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.



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.

Girl Scout Camp

I've been spending the week at our local Girl Scout day camp in Briones Regional Wilderness Park; I participate every year as head of the Nature Unit. I take two days to rove around the camp, doing some sort of activity that fits the theme (this year, it was "Come Play With Us!"), and then two days are spent taking groups on hikes. The last day is always spent preparing food for the camp and helping out with the 'Friday Fair.' The week is always a lot of work, but also a lot of fun, though I'm always so filthy and tired when I get home, it's hard to appreciate it in the moment, and absolutely nothing gets done at home or in the garden. Usually about a week afterward I'm like, hey, that was cool! And I know I'm going to do it again next year.

It's always a challenge to figure out nature activities that fit the theme, and it occurs to me now that I should blog about it ahead of time, because I'm sure you all would have some ideas. One year the theme was Native American, and I did a fun thing where we collected a bunch of veg and fruits and stuff from nature, then smashed it with a hammer into fabric to see if we could create natural dyes. Green cabbage made purple! Onions made bright yellow! It was interesting. One year the theme was Halloween, so the kids and I made habitat webs and figured out if one thing vanishes in nature, it affects all other parts of nature. This year I decided to help the kids make compasses using needles, magnets, and a bowl of water, then we talked about directions, and found something interesting in each direction to learn about.

I also usually figure out something fun to do on the hikes, so we're not just walking up a hill and sweating. This year I made a nature scavenger hunt, and truly there is so much to discover while hiking, we're never bored and always seeing something new.

For instance, one of the kids found a lizard skin; at first we thought was snake skin until we saw a little claw/hand shaped bit on it. I had no idea lizards shed their skins, but they do, and in fact alligator lizards shed them all in one piece. Inside the skin we found a chrysalis. Odd!!! and cool!!!

Another kid found a jawbone with teeth still attached, right in camp. Turns out it's a mule deer jaw, and I didn't even know deer had sharp teeth.

There are always a couple of kids, on the hikes, who clearly hike a lot with their parents, and know as much as I do about what we're looking at. That's fun, and I can count on them to help me present everything to the rest of the group. But it's even more fun to expose the rest of the group to nature. Many of these kids don't ever spend time outside, camping or hiking or climbing trees and rocks. Most of them don't know what trees grow in their neighborhood, or what the flowers are, or the difference between a robin and a blue jay. I love those kids. One said to me, "This is the first hike I've ever been on!" and I adore that. I have a chance to help them fall in love with it. What could be better than taking them to a blackberry bramble, showing them which ones are ripe, and watching them eat the sour, warm fruit? Or pointing up high to a Valley Oak and showing them mistletoe growing in clumps hanging from the branches, the same mistletoe that put in their doorways at Christmastime? Or finding coyote poop, and trying to figure out what the coyote ate that day? Or coming upon a steer, grazing in the open space right in front of us?

So, as tired as I am, and as dirty as I am, I feel satisfied that it was a good week, and the kids learned something. Now, I've got to get back to cooking stuff from the garden, ASAP, or we're soon to be overrun!

Morning Flag Ceremony

Mule Deer jawbone

Lizard skin

Very Exciting News!

Ladies and Gentleman,



It's quite a bit bigger than I imagined the first egg would be, and it has a beautiful hard shell.

Minerva, one of the Plymouth Barred Rocks, was the proud layer of this egg of perfection. She let the whole world know it by making quite a racket. Tom heard the fuss, and came running. She had performed this duty in the nesting box, even - just where she was supposed to. Good girl! (hey, those fake eggs worked!)

The summer stretches out before me, full of fresh eggs to eat - frittatas, custards, omelets, soufflés...

Meanwhile, I spent the morning at the Alameda Antiques Fair. Holy cow, what an event. I had never been before, but a friend who refinishes and reupholsters vintage pieces convinced me that I must attend. I was completely overwhelmed from the moment I arrived until the moment I left, and I'm still not sure what happened, but my pal ended up with three pieces of vintage furniture, a leather bag, a leather cuff, a worn pair of Frye boots, and a painting. I somehow came home with a new light fixture for our kitchen. We've always lived with the fluorescent light there, which I loathe, and finally we can replace it. I bought the fixture from a man who uses all sorts of repurposed items for his pieces. Our new light is actually made of a boat propeller and is very funky. The minute I brought it home, Tom took down the old light and has been working on the drywall ever since. What a guy.

what a mess!

I promise it'll look cool when it's up
Tom also has a pulled pork braising in the oven and a peach jam simmering on the stove. He's a keeper.

Tomorrow after work, my job is to pull peas - man, it got hot today! and pull shallots, and plant pumpkin and cantaloupe seeds.

The paste tomatoes are looking a little peaked, I'm not sure what's going on with them. Tom sprayed them with a copper mix today, to help combat any fungus, and we removed the straw mulch underneath. Copper is the same thing that helps prevent peach leaf curl, which is what the tomato leaves look like at the moment. We don't spray things often, but we would like to save this crop of paste tomatoes if possible. Most organic farms utilize copper spray. From UC Extension: "Copper fungicides are on the National Organic Program National List as synthetics. They are regulated for use as disease management tools, with the restriction that they must be used in a manner that minimizes copper accumulation in the soil. Like any other synthetic pesticide used in organic agriculture, a farmer must first adopt all available alternative management practices and show that those practices are not sufficiently effective. Specific preventive and alternative measures would include destruction of cull piles, planting of disease resistant cultivars, roguing/destruction of diseased plants, irrigation management, and wide row spacing. Farmers applying copper products should periodically soil test for copper to track trends in soil copper contents." It's not ideal for us to use it, and we don't often, so I don't feel bad using it today.

Plus, we had such strange weather for all of May, quite cool and overcast for most of the month. Now it's hot, the problem might just right itself. Wouldn't that be nice? Meanwhile, I'll keep an eye on things.