Walnut Serving Tray

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Nothing quite matches the elegance of walnut, and (his contemporary serving tray is handsome enough to be displayed on a wall. The project is designed to provide an introduction to the fascinating but often maligned art of veneering. For those who believe that veneer work is a hallmark of inferior furniture, we respectfully submit that the museums of America and Europe arc full of the most outstanding examples of the cabinetmaker's art, and a good deal of it is veneered. An eighteenth-century English kneehole desk completely veneered in walnut burls is a thing of unforgettable beauty.

Veneering conserves rare and costly woods by using them in extremely thin sheets rather than thick boards. Also, projects can be enhanced with striking grain effects, easy to achieve with veneers and impossible to duplicate with solid stock. Of no less importance is the fact that proper veneering provides dimensional stability and resistance to warping, a definite advantage in furniture construction.

Most veneers are sold by the square foot and come in three-foot lengths. Widths vary, but generally range from 4" to 12". The serving tray consists of a core of W plywood covered on both sides with walnut veneer, a total of about three square feet. Tray handles are fashioned from solid %» walnut, and the rims are thin walnut strips. The catalogs offered by veneer suppliers show color photos of the various grain patterns available, depending on how the walnut log is sliced (see p. 244 for a list of veneer suppliers). If you have never worked with veneer before, choo>e a striped and quartered veneer for this project, rather than a burl or crotch which are more difficult to handle.

Begin b> cutting plywood to a rectangle 10. x 26* Referring to Figure 1, measure down 2 ." from opposite corners, and from the center. Drive small naili at these points. Next, cut a strip »* thick x 28" long from the edge of a piece of clear %" pine. Bend this strip around the nails, holding it in place with additional nails driven in on each side of the strip. This should give you a nice fair curve, and by running your pencil along the inside edge, you can scribe one side of the tray. Cut along ihis line as smoothly as possible with a jig or saber saw. The waste piece can then be used to draw the curve of the opposite side. Save both waste pieces to be used later when clamping the rims to the veneered tray.

Cut 2Vt" from both ends of the plywood, and form the Ks x rabbets on the bottom edges of the ends as shown in Detail A. Next, cut 3 x 8" handles from %" walnut, and cut the grooves to receive the plywood. The finger grips shown in Detail B are cut by lowering the pieces over an 8" circular saw blade, or they can be cut with a router. Trim the handles to match the curves of the plywood, using a waste piece of plywood previously cut as a template. Trim the handles slightly long to be filed down flush later when they are glued to the tray.

if the veneer sheets you have on hand are not wide enough to cover the plywood core, it will be necessary to joint two together. To do this lay one sheet on top of the other, align the edges, and, using a steel straightedge and veneer saw. cut a new straight edge through both sheets. Veneer saws arc inexpensive and will cut a perfectly straight line, whereas a knife has a tendency to wander off with the grain.

After cutting the sheets, align the cut edges and clamp them between two boards so that the cut edges project slightly. Plane these edges flush with the boards using a plane sel for a very fine cut. Lay the sheets on a flat surface, with jointed

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edges together, and close the joint with veneer pins driven in about 1" from each side of the joint. Cover the joint with gummed veneer tape applied on the face side, the side that doesn't get glued.

Turn over the assembled veneers to the un-taped side, open the joint slightly (the tape acts as a hinge), and run a thin bead of glue along the joint. Brush the glue across the joint and wipe away the exccss.

Veneer can be applied with ordinary white glue but this requires careful clamping. The easiest method is to use a contact glue developed especially for veneers and sold by veneer suppliers. This glue eliminates the need for presses, clamps, and other such cumbersome devices.

Before applying glue to the plywood core, fill all dents and other imperfections and sand the surface level. Working in a well-heated room, apply the glue according to the directions on the container, trying for an even coverage on both plywood and veneer. Allow the glue to set for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cut a slip sheet from wax or brown paper, slightly larger all around than the core. When the glue has dried sufficiently so the slip sheet can be moved about without sticking, align the slip sheet about K" down from one rabbeted end. Carefully align the veneer, taped side up, with the plywood, and press down so that the two glued surfaces come in contact just along the 54" strip exposed by the slip sheet. Continue slipping the sheet down, allowing the glued surfaces to come together. Use a wooden veneer roller, applying firm pressure to bond the surfaces together, and being careful to keep from breaking off the delicate overhanging veneer edges.

After the veneer has been bonded, turn the panel over and cut ofT the overhang with a sharp knife. Repeat the gluing process on the reverse side of the panel. To remove the gummed tape, dampen it with a sponge and gently peel it off with a blunt-edged knife. If it doesn't peel off easily, apply more water, but be careful not to soak the veneer. This is a good time to finish sand the top surface of the tray.

The handles can now be glued in place. When they are dry, file them flush with the ends of the panel, taking care to keep the curves fair. Referring to Detail C, cut a rabbet along the edge of a piece of % x 28" walnut. Then rip the 54"-wide rabbeted strip from the board. Bend this strip around the edge of the tray and mark where each handle meets the tray. Trim this portion to a thickness of %z", using the table saw to start the cut and finishing up with a chisel.

Gluing, bending, and clamping the rims in place is a fussy procedure, so plan on doing one at a time. Spread glue carefully on the mating surfaces, making certain not to slop any on the face veneer. Nail a stop strip to the work surface and place one of the waste pieces of plywood against it with the curve facing you. Align a rim against this and bring the tray against the rim, forcing it into a curve. Place the second piece of waste against the other edge of the tray and


clamp the entire assembly together. Use as many clamps as possible; or if you lack clamps, nail another strip to the work surface along the other side of the tray and drive wedges in to draw everything together. Allow to dry overnight before removing the clamps and repeating the process with the other rim. Trim off the excess rim ends flush with the handles, and sand the tops of the rims flush with the handles. Finally, glue two - x X x 4" walnut strips to the tray bottom to serve as feet, and slightly round off all sharp edges of rims and handles with sandpaper.

The most durable finish for such a tray is ure-thane varnish. The open-grain walnut should first be filled with a walnut-tinted filler. Mix a small amount of filler with benzine or turpentine according to the manufacturer's directions, and apply to all surfaces. Allow to dry about 10 minutes and wipe off excess filler with a pad of burlap, wiping across the grain. After 24 hours apply several coats of a clear finish. To avoid a high gloss use low-luster varnish, or rub down with fine steel woo! or pumice after the varnish dries.

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