GlueTube

GlueTube

Stupefying Engineering in an 18th Century Table

comments (25) June 23rd, 2011 in blogs

Ed_Pirnik Ed Pirnik, Senior Web Producer
thumbs up 80 users recommend

The marquetry adorning the top of this 18th century table is beautiful, but after over 200 years, its colors have faded significantly.
With the turn of a key, the top and writing surface extend in opposing directions.
A dizzying array of mechanics make this table an engineering marvel.
The drawer beneath the silk-covered writing surface features no pull. Instead, the user must depress a hidden lever beneath it.
Need more storage? A full length drawer opens out from the right side. Of course, it features a beautiful mortised lock set.
The marquetry adorning the top of this 18th century table is beautiful, but after over 200 years, its colors have faded significantly. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

The marquetry adorning the top of this 18th century table is beautiful, but after over 200 years, it's colors have faded significantly.

Photo: J. Paul Getty Museum

Nowadays, any enterprising woodworker with a bit of engineering know-how can easily purchase any number of manufactured gears, cams, and ratcheting mechanisms for use in extraordinary pieces of furniture. But back in the 18th century, when this exquisite table was built by a French craftsman, there certainly weren't any Woodcraft, Rockler, or McMaster retail stores from which to purchase these sorts of mechanical items, and that's what makes this little table such a marvel of engineering.

Jean-Francois Aubin had privacy in mind when he built this small table for a female French aristocrat. It's chock-full of incredible mechanics that'll make your head spin.

With the turn of a key, the top and writing surface extend in opposing directions, revealing a silk-covered writing surface as well as two hidden wells for the storage of writing paper and other supplies. A small drawer centered beneath the writing surface has no pull with which to open it. Instead, the user depresses a small lever hidden beneath. For even more storage, Aubin incorporated a full length side drawer with a mortised lock set.

Marquetry Worn by Time
Interestingly, the colors of the marquetry on this particular table are rather muted--a result of the ravages of time. In much the same way that we're not accustomed to seeing the original colors adorning the old ruins of Rome, the artist's rendering of what this table's beautifully-adorned top would have looked like some 250 yeears ago is simply stunning.


More on marquetry: be sure to catch our audio slideshow on the construction of a reproduction masterpiece.

Secrets Unfold
The J. Paul Getty Museum's animation of the inner secrets of this little table is stunning as well, and well worth watching. It's sure to inspire just about anyone who has ever built anything at all! 


posted in: blogs, period furniture, french furniture, mechanics


Comments (25)

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: andybarss: Actually, it does mean exactly what I intended:
"to overwhelm with amazement; astound; astonish"

LOL
Cheers,

Ed
Posted: 11:01 am on July 7th

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: scootsp8: Exactly. I'd certainly classify this little table's engineering elements as absolutely stupifying.

-E

Posted: 10:59 am on July 7th

scootsp8 scootsp8 writes: Stupify = verb or adjective meaning jaw-dropping
Posted: 2:48 am on July 2nd

andybarss andybarss writes: @saschafer:

My initial double-take at the headline was a result of my own sense of what the word means; in my speech, it has a completely negative connotation, meaning to dull the senses, confuse, make befuddled, and so on. This is shared by several other speakers I just asked, though it may well be that there is regional or interpersonal variation.
Nonetheless, the editor chose unwisely in picking a word that has this restricted meaning for some, and whose first dictionary definition (OED, Merriam-Webster, and Free online) is that same one. Particularly when 'stupendous', 'remarkable', and many other adjectives capture the intended meaning and are not variant between speakers. (My best guess was that "stupendous" was confused with "stupefying", but that's just a conjecture.)
Posted: 8:35 pm on June 30th

andybarss andybarss writes: @saschafer:

My initial double-take at the headline was a result of my own sense of what the word means; in my speech, it has a completely negative connotation, meaning to dull the senses, confuse, make befuddled, and so on. This is shared by several other speakers I just asked, though it may well be that there is regional or interpersonal variation.
Nonetheless, the editor chose unwisely in picking a word that has this restricted meaning for some, and whose first dictionary definition (OED, Merriam-Webster, and Free online) is that same one. Particularly when 'stupendous', 'remarkable', and many other adjectives capture the intended meaning and are not variant between speakers. (My best guess was that "stupendous" was confused with "stupefying", but that's just a conjecture.)
Posted: 8:35 pm on June 30th

saschafer saschafer writes:
@andybarss,

You need to check your sources. While "stupid" and "stupefy" obviously share etymology, their meanings have diverged over the years. To stupefy is to stun, amaze, etc., or to put into a stupor (i.e., knock out). In other words, to stupefy is to make stupid only in the old-fashioned sense of "dazed and unable to think," rather than the modern sense of "lacking in intelligence."

-Steve

Posted: 6:00 pm on June 30th

frankcello frankcello writes: Here is the Getty link, Very Interesting indeed, what a marvel! Inspiring!
http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/paris_lifeluxury/video_frenchtable.html
Posted: 3:34 pm on June 30th

andybarss andybarss writes: Amazing and intriguing table.

