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January 21, 2001

For the past couple of months, I've had in mind an idea for a coffee table I would be able to build. The reason I've been thinking about this is, the coffee table we have right now is not a safe piece of furniture to have with a young child in the house: it has a glass top which is not securely fixed down. So back in December I started designing a safe replacement for it.

The design is as follows: the table top is 4' X 27 1/2"; it is made of edge-joined white oak, with a 2" border of walnut. The walnut is 1 1/4" thick, beveled to meet the 3/4" thick oak. The frame is made of walnut: legs are 2" square, set in 3/4" from the side of the table top; rails are 1 1/2" wide, set back so that they meet the leg flush with the leg's inner corner; stretchers are 1 3/4" wide, with a 1/4" miter on the inside -- the stretchers support a white oak tray. The table will be sealed with several coats of pure tung oil and finished with paste wax.

I bought the oak for the table top and tray in December, and glued it up last week; next week I'll buy the walnut at Wood-Ply Lumber on Long Island, and I'll ask them to cut the oak pieces to size.

January 27, 2001

Today I went to Wood-Ply. The walnut is just lovely, evenly dark throughout with nice grain; they not only cut my table top and tray (and the glue joints held up), but planed them even, so the glue joints are no longer visible. They will still need to be hand-planed to smooth them, this will be the first big test of my sharpening skills.

February 5, 2001

Today and yesterday I started on the actual construction -- I've rough-cut and joined together boards which will form the lower tray and its stretchers; next step is to trim them so that all the edges meet up properly, and to chamfer the stretchers.

February 6, 2001

Tonight, I've been working on the joints at the corners of the lower tray -- this joint is the thing that I am considering the signature element of the table. Here is what it looks like, roughly:

The piece marked A is the table's leg, B is the stretcher, C is the side rail and D is the tray. This sketch does not show it but B and C are thicker than D by about 3/8", and are chamfered down to meet D. Using a rasp and a block plane, I have trimmed down the ends of the B and C pieces so that everything fits snugly. Next I will work on the chamfers.

A mistake I made has resulted in a bit of a redesign to the table. I used the wider pieces of walnut, which were intended to border the table top, for the stretcher and side rails. This means that they are slightly too wide for the piece of wood I intended to cut the legs out of; either I will need to buy a thicker piece for the legs, or plane these pieces down by about 1/4". I'm not sure which I'll do. For the border of the table top I am intending to use some mahogany which a friend offered to give me.

February 7, 2001

I decided to use the legs I have, and reduce the width of my stretchers and rails. I did my first one today, starting with my wooden jointer plane -- I quickly found that it was not sufficiently sharp and switched over to my metal smoother plane. I should sharpen my jointer soon. The stretcher came out pretty well, though. Also I spent some time with my smoother working on the tray -- it's getting pretty close to smoothe.

February 14, 2001

I made a really nice carving today, which I'm going to mount on the table frame as an ornament.

I'm thinking this flower shape is going to be my signature for all the furniture I build; already I painted it on the high chair's tray.

For a week or so I had been working on doing carvings in balsa wood (or some kind of very soft hardwood; I don't know if it was balsa or something else like basswood), thinking I would stain them to be mounted on the table frame; but they didn't really look that good, and when I stained them last night they looked really sloppy. So with some trepidation I approached the walnut; it proved unwarranted. This walnut was really easy to work.

February 17, 2001

Today I cut the mortises for the second end of the table. I had cut the first end last weekend -- this is my first attempt at mortise and tenon joinery. Anyways I glued the two ends up this afternoon, which feels like a big step forward. Also this morning I sanded the tray smooth -- I gave up on the notion of planing it smooth -- tomorrow or Tuesday I will be able to join together all the pieces of the base! Then I am at a bit of a standstill until I can get the mahogany for the borders of the tabletop, which a friend of Ellen's is donating.

February 27, 2001

The base is all together, including the center rail. It looks very nice even though the legs are not perfectly square. I'll need to do some final adjustment of the leg length with a rasp after I attach the tabletop, so that it sits evenly on the floor. (A continuing hassle for me; the legs can all be the same length but if there are minor differences in their angle to horizontal they will not all hit the floor evenly.)

I got the mahogany from Ellen's friend but I have decided to use walnut for the tabletop borders. I am carving a detail from mahogany, a sunburst that will sit in the center of the tabletop (assuming it comes out right). I will do the borders and sand the tabletop on Saturday, and hopefully I'll also get to attach the tabletop to the base. I took a picture of the base which I'll post here when I get it developed.

March 2, 2001

I'm getting close... Today I sawed the little triangular screw blocks I'm going to use for joining the top to the rails. The two main tasks I have left are sanding the top and joining the border to the top -- then a miscellany of smaller things, like screwing the top onto the rails, finishing the sunburst detail, rounding over the edges of the top, possibly beading the border of the top, sanding out any last rough spots; and I'll be ready to put the finish on! I'm planning to use 4 or 5 coats of tung oil and two coats of wax. I think by the end of this weekend I will have finished at least my two main tasks.

March 5, 2001

Well, the construction of the table is finished -- I just got done attaching the table top to the frame. I feel a bit disappointed; the table is not as presentable as I had hoped it would be. It looks all right; but nothing like professionally done, things are obviously not square in certain points. On the other hand, it is sturdy; and it will do us fine for a coffee table for the time being. As Ellen pointed out, we won't have to worry about it getting messy with crayon and other detritus of childhood.

I gave up on the idea of beading the edges of the table. So my remaining tasks are sanding (and puttying over the gaps), finishing the sunburst detail, and finishing the table.

March 7, 2001

The puttying is going much better than I expected. I used J.W. etc. wood filler mixed with Lockwood's brown pigment; the match is not perfect but it certainly does not jump out at you. The table looks much better now, still imperfect but presentable. I spent tonight carving the sunburst, which is much easier to do when the workpiece is glued down to the table top.

March 10, 2001

I just put the first coat of finish on my table and am pretty happy with it. The color of the wood under the oil is viscerally lovely, enough so that it's starting to get the better of my superego's nagging criticisms of the workmanship. The finishing is going to be a long process -- each coat takes 48 hours to dry (one article I read recommended 72 hours, but I think I'm going to gamble on the shorter figure) and I need a minimum of 6 coats, probably I will do 8.

March 23, 2001

It's finished! (Well, actually I still need to finish oiling it, but I'm going to wait for the warmer weather to do that. In the meantime, here are some pictures.