|Testfit revealing uneven gap across the miter|
I testfit both sides in turn before attempting to assemble the whole base. My best guess is that the tenons were originally left long and cut flush only prior to finish application. There was what appeared to be interference with the miter joint on the upper register, compelling me to trim it a bit although this seemed to do little with tightening the joint but the gap was consistent. With so many connecting points in this piece and difficult to recover reference points, I resigned myself to accepting that just getting the table back in order was my goal, not creating tightly fitting joints, which might not ever have been consistently tight. A point worth mentioning is that the leg bottoms were not chamfered, exactly where chamfers serve an important function to prevent splitting. I have no explanation for this detail, but I followed its precedent in the new leg.
|new leg in veeblocks|
I then set up the new leg on the bench in joiner's saddles to chamfer the inner corners that correspond to the chamfers of the skirts. The outside arris received only a slight roundover. The inside arris has the edge minimally softened.
|A hipster version of Mr. Clean|
Going over the finished surface made me examine the table as whole more closely. I started to see just how of poor quality the original stock was for this piece. While it's true that many of the defects were oriented to the inside, that wasn't always the case. Additionally three of the four original legs have boxed heart centers. Resultant checking and holes from the pith were evident.
|Knots on broken leg|
|Checking and pith loss in boxed heart stock|
I know that every workman must balance his inputs (labor and materials) with what he can expect in terms of price for a finished product. This piece, however, seems to have incorporated every marginal stick of lumber on hand. There is not a single piece of lumber in the base that does not display evidence of insect damage, wane, checking, or other defects. While tabletop outer frame is made of by far the best selected pieces (the boards in the center of the tabletop show pith loss), these four boards are also the most crucial of the whole assembly.
|Loss in verticals|
|Powder beetle damage|
|Rough sawn marks left unplaned on exterior surface|
A lesson from this restoration is to understand just how rickety and shaky such a base is without a tabletop to lock it all tight. The strength and mass of the tabletop holds 24 tenons together in its perimeter. I don't think that I've encountered such a complex piece that relies so much on four sticks of wood not failing in function to hold together all the joinery of the whole. It's a mystery why craftsmen of this genre never chose to use pegs to stiffen the joinery. It would certainly be applicable to do so where the upper register intersects the legs. It would also reduce the strain on the leg tenons intersecting and closing the butt miters of the tabletop frame. It's evident from this adhoc repair that the craftsmen were aware of the application of pegs.
|Original pegged repair to control split in open mortise|
|Wedged throughtenon in cross member|
|Pith loss and color contrast once obscured by tinted finish|
|Cigarette scorches formerly obscured by tinted varnish|
|New wood integrated into old|
|Qing style coffeetable in black walnut|
They employ more simplified joinery, (often biscuit joinery), and modern adhesives but they still carry with them long established features of a simian ping, three way flush surfaces and as little tabletop overhang as possible. And yes, in their focus on this form, their pieces display compromises in joinery and a failure to consider wood movement, pushing similar problems into the future.
In the USA and doubtless in other countries, the equivalent of this piece, a generic piesafe can be still found in many homes either as family heirlooms or bought from an antique dealer. It's even possible to buy new pieces that evoke this form.Nobody, I doubt, would use them as their intended function, but form and nostalgia keep them from being turned into firewood or landfill.