Dining Room Table

We moved into a new house in April 2015. Our old house had a tiny dining area; this house has a huge dining room, and our previous table looked puny and weird in the space. We needed a new table!

We started shopping around, and just couldn’t find a table that (a) was the right size, (b) wasn’t ugly, and (c) was not insanely expensive. I kept checking Craigslist, visited at least 10 furniture stores… nothing.

Obviously, I needed to build a table. The standard height is 30″, and we wanted one which would be 8-10 feet long, and about 40″ wide – a really big table, in other words. Ideally, there would also be a matching bench on one side.

The lumber dictates the project. I started by visiting two of my favorite salvage stores, Ballard Reuse and Earthwise Architectural Salvage. There was a lot of interesting stuff… we could use planks of sun-bleached beachwood. Or chunks of maple from a torn-up bowling alley. But I was most fascinated by the glued-together strips of 1.5″ wood that formed 16.5″ by 8′  planks, which came from old Boeing shipping crates. (I still don’t know how that worked, or what was being shipped. Actually, this lumber had arrived to the store in 16′ lengths, and was cut in half).

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Pretty cool stuff, all sorts of different woods and grains. This would be the table top; and since it came in 8′ lengths, the table would be 8′ long! I would buy 4 of these pieces of lumber; three for the table top, and one for a bench.

Poking around the back of the store, I came across some pretty unusual lumber; mahogany 4x4s and 3/4″ ipe wood. Ipe is a really hard, dark wood; and mahogany is solid and goreous. Turns out the mahogany was also from old Boeing shipping crates (WHAT WERE THEY DOING WITH THESE CRATES?) and the ipe was reclaimed from someone’s deck. While I usually avoid buying tropical hardwoods on the grounds that they’re ecologically harmful, there’s nothing wrong with recycling lumber, so I figured I’d buy the mahogany for table legs, and use the ipe to edge the table.

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I rented a van and moved everything into the garage.

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Now, to start building!

I wanted the table top to be 40″ wide, but the lumber was 16.5″ wide. I would use three pieces, ripping one down in the table saw to be 7″ wide.

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I was prepared to use all sorts of fancy ways to join the lumber – dowels, discs, keystones, etc. – but when I called my dad for advice, he pointed out that wood glue would work just fine. It forms a stronger bond than the wood itself, and this lumber wasn’t at risk for warping. And it’s a lot easier! So I slathered glue between the boards, and used pipe clamps to hold the whole mess together. Smaller clamps at the end kept the boards more-or-less even. I could definitely have used lots more clamps; you can never have enough clamps.

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While the glue was curing, I used a scrap piece of lumber to play with different stains – linseed oil, tung oil, and Varathane natural. Below is linseed (bottom) and tung (top); the Varathane is in-between in darkness. We ultimately decided on Varathane because it’s less of a pain to use, and the color was nice.

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Next, I cut the ipe wood to edge the table. I ripped 6″ lumber down to 1.5″ width, and then cut the ends at 45 degree angles. Finally, I glued them the outside edge of the table.

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Ipe wood throws off ultra-fine dust which is rather noxious. I had to wear a face mask when working with it. Since my garage doesn’t have an air filter system, I used the Poor Man’s Air filter, which is to place a 20″x20″ furnace filter in front of a box fan. This works shockingly well.

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I repeated the same steps for the bench top. I was using full-width lumber, so I only needed to edge it with ipe, too.

Now, it was time to do a first pass of sanding to remove bits of glue and uneven edges. There was a LOT of area to sand, so I used the belt sander.

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Now that the tops were pretty much done, I turned my attention to the legs. I was going to attach mahagony 4×4 legs to the corners of the table, with 3.5″ ipe wood to as a skirt that would attach to the legs. This skirt would both give the table a bit of help to prevent sag, and also would be embedded into the legs to give them some strength to stay vertical and not wobble.

I used a router to cut 3/4″ wide, 3.5″ long channels into the mahogony legs. This turned out to be much harder than I had thought, since the router bit kept overheating as it dug into this very hard wood. Required a lot of starts, stops, swearing and occasional chiseling.

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I did also drill a 1/2″ wide hole into the middle of each leg, so I could use a dowel in addition to glue to secure the leg to the table. Once I had the dowels, legs with grooves, and ipe in place, it was matter of assembling the whole puzzle to the bottom of the table.

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For the bench, I used a similar technique to attach the legs to the top of the bench. For the bottom of the legs, I used another piece of mahogany which had a groove cut into it to hold the leg. To cut the groove, I just did lots of passes with a skill saw followed by chiseling to clean-up.

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Once the glue holding the legs had dried, I flipped the bench and table, and had something close to the final product!

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But then: sanding. So much sanding. 80 grit, then 120, then 220 over about 38 square feet.

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Once the sanding was done, the rest was pretty easy – all I had to do was stain and then apply multiple coats of polyurethane (over the course of several days).

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Finally, the table was done! My good friend Wayne helped me carry the heavy – but not impossibly so! – table around the front of the house and into the dining room.

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Pagoda (A Greenhouse Reimagined)

The cob greenhouse was great; everyone loved the little hut in our yard. But it had two serious problems:

  1. No matter how many windows were opened, it was too hot in the summer. Cob has tremendous thermal mass. Plants would cook in there; so we mostly used it for spring starts and storage.
  2. It took up a lot of room in the yard, which cut down on space to gather with friends.

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One evening, two or three years after building the greenhouse, I was suddenly struck with a vision of how to re-imagine the greenhouse as a community gathering space.The crux of my plan was to re-use as much of the existing materials and brick footprint as possible, but to turn it into a large horseshoe-shaped, covered bench. I struggled to explain to my wife what I was thinking; and to her great credit, she said “I’m not really sure what you’re talking about, but just do it.”

I needed a bit of extra lumber to frame the new structure – in particular, 14-foot 2×6 cross-beams, and 4×4 posts. The rest of the wood was salvaged.

Thus supplied, I began the process of deconstructing the cob greenhouse.

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Halfway through, I took a break to dig postholes at the outside-corners. I cut and positioned the 4×4 posts, such that the northern posts were 8′ tall and the southern posts were 6.5′ tall (from ground level). I temporarily screwed cross-beams on to ensure the correct sizing and square form.

DSC00645 DSC00644 From there, it was a matter of removing the rest of the cob (and strawbales) to a level about 18″ above ground level, and finalizing the framing. My plan was to keep cob as the interior foundation, such that it would still be covered and protected from rain.

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Lumber was attached the 4×4 posts with hefty lag screws. I then framed the interior parts that would become the 24″-wide benches with 2x4s, embedded in cob. The cob was easy to re-shape; just add a bit of water and squish into the new form!

From there, a simple matter of adding the roof, which came from the original greenhousDSC00652Almost done! I just needed to cut 3/4″ plywood to make the benches.

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And then, it was just a matter of finishing touches; adding slate tiles to the floor (over the gravel)…

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…caulking cracks, giving the wood many coats of oil-based polyurethane, and then buying some cushions (which were promptly claimed by the cat).

IMG_2611The pagoda is a great hit for parties – we fit about 14 people at one point. We eventually even added clear plastic walls, ran power out there, and had a projector for watching movies. Party central!