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– [Caleb] The first thing I did was start removing the bark using a draw knife. I’m trying a technique that I first saw by Matt Cremona where you just remove the outer bark and left the inner bark, that way it still has a barky kind of look, but it doesn’t leave anything that’s gonna be tempting for my boys to try to break off the table. This slab has an irregular shape from the two crotches that are in it, but I wanted something more rectangular, while still being organic.
So I used my straightedge to mark a straight line down the slab in an orientation that I though looked good, and I’ll reference everything else off this line. I used a big framing square reference from that line to mark lines for the ends, then I measured and drew a line parallel to the first line to remove this little projection. Then it’s just a matter of cutting along the lines. This will make the shape a lot less awkward feeling and feel more rectangular, but still leave a lot of natural curves. Next I took my block plain and went around the table blending the edges. There was a particularly bad spot a chainsaw had left that needed to be evened out, and then I just went to where I used the circular saw and tried to transition the straight cut into the natural shape of the slab so it was less abrupt. I’m fortunate to have two really nice plains, but you can get similar results from a used plain. I’ll leave a link to a website my buddy Rick did comparing a used plain and some new premium plains. I started smoothing the top with my low angle jack. Unfortunately, the slab is just too thin and warped to be flattened. If I tried I’d probably end up with just a piece of paper left, but I figured just as long as glasses don’t tip over, then that’s flat enough for the table. I removed all the saw marks I could with the plain and switched to the random orbit sander to get into the low spots. After the initial smoothing of the top was done, I moved on to the legs. One leg is an offcut from the top slab, the other leg I have to cut out of this slab. I follow the same procedure as before. I get a straight line and then use the framing square to get a parallel top and bottom edge, then cut it off. Thankfully one of the attendees was nice enough to hold the board while I cut it. I’m cutting this long now, and I’ll cut both legs to length at the same time later. Now I just repeat the whole draw knife plain and sanding procedures on the legs and stretcher to get the bark in shape and the face is relatively smooth. I smoothed out the stretcher before cutting it to size. So then I do the same ol’ straight line and framing square sequence before cutting it to size. Then I decided that the straight line I drew was actually in a good place to be the top of tenons, so I grab a piece of scrap that’s the size I want the tenons to be and mark the bottom. It would have been wise to go ahead and cut the tenons now, but I waited. Everything is plained and rough sanded, I just need to stabilize these crack and knots. I’m gonna do that by making some bowties out of this curly maple, and then cut everything to final size, and then we can start joinery and assembling. To make the bowties I just sketched out the shape using a speedsquare and straightedge. I drew a rectangle and then laid out the bowtie shape then cut them out on the bandsaw. The bandsaw cut was pretty rough though, so I clamped it in the little vice in my bench and smoothed them out with a chisel. I also went ahead and beveled the bottoms, but I should have done that after I scribed them into the slab. Because they weren’t perfectly symmetrical, I had to have then upside down and then the fit was kind of rough after I cut the mortises and tried to put them in there. But they still worked well. I like to use a marking knife because it give a place to register the chisel. I’d like to go over that with a pencil because then it’s easier to see on camera and when I use the power tools. To cut the mortises I ratted out the majority of the mortise and three passes, with the final pass being just a little less than the full thickness of the bowtie. Then I chiseled out the rest. Then it was just a matter adding glue, spreading it around and on the bowties, and tapping them in. To make the gaps less noticeable, I rubbed some saw dust from the sander into the glue around the edge. When you’re dealing with regular square stock, to get things lined up you can just measure from an edge, but none of these have square straight edges, so I need to establish some center lines that I can use to make sure that everything lines up straight.
