The 2-Year Coffee Table

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I am often asked how long it takes me to build custom furniture. I have a pretty good sense of what the followup question will be to whatever “reasonable” answer I can offer, so I happily report, “Oh…easily 2 years” without an inch of growth on my Pinocchi-nose. :)

Ok, well, I suppose that’s not entirely truthful. Many years ago, I made said infamous coffee table: a solid 1″ maple top, baltic birch carcass and drawers, supported by sturdy 2″ birch legs tapered to the ground. And while I designed the coffee table and purchased the wood 2 years before I actually finished it, the project was abandoned several times throughout its course, while I planned a wedding, built garages and many other woodworking projects, and, of course, waited for power tools to go on sale.

The Hardwoods are Expensive!
There are inevitably a million “firsts” with every new project when you first start woodworking. For example, my first bookshelf was when I learned the European 32mm system designed and popularized in war-time homes after WWII. And my second bookshelf was when I learned how to do the 32mm system right.

My first coffee table was no exception. Most significantly, it was my first project not using particle board or softwood. This, in itself, was a big step for me. It took me a long while to muster up the courage to graduate to using hardwood. I have a bad habit of being careless with measurements and on-the-fly design, often resulting in an angered toss across the shop due to mistakes and/or breaks…this was all well and good when using cheap fake-wood or pine, but it’s pretty tough to swallow a miscut that costs a $20 board every time.

Drunken Protection
I suppose one might argue that it wasn’t unheard of for us to host fairly substantial house parties…it certainly wasn’t a secret to our local law enforcement. So one of my requirements was that it could withstand the abuse of spilt beer, food and roughhousing that typically occurs at such an event.

Of course, also being the first time I’ve ever Varathane’d anything, I feel like there MIGHT have been room for improvement. Generally, after every coat of Varathane, you want to lightly sand to smooth it out before the next coat.

However, my propensity for laziness coupled with my eagerness to try my new random orbit sander meant that, after every coat of Varathane, I would, albeit accidentally, power sand the entire coat off before putting on the new one.

So what should have probably taken 2-3 coats ended up being more like 6…ok, maybe 7.

What did I learn? Random orbit sanders are very effective.

The Knee-capper
In the end, I was pretty happy with how it turned out. It survived the move to Vancouver, as well as the climate change that can often result in cracking and warping of hardwood furniture.

However, one thing I did not account for is the sheer weight of it. Given it’s very solid and heavy construction, it does NOT budge when you run your knee into it. You do.

And it’s freakishly sturdy, proven by the fact that my stupid Saskatoon real estate agent obnoxiously sat on it and started swinging her feet. WHO’S SITS ON A COFFEE TABLE?! Fortunately, it held strong…

…even if it’s strength is in the 6 coats of “load-bearing” Varathane. :)

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