End Table Finished

January 10, 2005

After months of sitting in the living room built, but not finished, I finally did the final sanding and finishing of this table.

It's a smaller companion to the coffee table I made about 4 months ago. The fun parts took about a day -- making the design (the funnest part), buying the wood, then building the structure. I learned from the coffee table that a table like this needs two kinds of braces between each leg -- the "shelf", and a crossmember that sits just below the table top. This helps to hold the legs square, and makes assembly much easier. With the coffee table, I relied on pegs joining the top to the legs to maintain squareness. This doesn't work well.

The table is made from maple (legs and edging) and 3/4" birch plywood (table top and shelf "middle") with some Honduran mahogany inlaid between the maple and birch on top. I laminated some 4/4 maple to make the legs, and tapered them on the table saw using my Incra Miter 1000 as a jig.

The top and shelf are built with birch ply joined via biscuits and glue with the mitered maple surround. The shelf and crossmembers are joined to the legs with glued mortise and tenon joints.

I'm really happy with how this one came out -- I got a small belt sander, and was able to get the top very flat and smooth. A belt sander is the right tool for this job -- I had used a random orbital sander in the past, and would get an uneven surface. The belt sander produces a very flat surface.

Hours of sanding away glue on previous projects taught me to be a little less crazy with using too much glue -- so there wasn't much corner-sanding to do on this project.

I did the final sanding with some 3M 400 grit "3x" sandpaper. This is AWESOME sandpaper. I never thought I would say that, but 3M's sandpaper guys have really come up with some innovative stuff. The "grit" doesn't get dull after 2 minutes like most paper, also it doesn't start falling off. The paaper backing holds its integretiy for a LONG time. I used a single piece of paper on my sanding block to do this whole table, and used it to sand most of the bed frame I'm working on now too. I replaced the paper after I nicked it on a sharp corner on the table, and that led to the paper tearing a little bit. But after about an hour and a half of continuous use, the grit was still biting, and was not "caked" with sawdust. It's really great technology and worth the extra money. Anyhow....

I took a new direction finishing this piece. On other things I've built, I've gone with several coats of stain (waiting a couple hours between coats) then a few coats of satin polyurethane (waiting several hours and giving a light sanding between coats). This takes FOREVER and the poly never comes out very smooth -- there are inevitably brush marks or drips in the finish.

After seeing some woodwork a neighbor of my parents had done, I decided to give Dutch Oil a shot. This is basically linseed oil cut with mineral spirits, optionally with a dye or pigment added. I chose Deft's "Black Walnut" for this table. It goes on super easy -- just wipe on (i used steel wool), wait 30 minutes, then wipe off. Wear Nitrile gloves (the blue-green ones) so you don't get that nasty toxic stuff on your hands.

Repeat once, then wait a day for the oil to soak in to the wood and dry. I gave it a good rubdown today, then rubbed on a couple of coats of paste wax (I used Johnson's -- but then picked up a tin of "Orange Power Premium Carnuba Paste Wax" that I'll be using in the future. Johnson's smells bad for a couple of days. The orange stuff smells pretty nice, and seems to dry harder and has a nicer sheen.)

All in all, very easy -- and the finish is absolutely GORGEOUS. The table surface is buttery smooth, and has a very nice consistent satin sheen. The wood grain has an amazing depth -- the wood feels much "closer" than if it was behind polyurethane. I'm very happy with it.

I'm not sure if it would stand up to the abuse we give the coffee table, which for the most part is our dinner table, but this is how I'm going to finish things from here on out.

So one table down, one bed to go. The bed frame is essentially built and sanded. I ran some tests today so we could decide what the best color for it would be. I'll post a followup article with photos later this week when (hopefully) it's finished.