Tony Leonard: Beautiful By Design

Tony Leonard: Beautiful By Design

Tony Leonard isn’t big on plans – well at least not other people’s plans. When he decided to build a hall tree, he sat down at his computer and created his own plans with CAD software.

The impetus for the project came when he and his wife went looking for a hall tree for the front entrance in their Arlington, Tennessee home. The couple love antiques and already had a number of vintage pieces with the distinctive mahogany crotch veneer. When they couldn’t find anything that would fit, he decided to build it himself.

Designing comes naturally to Tony. By day, he’s a mechanical engineer for FedEx, where he develops the hand-held devices used by couriers.

“It was a big project for someone on my level,” Tony recalled, “and the veneered panels and carving were new for me. That’s how I pick projects ? to challenge myself. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

For the medallion, Tony sketched out a section on the CAD system, then doubled it and doubled it again. A successful trial carving in basswood gave him the confidence for the real thing in mahogany.

And challenged he was. The crotch veneer was ordered from Certainly Wood and adhered to MDF. But since he doesn’t own a veneer press, Tony had to made his own platen out of melamine. Most of the hall tree is solid mahogany. Unfortunately, the stock he purchased ended up having quite a twist and Tony spent a lot of time wrestling it flat. Cutting mortise and tenon when the surfaces weren’t perfectly straight was a particular challenge.

Prior to taking on the hall tree, Tony had only taken a couple of woodcarving classes. Fooling around with his chisels and gouges led to what he called an “ad-libbed” bracket design.

“For the two pilasters (long upright pieces),” Tony explained, “I made sure the 1-1/2″ deep pieces on the sides were as straight as I could get, and when I attached the pilasters, it helped to straighten them out.”

The whole project took seven to eight months – working evenings and weekends when other household chores didn’t interfere. When he hit a roadblock (or just wanted to commiserate), he’d post on the WoodCentral forum and within a few days there’d be a half dozen ideas and answers.

Prior to taking on the hall tree, his biggest project had been a Colonial style settee – where, except for the four legs, most of his work was covered by upholstery. His next project will be building a new bench for his new shop.

The piece is finished with Minwax Antique Oil and has dramatically darkened with exposure to the sun.

“I enjoy making things.” He noted, “I like the challenge of taking a piece of rough wood, maybe even with some bark on it and turning it into something pretty. And it’s an escape for me ? it puts everything else outside of your head.”

The finished piece looks pretty much like his original CAD drawing. You might call the style of the hall tree Victorian, but Tony’s not real big on labels. Probably be best just to call it a Tony Leonard.

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