Introduction: From Design to Dining Room: Building a Black Walnut and Mica Sideboard With Fusion360
I teach high school engineering design and one of the classes I teach is called Engineering and Architectural Design. Recently we were working with both Fusion360 and SolidWorks doing some basic 3D rendering; making gears, car rims, and some other basic shapes and designs. I was thinking that there has to be a great project waiting around the corner that would be extremely real-world applicable and would involve the skills I had recently taught my students. My wife and I had just done a bit of reorganizing in our house and she mentioned in passing that it would be really nice to have a sideboard to put along our stairway. "Well hey!" I thought, "There is the project I was looking for!" I decided that I would bring some of my woodworking prowess into my CAD classroom and challenge my students with designing a piece of furniture of their choosing. If you are a teacher and you are interested in a project such as this please don't hesitate to check out this link for all of the details on what I did.
With this instructable I am going to go through the steps I followed to design a piece of furniture using Fusion360 and then the process I followed to actually build the final piece of furniture. Along the way I am going to tell you about the process I used to teach this to high school students. I thought that this would be a cool thing to share with the Instructables community and hope you find it both inspirational and educational.
All supplies and materials are explained throughout the Instructable. You should be able to find links to most of the materials I used, especially those materials that are harder to come by.
Step 1: Joinery Using Fusion 360
I teach all forms of 2D and 3D rendering in my classes. I particularly like Fusion360 since it is free for educators and students. Kudos to Autodesk for providing so many high-end programs to the educational community, completely free! It's a great business model ensuring that future designers will use their (paid) products. As I mentioned in the intro I used this opportunity to teach my students about furniture construction and joinery. To help prepare them for the lesson I decided to make a number of typical woodworking joints using Fusion360 as my designing canvas. Including some basic movement / animation allowed the students to clearly see how each joint functions and can be used in the construction of a basic piece of furniture. Of course you could do a complete motion study and even show how each piece reacts under certain stresses, but this was a bit beyond the level of my class. I am including a few videos of each of the joints.
Step 2: Designing the Sideboard With Fusion360
I designed my piece of furniture prior to teaching my students about furniture design so that I could use my design as a model / example. I told them that the reason I was designing it was to solve a specific problem. Therefore the piece was built to spec to fit in a specific area and complete a specific task. Their challenge was to design a piece of furniture that similarly solved a specific problem.
When it came to designing my own piece of furniture I used all of the skills I was currently teaching my students so that they could see the direct application of those specific techniques, joints, and processes. This way my students could see what is possible with this form of 3D rendering.
My sideboard was designed with the exact dimensions and joinery types I planned on using when I physically built the piece of furniture. This way I was able to pull direct measurements from each piece I designed in Fusion360. I made each part separately and then joined them together in an assembly. I edited the appearance of the parts to appear as I would hope they would look after building the actual sideboard and finishing it. Some parts were able to be used multiple times in the Fusion360 assembly (i.e. legs, side rails, door stiles) while others had a one time use (i.e. top, bottom, back, etc...).
The video shows you how the joints work and how each piece mates up with the others. The beauty of using software such as Fusion360 to design a piece of furniture is that it gives you an idea of the proportions, scale, and overall appearance of a piece prior to making your first cut.
You can access each part in the assembly by using the public link provided here. You can pull the exact dimensions of each part for the entire sideboard if you are interested in building something similar to this.
Step 3: Roughing Out the Joinery
The stock I had to build the sideboard came from a VERY old walnut logged that was milled up over 35 years ago in central NY. My mother in-law worked out a deal to get me the lumber (along with similarly aged cherry) delivered for a trade. I only had 4/4, 5/4, and 6/4 stock to work with from the lumber I received and the biggest problem I ran into was that the lumber had a fair amount of insect damage (35 year old insect damage). There were a fair amount of worm holes, checks, cracks, wane, and knots to work around. Since most of the stock was in the 4/4 to 5/4 range I knew that I would have to laminate the wood together to make the legs for the sideboard. This is tricky with black walnut since it has the tendency to have a large spectrum of colors between the dark heartwood and extremely light and creamy sap wood. I was able to get a couple of pieces matched up that I liked for the legs and I was able to extract the right pieces for the top, rails, stiles, and door components. Suffice to say I had to cut around a lot of waste and still had knots and worm holes present. I figured I could easily fill any large gaps with epoxy later down the road if necessary.
