What's On Your Bench?
By Jerry Beutel
"I think there's a table in there somewhere….."
There's a little history behind a project currently on my bench. In the summer of 2008 I discovered several dying red oak trees on my property and that of my neighbor. The arborist confirmed our Oak Wilt diagnosis. Unfortunately seven good size trees were already infected and they were close enough to numerous other oaks for the disease to keep spreading. We quickly cut down the infected trees, dug trenches to decouple the roots between the infected and the healthy trees, and gave a few of the surrounding prize trees the oak tree equivalent of a flu shot. As of now it appears that the disease is not spreading.
There are several methods of handling wood from infected trees that will prevent the spread of oak wilt, and one of those is to wrap it in plastic for a full year. My neighbor (also a woodworker) and I selected a few of the larger tree trunks that might make good lumber and wrapped them up. Almost as an afterthought I threw a couple of crotch pieces under the plastic before we sealed it up. Fourteen months later we unwrapped everything and hauled it to a sawmill. Again, without a clear plan in mind, I brought along the two crotch pieces and had the sawyer cut a four inch thick Y from each one. Five months later we had a few hundred feet of lumber - cut, dried and planed. The price was right at 70 cents a board foot, but the yield of clear lumber is only a fraction of the total.
By this time I'd decided those crotch pieces would make interesting legs for a rustic hall table. I cut them to 29" and paired them with a couple of 6/4 boards that had live or wany edges. It seemed like those would make a good tabletop. The look was "interesting" but I wasn't convinced the finished table would be that appealing. I decided to leave it sitting at the entrance to the shop for a while as I pondered how to improve it.
A convenient characteristic of this table is that the legs are stable by themselves and I could just lay the top boards across them, no fastening needed. That makes it easy to mock up the project and get a feel for what it will look like when completed.
I finally decided that I like the wany edges on the outsides of the table top, but I wasn't so fond of the way the two boards came together in the middle. Perhaps I needed to straight line rip the two adjoining edges? I wasn't sure about that but I was leaning in that direction. Well fortunately the table was still sitting in place when a group of woodworkers visited my shop. Naturally the visitors asked about the table and we had some discussions about what might look good. Then one week later I was talking with Jeff Hand (who was one of the visitors) and my table-in-progress came up as a topic. Jeff asked if I had considered making the table-top at two heights. I hadn't, but the idea sure seemed appealing.
But how to decide if this is what I truly wanted without making an irreversible change to the table legs? As seen in the picture below I "faked" the high/low effect by putting a couple of scrap blocks on the two back legs and then laid the top boards back in place.
My immediate reaction was favorable, and remained so after a few days of living with that configuration. And now that the two top boards were not in the same plane, having live edges on both sides of each board looked right. So I knew that I liked the two-height solution but questioned if the actual lower height (after I cut off the two legs) would seem too low? Again I decided to do a mock up as seen in the photo below by substituting a couple of adjustable work stands for the new lower height. The added benefit of this approach is that it allowed me to experiment with having the lower portion of the table-top at various heights.
Satisfied that everything would be OK I finally cut two of the legs (or I guess I should say two of the forks) so that the front board would sit 2 ¾ inches lower than the back board.
Next I will have to decide on the spacing between the legs, how to attach the top to the legs, and whether or not I need/want a bottom stretcher. I have to give credit to Jeff for the inspiration on the two heights. In my opinion that idea is taking this table from "interesting" to "pleasing." Also, it has been kind of nice to have a "background project" going on that I can just work on when time allows and I feel so moved.
Your comments on this table would be greatly welcome. Criticism is great as long as it is offered in a constructive manner. This newsletter is also looking for other projects to feature in What's On Your Bench. Please send me a note (click on "Your comments" above) about your project.