As I await the arrival of what I hope will be the last piece I need for the end table project, here’s a standalone post about a side table project.
I found a listing for an end table on the free stuff section of craigslist, which you know by now is where I go almost exclusively for things to refinish. Of course not everything worth redoing is limited to the free stuff section (more on that in a future post), but that’s the page that receives most of my focus.
The person who listed the table set it outside for me to pick up at night, and about 50 minutes later, I was home with it. But with everything these days, outside it stayed at first.
Daylight gave me comfort this table with its solid wood top just had water damage that could be sanded off easily. The white paint was in pretty good shape, and I figured that the paint was thick enough that light sanding would be the way to make it bright again.
As expected, the more I took off, the more the water damage went away. It was shaping up very nicely.
As I kept going, I got to see how the tabletop was looking so much nicer than I had expected.
I was marveling at how the top was made with a single, wide piece of wood and with no knots. How did I come across such a gem? And then I realized my mistake. The top wasn’t one solid piece of wood like I’d thought. Rather, a wood veneer had been applied to some other hardwood underneath it. That’s why the grain didn’t line up where it should have.
It seemed like I couldn’t go much further without running out of veneer, so even though there were parts that showed discoloration, it was time to stop.
In my first woodworking post I mentioned that I had decided against refinishing the coffee table with teak oil because it had that weird yellow river, and I was concerned that it would stand out without stain. Faced with a similar situation, I decided to go for it. I’d learn a lot from it. And what kind of guest (remember guests?) is going to be looking at my bedside table?
I found I had not stopped sanding too soon. The teak oil make it obvious where I’d gone through the veneer. But the discoloration of the veneer itself seemed to be hidden well.
While this isn’t normally my style of furniture, it fit well physically in the room and was a very quick turnaround.
I learned a lot from this project.
Wood veneers can look very good but require much more caution for a flawless refinishing.
Teak oil doesn’t absolutely require a surface that is free of all discolorations for the result to look good.
It’s kinda nice to have some projects that don’t take forever.
I had expected that this would be the final installment of the end table refinishing project and that the next woodworking project’s first installment would be next week, but it turns out that we get at least one more post about this table beyond this one. How great is that?
Last week I told you about the 18″ ash legs I’d ordered. I was looking forward to those legs. I got the shipping confirmation. I was tracking their progress from Illinois to Los Angeles and their expected delivery date. But there was no progress. I called South Carolina, and South Carolina said that it was shipped from Illinois, and maybe there was a different tracking number used. I called Illinois, and ultimately it looked like the the package had been lost by UPS.
When I heard that, I immediately felt for Tucker Carlson. But the loss of this package seemed to be real instead of the fake-lost fake Hunter Biden documents.
The seller’s customer service was very nice and offered a replacement. And since they didn’t have ash legs available immediately, they asked if I would be OK with white oak legs instead. I didn’t mind darker legs, and it wasn’t like the rest of the table was consistently one type of wood and that this would throw off the coloration of the piece.
I tracked the legs all the way from Illinois to LA, and then it was time to get to work.
I sanded them down and got them ready for the teak oil. But I had to figure out how to let them dry without a problem.
Then I realized that the mounts I had ordered on amazon came with like a T-nut for hanger bolts. This kit came with hanger bolts, too, so all you really needed were legs that were drilled out in the center. Pretty convenient. But I could install these nuts into the top of a cardboard box.
So I started the process, and I was on my way.
So far so good! Table is so close to being finished! Hooray! No problems here!
I checked the legs against the table, and there was definitely not enough space for the hanger bolts to be screwed in all the way. I had to come up with solutions!
I decided to see if the nut would work as a spacer. It fit, sure, but it was all kinds of sketchy.
It actually looked pretty nice, I think! I was happy that I chose straight leg mounts over angled leg mounts. Right?
But I had to figure out a solution that could actually not be super sketchy. Which this setup absolutely was.
So I got some washers that I decided to use as spacers. Just for the time being. You know, unless they worked great. Then forever.
Not only did this approach not look good, but the play that was the result of the imperfect fit made the table noticeably wobbly. I hadn’t put weeks into this to have the threads stripped and the table fall down.
So it was back to all kinds of research. I needed not only to get the enough space between the mount plates and the table but also the proper mounts.
And this gave me the opportunity to reconsider my choice of using straight mounts over angled mounts.
So I talked to the seller in South Carolina about the mounts they sell–the ones that are made with the legs in mind–about if there’s enough clearance to accommodate for the 3/4″-long hanger bolts without having to add a buffer between the mount and the table. Ultimately, the answer was yes.
