The Tom Table

I’m pretty sure it’s a common grad student practice to refer to one’s current paper by the name of the professor who assigned it. One of my first major writing projects in graduate school was an assignment from a professor named Tom, and I referred to my paper as the Tom Paper. Now that I’ve graduated from the program and I am making a thank-you table for this same professor, I’ve found myself calling it “The Tom Table.” I like this, actually, and since most of my projects are made for friends, I think I’ll adopt this method of naming going forward. Except when I make things for myself. That would be weird.

This graduation business I mention has necessitated a move. So long, charming barn with tiny cubbies built by a pipe fitter…hello, two-car garage and grape-vine-covered driveway!

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Not too shabby. With a little organization and a nice work table at the right height in the center of the space, it will be amazing. I believe I’ve descended into bragging about my woman cave. Let’s move on.

The Tom table is a cottage-style end table. I’m using reclaimed bannister rails for the legs, but other than that all of the wood is new: oak flooring boards for the tabletop and bottom shelf, and pine furring strips for framing.

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I feel pretty guilty to be using unfinished oak flooring boards to make this tabletop…they’re just so darn easy to work with. I feel I owe an apology to the real reclaimers out there…or at least some rationalization. So I’ll just remind you that I bought a broken up bundle of flooring boards to make frames and then I had a lot left over.

Because I had the good fortune to take a course on Sketchup this summer, I planned out this project on the computer before I made the first cut. I usually make drawings, but it’s pretty tedious to draw to scale (I usually just guesstimate) and tricky to get the proper perspective. I first learned about Sketchup from Ana White’s tutorial on designing plans in 3D, but I didn’t do much with it beyond get frustrated. With a little hands-on training with the program, however, I now see how much easier it makes things. My very favorite thing about Sketchup is that when you model with the proper dimensions, you can use the ruler tool to take measurements for cuts instead of doing math. This is how I determined the length my boards needed to be when cut at a 45 degree angle if I wanted the tabletop to be a particular width and length.

Tabletop dimensions

I had myself convinced on previous projects that adding and subtracting fractions was good exercise for my brain, but really…it’s just a pain. I’ll exercise my brain some other way.

Here’s a shot of the tabletop boards before glue-up.

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I don’t have a picture of the next step, but I’ll explain because I know you’re curious. I put a bead of glue in every groove and laid out the boards face down. Then I took a spare 1×5 and nailed it to the bottom, flipped the whole thing and cleaned up the glue. The 1×5 didn’t reach every board, so I did use a clamp here or there to keep the smallest boards aligned as the glue set.

Now, a word on the way in which I nailed the 1×5 to these oak boards. I used a nail gun. A pneumatic nail gun.

Makita AF505 2-Inch Brad Nailer

Things are SO much easier with a nail gun. Also, it’s pretty thrilling to put it in place and push to engage the safety tip and then hold my breath and PULL THE TRIGGER. Because it’s a gun. I’m shooting a gun. And I’ll tell you it was pretty terrifying when I had just started to feel more confident and then one of the nails came shooting through the top of the board. Not all of the way, mind you…but I’d aimed wrong and sent it at an angle through the top. I was able to pull it out without too much trouble—it added character to that board at least—but I also realized that were it not for some seriously hard oak, that nail might’ve gone flying through the air. The goggles, people. Wear the safety goggles. And don’t get cocky with your nail gun. Whew.

Because I was framing the tabletop with 1×2 furring strips, it was really important to cut the boards to precisely the same length and align them well. Any difference in length and you’ll have a gap. Once the boards were glued, I was seriously wishing I had taken more time to trim the oak boards with the miter saw…but it did provide the perfect opportunity to use another new tool, a dozuki saw.

I’d been wanting a Dozuki saw since I started watching youtube videos of people doing fine joinery like dovetails and tenons (like this one). Because the teeth are in line, you get an incredibly precise cut. Well, let’s say you have the potential for a really straight, precise cut if you take your time and practice with your saw. My results were not all that precise, but this picture is still pretty great

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I’ll zoom through the other steps because I don’t have good pictures. I glued and nailed the mitered furring strips to the edges of the tabletop. Then I framed up the legs and attached the tabletop with the help of the kregg jig.

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This went smoothly, except that the bannister rails wanted to split when I put two screws relatively close to the edge (and this has happened before). I really need to remember to use fine- instead of coarse-threaded screws when framing reclaimed-wood legs.

Last time I put a bottom shelf on a table, I cut notches into the assembled shelf and used the kregg jig to secure the single piece to the legs. Because I was using flooring boards cut on an angle, however, I needed to frame the exposed edges of the boards (well, I don’t really think I NEEDED to, but I felt like I should). So I did the plans first…

tom's table bottom shelf

I decided to build the bottom shelf to dimensions just inside the four legs, then use 1×3 furring strips (which I glued and nailed to the edge as I had for the tabletop) to attach the shelf to the legs.

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This worked fairly well, but I’m going to keep trying different ways of doing this. Maybe I’ll actually read a little bit about shelf joinery before I do this next time. As is perhaps obvious, I’ve just been making it up as I go. It’s more fun that way, but it’s also fun to watch youtube videos to learn the tricks of the trade.

I was down to the wire finishing this table before leaving town (reminiscent of my procrastination on the Tom paper way back when—a poignant parallel), and was pretty bummed when I discovered my wood filler had dried out over my long winter of inactivity. I was especially disappointed because there were lots of little imperfections I was hoping to hide. But then I remembered a trick from Dad. Just add acetone. I cut open the tube, crushed the hardened material and mixed in a little acetone.

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It worked like a charm, and I globbed that woodfiller into every nook and cranny. Now, I should say something about this woodfiller. I’ve been using it for a while, but have been noticing that it’s different from the kind I remember using at Dad’s shop. I’m thinking he might’ve been using Minwax wood putty (correct me if I’m wrong, Dad), which comes in a variety of colors to match Minwax stains. I’d purchased stainable wood filler. It’s nice that it’s stainable (though I sort of suspect the other is as well? I haven’t tested that), but I’ve noticed that it has a lot more grit than the other type. This grit shows up in the finished product, which is not so nice. I’ll be experimenting with wood putty very soon.

As I did with the table for Cafemantic, I left a good bit of the red paint on the reclaimed bannister rails. I went with dark walnut on the table because…well, because I have a really hard time using anything other than dark walnut these days. I like that that the pine furring strips absorbed a lot of the stain, making them a good bit darker than the oak boards—the variation makes me feel better about using such uniform boards. I tested the oak and pine scraps with dark walnut (top) and special walnut (bottom).

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After staining the table and letting it dry overnight, I sanded some of the stain away in the morning—this table will be living in a cottage on Cape Cod, so I was trying to make it look weathered. Not sure I accomplished that, but I like the look.

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I finished it up with two coats of Minwax Wipeable poly, and delivered it to Tom’s office. He’ll find a table and the strong smell of varnish in his office when he gets back to town!

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2 thoughts on “The Tom Table

  1. Pingback: Judith’s granary door cabinet | fair-weather furniture

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