Folding Boat Table

I designed and manufactured a custom table for an ocean-going yacht. I made a table that takes up as little space as possible while providing “deployed” functionality superior to what it is replacing. The materials are selected to stand up to the hard-wearing, corrosive marine environment of salt and humidity, and the bashing around that can occur in a cramped cabin while underway.

When deployed with the top closed, one or two users can sit on the starboard bench seat and dine comfortably, while still allowing clear access through the cabin to the front berth and head. The lower swingarm is offset towards the center of the boat to provide plenty of knee clearance and carry the load better when the table is extended. The rounded corners match the curved surfaces of the boat to harmonize aesthetically, and avoid dangerous points if someone loses their footing.

boat table 1/2 deployed

boat table 1/2 deployed

When fully deployed, 4 people can cozily share a meal by sitting on the port side bench as well, and people can still squeak by to get through the cabin if needed.

boat table fully deployed

boat table fully deployed

Like most of my projects, I started with an initial concept, and lots of sketching. It took many pages of sketches to clarify how things should stack, interface, translate, and be constrained, along with initial concepts for construction details.


sketching: paper and my preferred pen, the pilot G-Tec-C4

I moved into 2D CAD to do a scale drawing and make sure everything would fit. The constraints when translating from the ‘up’ position to the ‘down’ position were the required table height and the overall height of the bulkhead that the table stores against. Here I’m working out swing radii and how extended an assist spring would be under different angles.



Not all of the parts were fully defined before I started building. I didn’t come to a complete solution without some trial and error for tolerances, which tested my abilities as a machinist. Close tolerances are critical to having the table operate properly.

mill & drill

mill & drill

I shopped out the welding of the aluminum swingarm frames since I do not have access to a TIG welder. I designed a spring assist to the mechanism but decided the added weight and complexity was not worth the minor potential usability improvement. The finished table can be easily operated by one person.

boat table bits & pieces

boat table bits & pieces

After machining of the frame components, I did a test install in my shop to verify everything. The design relies on a 4-bar linkage to pivot and translate the table surface, with hitch pins to lock the table in the two positions. Because of the linkage the table is never ‘out of control’ even when not locked in place, which provides for safe operation in a moving sailboat.

boat table test

boat table test

The apron surfaces are made of reclaimed teak from the old table which this unit replaces. The top surfaces are marine grade mahogany plywood. All wood surfaces are finished with 3 coats of polyurethane spar varnish, an extra-durable marine coating. The major mechanical components are 6061 aluminum extrusion with stainless steel fasteners and hinges. The aluminum parts were finished with a wire brush wheel chucked into my milling machine.

boat table underside

boat table underside

The reclaimed teak along with the edge grain of the mahogany marine plywood form a nice gradient of wood tones. The amber tint of the spar varnish helps it blend and match the other wood surfaces in the boat cabin.

boat table starboard side

boat table starboard side

The bulkhead is reinforced under the sink with marine plywood blocking to handle the significant torque created by a 40″‘ long lever.

closed and ready to sail in rough seas

closed and ready to sail in rough seas

While underway, the table leaves are kept together with a leather strap snapped to screw-in studs.

locked upright with steel pins, with top held closed with snaps

locked upright with steel pins, with top held closed with snaps

When it’s all buttoned up, it practically disappears, contributing to a much needed sense of space if you’re cooped up in the cabin on a rainy day or a long sea passage.

boat table closed

boat table closed

Spice Drawers

spice drawers

spice drawers

A spice rack is a bit of a clicheéd woodworking project, but it was a fun, quick, Christmas present, to help make the most out of our small kitchen and bring some much needed organization to our spices.

jars o' spice

jars o’ spice

The fronts and backs are made from baltic birch plywood, the runners are made from solid maple, and the sides, bottoms, and dividers are made from a strange red softwood plywood that gives an attractively spicy two-tone look to the project.

bags o' spice

bags o’ spice

Finished with 2 coats of water-based polyurethane, this project produced epic amounts of storage and has made cooking more user friendly and enjoyable.