This time I decided to go with angled mounts.
As they were on their way, I did some calculations so I could be ready with what I needed to finish up this project and be happy with it.
I knew the leg mounts were made with an 11-degree mount angle.
The table is 14″ wide. The legs are 18″ tall. How big does the piece of wood need to be to affix to the underside of the table so the legs can hit the floor where I want them to?
OK so I have a right triangle. Makes it a little easier.
The hypotenuse of the right triangle is 18″ because the legs are at an angle, and the angle is 11 degrees. So if I want the legs hit the floor at about the corners of the table, I have to figure out where the offset should be.
I can do that simply by sin(11 degrees) and multiply that by 18. I get a little more than 3.43″. So you take away about 7″ overall from the 14″.
But that’s from the center of the leg. I need to know how long a block of wood has to be to accommodate the mounts.
The mount is a square 2-3/8″ on a side. So I need to add half of 2-3/8″ because only half the mount would extend beyond the center of the leg.
Except that I want the mount to be at a 45-degree angle so the legs point to the corners.
But we’re lucky. A square is made of two isosceles right triangles. To find the hypotenuse, we just add the squares of each side and take the square root of that. So sqrt( 2 x 2.375^2). That gives about 3.36″.
The actual design of the mounts cuts off the corners to make an octagonal shape, and the screw holes also are recessed from the edge. It seems like I can get rid of about half an inch overall. I’d have to add about 1.5″ to either side of the piece of wood. So I have 14″ wide – 7″ for the sweep of the leg + 3″ to account for the size of the mount. I’ll need a block of wood 10″ long. Also the width of that block of wood needs to be somewhere in the 2.75″-3″ range. As for thickness, I’d need 1/2″ to 3/4″.
Equipped with that information, I went to House of Hardwood where I hadn’t shopped in about two decades. But as you’ll see in my next woodworking project series, I knew that was the place to go.
I found some hardwood in the scrap area. I got two pieces. They cut them to 10″ long. Back in the car, I was on my way home with the blocks of wood I needed and the California shutdown looming.
With any luck, next week’s post will be the last of this project’s series. And then I can begin the next one.
Pretty stoked about having most of the components of the table, the time was drawing near to fully assemble it. But permanently. Not just by using gravity to keep the pieces together while they rest on cereal boxes.
With all the decisions up to this point, there was still a surprising amount of work to do, and that included figuring out the entire leg situation and even which screws to use.
The original legs made no sense to me for this table. They were farm-looking, and from the beginning I saw this table as mid-century modern with tapered legs.
But when considering MCM legs, there’s so much to think about! From a design perspective, should the legs point straight down or be angled outward?
I went back and forth between the two, and I decided on vertical legs. I’ll cover more of this decision next post.
And the legs themselves are important! Which wood? How long? How much?
Luckily for me, I have a lot of flexibility when it comes wood for this project. The table is made of at least two distinctly different woods as it is, so any hardwood should work, right?
Cue: trying to find the thing you want on the internet that should be simple but so, so isn’t.
I found a lot of legs that would be good if they didn’t have that ferrule at the end. I want the legs to be wood all the way down without a metal cuff. Imagine my surprise at how this made tracking down anything good substantially more difficult.
But there were options on Etsy that seemed very promising. Range of woods, hand-turned, decent reviews. Search over, right? Wrong!
The legs were made in Turkey. Hard pass on buying from Turkey. They’re killing Armenians again. Stop it! Stop killing Armenians!
Then I came across a lot of listings with legs made of “sustainable hardwood.” these were later described as being made of rubberwood. More research. Rubberwood is what’s left over when they’re done draining the trees of what they need to make rubber. It’s sustainable because the wood is trash otherwise.
A huge problem with rubberwood is that those with latex allergies are affected very negatively by coming in contact with it. While I’m not having guests over in the near future, I don’t want to think of my home as a hazard for someone I like. I also don’t know how rubberwood finishes.
I contacted a local woodshop because I’d prefer to buy local if I can. Especially during hard times for small businesses. No reply.
Finally I got through to a manufacturer in Illinois that directed me to a retailer in South Carolina. I ordered a set of four 19″ ash legs. Hooray!
I grew up with mainly two types of screws: Philips and flat head. They each have their strengths and weaknesses. I have never preferred flat head over Philips. Flat head is hard to grab at high speed. Philips is the only logical choice. But only if it’s between the two.
I had seen Torx over time. My bike’s disc brake rotors are held on by screws with Torx. Torx allows for more consistent driving and better seating of the driver. But Robertson does something similar. While Torx has a star pattern, Robertson is a tapered square.
