What I Bring to the Table – Part 4 – Bottoms Up

This was my last week with Doug; I had many projects to finish up so the pressure was on. The thing I most wanted to finish was my table. I had my mortise and tenon joints finished and the base for my table all glued up. What I still needed to finish my tabletop and attach everything together.

I started by sanding the top and bottom of my table. It took a really long time to get off all the extra glue because I put so much on while gluing the boards for my top together. Once both sides were smooth I set it aside to work on getting my base ready to support it.

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Making corner braces

Doug had me make corner braces for extra support. I did this by cutting a board into triangles. I cut each one separately and slowly until it would approximately fit. Then I cut the tip off the triangles making a 90-degree angle. This should then fit snugly into the corner and around the leg, but I didn’t do the best job of making the 90-degree angles and some have big gaps between the leg and the brace. It doesn’t matter that much and won’t effect the strength. Each brace would get screwed onto the table base in three places. I measured and marked where the screws would go, one in the middle and two on each side.

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Drilled holes into the corner braces to prevent splitting while screwing them on

Then I drilled pilot holes in both the braces and the base. Maple is really dense and the grain can’t move out of the way for a screw so if you don’t drill a pilot hole it will split and crack. Next Doug helped me screw them together. At first I didn’t have very good control on how fast I drilled the screws in but after being scolded several times by Doug that I was going way to fast near the end I finally figured out how to press the trigger lightly and go slow.

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Base with corner braces

I only had a few steps left before my base was all done so to bring it one step closer I put two or three coats of finish on it throughout the course of a day.

In between the coats of finish I worked on my tabletop. On the table saw I cut it to it’s proper dimension. Then I wanted to chamfer the bottom edge. The first step was to take a sliding t-bevel and measure the angle I wanted and then draw it on the tabletop. Doug had me look at to make sure it was what I wanted. It took a few tries positioning it but I finally got it looking just the way I wanted.

Then I set up the table saw to cut it; I positioned the blade at an angle using the sliding t-bevel to make it the exact angle I wanted. Then I set the blade height. Doug wanted to do the first one to show me how and to make sure everything would go okay. After he ran it through he set it to the side to for me to look at and make sure I liked it; I did. Then he left me to cut the rest. In order to cut the right angle on the right edge I needed to have the bottom of the tabletop up. Doug had cut it properly but after looking it I got disoriented and forgot to flip it back over. I cut two sides before I realized. This was a total bummer. We looked at it and brainstormed all the options I had to salvage it. One option was to flip it over and have the bottom become the top and just recut the edge Doug had cut. I had spent so much time picking and laying out the boards just right to make the top look good that I really didn’t like this option; the bottom looked hideous and there was no way I was going to look at it for forever. The option I decided to go with was to square off the two edges I messed up and start all over with them. This meant my tabletop would be smaller and the overhang would be less. It wouldn’t look as good as my original dimensions but it would still fit on and look okay. So I began to recut and this time around I was a lot more conscious. Doug thought this process would only take 20 to 30 minutes to finish but instead it took all day. I felt a little bummed but Doug and his wife, Sandy, gave me words of encouragement to help me see it in a positive way. Sandy told me it was better this way because every mistake is a lesson I otherwise wouldn’t have lear ned. Doug told me my table won’t be as I designed it but when I bring it home I will fall in love with it and forget about my mistakes – I shouldn’t bring home any bad feelings just a lot of experience. They both told me exactly what I needed to hear.

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Chamfered table top

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Making grooves with a router for table top fasteners

When the finish on the base was completely dry Doug showed me how to make grooves with a router on the inside of the aprons that table top fasteners would fit in. One end of the fastener fits in the groove at the inside top of the apron and the other end gets screwed onto the tabletop. This pulls them together reducing its independent expansion and contraction. Doug made three grooves then I made three grooves.

Finally I was ready to do the final steps to finish the base. I sanded it smooth with a 400 grit sandpaper then buffed it with a special Duffy-like mix that Doug makes using some sort of abrasive powder and mineral oil. It essentially acts as really fine sandpaper while oiling it at the same time; this gives it a nice glossy sheen to it as well as making it so soft and smooth. I also did this to the top when it was dry too.

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Screwing the table base to the top with table top fasteners

Now I had a finished base and a finished top and the very last step was to screw them together. I laid the top upside down on a table then put the base upside down on top of that. I lined it up as best as I could; I measured the distance between the legs and the edge of the top trying to get them as even. Then I grabbed the table top fasteners and put them in the grooves pulling them out just a tiny bit. Next I drilled the pilot holes making sure not to go through the other side, and then I finally put the screws in. Tada! It was finished.  It looked nice.