The legs were flattened on the jointer, squared up, cut on the table saw, and then ran through the finish planer to become perfectly square on all sides. The mortises were cut into the legs using a forstner bit and bench chisel.
The stiles / aprons were cut on the table saw to the correct width and the tenons were cut using a tenoning jig on the table saw. They were made a slight bit wider to help keep the fit tight and easy to adjust with a shoulder and bench plane.
The top was made of matched up 4/4 walnut stock and was edge joined and then biscuited to properly align the planks. Five large parallel jaw clamps were used to draw the entire top together tightly.
At this point the rough structure was built and some semblance of a piece of furniture could be seen. This at least gave me some idea about the scale / size of the piece and allowed me to make any minor adjustments at the start... before I got much deeper that is.
Step 4: Getting Some Curves Cut
Up to this point the sideboard was a blocky looking clunker, so it was definitely time to cut some curves and lighten up the load.
I used my bandsaw to cut identical gentle curves along two sides of each leg. The same curve was cut on bottom and side rails.
Center stiles were installed on the sides and the front of the piece. A mortise and tenon joint was used to join them to the top and bottom rails.
The back of the sideboard had to be designed to accommodate the 5/16" walnut shiplapped paneling. The paneling was made from solid walnut with a rabbet cut along the edges. It was designed to lap over one another allowing for full expansion and contraction of the piece while including only solid hardwood with the design and no plywood. The paneling was set into a dado along the top and bottom rails and the sides of the legs. You'll see more details in a moment.
The curves have substantially lifted the piece and given it a much lighter appearance.
Step 5: Solid Wood Paneling for the Back
As I had mentioned in step 4, I didn't want to use a piece of plywood paneling for the back and chose to make my own walnut paneling made from multiple ~3" pieces of shiplapped walnut. I left approximately 1/4" of room for expansion of the pieces across the width of all of them combined and approximately 3/16" expansion of the sideboards rails for the height of the panel pieces (i.e. cut a 12" piece at 11-9/16" long). To keep things from rattling I used some old foam mattress material cut into strips and gently pushed into the dados along the rails and along the legs. I have used this technique for years and it is both cost effective and rattle effective too. You can see a similar technique with my kitchen window seat and hutch build from a couple of years ago.
Step 6: Cutting the Top
Cutting the top was tricky because I wanted it to be lined up exactly 1/8" behind the legs. My plan was to chamfer the tops of the legs just enough so that there was a "V" made between the 45 degree cut on the table top and the 45 degree chamfer on the leg. This took a lot of measure many and cut once moments and by the time I made the cuts on the sideboard top I was confident I had it right where I wanted it. All of the 45-degree cuts on the top were cut with the table saw blade set at 45 degrees and the sideboard top stood up against the table saw fence. The chamfers were completed on the legs using a small hand plane.
You will notice that the top extends much further beyond the sides of the sideboard. I wanted to give my piece a light, lofted appearance and I decided that this was the best method to continue this feeling from the bottom to the top. As I mentioned before, everything was first prototyped on Fusion360 so I had somewhat of an idea on the overall scale and appearance of the piece before making real cuts in real (expensive) lumber. The top extends 4" beyond the sides of the piece.
Step 7: Ordering the Mica
I wanted to do something completely different for the door and sideboard panels, something I typically don't work with. We have a few lamps in our house that have mica shades and I have always loved their pleasant and warm glow. I decided that this would be a perfect medium to work with and would add a beautiful glow to the piece. I ordered some sample pieces first from Asheville Mica . After browsing through the myriad of colors and sizes they had available we decided to go with the amber colored mica to best match the colors in the Walnut and not contrast too much and not blend in too much. The mica is easy to cut with a box cutter, scissors, or small coping saw. It is also extremely durable, impact resistant, and forgiving. The mica was ordered in a couple of 2'x3' sheets and delivered within a week.
Step 8: Building the Doors
The doors were built using traditional mortise and tenon joinery. A groove was cut along the insides of the rails and stiles to accommodate the mica. There might be a few folks who will be concerned about this method. Typically doors and other lights in a piece are built so that the glass / light can be replaced by the removal of some small frames of wood, nails, tacks, or some other method. I really didn't like the idea of breaking up the piece with that and decided to bank on the mica's durability and ability to flex. If things went really south and something did break I could still replace it, but it would be a bit more of a hassle of course.
