Wednesday Distraction: Artisanal Firewood

I’m inspired… to the shop! Happy Wednesday, everyone, the weekend is in sight!


Building a Cherry Sidecar Drink Table

I started this table design quite a while ago, as a challenge to build something new using a single board. I found a single 5/4″ x 6″ rough cut cherry board at Architectural Salvage in Columbus, and thought it would be the perfect use. The design was simple, two stave legs with a single cross foot at the bottom, something I thought was reminiscent of a Nakashima design.


I wanted this table to be the right height to sit next to an arm chair, about 25 inches, and with a top just big enough to hold a drink or two, my personal choice is a Bulleit Rye Manhattan. I milled my rough board down to an inch thick, and cut the legs to 2 inches wide. The cross bars and foot are cut at 1.5 inches wide. I love using Irwin’s Quick Clamps to hold things in place while I’m playing with a design.


This was a first opportunity for me to try a few things; first, I hand cut the bevel on the feet and the recess on the bottom with a chisel and block plane, something I had not done before. Second, I used a half-lap dado through the foot and cross bar at the bottom to give the a stronger joint. Third, I used visible 5/16″ dowels in all the joints to strengthen the staves to the cross bars.


I wanted the top to be just big enough to hold a drink, after some trial and error, I settled on a 12 inch by 8 inch top. I ripped two pieces to width, and jointed the edges with a hand plane to glue up; using a pair of biscuits to help keep things aligned. Using my miter saw, I cut the top into an elongated octagon, using the same angle I planed onto the foot, about 15 degrees. You can see the dowel sticking out at the bottom of the legs here before I cut them flush with a Japanese pull saw.


After dressing the edge of the top with a 15 degree chamfer router bit, I sanded all the surfaces to 220 grit with a random orbit sander and a hand sanding block. For a finish, I wanted something durable but also easily repaired. I settled on Danish Oil to bring out the grain in the cherry, then a coat of brush on lacquer and polished out with some finishing wax.


Overall, I’m very happy with the look and design of the table, but tuning in the legs and feet to keep the table stable with four small and closely spaced feet was a challenge. I found it easiest to set the foot a little proud of the two stave legs and the plane down the contact patches until it was all level.


The top was attached simply, but I tried to consider wood movement in the top. In this design I ran the grain of the top in the same direction as the cross member in the frame. Two screws through the cross member hold the top down; the holes for the screws are counter-bored and plugs with dowels. In future designs, I ran the top perpendicular to the cross member, and used some different methods to accommodate wood movement.


Another Hardware Salvage Story

Why do people paint over and throw away vintage hardware? I live in an area with houses built as far back as 150 years ago, and I frequently find doors, with their original hardware, in the trash. It breaks my heart to think how people don’t respect and value the design elements of their own homes. These are the details that make an older home interesting and visually stimulating to be in.

I found this door, stacked up in our alley, ready for the trash. It’s an original 4-panel, solid wood, door that matches the doors in our home… built in 1880. It’s solid, with mortise cut rails and stiles and the original mortise lock, doorknobs and backplates: the complete set.

The original mortise lock has an interesting stem with a threaded brass doorknob. My favorite design element, though, in these old doors, is the escutcheon around the doorknob. These backplates are a design element that is absent from most modern doors, and I can’t fathom why someone would paint over them! I will take them off, and using the method my father-in-law taught me, clean the old paint off and find the metal underneath. I expect these will be a cast brass, matching the doorknob… but only time will tell!

Repairing an Early Victorian Table

We found this early Victorian table at Mary Catherine’s in the Short North of Columbus, and had to bring it home. It looks like mahogany, but the top was water stained, and one of the beautiful brass brackets on the lower shelf was missing screws; but the price was right, and I  was pretty sure I could get the wobble out with a little work.

Once home and flipped over, I found the aprons had come loose all around under the top. A little wood glue and clamping pulled those back together easily. The pieces slid right out, with a little careful effort, and keeping the glue only on the tenons will prevent splitting as the piece moves with changes in temperature and humidity.

Brass screws are a pain, but matching the parts is important to the look of the piece. Replacing the missing screws with new round headed brass screws means pre-drilling the holes to keep from breaking off the soft screws. You have to be careful driving them in, mahogany works nicely, but is a tough wood.

The last fix was a surprise, I found one of the screws had pulled out of the top. Nothing too difficult to fix though. I drilled out and plugged the old hole in the top with a 5/16″ dowel rod, glued it in, and replaced the original screw, good as new!

Sanding down the top was a tough decision, but the water marks were pretty unsightly, even though they don’t show up well in the pictures. A light pass with some 220 grit on a random orbit sander took down the remaining finish and water stains. I didn’t sand too far though, those scratches and divots are part of the character in old furniture. Nothing old should look new, the age is a sign of beauty!

Just a light coat of natural colored Danish Oil and a polish with finishing wax brought the color back to a beautiful shine. Now, I just need to come up with an appropriate medallion to patch the gap in the molding. It wasn’t part of the original design, but I think a little embellishment here would add another interesting detail to the table.

In the mean time, we put this table to use, in to our living room, holding up a jade tree… at least until we decide to keep it or sell it!


Building an Assembly Table Upgrade

It was time to replace my old ‘assembly table’… I had been using two pieces of a desk that I pulled out of a dumpster in college, butted up to each other and set on two sawhorses. It was flat, heavy and the surface cleaned up easily from glue, stain and finish drips. But, progress marches on and I needed something slightly bigger and at a more usable height.


Nothing fancy for the replacement. I built the replacement using 2×3 lumber for the legs, 1×4 pine to rim the work surface, and 1/2″ plywood for the top and shelf. I pre-cut all the boards and sheet at the hardware store to 6′ length, so it would fit in the back of my Subaru. The top is 29″ deep, and the shelf is 19″ wide. Dimensions were picked to get both pieces out of a single sheet of plywood.


First step was to build the carcass. Using the Kreg Pocket Screw jig, I build up the legs and stretchers to match the work surface dimensions I wanted. The table top will sits at 31″ high, so the legs are 30.5″ long. The depth of the carcass is 22″ deep to nest inside the 1×4 frame on the top. Overall length of the frame is 65″ for the same reason.


To build the top, I attached 1×4 pine around the perimeter of my piece of plywood, using construction adhesive and 3/4″ #8 wood screws.


Attaching the top is simple, more adhesive and screws through the top and into the stretchers. To reinforce the center of the work surface, I added ribs between the stretchers using more 2×3 lumber that I ripped down the middle. The bottom shelf is attached uing cleats and ribs to add support. This way, the shelf sits inside the bottom stretchers instead of on top.


Finished and ready for duty. It’s certainly not a heavy duty table, but serves its purpose for glue ups and finishing work. The flange round the outside gives good purchase for clamping, the only improvement I would make is to add an apron for light duty work.


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