Tables and Benches

Guest post by Tom today...

For my birthday last month I asked Elizabeth's dad Tim if we could work together on a new table and chairs for our back patio. We've had a round metal table and chair since our Pittsburg, CA days, but it's gotten pretty wobbly with age, and it's okay if there's just four of us, but that's about it. We've got some folks coming over later in September for a farm-to-table lunch (an auction item we offered for City College's Culinary Arts program's Wok on the Wild Side fundraiser), so that was also a good impetus for getting something new. Finally, it was a great opportunity to learn a bunch from Tim, working on a project from start to finish.

As per usual, Tim started by sending over a complete set of drawings that he'd worked up with the Google SketchUp 3D modeling system. Tim works up the entire design, works up details of each component of the finished product, and also produces full-size templates to guide construction.

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Overall design

 Table and bench legs

Table and bench legs

We got started two Saturdays ago. Tim had sourced some 10'+ long sections of redwood lumber, which we used for the tops of the tables and benches. We also recycled some old growth redwood that had once been a hot tub for the posts, feet, and spreaders. It was a noisy and dusty start, but very interesting taking rough sections of redwood, cutting them to length, running them through the thickness planer to get a flat surface, then through the jointer and table saw to get the desired width. The recycled hot tub wood was already at the desired thickness, but we had to cut items to length, and we used the full-size templates to mark off the various notches. The table is bolted together, so I wound up spending some quality time with the drill press. It was a long first day, but we would up with all of the parts cut and drilled, ready for assembly.

 Table and bench tops

Table and bench tops

 Artistically blurry image of many many parts

Artistically blurry image of many many parts

Last Saturday we got back together to start assembly, bolting together the legs and feet, then screwing the support structure to the table and bench tops. We got mostly done on Saturday, and were able to wrap up construction on Sunday and bring everything over to our house.

 Complete!

Complete!

There was still work to be done -- we had to put some wood sealer on all of the surfaces. Tim did the benches during the week, and I finished up the tables on the weekend.

Elizabeth likes the flexible nature of the tables -- we can put them side-by-side (as pictured above), or end-to-end, or just as two separate tables. We can seat eight very comfortably, and can probably seat twelve, so that's a big jump up.

As always, when doing a project, there's particular thoughts that come to mind:

  • Boy, it's nice having the proper tools when trying to create a project like this. For example, we needed to have a pretty extraordinary amount of precision drilling bolt holes in the wood, so that everything would fit together and the tables and benches would be level. Having precise measuring tools and technique and a drill press really helped. It's more than an ease factor -- by having good tools, you don't get frustrated, and it makes you want to do more.
  • There's really no replacement for working with someone who has expertise in a field. Sure, with the set of plans and free time I could probably figure things out (mostly), but there's a hundred little details that only come out when you're working with someone.
  • I know it's cliched, but don't stop learning. Tim's able to build everything from an 18th century Pembroke table with inlay to a Maloof-style standing desk, but he's finding new areas to explore. His most recent focus has been on hand-carving details, like this chip carved trinket box. For our project, he made a sign for one of the table stretchers.
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