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Finished table

I had a lot of ups and downs throughout this process and I made plenty of mistakes, but as Sandy stated earlier, they were all important lessons. From beginning to end I learned so much. I managed to finish my table on my last day, and although some parts didn’t go smoothly my table worked out. When I bring my table home I am not only bringing my table I am bringing home lessons, experience, knowledge, perseverance, hard work, the product of my creativity and the work of my own hands. Overall, I am proud of myself and the hard work I put into this. I am grateful to Doug for all his time, knowledge, patience, help, and allowing me into his space; I couldn’t have done it without that.

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From Start to Finish – Part 3 – Getting a Handle on It

During my last week with Doug there were many unfinished projects that I needed to wrap up including the wooden trays I have been working on for a while. Not only did I need to finish mine so I could bring them home, but Doug’s needed to be finished as well.

Doug decided we would take a day and work on them together; he would finish his and I would finish mine. So far the trays were all glued up, the handles had been cut and almost finished being sanded. The slip feather joints were complete and the edges of the trays had been sanded smooth.

To finish the handles I brought them home to hand sand them. I worked slowly on them until they were done then I brought them back to the shop and set them aside until they were ready to be glued and screwed on.

Looking at the trays Doug and I noticed that there was still glue stuck in corners and along the edges of the inside of the trays. We got chisels and worked on getting rid of it. Doug told me to be carful to not scratch or gauge the sides or the bottom of the trays. I tried my very hardest but was only slightly successful. It took me the same amount of time to remove the glue from one tray as it took Doug to remove it from three. He pointed this out saying, “Not to make you feel bad but I’ve done three and you are still on your first.” I couldn’t help it, it was awkward. But I got the hang of it a little better and the next three for me went faster.

When I was finally finished I used the orbital to go over the outside edges of the trays one last time and round the corners. Doug advised caution when doing this because when you are sanding an edge it’s putting pressure on one small spot on the sandpaper, which can wear it down a lot faster. If you wear it down too much you can go through the paper and ruin the pad underneath. This part didn’t take me too long, at least I though so.

Now the trays were ready to put handles on. The first step was to mark where the screws should go making sure they would be centered otherwise they would end up being crooked. I used the holes I had already drilled into the sides of the trays to figure out how far apart I should mark it. Next I drilled pilot holes making sure the holes were deep enough for the screws but not too deep that they would go all the way through.

The next step made me feel like a pansy. I had to screw the handles on. This in theory shouldn’t have been that hard; I had holes already drilled, everything lined up, all I had to do was stick a screw in and use an electric drill to do the rest. But I just couldn’t get it to go in. I pushed my hardest but the drill bit would just spin. It also make an awful creaking noise that made me feel like my handle was ready to split in half. So Doug drilled the first one for me, and the second one, and the third one. Each time I tried I was able to get it a little farther in before I had to call Doug over to help. By the last two I had it, I actually got them in and tight. Woohoo! And I thought I was strong, boy did those screws prove me wrong.

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Handles with plugs glued on

Now it was time to fill on the holes that the screws were in with the plugs I had made previously. I squeezed a small circle of glue onto a piece of wood and dipped the plugs in swirling them around to get the glue up the side. Then I poked them into the hole and whacked them with a hammer a few times to make sure they were all the way in. Then I set the trays aside to dry overnight.

When I came back the next day Doug showed me how to chisel off excess part of the plugs that were sticking out. He had me put a piece of wood underneath to protect the bottom of the tray in case the chisel slipped. This was a really good idea although it didn’t protect the trays form me; I still managed to gauge the bottoms with my chisel. To get off most of the excess I knocked if off one small slice at a time with a mallet and chisel. Then to get the very last bit off I carefully scraped it off with the chisel. I scratched up the sides, which had finish on it, pretty bad but Doug said I would be sanding it a bit anyway so it wasn’t that big of a deal. I also cracked one of the plugs and had to glue it back on and let it dry overnight before I could carefully chisel it off again.

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Almost finished trays

The last steps were to sand all the edges with fine grit sandpaper then slather it in a few coats of finish. I managed to get two coats on before the end of my last day. I will still need to sand it with 400 grit paper and buff it; I was able to take some sandpaper and duffy home with me so I will get to finish them.

These trays took me a long time to finish. Doug wasn’t expecting them to take so long but I am a beginner just starting out. I took my time and I did my best and I think they turned out very well. There are so many things I learned from this project. It seems like a small project but there were a lot of steps, I got to use a lot of tools, and I learned a whole bunch. I am excited to give some of my trays as gifts to friends and family and I can’t wait to use mine to see how well they hold up.

Also the last week I helped Doug make salt and pepper shakers and I got to make three sets for myself to bring home. I came close but I didn’t get to finish them, hopefully someday I will.

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Salt and pepper shakers