How long does it take to build a table and when do you really get to start counting? Does the timer start when you make the first cut or when you sit down to draft the piece? Maybe it starts when your cutting board doesn’t turn out as intended and you decide that it would make a better table top. Perhaps, then you should start the timer back when you began that cutting board. But the more you think about it, the more you consider the journey you took to get to the point where you were able to make that failed cutting board; the years of practice on other pieces and the years of collecting tools required to implement should all be considered. Maybe that is the start. Now wait just one moment, surely this table started even before you had those tools. Surely you must consider the context of the table. It is a gift, for your mother for her 60th birthday. Did this table start 60 years ago? Maybe. Maybe it started once those trees started growing to eventually be cut and milled. Maybe that began more than 60 years ago.
However, I built a table and it took much longer than intended. Maybe that is okay in the grand scheme of life.
This table didn’t start out as a table. It started out as a cutting board. A while back, I watched number of YouTubers make pattern, end-grain cutting boards and always wondered why no one ever borrowed from the quilting community for their designs. It seems like a perfect mash-up if you ask me. I did some digging and found that Woodsmith (my go-to woodworking magazine) had run an issue where they did quilt square cutting boards and it happened to be an issue I had in my pile. Great, I thought, I just need the motivation to make one now.
Cue my mom turning 60 years old. My mom has quilted for twenty or so years now. I’ve always asked her to make me quilts and everyone gets a quilt for special occasions but no one ever made my mom a quilt (other than my mom). So, this seemed like the right time and place to make something special for my mom.
However, due to my inattentiveness while making the cutting board, it didn’t turn out great. First off, it was massive (20 in. x 20 in.), bigger than the plans intended. Second, I completely missed a step which would have drastically limited the gaps during the glue-up. And as we know, gaps don’t make a great cutting board. All wasn’t lost because my wife suggested that it would make a great table top. My mom agreed. I just needed to build the table base.
To me, building a table is something straightforward and complex at the same time. I know what a table is and how it should look and it is easy to answer the questions of what goals it should accomplish.
I needed it to:
- Serve as an end table
- Support a 20-ish inch square top
- Maybe have a drawer
- Not be too flashy
The complex part is in all of the details and all of the things that need to be done in order to have a usable table in the end. More on that later.
The first thing I did was dig through my massive pile of woodworking books and magazines for an end table that would meet my needs. I was quite shocked to find nothing So, I then turned to CAD and drafted up a design and all the parts and pieces I’d need to make.
This is what I came up with.
The great thing about this project is that it would use up a lot of the lumber I had been accumulating over the years. I love to have wood on hand, in case a project strikes me, but at some point all of this wood feels like a fire hazard. To me, it is akin to having a freezer stocked full of food. Every now and then, I feel the need to use up what I have and replace it with fresh stuff.
Also, since I was designing this project for me to build, I could also design it for the tools I have and that would hopefully make the process smoother. For example, I’m a big proponent of building something right and building it well. I think mortise and tenons would have been the best option to make a sturdy until the end of time piece, but I don’t have a great set up, yet, for mortise and tenon joinery. Instead, I opted to use my fancy new doweling jig I bought for my production work. Dowel joinery is like easy-mode for mortise and tenons.
So, sometime in September I started building the table base to match the cutting board turned tabletop. Slowly I formed the legs, cut the sides and rails and runners. I drilled for dowels and started to join things together. Mostly, I worked on this project in between other projects and on days off. I was preparing for the baby’s arrival at the time. I even had a long weekend planned to work on it when our baby decided to show up early, dashing my plans to keep moving forward on the table.
Once the baby entered the mix, so many things came to a standstill and this table sat for months without progress. How could I carve out time to go into the basement and make a bunch of noise and mess and leave my wife to solely handle the baby? I just couldn’t and shouldn’t. But eventually, the baby started growing. We started to learn her needs and wants. I started to find time in the evenings after the bedtime routine was completed. Ever so slowly, I learned that my shop noise didn’t wake our infant and then suddenly a world of opportunity presented itself to me. I could trudge on.
While I mentioned earlier that I had designed the table around the tools I had, that wasn’t entirely true. I designed the table around tools I had and one I planned to have. That one was a dovetail jig that I had been in the process of building when I started the table. The hold up was that I needed to cut the dovetail template on my CNC. But before I could cut out the template on the CNC, I needed to complete a list of projects and upgrades to the CNC so that the template was accurate and usable. That list included rigidity enhancements, work holding upgrades, and aligning the spindle to be as vertical as possible. Since the CNC was built by my own hands, I wasn’t able to use off the shelf bits for making the spindle vertical. This led me down the path of designing a spindle mounting and truing system on my computer and 3D printing it out. I may write about that (ever ongoing process) some other time. Eventually, I finished my upgrades and could use the CNC for a five-minute cut to complete the template for the dovetail jig.
Out of excuses, all I had left to do was finish the darn table.
Happily, I delivered the table to my mom less than a week before her 61st birthday. Not bad, all things considered. There are, as always, things I wish I had done better and issues that only I would notice or fret over. However, I am quite pleased with the result. Even the top, as full of gaps as it was, came out nicely with the help of
some much wood filler.
Before another person asks, no, I will not be making another one of these tables. You cannot afford one. Given all of the time and all of the expensive wood that went into this. I do not expect anyone to be able to justify the cost it would be for me to make one. Plus, for most things about wood working for me, it isn’t about making a profit. It is about making a quality piece of furniture with my own two hands.