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"ARBORESCENT" DESK
A magnificent mahogany creation titled, "Coming Home to Roost".

SHOP OWNER: Keith Newton
LOCATION: Little Rock, AR

    This piece evolved out a series of tables that I have been making for at least fifteen years, which I call my "Arborescent Series". Most of them have thick glass tops which has a greenish cast and lends to the illusion of the canopy, with the legs grouped in tightly together and branching out like an architectural tree. Initially, the base of this cabinet was actually for a sofa table I made with a glass top and was part of the one-man show that I put together last year at the Cox Center in Little Rock.
    At that time, I was also showing my work in a gallery near the entrance to the Clinton Presidential Library. It was scheduled to open about three months after my other show closed. They were forecasting something like 50 -100,000 people from all around the world would be in town, along with lots of international media. Because they planned to close the streets, everyone would have to walk by my window. Therefore, I wanted to do something that was as much sculpture as functional. This idea had been bouncing around in my head for some time, and since Id already made the table base, I thought I could get it finished in time for the opening. I was wrong, it took a month longer, so I did not get it in the window. It remains unsold and is here in my studio in Little Rock, but it is looking for a home.
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    I fitted it out like a desk on the inside with envelope and flat in-out files, but more than anything else, this was mainly to give the illusion of interior branches. For the customer choosing to use it as a desk, the height would mean they would have to stand. However, its possible to build a companion stool to go with it as well as fit it with a little laptop pullout that would tilt down a little.
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    It measures 25" wide, 62" long, and 62" tall with the front open, and is solid mahogany. The ends, doors, and top bulging curves were coopered, in the sense that they are sawn curves with beveled edges and were glued together to get the thickness for the shape without having to start with much thicker wood, and turning it all into chips. Then with grinders and sanders, I shaped them by hand and eye. I shaped the top edges with a router fitted with a convex sub-base, and specially ground bit. The ends, tops, and bottom are all mortised and tennoned together. Those outside top-to-end joints were fun with the compound curves on both parts meeting at an obtuse angle with four mortise and tenons to cut.
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    When I started this piece, I knew I was going to have some tricky hinging to do. I thought the little end doors would be harder than they were. I used an offset knife hinge forged to the curve and twisted to get the pin plumb for the tops, and then merely drilled through the bottom plumb under that with a specially ground screw for the pin, with a washer over it to hold the door up. Since the door leans back about 1.25" at the top and bulges out down its length and curves out to the side, and is inset, I was anticipating the door would bind as it opened. However, since the end also curves out and back on the inside, they open out to about 110 and work very nice. They have touch latches to keep them closed.
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    The big front door started out to be a pair, and I wasn't sure in the beginning how I would handle that tricky situation, since they would also tilt back and curve out, but the sides were straight, and overlaid to the side. One day while sanding a part, I had this epiphany for these hinges, which use two arms that attach to a plate inside of the cabinet and to another part on the lower back of the door. I stopped sanding and made a little pattern to assure myself that it would work. Later I figured out a formula to make it do what I wanted it to do. I can't wait to use this again; it solves many impossible hinging situations. It could also work horizontally as well as vertically. I would not mind teaching a workshop on this if I could find enough interested people to sign up for a class somewhere.
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    These hinges are 3/8" thick solid brass plate that I cut to shape on my band saw, and sanded and polished here in my shop with normal woodworking tools. The hinge pins all have nylon bushings and side washers to keep them working smoothly.
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    It is finished with Formby's tung oil finish. The pull is a carved bird, flying in to land with its wings out, its tail down and flared to stop, thus the sub-title, "coming home to roost".

. . . Keith Newton


 
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