Oriental Style Display Stand - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Easy Project: This Oriental style stand looks just as good displaying your favourite indoor plant as it does a more traditional bonsai.


Oriental Style Display Stand

Illustration by James Provost



Bonsai is the ancient art of growing trees in a container and through careful cultivation techniques, training them into a miniature form. Bonsai can be any species of tree, but there are several species, including Japanese white pine, Trident maple and Chinese juniper, that are favoured for their ability to adapt to the traditional appearance and form of the bonsai. These are not genetic dwarf specimens, but rather are the same as the full size version found in the wild; they have been trained through the years to resemble the full size version in potted miniature.

The oldest bonsai known to exist can be found at Happo-en, a private garden in Tokyo, and are between 400 and 800 years old.

After spending years training a bonsai, it stands to reason that it should be displayed on an appropriate stand. This stand, made from African padauk is a common bonsai style display stand. It will age to a deep red colour that will compliment the natural tones of any bonsai. If you have a black thumb and growing your own bonsai is out of the question, the table can be used as a display stand for any other cherished personal item.
Mill the Stock
Begin by milling your stock to thickness, and then cut the pieces to final dimension. The stock I used was flat and straight, so I was able to get a final ⅞" from the 1" rough boards, by taking light passes with the jointer and planer. Using 1 ⅛" or thicker stock is advisable if your boards are cupped or twisted.
The Slats
Begin by crosscutting the blanks from which the individual slats will be ripped.

• Use a clamp to set a stop block on the fence of the cross cut sled (Feb/Mar ‘07, Issue #46) and trim all of the slat pieces (A, B) to 16". Tilt the saw blade to 73º to undercut the edges of the slat blanks. You’ll need to move the stop block closer to the blade for this; estimate the location and make a test cut to find the proper setback for the stop block. Leave just a hair over 5⁄16" untouched at the top edge of the piece. This flat edge will register on the stop block.

• Set up a piloted 45º chamfer bit in your router table and rout a 3⁄16" wide chamfer on the top edge of the slat blanks. Preparing the ends before ripping the slats to width will eliminate any possibility of tear-out.

• Joint one edge, rip the first piece from the board, and then lightly joint the cut edge of blank to remove any saw tooth marks. Then repeat this process until all the pieces are cut to width. When milling narrow stock it’s prudent to use a push block (Dec/Jan ‘08, Issue #51) and feather boards (Apr/May ‘08, Issue #53).

• Run all of the slats through the thickness planer to remove any saw marks from the other side of each piece.

• Drill a ⅝" deep dowel hole centered 2" in from the end of each slat. I use a Dowelmax jig 
 (dowelmax.com to drill all of my dowel holes and simply lined up the edge of the jig with the edge on the bottom end of the slat.
The Runners
• Beginning at an end of one of the runners (C), place a pencil mark every inch along the runner. Place the other runner beside it and use an engineer’s square to extend the lines across both pieces at once.

• Use a marking gauge to scribe the center of each piece and drill the dowel holes where the lines intersect. If you are using a Dowelmax, line the end of the jig up with the end of the runner and then use the second hole. After drilling the hole, move the jig down to the next line and repeat.

• Use a marking gauge to mark the locations of the two dowel holes on the underside of the runners and drill these out now.

• When all the holes have been drilled, dry fit the runners and slats with dowels. Mark the length of the runners at the outside edges of the slats. Place another mark back approximately ⅛" to 3/16", and use a bevel gauge to mark an angle on the end of the runner. Cut the angle by hand or on a compound mitre saw and chamfer the bottom and sides of each end with a block plane.

Drilling holes in top of runners

Drilling holes in bottom of runners
The Feet
• Cut the pieces for the feet (D) to length.

• Assemble the slats and runners and set them inside a framing square to keep the assembly square. Center the feet (side to side) on the runners and mark the location of the runners. Use a right angle square to extend the lines across the piece. Mark the bottom of the cut at 1 ⅛" down from the top edge.

• Use a bandsaw to cut along the inside of the lines and then move to the scroll saw to cut across the bottom. Aim for a tight fit between the feet and the runners, as this is what will keep the table square.

• Clamp the feet to a workbench and clamp the pieces you cut out for the notches over the lower side of the piece where the legs will be. Find the center of the space between the legs and place a mark 1 ½" up from this. Place a stainless steel ruler across the two clamped blocks and use finger pressure to bend the ruler up to the center point and trace the outline with a soft pencil. You also need to trace a curved outline on the outer sections on each piece.

• Use the bandsaw and cut the curves, and then use a stationary belt sander or oscillating spindle sander to remove any saw marks and fair the curve.

• Use a 45º chamfer bit on the router table and rout a chamfer on the curved edges.

Mark edge of front to locate dowel jig
The Finish
Beginning with 150 grit, sand all of the pieces up to 180 grit. To sand the chamfered edges without the risk of damaging the profile use a sanding mop 
 (stockroomsupply.com)  in a drill press. If you are using padauk or any other porous species, be sure to blow the sanding dust out of the pores. If the sanding dust is used as filler, much of the natural figure and colour variation will be lost as the piece takes on a more ‘average’ appearance.

Following the instructions on the can, apply a coat of Watco Danish Oil (homehardware.com) to all pieces. Once the oil is dry apply a couple of coats of wax to protect the wood from any moisture. Do not get any finish or wax in the dowel holes or the glue will not adhere. In short order, this piece will acquire a deep red appearance as the wood is exposed to light.

Pieces ready to assemble
Assemble all of the slats and runners upside down on your bench to be sure everything fits without any problem. Use a carpenter’s square to keep the assembly square. Place dowel centers into the four holes in the runners for the feet. Line the feet up so the center of the hole is close to the center of the piece and use a dead blow mallet to tap the two legs to mark the center of the dowel hole. Drill the holes on a drill press to ensure the holes are perpendicular to the surface.

Disassemble all of the pieces and glue the dowels into the feet and then glue the runners in place. If you cut the notches for the runners carefully the frame should come together square. Glue the dowels into each slat and then glue the slat into the runners. Be sure that each slat is fully seated before the glue sets up. When the glue has fully cured, give the project a wipe with a paper towel to buff up the wax.

This is an enjoyable weekend project to make. You can tweak the design to suit the environment in which the stand will be displayed by using a different wood, altering the dimensions, or substituting a flat edge rather than a curve on the feet.

Base assembled
The African padauk (Pterocarpus dalbergiodes) I chose for this project is grown in central and west tropical Africa. The wood has similar working properties of the more pedestrian domestic red oak that we’re all familiar with. The predominantly straight grain can be interlocked which leads to some chipping and splinters and the fine to medium texture of the wood possesses a natural sheen. When freshly cut the heartwood is a rich reddish-orange, but over time with exposure to light it changes to bright red, red with dark streaks or dark reddish brown. Colour variation between boards is slight.

The wood is aromatic when milled and fills the shop with a spicy scent. As with cedar, some people are sensitive to this dust and adequate dust collection and personal protective gear is recommended when sanding or cutting. Over time even those not affected by the dust initially may develop sensitivity to it. The wood is extremely stable and shows very little movement in use. Padauk is very resistant to attack by termites and other insects and the heartwood is very durable and may last for more than 25 years in contact with the ground without any preservative treatment, but its cost makes it prohibitive for the construction of fences and sheds. Quarter-sawn stock with interlocked grain tends to tear in planing, but it machines, drills and finishes very nicely. The porous nature of this wood means that oil finishes will tend to seep out of the pores as it dries, much like red oak.


Michael Kampen