Finish and Installing Community Table

Wrapping up the community table on a hot weekend afternoon was not the most pleasant, but I wanted to keep my delivery promise! In keeping with the rustic and industrial feel, I didn’t want an overly dark stain or to wash out the grain too much; but my client wanted something darker. I stuck with my favorite finish for wood, Danish Oil, and found a Dark Walnut from Watco that I really liked the look of on the white oak. The open grain of the oak had me a little worried that normal paste wax would leave light colored flecks, so I also picked up a can of Special Dark Finishing Wax from Minwax. I’m really happy with how that product worked out, and excited to try it on some traditionally dark woods, like walnut and maybe cherry.

Using oil finishes is easy, just brush or rag on the finish and wipe off the excess. It dries quickly, and deals with high humidity well. I find the color to be more stable and durable than stain, and it ages beautifully. To keep the opening on the can clean, I pour what I need into a disposable mixing cup. Lately, though, I’ve been using a glass beaker. The 600mL beakers are large enough to get your hand into, and I can pour the unused finish back into the can. And anything that’s reusable is good in my book! The only thing to be wary of with oil finishes (and polyurethane, too) is the solvent in the finish will eat through latex gloves, so spend the extra dollars and get some good nitrile gloves.

 

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Milling the Legs and Top for Community Table

The next step in building this monster table was the legs. I opted to glue up 4 inch square blank rather than try and source a single 4×4 post. This let me incorporate some of the knots and rustic look of the white oak without sacrificing stability. After gluing up the legs, I planed them square; muscling these 35 pound blanks around was definitely a forearm workout!

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After the leg blanks we glued, planed and cut to length, it was time to start laying out the stretchers between them. I chopped out some jumbo-sized dadoes on to connect the two legs together. This let me glue the the legs together and keep from using any visible fasteners, while taking less time than a through-mortise. I scribed the lines using a basic combination square, I like my 6″ Irwin Square for most work. The sides of the dado get cut, my table saw is a little too small to manages these pieces, so I used a hand saw. Any rigid back-saw will work, but I prefer a Japanese Dozuki style pull saw. After cutting the edges, all that is left is to chop out the waste with a sharp chisel and mallet. Make sure your chisels have a metal ring around the butt of the handle, like this Stanley Bailey Chisel set. The ring helps the handle hold up to repeated mallet strikes.

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With the legs and stretchers glued, I could clean up the ends and glue squeeze out. That’s not glue on the bottom side… it’s sweat! The weekend I had to build this table was over 90 degrees, and the garage shop was a hot box in the mid-afternoon. At this point I also added a chamfer across the bottom of the legs, where they touch the ground. I also knocked off the corners at the edge of my dado to give a little detail and accent to the joinery.

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Legs, plus a giant top… pretty much makes a table! With the random length boards for the top, gluing this panel up was a pain. I used pocket screws to pull the boards together end-to-end, making up long planks from multiple boards. With a lot of careful hand planing, I could glue each of these hybrid planks with a minimal glue joint. Lots of squeeze out though. I added each plank one by one, building up the panel from the center. I have a number of these 36″ Bessey Bar Clamps, but by the end, it took every long clamp I had to hold it all together!

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Final steps on the top were to clean up the glue, with a good sharp chisel. I cut the ends square using a circular saw; nothing glamorous. Then it was time to sand. I really like my Bosch random orbit sander. The variable speed is nice, and lets you control how aggressive it is. I find a slower speed on higher grit paper keeps swirl marks to a minimum. I’ve found good luck using Mirka paper, and the price is right for 50 count boxes. I sanded the top to 180 grit, and it was time to assemble!

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Designing a Bespoke Community Table

I’ve been silent for a while, but I’ve certainly been busy. In July, I was invited to design and build a community style lunch table for an marketing agency downtown. They had moved offices into a newly renovated space in an older building in downtown Columbus, but lost a lot of the vintage character from their old space. The new kitchenette and lunch space was wide open, and they needed a BIG community lunch table that pulled together the reclaimed barn-siding shelving that was already installed.

With a very short delivery window, I had just over a week to design, build, deliver and install a bistro height table with a 36″ by 96″ top. After a few design sketches, client picked the random length, staggered board top. No CAD models for this project, it was all pencil and paper for design; with my 0.5mm mechanical pencil and Moleskin notebook, it was like sketching in college all over again.. This is one of the first projects I’ve build exactly to someone else’s ideas. After agreeing on a price Friday afternoon, Saturday morning was off to the mill.

I opted for white oak to give both an industrial feel and some substantial heft to the piece. White oak is is an open grain wood, and ring porous; but differing from red oak in that the pores are plugged. The plugged pores make white oak water and rot resistant, and has made it the wood of choice for many industrial pallets and even wooden ships. For a few books on identifying and selecting wood for projects, consider The Wood Book, by Romeyn B. Hough and Understanding Wood: A Craftsman’s Guide to Wood Technology, by R. Bruce Hoadley.

After loading up the Subaru, I think we might be in the market for a truck! But, we successfully brought the load home, with a few bonus pieces of black walnut… The first step was breaking down all the planks into the shorter sections for the legs, apron, stretchers and rails. This project definitely put my Ridgid jobsite saw through a work out, and I’m sure in for a blade sharpening! When this project is done, I’ll be upgrading to either the Ridgid R4512 or the Delta 36-725, but more on that later…

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Stay tuned, and we’ll look at the legs, top and finishing!