need to be in terms of structural integrity.

Now, some allowance needs to be made for joinery when sizing members, so that suggests a slightly thicker post perhaps than the minimum that might work if there were no interrupting joinery. Given that, there is also the matter of the high strength of the bubinga, which would certainly allow for slim post sections if the joinery could be worked out. Slimmer post sections can be employed, and represent a somewhat wiser and economical use of material than thick sections. To move to slimmer posts though means a move away from sliding doors to hinged doors. The sliding doors and attendant tracks can only be slimmed down so far, especially in view of having decent joinery options at the door frame corners. So, not quite sure what direction to take there for the moment.

Hinged or Sliding doors?

I haven't come across Chinese classical cabinets and shelves with sliding doors- they are all hinged. Sometimes metal hinges are used, other times the outer stile is formed with all-wood pin-like extensions which fit into corresponding sockets in the frame. This design is very pure in terms of its use of wood alone for the mechanism, however the doors cannot open much past 135˚ with that design. A pro and a con. I do kinda like sliding doors overall though - just like the feel of them when well set up.

I could see a way in which the all-wood hinge could be configured to allow for a greater door opening range. I then, however, can't help but think that themodern Brusso type of L-shaped knife hinges, which are a heck of a lot more discrete might well be a better choice - and that goes as well when they are compared to the much larger metal hinges one usually sees on classic Chinese cabinets. That said, one 'plus' to a sliding door is that nothing is swung out into the room, so though one can only access half the cabinet at a time, one can do so without getting out of the way of the door swinging outward.

Breaking Down the Monolith.

There's another issue that arises though with post sections, and other sections in the carcase for that matter: the weight of the complete cabinet. While portability is not part of the design consideration here, I can see that the current design is going to make for a cabinet on the heavier side, perhaps topping 200 lbs (90kg.). Thick posts and sills, and panels with raised fields, while connoting a pleasing chunkiness, a certain luxuriousness possibly, also make for a certain excessiveness as well. Depends how you look at it, certainly, but I do find myself admiring the combination of really hard tough woods and graceful lightness that are so much a part of classical Chinese furniture. I guess that is the inspiration which is most appealing to me, and the direction I would like to follow.

Thinking more about the idea of a 7' tall cabinet which weighs a few hundred pounds to begin with, and then is loaded up with plates, bowls, silverware., etc, well, it starts to become really quite heavy. While I'm sure the floor can take it, I'm not sure my back can! The solutions to the portliness are some form of component 'ultra-slim fast' or, re-design to make the entire cabinet actually two smaller cabinets stacked up. This is hardly an uncommon solution to the problem for overly-large cabinets, however the Japanese examples of mizuya which are built from two framed cabinets end up with a doubled band of wood framing elements at the point they stack, and this doubled layer has always looked like an ugly thick band around the cabinet to my eyes. Another strike, I suppose, against drawing inspiration from mizuya in terms of a stacked pair of cabinets. There are Chinese cabinets comprised of two smaller cabinets, and I'm giving those a closer look. With both the Chinese and Japanese versions, when the two cabinets are separated, to one degree or another the two components can be used independently, which is an aspect which appeals to me a great deal.

Western hutches have often been built from two smaller assemblies, however in most cases I have seen, when the two assemblies are separated from one another, only the lower case remains functional as an independent cabinet.

The idea of having a larger cabinet which can be broken down into two smaller fully-functional cabinets seems like a wise design considering that 50 or 100 years from now a later owner of the cabinet may use the piece in an entirely different manner. Maybe sideboards will be totally out of fashion, or people have their dining rooms set up quite differently, who knows? If a furniture piece has a certain amount of 'generic functionality' built into it, then if can be more readily re-purposed than say, that hand-dovetailed cabinet you built to hold 500 VHS tapes.

Cabinet Construction Ruminations.

Chinese cabinets are generally built as demountable structures, whereas Japanese cabinets generally making use of adhesives, though in the better pieces this was using the starch of rice paste-based glue, which is reversible. These days most Japanese furniture makers seems satisfied to use 'bondo' which is a Japanese brand of white aliphatic resin glue, and is not nearly so reversible as the plant- or animal-based glues. Glue was never something to be slathered on the joints anyway - that would indicate poor joinery, full stop. The point is, if the joinery is technically good, just like if a grappler's pin is technically good in jū-jutsu, then not a lot of added strength should be required to make it work.

It seems like the Japanese idea was to make the entire cabinet quite light so that if there was some need to move it, there was a possibility to lug the entire thing out in one piece, or possibly two pieces. The Chinese idea seems to have been that the cabinet, made from tough elastic woods in the best examples, knocks apart with a mallet and is transported in knocked-down fashion. A cabinet might knock down into 8~10 frame and panel assemblies, for instance.

Another look at the Bottom End.

Another issue has recently come to occupy my thoughts with the design as it stands at present is the 'post on sill' aspect. A lot of Japanese cabinets are post on sill, as indeed is the case for some of their wooden architecture. Chinese Ming and Qing cabinets, on the other hand, invariably put the posts right to the ground and fit the horizontals in between the posts. This, it is said, was due to the tile and earthen floors in Chinese houses tending to be damp at times. The Japanese house also had an earthen floor section, however a raised floor characterized most of the space, and the furniture was generally placed on the raised wooden floor. In my case, the floor in my house is wooden, and there is no issue with dampness, however it seems to me that having the cabinet bearing on a sill invites certain problems. For one thing, in such an arrangement the sills need to be at least as wide in section as the posts, so they tend to be kind of chunky. The sill resting on the floor has good air circulation on two sides at best, poor air circulation on the inside, under the floor panel, and no air circulation with the portion which is directly against the floor. Even Japanese timber buildings which use posts on sills rest those sills on the foundation such that there are places for air to circulate under the sills in places, and under the entire floor structure for that matter. Wood which gets an even air circulation on all faces tends to remain stable, whereas wood which gets uneven degrees of air exposure is more likely to have issues with bowing and warping in the long run. And the last thing I would want is a cabinet in which the sill had become uneven in respect to the floor, producing a cabinet that rocked slightly when pushed or when a door was opened perhaps.