The doors were made so that there was a 3/32" gap completely around each of them to accommodate the no-mortise hinges I planned on using. Once again, I used the mattress foam to help keep the mica from rattling around as you can see in the pictures.
The doors were glued up by spreading glue inside the sides of the mortises and around the cheeks of the tenons. You will see that the doors have a finish on them in these pictures. I finished everything prior to gluing it up, which we talk about in a minute.
Step 9: Selecting Hardware
I have used Horton Brasses for projects prior to this and I have been extremely happy with their amazing quality and construction. The brass pieces are made in Connecticut and the hinges move flawlessly with no slop at all. I chose no mortise hinges for this project because I wanted both try them out and I liked the idea of not cutting into the side rails of the stiles / legs or doors. The hardware is much more expensive than your generic products but after all of this work I didn't want to cheap out with something that is the most visible and the only moving mechanical joint.
Step 10: Properly Attaching the Top
A solid wood top will expand and contract throughout the year, especially in a climate such as the Northeast's where we typically have extremely dry winters (especially in a house that uses a wood stove) and often very humid summers. If you were to directly attach a solid wood top to a solid wood apron using screws or some other tight fixing point the top would have very little ability to expand and contract across the grain. This would lead to splitting, cracking, and warping of the top.
There are myriad methods to prevent this but my favorite method is to make small wooden buttons that neatly slide into a groove that you mill out around the apron. Make the buttons out of a decent hardwood and make sure to mill the groove / dado so that the tongue of your button slides easily along the groove with little impedance to its movement.
The photos are from a different piece I built last year (and hopefully will post to Instructables). I forgot to take pictures of the sideboard's attachments. In the case of the sideboard I milled a dado around the top edges of the upper rails and used two buttons per long rail and one per short side rail (for a total of 6). Make sure to sand the sharp corners off of the buttons so they slide neatly in the groove. You can use either a router or a dado blade to mill the groove along the top of the rails. The button has one single hole for a screw to pass through and into the underside surface of the table. You can screw in the screw tightly as long as you have taken the time to ensure that the button's tongue moves freely in the groove.
Step 11: Finishing
Before finishing the parts I had to do some filling of knots, holes, and the long slender pith pockets where branches and the center portion of the tree are found. I scraped out these pockets and knots as best as I could and then used a two part epoxy with some copper and brown tint to fill the gaps. I let it dry for 80 hours and then sanded everything flush.
I used the Real Milk Paint Company for all of my finishing products. I have purchased my tung oil, citrus solvent, and Mylands wax from them for at least the past ten years and have never been disappointed by the quality of their products.
All parts were sanded to 800 grit except for the top, which was sanded to 1200 grit, allowing for the best surface for a waxed finish.
At this point I have yet to glue up any of the components since it makes the finishing process much neater and ultimately easier. All tenons were covered up with blue painters tape and as an extra precaution you could easily stuff the mortises with material to prevent any oil getting into the joints. You DO NOT want oil in a joint that will be glued.
I put five layers of finish on each piece. The finish is 1/2 part tung oil mixed with 1/2 part citrus solvent. It is easily applied with a clean application rag. You will want to make sure to apply it, let it sit for a few minutes and then remove the excess. The beauty of this finish is that you can still feel the grain of the wood and it is 100% repairable. If you get a scratch or water stain you can easily lightly sand the effected area and then apply the finish right over the top. You won't even notice the damage. Polyurethane is definitely more resilient, but when that stuff scratches it is a total process to repair the damage.
After the fifth coat was allowed to cure for four days I was able to begin the process of waxing the top. I used Myland's wax and did three coats in total. You apply it similar to buffing out a car. You apply a semi-thin layer of the wax to the entire surface, let it sit for five minutes, and then buff it out with a buffing cloth or pad. If a wet cup or some other moist thing is left on the surface it can cloud the wax which can easily be rectified with a number of different methods. I typically use a hair dryer set to low and pass it over the effected area for a minute to soften the wax and allow me to buff it again. I then apply a new coat of wax to the surface. The wax leaves the surface buttery smooth and not with the plastic feeling of a poly surface.
Before moving on to gluing I used thin strips of the foam mattress material and shoved them into the grooves where the mica or back panels where to go.
