Category Archives: Projects

Saving scraps saves the day

Now that I’m off and running with the coffee table, my first thought was to build the top of the table. After all, once I have that done, the base should be pretty straightforward.

Missed it by THAT much

The only problem is that I needed the top of the table to come out to about 36 inches around, and, well, I’m just a little shy of that magic mark. What was I going to do to make up the difference?

Since I needed the remaining boards to make up the stretchers and legs, I was going to have to figure out a way to get that extra width.

Inefficient layout

Now, normally I would just line up the boards like this and cut my circle, but as you can see, this is terribly inefficient. You end up with unusable scraps at the far ends. That dog just won’t hunt.

Beam compass

So, what I did was find the center mark of the middle board I wanted. I also used my beam compass to mark an 18 inch radius so I could gauge how far down the board I wanted to be.

One step down

Once I marked the arc on both ends of this board, I lined up the next boards but just down a little bit, so I would keep the highest edge against the top edge, I was able to swing the arc onto the second board, meaning I was able to use less of the board in the circle. By the time I got to the third boards, I was close. Real close.

Rip Away

I used my miter saw to cut the third boards as closely as possible to the line, then marked the outside edge of the circle onto the scraps. The first side used only a little of the board, so I headed to my table saw to rip that piece in half.

Just made it!

With it in place, it’s easy to see just how well this table top is going to look. Once I get it glued up, I will move on to building a router trammel to cut the perfect circle. But, that’s another post for another day.

Getting a round tuit

So, this was supposed to be the summer of coffee tables. True, it’s technically still summer, but the kids are getting ready to go back to school next week, and Rhonda is going back to work today to get her classroom in order for the big back-to-school push.

I started off so promising with the Cotterman, but the front table has languished, what with the trip to the west coast, straightening out my reference material … the works. But, I’m finally getting a round tuit.

A round tuit

No, not one of those, but they are clever. Instead, I am starting to build the front coffee table. It’s not as if Rhonda has been subtly hinting that perhaps time had come for me to actually build the table. In fact, she had our sons, nieces, nephews, friends, kids of friends – gosh, just about everyone – use her Spirograph kit to decorate the existing table in our living room.

Spirograph table

OK. I get the message. Time to move. First, I had to unpack the care package that came from my friends at Bell Forest Products. I wonder what could be in there?

Rough walnut

Hmm, some quick work with a razor knife, and my jaw just about fell to the floor. Inside the package was some of the most gorgeous, clear walnut I had ever seen. And, believe me, it was more than enough for what I wanted to build.

Hand planes

My milling plan for this lumber was pretty simple. First, I took the time to get the boards to sit flat on the workbench using some hand planes. Again, with the right appliances on my bench, some sharp irons and a whole lot of elbow grease, I was able to get this stack of lumber into condition to run through the thickness planer.

Top boards

Once through, and after straight line ripping the boards using a Bora clamp, the table top started to come into shape. Nice tight joints. Now, I have to sketch out the size of the circle I need to cut so I don’t waste too much lumber, cut the pieces to rough size and glue them up. But, this was a good stopping point for now. After all, I don’t want to get this done too fast!

Faces in wood

While my recent experience in the southwest whet my appetite for travel, there is so much more to see across the United States and the world I have still yet to see. For instance, in the States, I still need to see the Grand Canyon, I want to get up to the Pacific northwest, Niagara Falls … there are a lot of places yet to go.

The Grand Canyon

And, when you add in all of the international destinations there are to visit, come on. Rome. Tokyo. The grand dunes of the Sahara Desert. The gin-clear waters of Belize.

Easter Island Heads

Then there are places as wild and mysterious as Easter Island well out into the Pacific Ocean. From what I hear, the natural beauty of the island is only eclipsed by the incredible artwork of the legendary sculptures that grace the island.

Glasses front

While not on such a grand scale, I have recently purchased something to at least help me ensure I don’t lose my glasses. I picked up this handy little sculpture just before the trip out west so I would have a safe place to rest my glasses when they weren’t sitting on my face. For anyone who has ever worn glasses, you understand just how easy it is to lose those suckers and have them damaged.

Just as with the statues on Easter Island, this sculpture is carved anthropomorphically to represent a nose on which the nose pads rest. This sculpted piece rests on a block of solid wood (I was told that it was rosewood from the guy I bought it from – not sure if that’s really the case) to give it some additional weight so it won’t tip over.

Nose side

The back of the piece appears to be glued to a block that has a notch cut in it for the arms of the glasses to slide into, keeping them from gliding all the way down and falling off the piece.

It’s a crafty piece, made out of wood and it keeps my glasses safe. I mean, this is a win, win, win all around as far as I’m concerned, and it might just be something that you could build to use up a few scraps of wood that are just too nice to get rid of, but too small to put into a bigger project.

The weekly plan

Ana White’s saw horse desk

So, Rhonda, the boys and I spent a good chunk of the day buying a new computer (the old one gave up the ghost the night before I headed out west for the big adventure). This got me wondering just how many other folks out there are getting ready for college, back to school or looking for a new place to perch a new computer of their own, so today’s plan is a tribute to that educational spirit.