This is the toughest part, establishing the center lines to lay out where the stretcher would go, and how the top would line up with the base was just pure trial and error. I started by finding the middle dimension on the top and bottom of the legs and drawing the straight line. Thankfully, I like the way this looked on both the legs. One of the legs I hadn’t squared yet, so I used my framing square to lob off an end and cut it to length, and then I used that leg to mark off the other leg. I started laying out the bottom of the table by marking how far I wanted the legs inset from the ends, then I found the middle of those lines and laid out my straightedge. This time I wasn’t so lucky. It looked really crooked, and I just didn’t like it. So I nudged and fiddled with it until I liked where it was and made sure that it was also square to the leg lines. Then I stood the legs up on it with some screw clamps to see how it looked. One leg looked pretty good, the other not so much though. So I moved it to where I though it would look good and started scribing some new lines. What’s key here is taking the center line from the leg and laying that out as the new center line on the table and the opposite leg, because that’s the line I’m gonna put the stretcher on. With the line for the stretcher on both legs, I measured from the top of each leg to mark of the mortise from the stretcher. I used the same block I used earlier to make sure that they were the same. Then I used the stretcher itself to finish marking out the mortise and make sure my marks were good. And because I like to go out of order, I decided it wasn’t wise to go ahead and start chopping the joinery end until I finished stabilizing the legs. I really should’ve done that before I started laying everything out. So I taped off the backside of the cracks, mixed up some epoxy, and my camera died right before I started the pour, so I missed all that. To make that up, I’m gonna keep my sanding shots really short though. So now that I’m confident a bad mallet blow won’t snap the legs in half, I start mortising I place an offcut under the leg to prevent chip out, and then I use a Forstner Bit to hog out most of the waste from the mortise. Then it’s chisel work. I start knocking off the points and then edge up on the final size, square off the corners, and just clean it up. Now I need some tenons to stick in there. So I take the stretcher to the bandsaw to cut these out. I do all the rip cuts on the bandsaw, but because of the length of the stretcher, I can only cross cut two of the four pieces, and my layout lines are only on one side. So I go back to the vice and use my Izzy Swan Straddle Square to transfer the line to the other side. This tool makes that really easy. While it was in the vice, I figured I’d get some handsaw practice in instead of going back to the bandsaw. Now the first test fit. Not surprisingly, the shoulders of my tenons weren’t square, and so it was off more than I could tolerate. So I go back to the vice to do some fine tuning. Fortunately, it didn’t take too much back and forth to get a good fit. I decided that this stretcher isn’t going to provide enough stability. I’m worried about the legs racking. So I’m gonna put another stretcher in the middle right under the table, across. And that stretcher will provide me a box shape that will prevent racking and will provide more strength. So that’s next, but there’s another problem at this point I have to address that I’ve been ignoring, and that is how out of flat this top is. Plaining it and working in it outside in Oklahoma, it moved more. It hasn’t moved since I got back, so it’s done moving, but it’s worse than it was. Originally I was thinking about making a router sled to make a flat channel inside of the tabletop that the legs would sit on, but now that it’s moved more, I would have to remove too much material, so I’m not gonna do that. Instead, I’m gonna use a compass, scribe the legs, and then fit the legs to the curve of the tabletop. With the legs scribed I decided to rough them out on the bandsaw and then get fairly close in the oscillating sander. This doesn’t quite get it though, so I marked the high spots and then use my random orbit sander to fine tune it. I can now cut out the mortise, rabbit, I really don’t know what you’d call this type of joint for the top stretcher. I used the board itself to lay it out and then cut it out with the router. Now to add the cut offs back to the stretcher. I put them on the stretcher backwards to mark the material I need to remove and then chop off the excess with the miter saw. I use my ice pick to make marks at the bottom of the tabletop where the center line is so I can line this up after finishing, and then it’s time for lots and lots of sanding. I use a rag with denatured alcohol to wipe of the dust and also highlight any bad spots that need more attention, like this tear out here that I missed. I also wet sand the epoxy up to 1200 grit to get it more clear. The last step before gluing it all together is putting on the feet. I didn’t want to put an arch on the bottom of the legs, so if this goes on a floor that isn’t dead flat the table would rock. Having adjustable feet fixes that problem. I just epoxy in some tea nuts and use some Warwickshire lovetts. Now I can finally glue up. One thing I like to do is preset all of my clamps before I start spreading glue. That just takes a whole lot of stress out of glue up. With it all set, I use my tape to make sure everything is square, then I start moping up some of the excess glue with a wet paper towel. For the final support, I pre drill, glue, and screw the top stretcher into place. For the finishing touch, I glue the cutoffs back onto the ends of the stretcher. I just took all the clamps off, and I’m really excited cause it means I’m almost there. Have a few more detail touches to do before we can move to finish and see how all this grain really comes out. Now, if my goal here was to make you think I’m an amazing woodworker, I wouldn’t show you what I’m about to, but what I try to do with these websites is inspire you to make something, whether it’s something like this or something totally different, because making stuff isn’t about chasing perfection or being a perfect craftsman, it’s about learning how to work with your mistakes or hide them. Another tip I picked up is always reserve some fine sanding dust from your project. I mix it with wood glue to make a perfectly tinted wood filler to help patch gaps. This isn’t a perfect fix, but it’s way less obvious than the gaps would be. Another thing I like to do is not perfectly fill all of the gaps and leave a little bit, so that way when you look at this you can tell that it is a handmade product. The last thing to do before finish is cut in some slots with the biscuit joiner for the tabletop clips to go into. And now my favorite part, the first coat of oil. This isn’t sponsored, but Mylands was kind enough to give me some of their wood finishing oil to try on this and I think it just looks great. I did an overly complicated finish on this, just so I could experiment with techniques I hadn’t done before. I did a flood coat of oil on the top and rubbed a coat on the base. There wasn’t a big difference, but I did like the way rubbing the oil in looked better than doing the flood coat. After it dried I scuffed everything, dusted it, and then rubbed a second coat of oil on everything. After giving that a few days to cure, I fixed up some super blond shellac and brushed on two coats and then rubbed a third coat on, sanding and dusting between every coat. I much preferred rubbing the shellac to brushing it, I don’t think I’m gonna brush again. . I wanted the top to have more protection than just the shellac offered though, so I used a polyurethane on both sides of the top. Finishing wise, whatever you do to one side of the board, you wanna do to the other to keep it more stable. So I added three coats of General Finishes’ high performance gloss to build up a very clear finish and the top coated it with sadden to bring the sheen down. With the finish dry, all that was left was attaching the top to the base with the tabletop clips and taking glamour shots. .