A sill means that a good fit to the floor involves a flat floor too. Our house is modern and on a good foundation, so the floor should be decently flat. But 50 years from now - and 50 years is nowhere near the design lifespan I am aiming towards - the cabinet may be in another house without such flat floors. And dealing with an uneven fit of cabinet to floor, whether caused by the sills moving or the floor, is generally accomplished by shimming with folded bits of card stock, etc., which is generally not what you would call an aesthetic 'plus' to the desired overall effect, now is it? Knowing that may happen down the line, perhaps there is a way to design from the get-go to forestall or eliminate that outcome altogether.

With a cabinet mounted on four legs/points instead of a framed sill, there remains the possibility that the cabinet will not fit the floor perfectly, however with integral levelers on at least two of the legs, then solving any rocking problem is a piece of cake, and if the cabinet is moved to another spot where the floor is different (a near certainty with a wood-framed floor), the fit can be re-tuned, with at worst the minor hassle of emptying of cabinet contents beforehand.

Now, one can relieve the underside of the sills in such a way that the sills only bear at their ends, directly under the posts, however the trade off there is that you create a narrow crevice under the sill for dust and dirt to accumulate, and it is an area that can't be easily cleaned without moving the cabinet. If this direction were taken, then it would make sense to have the cabinet on wheels in some fashion so that it could be rolled out of the way for cleaning that area from time to time. The plan for this cabinet however is not to create something akin to a Japanese wheeled chest, or kuruma dansu, so any use of wheels in this case would mean something altogether more discrete - it would likely involve modern heavy duty metal and rubber/plastic ball-bearing swiveling wheels, which represents a move away from 'traditional'. Ditto for the Brusso type brass knife hinges, but those are inherently simple things, and quite discrete. A cabinet with posts directly on the floor allows for the floor of the cabinet to be, say, 6~8" off the ground, which means that cleaning underneath it is no big deal, so my thoughts for the design are starting to consider moving things in that direction.


A final consideration involves my desire to employ joinery which is demountable. As a reader pointed out on post 10 of this series, my use of wedged through tenons in places on the existing design is not exactly what one would call 'demountable', at least not conveniently. So, I'd like to revisit those areas and see what alternatives might work just as well, all the while also striving to not overload the piece with too many exposed tenons and pegs, ala Greene and Greene. I'm looking to make a piece with, hopefully, more quiet repose than that. I think I'm getting past the point where a concern about making a piece express its joinery, so that the constructional system is 'clear' to the viewer, has been a little misguided on my part. The fact is, in this day and age, the vast majority of people viewing a cabinet are not going to get that exposed pegs and joinery even relates to a structural logic, conditioned as they are to view objects primarily in terms of their decoration. So, I am thinking to discard that concern altogether and make a piece so that the joinery is doing what it needs to and is toned down. Try to make the lines of the piece speak, and the wood, and put the construction in the background.

Just because the constructional aspect is being calmed in expression does not mean that the "if you can't see it who cares?" idea is somehow going to come into play, and the next step is to use biscuits, dowels or some similar system. I believe in the virtues of demountable joinery, and that forms a bedrock of how I design things, and always will.

Conclusions, however tentative.

So many things to think about it seems! I'm definitely at a juncture with the design. I'm inclined to revamp the design, and with that idea comes a feeling that I've got to 'throw it all out' and start again. But, lest the baby get tossed out with the bathwater, I recognize that there are a few aspects to the cabinet which I will definitely want to retain. Among them, the fabrication in bubinga, the frame and panel system, the fastener- and glue-free drawer design (which I think should work, though it is a design that's very much 'experimental' in nature), and the shippō-gumi lattice pattern of overlapping circles in the upper glassed doors. I also like the small cornice I have made in the 'ceiling' of the cabinet. The basic arrangement of drawers and doors below also works in terms of what will go in the cabinet.

With all of the aforementioned elements in seeming flux, and presuming I make some of the changes I've been contemplating, the term 'mizuya' doesn't make so much sense. I'm not sure it made sense to call the piece a mizuya earlier on either, but it was a starting point. As the design moves ever further away from the 'classic' mizuya pattern, I think I'll simply be calling this a 'sideboard', with what you might call 'various influences'. I'm less interested in adhering to a given pattern than I am in understanding at least some of the 'whys' of that pattern and adopting those aspects that work for my situation, and making a piece which is logical to the materials I am using. Duplicating a pattern generally expressed in a softwood can of course be done, but in the end it makes the most sense, when you consider it in detail, to move away a bit from the pattern when using a much harder and stronger material. Patterns come about for very good reasons, reflecting as they do something which has worked on several levels. It doesn't mean there might not be some room in there for adding at least a well-considered footnote.

Just talkin' here. Hopefully you managed to stay awake.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way. In the next post in this series I will show the next stop in the design process. The re-draw has begun - we'll see what gels and what settles out. I hope you'll stay tuned.