New end tables for the living room

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One of the other more recent woodworking projects I’ve completed were two walnut end tables for the living room.

I decided to make the end tables compact to help cut down on clutter than might accumulate on them if there was abundant acreage sitting around waiting for magazines, glasses, and unopened mail to pile up.

I found some really beautiful walnut at the lumber yard with a piece that was nearly perfect for the table tops. It was just a wee bit undersized by about an inch so I had to joint and glue a small strip from the same board to increase the width slightly. The joint lines are nearly invisible in the finished table tops and I honestly never see them unless I look for them now.

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I created a single drawer and shelf for storage of the bits and bobs that usually pile up on top of the end tables and they have worked out quite well since completing them in November.

I checked with the boss and she said they would be okay.

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There’s another one just like that one at the other end of the couch…

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Back from my absence…

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Well, it’s been quite a while since I posted anything and I can’t believe it’s been since May of last year since I created a post. Our daughter is now 3 years old and between taking care of her and woodworking in any spare moments I can scrape together, it’s been pretty hectic to say the least.

I will try to catch up on the things I’ve been working on since I dropped off the face of the planet, starting with the mahogany coffee table.

We had been making due with various terrible tables / combination of tables / and no tables for our living room for quite a while. I knew I wanted a pretty wide top so it could serve as a central focus for drawing, homework (in the future), writing (like I’m doing right now for this post), and general domestic activities.

After balancing all of the wood options out there and thinking of jointing and gluing up numerous boards for the top, I just broke down and went for the African mahogany since I could make the top with a single joint down the middle. It turned out to be a pleasant choice as mahogany is quite nice to work with hand tools. Other than dealing with the interlocking grain that is characteristic of mahogany, it is quite a nice wood for working with hand tools.

Unfortunately, the legs are also of mahogany but from a different tree and were harder than any oak I’ve ever worked combined with being incredibly abrasive due to the hard resinous inclusions in the wood. Mortising through them for the rail turned out to be a less than enjoyable experience. In the end, it turned out okay, but the amount of work involved for the mortising and planing the legs was significant.

I’ll probably work with mahogany again in the future, most likely for another toolbox I’m planing to make, but will make sure to test out the boards at the lumber yard to ensure the wood is workable and not extra dense.

Trestle Table completed

Here are a few photos from my most recent woodworking project, a trestle table. The top is made from Black Walnut and the base is made from some select pieces of alder.
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I tried to keep the size appropriate for your relatively small dining room while allowing space for a planned side table built using similar woods.
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The breadboard ends were probably the most rewarding part of the process as they required close tolerances but were quite fun to produce with only a small handheld router and straightedge. Doing these by hand would have been possible but quite challenging given my lack of a wide rabbeting plane that would have made it easier to do.

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I finished the top with a wiping varnish (ala Bob Flexner), which is one part oil-based polyurethane and one part odorless mineral spirits. It took around four coats to get a decent coverage that will stand up against spills and messes resulting from eating every meal at this little table. So far it appears to be doing just fine.

The base is a combination of wedged through tenons for the stretchers (seen below) and for the leg to foot joints. This was my first project using these and I have to say I was amazed at the incredibly solid sound the wedges made when driven home in the kerfs cut into the end of the tenons to accept them. These joints were then drawbored with oak pegs to add belts to the proverbial suspenders. The joinery is conceptually sound so time will test my woodworking ability to determine if it is up to snuff.

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The feet were shaped using a coping saw (believe it or not) as I haven’t found a suitable bow saw and don’t currently own a bandsaw — maybe some day. They were then sanded by hand and joined to the table using wedged through tenons and pegs, not drawbored all of the way through to avoid the end of the oak pegs standing out against the visible part of the feet. I’ll have to wait to see if this was a mistake as the table absorbs the mechanical stresses of being used every day. It’s holding up just fine so far.

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So far the table looks to be holding up well. I’m not sure alder was the best wood to use for the base. If I was to do it over again, I would probably use a stiffer, more rigid wood like a douglas fir or perhaps even white oak as it would have provided a much more rigid platform for the top. As it stands now, I can easily replace the base since the top is attached using traditional buttons instead of being screwed or bolted on in some fashion. It might be a good time to revisit this after completing the side table.