Simple Softwood Desk

A friend of mine needed a compact desk to fit in a narrow spot beside her bed. Rather than spending days shopping around, why not get something custom? She wanted something clean, elegant, and affordable. I think this desk delivers.

softwood desk

Constructed of a pre-laminated knotty pine shelf panel and resawn spruce 2x4s. I had to buy some extra material and resaw more than I needed to get clean straight quartersawn sticks for the legs and bracing, but I’ll use the extra pieces for something else.

Lap joints are clamped by Chicago bolts, which like many designers I am inordinately fond of. The side frames are glued but the back cross brace is not so it can be flat packed for moving if required.

The desk measures 42″ wide x 19″ deep x 28″ tall. I made it a bit lower than a typical table because it is more comfortable to type on a lower surface.

Lift Up Storage Bed

Once again, I’ve been called upon to help maximizing space in a small dwelling. The space under a bed is an obvious candidate for storage, but a conventional steel bed frame and box spring consume all that, and even better designed beds that replace the pointless box-spring with supporting slats can make it hard to access the space beneath.

Because the client wanted to store 6 pairs of skis specifically, the obvious strategy was to build a lift-up storage bed. There are commercially available units with a similar method of operation, but they have extra material, a larger footprint, and a higher sticker price than the ‘you cover the costs and I’ll build my portfolio’ rate that I charge my friends.

The finished bed is made of spruce dimensional lumber, with stained and varnished laminated pine panels for sides. Definitely budget materials, but with enough sanding, patience, and coats, the resulting finish is richly coloured and smooth. The final exterior design element of note is a toe-kick recess along the floor on three sides to prevent stubbed toes and give the bed a floating appearance, which helps to lighten the look of the wide panels.

finished storage bed

The mechanism uses off-the-shelf automotive trunk struts, and casters and bar stock  from the hardware store. Large diameter bolts keep the pivots square to the frame, even with big stacks of washers used for horizontal spacing and alignment of the strut and linkage. Nylok nuts ensure it won’t loosen with use.The upper platform is reinforced with flatbar since it is subjected to constant tension from the struts when the bed is in the down position. The linkage moves the platform forward as it is lifted so the top edge of the mattress doesn’t hit the wall behind the bed.

lift mechanism

I designed the linkage geometry so that the strut force lifts the frame progressively. In the lowered position, the strut is held compressed but mostly places the platform frame in tension, with little force acting downward. In the upper position, the arm swings out and the strut acts quite directly to hold the platform up. In this way the bed stays down on its own, but also easily supports a mattress and bedding in the up position. When the bed is lifted it initially bears down on a caster (obscured in the picture above) and rolls along the top of the rail, until it lifts up enough to cantilever off of another caster rolling along the bottom, which is what prevents it from tilting forward.  Operating the bed is quite ergonomic since the strap handles used to lift it are at the foot of the platform and the casters and linkage which bear the weight are near the head of the bed.

lifty-lifty: look Ma, no hands!

The weight of the platform, mattress, and slumbering bed-users is borne to the floor by 8 solid wood posts on the periphery, leaving the entire middle section unobstructed for storage, and the wide side panels prevent any racking of the frame, resulting in a very stable bed.

The footprint of the bed is only a few centimeters wider on all sides than the mattress itself. This was a critical design parameter as the bedroom door swings within a scant few millimeters of the frame.

rescued space put to work, with all that stuff hidden nicely from view

The end result fits the room, looks clean, stores a ridiculous amount of gear, and is easy operate.  I look forward to tackling similar projects when the budget allows for some custom machined metal parts to keep tolerances tighter and simplify final assembly. In the meantime, making due with the tools and parts at hand is a fun part of the challenge.