Step 12: Gluing Up the Sideboard
Once I had all of the pieces finished I was able to begin the process of gluing up the body of the sideboard. I used parallel jaw bar clamps to do this and of course I dry fitted the entire thing a couple of times to make sure everything was ready to go. I used Titebond wood glue to glue the mortises and tenons in place using a small disposable glue brush and applying the glue in a thin layer to the inside of the mortises and the cheeks of the tenons. Since the joints were nicely fitted I was able to use one clamp to pull each side together. Any glue that was pushed out of the joint easily wiped up with a dry rag and a small flexible putty knife.
After the sides were glued up I was able to glue the front and back rails into place. I had to make sure that the panel pieces neatly fit in place between the two back rails. I used four large clamps to pull the entire piece together and I used a square to check the corners and make sure everything was squared up completely.
It's important that you build the final piece on something that you know is flat, such as a workbench or the top of a table saw.
Step 13: Installing the Bottom of the Sideboard
I wanted to continue using solid wood for the entire project so I decided to use a birch panel I had recovered from a 1940's dining room / kitchen table. Much of the table top was split and in rough shape but I was able to extract a few nice panel pieces that I was able to run through my planer. It felt good reusing the wood and making it shine again.
The top was installed on long walnut cleats placed along the bottom rails of the sideboard. The cleats were screwed in to the rails and after notching the corners and finishing the bottom piece it was able to slide neatly into place. No screws were used to hold it in place since it was bordered by all sides and held in place by the semi-tight fit (there was still room for expansion and contraction).
Step 14: Bullet Catches and Stop Blocks
I wanted the doors to stay shut when they were closed so I used small bullet catches from Horton Brasses to accomplish this task. They are honestly the easiest, most inconspicuous, and most effective method to accomplish this. I also used a small block of walnut that allows the doors to close positively in place while being held in place by the bullet catches. This way the doors wouldn't extend beyond the rails of the sideboard and won't damage the hinges.
I applied a small amount of CA glue to hold the bullet catches in place. When you install them make sure to follow the manufacturers instructions carefully. Horton Brasses does a nice job giving support for their products.
Step 15: Completing the Assembly
The final steps for the piece was to attach the top using the buttons and the grooves in the rails. I then attached the doors using the no-mortise hinges after installing the bullet catches on the undersides of the door stiles. The knobs were installed after that and then I was able to bring it upstairs and put it in its new home!
I still have a couple of additional plans for the piece. Particularly I want to install a dimmable LED light system on the inside to allow the piece to glow from the inside out. The amber mica gives a gorgeous glow when the light passes through it, almost like a crackling fire. I also want to build a lightweight storage system for the inside to hold laptops, checks, envelopes, and other miscellanea.
I am super happy with the final outcome and I hope that this Instructable gives you some inspiration to use Fusion360 to design furniture and bring it to life! Please don't hesitate to reach out with questions or comments.
Second Prize in the
1 year ago
This is so cool! I know very little about woodworking, but I leaned so much here. Thanks!
Reply 1 year ago
Thanks so much! Happy you enjoyed and good luck at building something awesome!
1 year ago
That is beautiful 😍. First time I saw mica being used in furniture 👏👏👏
Reply 1 year ago
Thank you so much for the kind words and thanks for checking out my Instructable!
1 year ago on Step 15
Terrific project, I love the idea of using mica as door panels.
Less keen on bullet catches, I prefer rare earth magnets in the tops and bottoms of the doors and corresponding locations on the carcase. Equally effective and also silent !
Reply 1 year ago
Thank you so much! The mica is definitely nice to work with. I have used rare earth magnets for door closures and definitely have had some great success with them. I feel like for smaller doors like this they work great, but as they get bigger they are a bit harder to line up nicely so you get a perfect reveal. A little piece of me likes the little bullet catch sound. These ones in particular are made in Connecticut and they are truly beautiful to use. I have a jar of cheap ones and those work but they just feel... well... cheap. Thanks again for the comment!
1 year ago
Wow! That’s fantastic. Probably the best furniture piece on Instructables.
Reply 1 year ago
Thank you so much for the kind and encouraging words!
1 year ago
Reply 1 year ago
1 year ago
The mica and wood look so pretty together! Amazing work :D
Reply 1 year ago
Thank you so much! I really like the combination too. I bought another sheet of the silver mica and hope to use it for another project this summer.