I hope you enjoyed the tour of the trestle table. I’ll post more updates as my next project nears completion.

My humble and slowly-evolving basement workshop

I’ve been doing quite a bit of woodworking over the last few months trying to improve my furniture building skills. I have more recently begun migrating away from power tools more towards hand tools to help with a few things. With a new daughter that I look after full time, I needed to create a safer, cleaner, and more pleasant workshop. I can now work on a project with her in the next room and keep an ear and eye on her without the unpleasant noise, dust, and danger of my power tools.

Hand tools are a much quieter and pleasant way of working wood. You can work on a project with other people in the room without needing hearing and eye protection or with that pained look on your face as the tools wreak thundering havoc on the wood.

Another thing I really like about hand tools is the relative absence of airborne dust in the house. My shop is much cleaner since I ditched the router table and power sanders. The sawdust, chips, and shavings that I produce now settle quickly to the floor and can be vacuumed or swept up with minimal mess. There is still a small bit of dust to be sure, but mostly produced from hand sanding.

This leads directly to the third thing I like about hand tools: the craft of the process. In order to use hand tools effectively, you have to get in tune with your tools through maintaining them. Unlike power tools that come with disposable cutting edges for the most part, hand tools allow you to easily (with a bit of practice) produce a razor sharp edge with relatively simple tools. I adoped Japanese water stones from my kitchen knife sharpening kit and use a honing guide for my chisels and hand plane irons. It’s amazing how quickly you can learn to produce a perfect cutting edge with a minimum of fuss.

The New Traditional Woodworker

The New Traditional Woodworker

I’ve just about completed all of the projects in Jim Topin’s fantastic The New Traditional Woodworker and am about to try my hand at my first hand tool-only project. I am eager to see how I’ve progressed with my sawing, planing, and joinery. It will be a simple first project but should put my skills to the test.

My wooden try squares

Tolpin’s book does a great job of helping the modern reader decipher the various hand tools out there and select those needed to build your toolkit. He goes on to present various projects to create those devices needed in a hand tools shop to work wood safely and efficiently, including a bench hook for crosscutting boards to length and square, a shooting board which helps square an edge of a board, a wooden try square that you can use in place of a purchased one, which I have been doing, along with many other projects. Because I enjoyed the process so much, I ended up creating three different try squares, two normal try squares and a third dovetail gauge, and find myself using them for marking almost all of my board ends and edges.

I’ve also been scouring the online retailers for vintage hand planes. The Stanley hand planes have the reputation as the best built and most dependable made and fortunately they’re fairly easy to pick them up for very reasonable prices, depending on the model. Based on recommendations from Jim Tolpin’s book as well as Christopher Schwarz from Lost Press Art (formerly the editor for Popular Woodworking Magazine). They recommended a starting trio of a No. 5 Jack Plane, a No. 7 Jointer plane and a No. 4 Smoothing plane. I picked up the first two on eBay and purchased the third from Lie-Nielsen. I am almost scared to use the Smoothing plane as it’s simply beautiful and I’m still a bit afraid of putting the first scratch on it. Needless to say, this will eventually pass but it’s still nice to have a work of art in my workshop.

A Stanley No. 5 Jack Plane on the left and a Stanley No. 7 Jointer Plane on the right

"My Precious" (Lie-Nielsen No. 4 Smoothing Plane

I also purchased a Stanley No. 45 Combination Plane, primarily for cutting grooves, dados, and rabbets. I find that it works remarkably well and is doing a rather nice job of replacing my powered router and router table for most tasks. I am waiting to see how it does at more complicated tasks like edge molding and compound profiles, but there are always the wooden molding planes if it doesn’t quite fit the bill.

Stanley No. 45 Combination Plane - a wonderfully complicated bit of kit

I’ve picked up a few additional tools like a hand drill, braces, bits, etc., and am quickly weaning myself off of power tools and only occasionally use a cordless hand drill for quick drilling tasks. I also still use a drill press for creating perpendicular holes in my projects since it can be quite frustrating to misdrill a critical hole.

Hand saws are the next round for me. I’ve picked up some saw files and a saw set to bend the teeth correctly on dulled saws. It’s a rather involved process to do well, but I’ve ordered a DVD to help with the process. I also have two vintage saws on their way and will complete my needed set soon. I’ll post more details as I make more progress…