Minimalist Molded Plywood Coffee Table

In 2004, I took a class on furniture design at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, as part of a design certificate program I completed. As part of the course, I constructed a molded plywood coffee table, and while it is only a rough prototype, I have used it ever since. The elemental form and natural durability have been admired by many of my friends, and raw plywood surface has gradually acquired a grungy but attractive coffee-stained patina over the years.

molded coffee table mk 1: many years of faithful service

My girlfriend was perceptive enough to notice her mother also admired the thing, and asked me to make another one as a birthday present. And so I set to work, with the benefit of the experience of making one already and considerably more patience than when I first made it.

The first step was to make a mold. I used scrap plywood from the pile in the garage shop.

scrap plywood mold

Glue-up is a harrowing half-hour of frantically muscling things into place with tangled cargo tie downs, blocks, and whatever clamps are on hand.

glue up: clampity-clamp-clamp

When I removed the shell from the mold, there were some issues along the edges. More glue, perhaps with the assistance of cooler temperatures, would help get better clamping. There are also adjustments to make to the mold to ensure even pressure. Fixing the edges is easy: thin out some glue and let it soak in between the layers, then clamp it up again. The old woodworking adage is true: you can never have too many clamps.

tuning up the edges: you can’t have too many clamps

After tuning up both ends, I clamped the table to a custom jig to rip the base square on the table saw, and then some careful handiwork with a jigsaw to trim the ends nice and flat.

Final finishing requires a few more hours hands-on to steam out any dents, sand out  any saw marks from the ends, and prep those curves for a Danish oil finish.

nice curves

These tables are available to purchase, made to order, custom finishes available.

out to pasture

Softwood Bike Rack

This was a fun project for a few reasons: it’s nice to make something really practical that works well on the first iteration, it’s a pleasant change to not have to worry too much about finishing, and it’s gratifying to complete a project in a single afternoon.

bike rack: easy storage for 3 bikes of almost any size and shape.

The project parameters are straightforward, but there are quite a few considerations. At the most basic, it’s a low-cost rack to store 3 bikes in as compact a space as practical. The space the rack lives in doesn’t have a wall or ceiling to hang from, and bolting to the floor is a non starter. It has to be general purpose enough to handle any kind of bike.

I started by measuring the space and some pertinent dimensions of the bikes in question.  Then I did a quick image search of different approaches others have taken.

There were three options that dominated. The approach that seems to garner a lot of drooling from those that follow the design blogs involves  hanging the bikes by  the wheels or top tube on hooks, but that requires a wall to bolt onto, a bike with a particular type of frame, and of course the need to lift and wrestle the bike into place. With a step-through framed, balloon-tired E-bike among those I need to support, this option is quickly eliminated. Roll-in, roll-out is clearly the way to go.

The second approach uses a slot that the wheel sinks down into. Some quick mock ups with scrap 2×4’s showed that this could work well if the slot was either very deep, or very tightly fitted to the wheel. This requires lots of material, or rather, material of a different sort than what I had on hand, and isn’t as supportive as I wanted anyways. To be flexible and work with both 3” knobby mountain bike tires and 23mm road tires requires some sort of adjustment of the slot width as well, and that’s added complexity I’d rather avoid.

The third option is what I’ve gone with: a vertical slot for the front edge of the wheel. This works equally well with multiple sizes of wheels and tires, and provides very secure support since the point of contact of the wheel with the rack is well off the ground, giving lots of leverage. You can envision that the bike can only lean a couple of degrees before the wheel leans against the support, even if wheel widths vary dramatically.

The rack is made from reclaimed softwood, rescued from the garbage after a previous application as some wobbly storage shelves.  There are some screw holes and rabbets in the reclaimed wood which I incorporated into the rack as was reasonable and ignored when it didn’t influence the structural integrity. The lumber was left unfinished since it’s a utilitarian piece done on the cheap and stored inside, but obviously a coat of paint or stain could clean things up a bit and enhance durability.

In keeping with the space-saving intent of the project, there is a shelf for helmets, etc. in the otherwise unused space above the front wheels, which makes hopping on a bike to get to work or ride some trails all the more convenient and pleasant.

Transforming Table: Flexible Furniture for Small Spaces

My good friends Scott and Tania recently moved into their shiny new laneway house. Tania wrote a nice review of my work on her blog, and includes a good picture of the piece in its home.

