After more than a month or so, I finally finished building our living room table. I’m, naturally, very proud of it, and obviously, ridiculously over-protective of what should be a very utilitarian object. I’ve discovered a love for place-mats that never existed in my heart before, and I’m even considering a tablecloth before hosting a house-warming party. The slide to middle age and a keen interest in home furnishings is, it would seem, inexorable.
At a glance, building a table seems like fairly easy work. One gets some wood from Home Depot, attaches some legs, and finds some intelligent way of connecting the two. Turns out though, there’s a few more steps than that involved. First up, the wood has to be sanded, roughly at first, and finely to finish, because no-one wants bits of splintered wood brushing against their arms or mixed into their food as they sit at the table. This, apparently, is an action best performed in the snow.
In addition to lacking resilience to the million dangers faced by a piece of household furniture that now cause me panic attacks when I think of them, a hunk of untreated wood also lacks some aesthetic appeal, and so the next stage is to give it some kind of lacquer. Polyurethane, originally used to coat airplanes in World War II and later the main feature of all-plastic cars that had some brief success in the 60s, is a man-made polymer. It’s robust, abrasion-resistant and lends a rich veneer to any wood it is applied on. Polyurethane suffers badly if overly exposed to UV light, or fire, and therefore is best ‘stored in a vacuum, in darkness, at a low and unvarying temperature‘. Well, quite.
Each coat (four atop, three below) took around 12 hours to dry and had a fantastically pungent smell that has happily dissipated.
This complete, the next job was to find some legs to suit the wood. I wanted a tall table, something at a comfortable height when standing, but which we could also eat off from some high barstools. Table legs over 30-something inches are pretty hard to come by, and stable ones which would support the weight of a table and its users harder again. My first pass was some adjustable desk legs from IKEA but, as you can see below, with some spare wood precariously balanced on a couple to find an ideal height, they were rather ugly and simply wouldn’t do:
So, I scoured the Internet. I failed to find any legs I wanted to buy, but I did come across a shop on Etsy by a craftsman selling custom-built tables with the old Eames-style hairpin legs on them. He fabricated the legs himself so, I asked, could I get some made at the scintillating height of 36″, and could I have them painted just the same shade of orange as my beloved bookcase? Well, he did a few experiments and determined that the legs were likely to be safe, and four weeks later I got a parcel from California within which were my beautiful new legs.
With everything now ready to be finished, I put some girls to work assembling the sweet, adjustable, rotating red barstools I’d gotten for a fraction of their usual cost from the wonderful Overstock.com, and commenced finalising the table.
The body of the table is plywood, which is made of layers (plies) of wood veneer glued together with the grain of adjacent plies at right angles, giving it a high degree of strength and durability. The notion of plywood has been around since Ancient Mesopotamia, but modern plywood was invented by Alfred Nobel’s father in the 19th century. Despite its many benefits, plywood suffers from having fairly ugly edges, where are the separate plies can be easily seen. Fortunately, I discovered a roll of wood veneer which could be wrapped right around the table edges, and with some careful staining, be indistinguishable from the main body of wood.
This had to be fairly painstakingly glued on to the table body, and once stained, had to be trimmed with a straight razor and a trimming knife to remove any remaining impurities and odd edges, but it was worth the work for the final result.
Careful readers will note the legs already attached in the above picture. It was a lot easier to trim those final edges with the table nicely raised off the ground. It took some time, and some fastidious measurements with the legs both off, and in-situ (supported by some canned goods and fruits) before attaching the legs…
…and revelling in the final product.
I’ve kept the straight razors from trimming the edges handy for the first person to spill a drink on my new table.