Ana White's Saw Horse Desk

Again, I turn to Ana White, the DIY blogger who I have turned to time and again for project ideas. This time, she has a simple DIY saw horse desk that will be the envy of any dorm mate, and would serve well as a simple desk for nearly anyone in your home.


So, now that the Cotterman is done, it’s time to (literally) turn my attention to the new table for the front room in our home.  Now, in the back room, I had no problem going with a rectangular, rustic looking piece (which, by the way, has ended up being a great piece), But, for the front room, Rhonda was thinking something round to make it look a little more elegant.

A column base

A logical choice for a coffee table might be one large turned column It would free up some leg room underneath, I could get creative with the feet and it would certainly showcase my turning skills. Only a few problems. I don’t turn. I don’t have a lathe, and I really don’t (yet) have the skills to make something like this even if someone did hand me a lathe.  Besides, columns like the one I showed above are more for dining tables.

Round with shelf

Rhonda also had the idea originally of doing something with a shelf underneath – a place for us to tuck books, baskets and all of the other stuff you might expect to see in a living room, I dunno. There’s something about an elegant round table with a shelf jammed under it that doesn’t do anything for me.


Of course, I could go modern with bent legs – almost an Eames looking piece – with a ‘modern’ feel to it. But, something tells me I wouldn’t like it. Plus, you know, Ikea makes a lot of that mid-century modern looking stuff.

So, I got to thinking… Why not go for something a little more simple, yet classic? Something strong yet pleasing to the eye? In other words, how about some type of cross bracing connecting the legs under the table?

I had posted this picture a few weeks ago, and it really caught my eye. Nice, strong looking piece with a simple base, ample top and clean lines?

I will have to sketch out some ideas – maybe based on this, or maybe with a simpler x brace across the bottom. Either way, it will be something that will be a piece that guests will see first when they come to the house, so it’s going to have to look good.

No pressure, right?

Stuff I’ve built: The Cotterman

OK, so the name is a bit of a portmanteau between a coffee table and an Ottoman, but you get the idea – it’s a table for our family room that I built out of some beautiful, clear Southern Yellow Pine.

The Cotterman

That’s right – the piece came from a pair of 2 x 12 Southern Yellow Pine framing timbers and a 12 foot length of tongue and groove boards for the bottom shelf. After building the piece and placing it in the living area, both Rhonda and I agreed that the piece needed some under table storage for magazines, our chess and checkers set and some other goodies.

Under boards

The tongue and groove boards were sweet, clear pine, and I had the option of either having them at their full six inch width or flipping them over and exposing a bead halfway down the middle of each board. I decided to go with the more plain looking side. I glued the tongues and grooves together, and secured them to the frame with a single Miller Dowel at each end, square in the middle of the center board. The two outside boards fit snugly between the frames, and with the glue dry, they won’t  knock free.

The top laid out

The finish started with the boys sanding the pieces with some 100 grit random orbit sanders (they need something to do during their summer break) until the parts were nice and smooth. Since it’s more of a rustic piece, I rounded over the edges with some rasps and sandpaper. Makes it look a little more weathered that way.

From there, I wiped on a coat of spar varnish. There’s something about that yellowed finish on the pine that really makes it look about 100 years old right off the rag. Once that dried, I sanded it down with some 320 paper, wiped it down with some mineral spirits, then put three coats of wipe-on polyurethane over the top to protect it against the spills that are bound to happen on a table like this.

Chess anyone?

With it in its place in the family room, I can see us using it for family game night, snacks for the big game, homework or whatever for years to come. It’s going to be a piece we use and appreciate every single day.

A strong frame

For the coffee table (the Cotterman, as Rhonda likes to call it. She’s still torn between calling it a coffee table and an Ottoman), the next step is to build a base for it. After all, if the top just sits on the floor, it’s going to be too low to hold my coffee. Right?

Nice legs

So, I cut four legs down to size. Since most coffee tables want to be about 16 inches high, I cut them a little longer than 14 and a half inches long to have the top land at the sweet spot. Fortunately, there was lots of extra wood left over from the original 2 x 12 to work with for this operation.

I also cut some rails for the sides of the table and cross rails that would help to hold the frame together and provide a strong surface for the table top to bear against and be screwed to. How did I attach them?  Sure, I could have gone all mortise and tenon on them, but, meh, with the shop as hot as it was and Rhonda wanting the piece as soon as possible, I opted to go the pocket screw route.

The pocket screw option

There’s a lot to be said about how fast projects go together with them. And, believe me, for what this table will be doing, they are plenty strong.

After just a little bit of work, I was able to get the frame together and just set the top on it to give it a test run.


I dunno… looks pretty good perched up there on top of the workbench. Since it won’t be there forever, I had to make sure the measurements were going to be perfect on this, so I trimmed the ends even with my track saw, screwed the top into place through the battens and set it into the living room. Then, the moment of truth. I called a young, strapping lad in to give me a hand.

Big Stevie

So far, I’d have to say that the table is pretty strong to handle this much beefcake. Now, to build a deck for the bottom part of the table for magazines, board games and the like, and this one will be ready for the finish.