A Plane Coffee Table

It started with visions of curves, planes and bridges.

I keep scratch pad in the shop so I can chase ideas around on paper. Rulers and tapes so I can measure how far apart my hands are or run around and measure existing pieces. Here I drew a couple of table ideas – one bridge like and one inspired by an airplane wing and landing gear. They sat around for a while, then I looked at that chunk of Spruce (see a few posts ago), muttered “I really need to get rid of that” and then “hmmmm”. So I dragged it out, flattened it and started scrawling on the side (with a crayon) to try and see if I could get something that looked like the wing.
Shaping this loosely connect wad of knots was going to be a challenge, so I took it outside and had at it with a chainsaw. To refine the shape, I used a router. I drew the shape on some MDF, bandsawed it, filed and pattern routed the second piece. I drilled a hole in a 2″x½” batten and clamped it to the router (the screw holes in the base don’t fall on the batten). A ½” straight bit laid waste to the waste. While this worked, it is really marginal; the clamps do not inspire confidence, the batten is hard to keep square and is too wide to follow the tighter curve, I dug lots of holes in the patterns and it is hard to see what is happening without getting face fulls of sawdust blown at a zillion mph.

That done, I worked on the arched base (see a few posts ago). Once it looked like this would actually work, back to shaping the top and fitting the two together. The cracks in the knots were filled with sawdust and epoxy. Shaping was rasp work, 80 grit sandpaper, gallons of sweat and sore arms. No machines, a belt sander might be nice but I don’t have one. Lucky this stuff is so soft. The 3M 6000 respirators are really really nice. The pink filters are for dust and work worlds better than paper masks (I think I paid about $25). I wore this thing for hours and didn’t have any sawdust boogers. I put on organic vapor cartridges when working with nasty chemicals. The top was cleaned up with a #7 to get rid of the router tracks and finished with sandpaper on a long stick.

To attach the two parts, I cut a huge slot with the tablesaw. It might look like a dicey cut but it felt safe. I considered using some kind of mechanical fastener (so I could take the table apart) but I couldn’t think of anything that would hold in the soft Spruce so I decided to just glue the two together (not exactly a difficult glueup).

Trial fitting showed a big problem – the table wasn’t very stable. Worse, I couldn’t figure what to do. One attempt was to continue with the plane theme and try wheels: big plates (turned on the lathe) with little plastic hub caps (remember baby moons?). Naah. I went with black Lexan foot pads, cut out on the bandsaw and screwed on. To give the screws something to bite on, I added a couple of cross dowels.

How to finish? The top has enough “character” that a clear finish will work well, but the legs? I decided to paint them. Black. Ack! Not a real fan of black, so it is going to be a “distressed” black over red. Latex primer, gloss apple red (3 or 4 coats as it is the true color coat). For the distressed look, I diluted flat black 50/50 with water and “dry” brushed it on. I did this by putting on too little paint and brushing the snot out of it until it covered for a streaky look. Couple of coats.
Painting is much harder to do than an oil finish. Oil is really forgiving of dings and stuff (unless it is high gloss), paint shows them and also really shows where the curves aren’t smooth. Putty is your friend.
The top has tons of BLO in it to bring out the color and highlight the contrast between early and late wood. I soaked each end in a bucket of BLO overnight and then drenched the rest of it. Then let it sit for a week to dry some. Then I varnished the bottom.
The two parts were masked (cardboard and tape) where they would be joined (before painting).  With most of the finishing done, I glued them together. I’d rather put finish on after assembly but there isn’t room.

To finish the top of the top, I put it on my rotating finish table: the tablesaw, which has casters. I put something like eight coats of poly varnish on, using a paper towel. Not all that great a way to apply it but it is easy. This varnish is old and is gelling so it dries fast, which makes it hard to keep a wet edge. I added a lot of mineral spirits to slow it down but it was still streaky (especially since I work it too much, I really need to learn how to wipe it on and get off it). Two coats per day, thin almost gelled varnish dries fast. Coats that felt rough were sanded with 180 or 220 with a scratch pad (synthetic steel wool) chaser or just a scratch pad rub down. After drying the last coat overnight, I could rub it out with a brown paper and, even though it was still soft, got rid of or mellow most of the streaks.

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