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Encyclopedia of Tables
Kidney and Horshoe Shaped tables. Different from "half rounds" or "half moon" tables. Mechanical tables include drop leaf tables, tilting tables, or those with legs that fold up or collapse if a mechanism is unlocked. Tables are more commonly subdivided by other criteria such as the material from which they are made, the purpose for which they are constructed, the form they take, and the style of any added decoration. Style is an extremely important part of a table.
The look of the table may vary as a result of many factors. These include changing stylistic preferences, advances in technology that make available different materials for the table or methods for its construction, and new table forms that are the result of new human activities or needs. Tables purchased in this country are most frequently mass-produced from wood and can be made with minimal cabinetmaking skill. American-made tables may be made from native hardwoods such as maple, oak, or alder, or soft woods such as pine. American tables may be manufactured unfinished meaning without any stain or sealer or may be purchased ready-to-use in standard or custom finishes.
Some table manufacture takes place in the home; these are considered custom or specially made pieces of furniture that must be constructed by a cabinet maker. Until about the sixteenth century, when decorative and stylistically distinctive furniture became very important, tables were less frequently found than either the chair or the chest which held clothing as a chest of drawers does today.
However, there were tables in the ancient world. Different cultures made them of different materials. Egyptian tables were of wood or stone and resembled pedestals. It is said the Assyrians made them of metal. Pompeii and Herculaneum populaces had tables made with supporting members of marble.
Cathedrals in the Middle Ages used communion tables that stood on masonry or on a base of stone. Castles often included large, rectangular plank tables with the master of the castle in the center and the less important inhabitants or guests at right angles to him. More ordinary medieval tables that survive include simple wooden tables supported by plain side members. Early seventeenth century American tables were generally of the trestle type, with a plank top and vertical planks on the side. Some could be dismantled if more room was needed; many were just moved against the wall to provide space when the table was not in use.
Decoration became very important to the wealthy about the sixteenth century as well. Stylish furniture was ornately carved and included turnings made on foot-pedal lathes. Until the mid-seventeenth century most furniture was constructed by joiners who made furniture much as they made houses, with pegs, mortise and tenon construction, and massive members for supporting the slab tops. In the later seventeenth and eighteenth century the cabinetmaker began making fine furniture, creating sculptural pieces that were veneered, carved, and expertly joined including the use of interlocked dovetailing for strength.
In the early nineteenth century the machine enabled manufacturers to provide attractive furniture far less expensively. Wood was cut by water, steam, or electrical saws, machine sanded, machine incised and decorated, turned on machine lathes, and so forth. By , all but the very poorest Americans could afford to purchase an inexpensive table and chairs. In the early twentieth century the table changed again, this time because new, unconventional materials were used in its construction such as laminate, plastic, and chipboard, making tables truly affordable for all.
As new activities were enjoyed and embraced, tables changed form, too. Table forms that were invented in the past years include the card tables, gaming tables, tea tables, dressing tables, diapering tables, and computer tables.
Raw materials vary greatly according to the type of table under production. Unfinished pine table made in quantity in this country include pine planks that are called one-by-fours or one-by-sixes. These are boards that were once truly 1 in [2.
Other materials include water-resistant glue formulated from polyvinyl acetate. Hardware, including screws, vary according to the price point of the piece but are often steel. Most American table manufacturers are careful to obtain woods that are certified, meaning the manufacturer can prove that the trees were harvested legally from controlled forests grown specifically for the manufacture of furniture. Furthermore, furniture-grade wood is especially important in the construction of unfinished tables, in which the grain may not be covered with paint.
Furniture-grade wood is virtually knot-free or clear; when there are small knots the company must be sure they can use the wood in a hidden area of the piece such as the back or inside a drawer. Drawer bottoms or sides may be of a plywood, engineered wood pressed wood chips formed into sheet goods , or even masonite. The decoration and configuration of tables are fairly important in the unfinished furniture industry.
Additive or incised decoration may be found on the table apron a board which goes across the front of the table running from leg to leg and may hold the drawer front , or on the legs themselves. Painted decoration may be seen at any place on the table. The shape or form of table top, table legs, or the apron determines style and may be created by specialized machinery.
While the high-end manufacturers of ready-to-use furniture spend a great deal of time and money on the design of their furniture, the unfinished furniture generally provides basic forms to the consumer. The unfinished table manufacturer surely cares about selling an attractive table, but it is not likely of the most stylish or innovative table shown at the important furnishings markets. Most larger furniture firms have a design director on staff whose job is to ferret out new designs for their market and work with the production managers to create these styles economically.
These larger firms haunt malls, study the shelter and fashion magazines, and perform some audience assessment of taste and style preferences. However, smaller firms, such as those who produce medium to low-price products, point out that unfinished goods may spend less money on the development of styles and decoration, preferring to offer basic tables and forms to the consumer.
Some smaller firms may assign the task of developing new products and styles to the production manager. This manager works with staff designers to craft tables that can be manufactured using the equipment used in-house. Interestingly, some prefer to design tables for which parts can easily be interchanged, resulting in a wide array of products with little re-design.
For example, a console table may have the same front and back apron and drawers as the coffee table but have a narrower top, sides, and longer legs. A Queen Anne-style coffee table may have cabriole curved legs while a Shaker-style coffee table may be identical except the legs are rectilinear and slightly tapered. Designers or production directors generally keep their eye on current styles, assessing what is leading the market and what trends are infiltrating the target market.
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Generally, when a new style or form is suggested for production, a team of directors, including the director of sales and marketing, the director of manufacturing, and in-house designers assess the viability of the new design. If the design is approved, the director of manufacturing and the designer works with an operator who uses a computer-based design and drafting system such as AutoCAD. This operator works with the design on a computer and then inputs that information into the computer in order to produce that product on computer-driven machines.
All staff members work together to devise the best way to get the new table form through the system, especially vigilant that the costs of the new table will not exceed the price point of the intended market and that no new machinery or manufacturing expertise will be necessary to produce the new product.