I’m done with Philips if I don’t have to use it. I don’t want to strip screws, and I don’t want to have to remove stripped screws. So it’s down to Torx and Robertson at which point it was down to cost. For this size screws on amazon, Torx was the winner.
And with the first side in, moving on to finish up the entire top part.
With the legs on their way, I had purchased mounts on amazon that were supposed to work fine. I decided to mount those.
With the mounts successfully installed, it was time for assembly!
It seemed the legs were the last things to do, and shortly after I received them, I’d have a great end table.
With all the parts glued and sanded, it was a huge relief and astonishing that the wood was clean. That meant I didn’t need to use stain to bury blemishes, and I could do a natural finish just with teak oil.
I had first learned of teak oil in woodshop, and we used Watco then, so I use Watco now. I chose it over Danish oil and Tung oil, and I was relieved not to have to use polyurethane.
The difference between a polyurethane coating and teak oil is the way the finish protects. Both can create waterproof barriers, but polyurethane sits atop the wood and and protects like a shield. A problem with polyurethane is that the shield can be pierced. A dropped coin or keys or tile coasters can ruin the finish. Tape can peel polyurethane off. But if it’s intact, it can even be fun to watch a spill bead up without issue.
Teak oil sinks into the wood, and the buildup creates the protective barrier. You have to put many coats to build it up until the wood just won’t absorb any additional oil. It’s tedious, sure, but the wood glows, and the finish is more resilient since it’s not a superficial coating. You do have to add more teak oil every so often to restore the finish, but that’s really not that big a deal. A drawback to teak oil is that doesn’t hide stains, so you gotta start with clean wood.
Teak oil also can fill some imperfections.
Remember how the side pieces used to look?
And how they started to look way better as I got rid of the stain and chipping polyurethane?
The teak oil makes it come alive.
I had to do both sides of these pieces, but it’s not hard to imagine what the other sides look like.
Remember how the top part of the table used to look? All broken up?
And then how it probably looked before it came unglued?
A natural finish suits this so much better, too!
So with the top and sides done, the lower table portion was left. Here’s a refresher on how that had looked.
And the natural finish?
But there was a problem with this lower piece. I had tried to get away with the splits in the end where sections had not fully broken apart. I thought there was a chance that they were so minor that the teak oil would just bridge the gaps.
That felt increasingly stupid. If I had wanted to cut corners, why would I be doing all this work?
So it was back to glue and clamps to get a strong bond for the end. I should have done this earlier in the process, but at least I got there.
Not too much more to do to make this a usable table, right?
I just needed to get legs and assemble the table. Both those steps had unexpected complications.
Once the glue was dry, I started to sand the panels. Certainly it was convenient that my glue job set with proper alignment.
A little preview first:
I figured the end table had been constructed from one type of wood because why wouldn’t it be? Clearly the stain had been applied after it was assembled, and that is an approach. But it looked so flat and boring that I wasn’t even looking for any indication of inconsistency.
I still don’t know for certain why this was the case, but what I had picked up from that front lawn was put together from at least three different types of lumber. The base is made out of pine, so that’s now garbage. It can make sense that the base is made of a cheap soft wood, and the design is easier to turn on a lathe. But the top is made of two different hardwoods. If find that to be weird. However, certainly rescuable.
I started the sanding with the larger board.
The stain they used was ugly and flat. There’s grain that might actually look good, but so much can be buried under stain. I know from experience when I stained the coffee table to hide that yellow river. The wood got lighter and lighter the more I sanded. The 60-grit helped me remove the terrible brown and smooth out the seams.
I’ve used my Makita sander for all my projects. It’s held up fine for more than 20 years. After hours and hours of sanding, my hands buzz. For days. I feel like that’s not a good thing, but look at this progress! And switching to 100-grit and then 150 and then 220.
I moved on to the side pieces. I had expected them to be the same wood underneath the bad stain.
Same process of removing the old finish, but this wood is darker, and it’s not from stain penetration. It’s just a different wood. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I didn’t expect it.
I knew the top would be a bigger challenge. This was the part that had come in two pieces, when I noticed too long a split along one seam, I snapped one of those two apart before gluing it up. A prior owner had tried to repair it when a different seam had split, but rather than clamps, it appears that tape was used. Then again, it could have been taped together until someone bought glue.
The prior DIY repair left an offset that I figured I ought to be able to correct during sanding. But I was most apprehensive about what I’d find under the many oval rings in the corner. My hopes of finishing with teak oil depended on clear wood underneath.
So here’s a gallery of that progress:
It’s important to point out the offset I had to resolve through sanding.
