I love everything about woodworking - the mental challenge of a design, the smell of freshly cut wood, the gorgeous finish of a dark rich stain. It's a great feeling to turn a pile of lumber into a finished product, to end of up with something you can actually touch and feel and are proud to show off to friends. 😎
This summer I worked on something that, while not necessarily more complicated, had higher stakes than anything I've made before. I remodeled the dining room for my wife's birthday, including a new dining room table that could sit 8 comfortably.. and 10 in a pinch.
It was my first time working with oak, which is less forgiving (and a lot more expensive!) than pine. And so I designed more, measured more, and found a lumberyard where I could speak to some pros. I'm glad I did, because I got some great advice and a nice tour to boot.
When I dropped by Terry Lumber & Supply on a weekend back in June, one of the guys showed me around. What caught my eye was the custom moldings and trim. They come in countless variations, especially in older homes, so someone doing repairs or building an addition might need a custom-made template like the one I'm holding above. I was told those used to be made with a hand file, which took days or weeks to make! The green and blue plates in each cubby are other templates.
And then there's the machinery! Edgers with laser guides, saws that follow the edge of a template to cut out new trim, and planers with a half-dozen blades to smooth a board in a single pass. Even the network of exhaust fans routing sawdust from all the machines to an outbuilding was amazing.
I ordered about $500 worth of 5-quarter lumber. You ever have that moment right before starting a new project, where you hesitate? Like you're standing on the edge of a cliff with the water below, and you say to yourself that now might be a good time to turn back? Yeah, me neither. 😅
Needless to say, I drew up a lot of designs, a few of which are below. I knew if I could pull this off, I'd be doing it for a fraction of what it costs to buy one, but that didn't mean I wanted to waste a hundred bucks messing up good oak.
There's a lot of tools that come in really handy for these kinds of projects - T-Squares, a variety of saws (miter, jig, circular, etc), levels, etc - but there are two I'd recommend above all others.
If you want to connect two boards and hide the holes underneath or behind what you're making, you'll want to learn how to make pocket holes; you can see them in the images above. The easiest way to make a pocket hole is with Kreg tools.
Kreg accessories are sold everywhere, and their driver bits, drill bits, and pocket-hole screws aren't anymore expensive than any other tool. They're high quality too. I used a single drill bit to make a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, two bunkbeds, and a train table before it broke... and I think it's because I was drilling in oak and pushing harder than I should've. Live and learn.
Seriously, each one is like an extra hand. At times on this project I was using a half-dozen of them. I snag them at garage sales, store sales, all kinds of sales... whenever I can.
I was a little worried when I assembled the end pieces that are perpendicular to the rest of the table, since things were obviously not perfectly straight. Adding a frame underneath the table took care of that, pulling things back into shape. When I attached the legs they tended to wobble a bit, but a couple 45° braces took care of that. With good supports in place, and considering it's 1" thick oak, 10 people could dance on top of it without it breaking, let alone eating at it. 😁
This is the step I really love. Everything leading up to staining a piece is mostly function, but this is totally form. Stain is easy to apply, and it transforms a nice looking piece into something amazing.
And finally, the finished product! The final size is about 8' x 3.75', which fits our room and family exactly. The cost of the wood, paint, and stain totaled about $600 or so, which is easily half to a quarter of what you could buy one for.
All in all, it was a good challenge and I'm proud of it, although afterwards I felt I needed a break for a bit... but that's like anything you pour all your free time into for awhile. I'm sure I'll get into another project sooner rather than later. 😏