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.

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Chair refinishing is… finished!

It took a while for this project to come to an satisfactory end. I was working on these chairs between other projects and ran into some unexpected literally last-minute setbacks, but the chairs are completed and they turned out really well.

One of the refinished chairs, complete with Thumper

As I mentioned in a previous post, these chairs have sentimental value for me. They were my paternal grandmother’s chairs and I can remember rocking away in them as a young boy on Christmas morning waiting until everyone arrived to open gifts. I remember sitting in one of them as an adolescent chatting with my grandmother and trying to relate to a woman who had literally built a business with my grandfather including the shop and their house and had survived a depression and a World War. I remember sitting in one of these chairs after hearing that she was dying from brain cancer.

I inherited these chairs after my grandmother passed away and they have waited patiently for me to do something about their condition. Although the worn arms and tattered fabric had a bit of nostalgia to them, they really didn’t represent the dignity that my grandmother deserved. It was important to return them to a state that respected their era, style, and “look”. These chairs were built in Indiana in 1959 (according to the furniture tag located inside the chairs). and you really can’t find chairs like them anymore. They’re small and relatively light weight and the swivel rocker design is simply perfect for rocking gently with, say, and newborn in your arms.

After stripping the finish from the arms, I applied a deep red chestnut oil stain, sealed that with a coat of garnet shellac, applied several coats of gel mahogany stain to get the deep rich brown color, before sealing that with shellac once again. A few coats of polyurethane and the wood was ready for reassembly. I took the chair seats to Bailey Enterprises here in Missoula where he reupholstered them and replaced one of the broken serpent springs in the seat. Once he had the fabric on, it fell to me to get him the finished wood so he could reassemble the arms before adding the back. This is where I made a classic mistake!

On delivering the arms to Paul at Bailey Enterprises, I was ascending the concrete steps of his shop with the arms in a burlap drop cloth. As I was opening the door to enter, I felt one of the arms slip… the next moment was frozen with the stomach-churning sound of wood bouncing down concrete! I looked in horror as one of the arms bounced a final time before coming to rest at the bottom of the steps. I was mortified… I slowly lowered the other three arms onto the shop floor and made my way down the steps. The arms was topside-down and didn’t show much damage, but as I slowly picked it up and turned it over, my spirits sank as I saw the dozen or so dings, scrapes, and gouges exposing the bare wood in places.

I climbed the steps to where Paul was trying to console me in my moment of despair. “They should be okay. I’ve heard of people steaming out dings like that in furniture.” He was trying to be kind. You don’t steam out gaping holes of bare wood in a finished arm. I knew that I would have to refinish the arm’s top completely and hope that it wasn’t too obvious when compared to the others. Paul indicated that he could finish the first chair and get the other ready to go for when I got the arm refinished. It was the Wednesday before Easter and we arranged to have the arm back in his hands by Monday.

The re-refinished arm...

I went home and showed Angie the results of my idiocy. She tried to look less than mortified and managed pretty well. I went downstairs and began the process of stripping the arm to prepare it for refinishing. After two days, it looked passable and a couple more days of fine-tuning it, it looked like a new arm again. The following day, I placed it in the back of the car and made my way to Paul’s shop. I carried it (with both hands!) up the steps and delivered it safely to his workbench. He said that he could most likely have the chairs ready for the following day. True to his word, they were ready the next morning and I dropped by and picked them up. I installed the bases once I was home and scooped up Maddie before giving them the first trial rock.

The arm prior to refinishing

The "before" image

The new changing table I just completed

I’ve been busy over the winter learning furniture construction. I recently completed a new changing table for our nursery. It’s made of red oak and finished with a blonde shellec top-coated with water-based polyurethane. I was fairly pleased with how it turned out. I chose a lighter finish to keep the furniture from feeling too massive. I’ll be moving on to a convertible crib / full-sized bed design this weekend.

New changing table installed in the nursery.

I also made the letters on the wall above the changing table. I found a nice font I liked on my computer and printed out huge versions of them which I transferred to a sheet of MDF using a carbon-transfer paper. I then cut them out with a jigsaw, sanded them smooth and coated them with acrylic spray paint. I tried using liquid acrylic but the yellow and blue were far too transparent.

The photo below shows a closer look at the table with one of the hand-painted knobs that I purchased for the drawer pulls.

Closer view of table.

One of the wonderful animal-themed drawer pulls.

I picked up the drawer pulls from Carolina Hardware and Decor who have a great selection of decorative pulls and knobs, many surprisingly still made in the USA. I used a mouse, bunny, bull, pig, lion, and tiger for the dresser.

Refinishing my Grandmother’s chairs

chair prior to the start of the process

I inherited two identical chairs from my grandmother’s estate when she passed away several years ago. They have been in need of a refinishing job since we obtained them and I am finally nearing completion on the work. I decided to refinish the wood myself and have a professional upholsterer work on the fabric since I had no idea where to even start on something like that.

The arms were in desperate need of refinishing

The well-worn arms with years of happy use.

The chair was ready for disassembly. After “carefully” removing the upholstery from the back, I disassembled the chair into the components.

The disassembled pieces.

The swivel-rocker component from the chair base.

Once the components were disassembled, I deployed the random-orbit sander for some tough love.

The sanded components.

A closer view of the arms, legs, and base.

Here are some photos of the progress as it stands today. I’ve managed to strip both chairs down to the raw wood and reapply an oil-based chestnut stain to give a pleasant reddish tint to the wood. I then followed this up with a sealing coat of garnet shellac before applying a liberal glaze of mahogany stain. This step was crucial to the overall look of the arms and require several days of fine-tuning the final look. I then sealed this layer with several (probably 5-7) seal coats of garnet shellac before finishing the job with three coats of water-based polyurethane. I was able to use water-based poly over the previous coats because I allowed 3-4 days of drying time for the oil-based finishes and then used shellac, which provides a material buffer between coats.

The first seal-coat of garnet shellac is applied.

A better view of the shellacked arms.

The re-finished arms, legs, and base from the second chair.

My goal was to stay true to the original finish while bringing out the natural grain in the wood a bit more (less of an opaque glaze with this application) and keeping that deep, rich finish I’ve always loved about these chairs. I should be getting the seats back from the upholsterer in the next week or so and can’t wait to see how the fabric we picked out looks with the new finish.