The legs that came with this piece don’t seem to match the rest of it, and I had resolved to get round tapered legs that match the mid-century modern stylings of the rest. That led to an entirely separate search for legs that are worth installing. That will be covered in another post.
Since it all looked clean teak oil is the way I decided to go. As I began my prep for that, I noticed that boards I hadn’t addressed were also splitting apart. But teak oil will fill some irregularities. I decided that it wasn’t an issue and that I’d try to get away with it.
You might think this is me asking for trouble. Find out next week why you’re right.
The end table I picked up was from the Free Stuff section of Craigslist. It was on a front lawn, so I didn’t even have to enter a building or interact with anyone. When I approached the house, I saw someone leaving from it, so I confirmed that the furniture on the lawn was left there with the intention of being taken away by strangers.
Now, the table actually looked pretty good in the picture. It seemed as though it just needed to be sanded and refinished. There was a big stain on the top of it that needed to be removed, sure, but that seemed doable.
When I looked at the table itself, though, it was worse than I’d expected.
But that meant it was better than I’d expected.
Other items had been removed since the post was put up, but this was still there. Probably because it the top was split. I wouldn’t know how a lot more of it was split until later, but that it had remained on the lawn was good enough for me.
I wiped it down, put it in my trunk, and I drove away.
When I started to look at the split, I noticed that someone had attempted to repair the panel adjacent to the split. That part jutted out a little bit, and the gluing was a little thick with not enough pressure holding it together.
Then there were more discoveries!
Most of the screws that held the table together were stripped. So removing the screws became its own challenge.
I got a screw extractor set from Amazon, and I was surprised at how awesome and easy it is to remove screws with stripped heads.
And I got to see the repair job a prior owner had attempted.
OK, so repairs had to be made, which meant that suddenly I had to get clamps of my own. I ended up getting some DeWalt parallel bar clamps. I figured I’d use them again, and buying them means I kinda need to use them again. I also bought some spring clamps so the boards would stay even while drying.
While I sanded the old glue from between the boards before gluing them up, I decided not to sand the faces of the boards. My friend Gerry agreed with that assessment of not sanding till later so I would avoid duplicate work, and that ended up being a good call.
But as I was prepping the top board for gluing, I realized that there was a split that ran too deep. I broke the boards apart at the seam with my bare hands like it was matzah. It would be three boards to glue up rather than two.
That was only on the top part, though!
The lower section was in three pieces already.
Friday afternoon I glued up lower section and let it dry for a little more than 24 hours.
Saturday night I did the same for the upper board.
I decided that Sunday would be for sanding the lower board and the side pieces. I wanted to get as much done possible Sunday because Monday’s forecast called for very strong winds.
I was surprised at what I found as I continued to sand. That will be in next week’s post.
I picked up a piece of discarded furniture the other day, and I’m going to be refinishing it.
But first things first–namely, my background in woodworking.
When I was 11, I took woodshop in summer school at Horace Mann Elementary school in Beverly Hills. It was the first of three woodshop summers. Two decades later it seems crazy to let someone of that age deal with all kinds of tools that can lead to permanent damage, but at the time, I just made sure to be careful.
I made a chessboard and a side table/stool. They’re still going strong, but they do need some attention. I tried to turn chess pieces at 13 when my summer woodshop class was at Beverly Hills High School, but those came out poorly. The Horace Mann shop didn’t have a lathe. Beverly’s did.
I’ve made things over the years, and the lessons from woodshop class and Mr. Bartkoski have stuck with me.
(Sidenote: I just now found out that Mr. Bartkoski passed away in January 2007. My day is now a little sadder.)
In the past decade, my woodworking activities have mainly been focused on refinishing things other people have made and people afterward have made worse, either because they actively didn’t care or because they didn’t know what to do.
For example, I was given my coffee table by a friend who was moving. After years of parties and little attention to cleanup by the people who lived in that house, the table looked pretty gross. But I saw potential.
When I sanded it down, I found a stain that wended its way around part of the table. I don’t know what had spilled, but it’s many, many layers deep.
I forewent finishing it with teak oil in favor of staining it and applying a polyurethane topcoat.
Ultimately, I am happy with the end result.
Recently I refinished some folding chairs found in the alley, but there wasn’t nearly the same level of filth.
As you can see, I like to take things people have given up on and make them look like they’re not garbage. Some projects are easier than others, and there’s no guarantee that a project won’t amount to a total waste of time.
So I picked up a step-up end table that was on craigslist’s free stuff. I wiped it off, brought it back with me, and then let it sit outside. This one is going to be the biggest challenge yet. Stay tuned.