Classic Chinese Furniture


Wang Shixiang, Classic Chinese Furniture, Joint Publishing Co., 1986

In classic Chinese furniture there are two basic forms: that without an inset panel between the top and apron and that with an inset panel, known in China as the waistless and the waisted forms respectively. Waistless furniture, such as the narrow table and the recessed-leg table, is very ancient and already existed in Shang (16th-11th century BC) and Zhou (11th century-221 BC) times. Waisted furniture appeared much later.


Chinese Domestic Furniture

ChineseDomesticFurnitureGustav Ecke, Chinese Domestic Furniture, Dover Publications, 1986

No wooden pins, unless absolutely necessary; no glue, where it may be avoided; no turning wheresoever – these are three fundamental rules of the Chinese cabinet-maker.

One possible explanation to this particular joinery trend is the wood they used at that time. The most highly praised woods for Chinese furniture are Zitan, Huanghuali and Hongmu. They are all rosewood in some sense. One of the characteristics to tropical hardwood including rosewood is high oil content. Gluing oily wood is not an easy matter even with modern PVA glue. If gluing is not available, wooden pin could be useless due to seasonal wood movement. It would eventually loose and fall out. Hardware fastener is another solution here, but there were no screws at that time. Also, hand-forged nail could split the wood and be loosed over the time. Therefore, interlocked wood-only joinery could be a solution.

The Impractical Cabinetmaker

James Krenov, The Impractical Cabinetmaker, Linden Publishing, 1993


It has never been my belief that experience or professional knowledge is anyone’s personal property. It has never occurred to me that if someone comes and asks me this or that, or wants to know how to do something or why one does it in a certain way, that I would not take the time to answer the question, if I can. Or that I should say, “Well, it took me twenty years to learn, and I’m not going to give it away for free.” This simply is not the way I look at experience or knowledge. I’ve picked up a bit of know-how, yes. Most of it has been used by craftsmen long before me. It is not my private knowledge, but rather it is my way of using what little I have learned that happens to be right for people like myself. It pleases me tremendously to know there are others who look at it likewise.

Thanks to the Internet and digital media, we can access to enormous free-knowledge that cannot be consumed in one’s life time. However, reading joinery books and watching how-to videos alone do not make us a good maker. Practice and experience using our hands and brain make something good to look at and to use. Knowledge can save us some time. Sometimes, a lot of time.

The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking

The Fine Art of CabinetmakingJames Krenov, The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, Linden Publishing, 2007

Ask yourself: How fine a piece am I making, what soft of person am I hoping will want it? Will he or she notice the difference – and care? And finally: do I care? The answer should be yes. So be consistent. Do nice work all the way; front, back, bottom, and sides. Everything on a level which feels right. It’s as simple as that: one who has pride wants to keep it.

If we really care what we make, regardless of the price tag, we could not find a piece in a showroom with two doors unaligned, legs unleveled, dovetails broken, sawdust left in a drawer and bottom side of the bottom unsanded.

Laptop Desk

My daughter is a fan of computer game. She has a somewhat bulky laptop and play on her bed. Contrary to the name, placing the laptop on top of her lap is not the ideal position. It is not stable on her lap and there is no room for a mouse.

The ideal dimension is determined as W25″ x D16″ x H10″. The top shall be a solid wood panel and no structure is allowed underneath the top not to interrupt her legs to stretch out. Four table legs shall be attached to four corners of the top and two base rails shall be used to hold the legs. For the top rails, there are two options to overcome cross construction. The one is bread board and the other is sliding dovetail. However, I decided not to use those constructions. For this size of table, I don’t need to worry about the cupping and load bearing. The only thing I have to consider is racking resistance. I can handle this with some clever joinery.

The rail-leg joinery is mitered box joint. It has a nice look miter on the side, and two box fingers provide enough glue surface. It is also self aligned, so a little bit easier than usual miter joint to glue up. The top-leg joinery is one-side-open through mortise and tenon. By using contrast colored wood, it provide a nice look with strong joint.

Laptop Desk - ExplodedLaptopDesk

Wood: Walnut & Hard Maple, Finish: Varnish Oil