Friday, March 21, 2008

The Classic Sleigh Bed

Classic? Well, classic in looks, I'm not sure about classically constructed. Panels, raised on both sides, set in a framework, beaded on both sides, with a teardrop shaped top piece in thick candycane legs. Sounds like just the sort of bed your looking for right?

I have made 5 of these beds now, and I stated that I hated them when I received my first one about a year ago. My opinion hasn't changed. They are difficult to make, heavier than heavy, and seemed to have not been thoroughly thought out.

The panelwork is all straight, so the tops of the legs are curved, and then we angle and teardrop the top piece so that it gives the illusion of curvature. The bottom rail and the top teardrop are mortised into the legs, but since the top is at an angle the only way to "mortise" is to use the pinrouter with a special jig (one for each side of the headboard, and each side of the footboard, and another for each side of the low footboard).

The stiles are butted against the legs, with the top and bottom tenons keeping everything in place. And someone decided that 5/8" tenons were the right size going into 1 3/4" legs, but to add longevity we drive screws through the leg into the tenons.

The knives for the beaded rails and the copes on the stile ends aren't matches, so you have to run everything twice to get it to line up right but loose, and the raised panels are interesting because after you've raised one side, you have to keep a block under the panel edge so the blade and powerfeed can't push it down (making things inconsistent).

The teardrop top was mostly a guess and check thing, until I actually wrote down the angles (which amazingly enough don't change from bed to bed).

All of this make this a not fun bed to make. I think they are ugly to boot. After the first one, I was told that we were discontinuing the bed, and we'd never make one again. Four months later, I received two. Since I had been told I never had to build them again, I didn't take any notes, or keep the two pages that had been copied for me. We of course couldn't find the original information, so I had to recreated everything from memory and talking with the guy who'd built this before. This lack of writing things down seems to be a trend with this company.

I've been told that getting the teardrop to line up perfectly with the tongue in the top rail, and sit tight, and correct in the mortise is the hardest part of the whole thing. That seems to be the easy part for me.

What got me this week, after I had these two "finished", was the king sized walnut bed needed better sanding....3 times. I did all the sanding, so I have only myself to blame, but the first time was the way the light didn't hit one part of the panel when it was lying on my bench being sanded initially. The second was from swirl marks left by our random orbitals because it had two coats of oil based finish on it before they handed it back to me the first time (and oil seeps deep into the grain, and is smoother than our fine grit sandpaper). The third time was actually an extension of the second, because I didn't see the remaining few swirl marks until I moved it back to the finishing bay. Luckily, I could get them really quick before any more oil went on the panel.

The other sticking point was on both beds, but only becomes an issue on my full sized cherry bed. Since the bead and cope framework is loose, I shoot pinnails into the joints to hold it together. This is my fifth bed, so this is the fifth time I've shoot pinnails into the framework. The walnut one got a dark enough stain to "hide" the filler over the pinnail holes, or at least not-be-as-obvious. The cherry filelr, along with a little filler up where the tongue meets the teardrop, was noticeable. And apparently unacceptable.

So, I got the news yesterday, that I needed to remake the cherry headboard. I aimed to save the legs, the teardrop, and the raised panels. With some patience (close to an hour and a half), a heatgun, and some vinegar to help dissolve the glue, I managed to crack both legs, and the teardrop. Oh, and before I finished it the first time, I had forgotten to drive the screws into the tenons, and just plugged the holes. Kind of a testament to not using the screws, and maybe increasing the tenon size.

So, I have the two raised panels, and have to create the rest of the headboard new. By the end of Monday. And every machine that could help me accomplish this today was occupied, for hours at a time.

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