Note to the author/editor: "stupefying" doesn't mean what I think you think it means. Did you mean "stupendous"? 'Stupefying" = "to make stupid"; "stupendous" = superb, of extreme quality.
Posted: 10:18 am on June 30th

andybarss andybarss writes: Amazing and intriguing table.

Note to the author/editor: "stupefying" doesn't mean what I think you think it means. Did you mean "stupendous"? 'Stupefying" = "to make stupid"; "stupendous" = superb, of extreme quality.
Posted: 10:18 am on June 30th

Fred2001 Fred2001 writes: The link to the video seems to be broken and no longer to points to video about 18th century desk
Posted: 8:01 am on June 28th

jockcameron jockcameron writes: the J Paul Getty Link is . . . http://www.youtube.com/user/gettymuseum#p/search/0/EblnaLMjdNg
Posted: 7:37 am on June 28th

Fabuladico Fabuladico writes: What a beautiful piece of work. Beautiful to look at, and beautiful in function. The guy who came up with this desk must have really been in demand in his time, especially with those who didn't want private or sensitive papers to be accessed by just anyone. I can sum it up in one word: wow!
Posted: 2:17 am on June 27th

rlmcruiser rlmcruiser writes: Fantastic table, such genius.

Oh and Praath here is a link to the maker of your youtube video, DB Fletcher Designs. The is a pdf download on the capstan table page that shows part of the mechanism.
http://www.dbfletcher.com/
Posted: 12:44 am on June 27th

Ronaldo9 Ronaldo9 writes: I would expect FWW to do a bit more research, the correct spelling is Jean-François Oeben. He was one of the greatest ébénistes of the XVIII and was also the master of Jean-Henri Riesener (many consider the latest to be the greatest). Their work sure deserve a whole article each.
There is one book on Oeben's life: http://www.amazon.com/Jean-Fran%C3%A7ois-Oeben-Rosemarie-Stratmann-Dohler/dp/2859173544/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1

Posted: 4:12 am on June 26th

philtomlinson philtomlinson writes: FWW should really get out to see Robert Yarger of the Stickman Box Company.

He is a puzzle-box maker extraordinaire.

You can see some samples of his work, including his amazing Pirate's Cipher Puzzlechest by going here:

http://www.lhup.edu/jstrayer/charles.htm


Seriously, there's a cover story here.
Posted: 5:32 pm on June 25th

dixiehighway dixiehighway writes: @geoffm
The Amish make a round table that remains round when extended.It is amazing. The pie-shaped pieces unfold, and the table slides out to accept them.
Posted: 12:26 pm on June 25th

dansanc dansanc writes: I take my hat off for Jean-Francois Aubin. What a wonderful piece!!! Are plans available?
Posted: 11:38 am on June 25th

Norman49 Norman49 writes: Superbe table. Maitre Aubin certainly was a master artisan. I'd love to get a set of plans replicating this table or similar 18c pieces.

Posted: 10:32 am on June 25th

Praath Praath writes: I forgot something;
Here is the link to the extending round table that I found on the internet about a year ago.
Is this the table that was to be seen at Harrods?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWJdal0SYoc
Theo

Posted: 6:49 am on June 25th

Praath Praath writes: Is this the extending round table you saw at harrods?
I think it's a marvel
Posted: 6:46 am on June 25th

PaulC123 PaulC123 writes: I must be being a bit thick (not unusual) where is the link to the animation?

Thanks
Posted: 5:32 am on June 25th

geoffm geoffm writes: ... and speaking of stunning craftsmanship, I am reminded of the Jupe Table, which I saw in Harrods, London. This is a round extending table, which remains round when extended !
Maybe FWW can find some info on this marvellous piece ?




Posted: 3:49 am on June 25th

DarrenOates DarrenOates writes: Wow, what an amazing piece. Cant imagine how much this piece must have cost in its day. Agree, amazing craftsmanship.
Posted: 3:17 am on June 25th

Muscleguy Muscleguy writes: That looks like a clockwork motor doing the work of moving the top and writing surface, activated by the key. You can see the ratchet winding set on the front. Nice and a good use of then available tech. Probably more robust than our modern tendency to use electric motors as well.
Posted: 3:12 am on June 25th

Rustysea Rustysea writes: Stunning design stunning craftsmanship - pretty stunning video too - and all done with hand tools.
Posted: 2:40 am on June 25th

You must be logged in to post comments. Log in.

Advertise here for as little as $50. Learn how

Save up to 52% on Fine Woodworking

 

Become a Better Woodworker

ABOUT GLUETUBE

GlueTube is FineWoodworking.com's video blog that features self-produced videos about woodworking submitted by woodworkers around the globe. The videos featured here stream direct from video file-sharing Web sites including YouTube, Howcast, Vimeo, Blip.tv, Brightcove.tv and Google Video.

Learn about our new format!

Archive: Temporarily unavailable. Stay tuned and sorry for the inconvenience.