Flexible furniture is one way of making the most out of a small space. A flexible piece of furniture embodies similar materials and energy to a conventional piece, but is more valuable to the user because it fits their life better. Further, something that fits a space well and is built to last is less likely to be replaced. In this way, design effort, meaning human attention, can make a dramatic difference in the real world value of an end product.

I started with a consultation and lots of sketches, and moved on to CAD to sort out the geometry, estimate the materials I’d need, and make sure everyone was happy with how it would look.

CAD plans

I settled on birch ply for the casework and top surfaces because it’s strong, dimensionally stable, and straightforward to work with.

The legs are solid alder, to match the casework in their home. I machined custom aluminum plates to reinforce the leg joints and add a bit of industrial bling.They swing on heavy-duty gate hinges, which were needed to minimize swaying due to slop in the hinge joints.

under construction, nearing completion

The two draw-leaves are brought even with the main table top with a custom lift mechanism that uses UHMW plastic ramps and a pull handle, one for each side. The leaves and legs are mounted on heavy duty ball bearing slides, so the footprint of the table expands as the surface area does. This leaves the center free for people to comfortably stretch their legs, which was a major usability design goal, and also makes the table look surprisingly svelte in the ‘up’ configuration.

underside: how to cram a full-size table into a tiny space

The legs were finished with clearcoat, and the top was hand painted a glossy white, to match the interior of the house it lives in.

coffee table

This is a one-off and a bit of a prototype, but it still performs as expected. It’s quite the puzzle to account for the intersecting and overlapping geometry in different positions, and give sufficient tolerances for things to move without having the mechanism be loose. Doing a full set of scale drawings was invaluable: I managed to build the entire table without wasting any wood to wrong cuts.

full size dining table!

I suspect I’ll be making a lot more of these kinds of pieces as urban living gets increasingly cramped, and people come to expect more from their objects than a single static use.

Renovation Highlights

I spent many months living in the chaos and filth of an ongoing renovation, done part time from fall 2011 to spring 2012 while I did CAD and electronics assembly work.  It’s all done now, and my partner and I have enjoyed our shiny, new, and more usable surroundings immensely.

The work involved a complete redo of the kitchen, 450 square feet of wide plank engineered bamboo flooring, including the staircase, a new fireplace surround, and lots of painting, moldings, and finishing touches. Here are some of the highlights.

Custom floating kitchen shelves

kitchen sketch: before demolition to be sure we liked the direction we were headed.

Made of 2 layers of 5/8″ baltic birch ply laminated together, these shelves are bombproof. Edges are finished with birch veneer edge tape, and they were sprayed with a combined stain and varnish.

shelves getting sprayed

The shelves are supported by a recessed wood cleat, screwed into the studs, and by screws through the adjacent cabinets. The result is tons of extra storage, a sleek modern look, and easy access to those corners that are horribly unusable with most cabinet systems, especially if you’re limited by your budget to factory built options like the Ikea units I installed here.

corner shelves: copious & accessible storage, with more on the opposite side of the room

Fireplace surround


After installing new flooring, the original orange glazed terracotta tile (replete with some chips and cracks) had to go. I got a good deal on the black slate, and used it to finish our solarium windowsill as well. Patching the drywall was a test of patience, and using a cheap, low power wet saw to cut the slate tile required all the finesse I could muster, but the results are clean and sleek and match the rest of the place nicely.

new fireplace surround: moldings and slate flooring

 Shoe storage stairs

The entry way lacks a closet, and two people, especially with my size 13 feet, need somewhere to put their shoes. Why not reclaim some of that wasted space? Pretty straightforward: a plywood box as big as I could make for the bottom couple of stairs.

finished shoe storage stairs

The finish carpentry on the stairs was a massive project in itself… when a single piece of nosing costs $80 you can’t afford to make mistakes, even with crazy miter cuts and intersections. But after the requisite struggle, it came together nicely.