Category Archives: Projects

Stuff I’ve built

The round coffee table

Here in Florida, there are license plates that go on about the endless summer we experience.


But, as you know, I promised Rhonda that this was going to be the summer of coffee tables, and I was glad that I was able to meet the deadline.

The Cotterman capped off the back room with a large, rectangular table built from construction-bin-sourced clear southern yellow pine, featuring a bottom shelf for storing games and other goodies.

The table, top view

The front table I wanted to be a bit more refined. As you can see, I opted to not put storage in this table, as the front entertainment center expanded our storage considerably. Also, our front room isn’t all that large to begin with, so by shrinking the dimensions a bit, I am able to make walking around the table a little easier.

flared legs

This is how the flared legs look in place. By keeping the outside points of the legs inside the diameter of the table top, I can reduce the number of stubbed toes someone is going to have to endure.

Made of some gorgeous walnut, I hope that this table serves us well for years to come. In fact, Rhonda and I may need to start looking to replace the couch up front to something a little snazzier to match how nice the table looks.

Next up, some good family news for a change. Developments which will require the services of a woodworker. But, the details will have to wait for a later post!

Grit and bear it

Sanding again. This time, I am getting the front coffee table into fighting condition, which is coming along pretty well. All that’s going to be necessary now is to sand the piece into shape. Yes, I did use my hand planes to do some general flattening of the top, but I did have a bit of tearout when I worked with them. Sure, I could tweak my settings and technique, but it’s still hot in the shop, and I was looking to use a technique I knew like the back of my hand.

Belt sander

My belt sander was a very good option for this. Starting with an 80 grit ceramic belt – a perfect medium for heavy duty power sanding – I attacked the top going along with the grain to ensure that the scratch pattern was going to be easy to hide later.


After the first pass to get everything leveled out, I turned to another great trick I had picked up from my dad when it comes to sanding – shining a flashlight from the side  With the sidelight from the flashlight, it’s easy to see where any sort of tearout, dings or scratches live.


Needless to say, those areas get some special attention. Of course, you have to be very careful when it comes to sanding these imperfections, lest you dig a hole in your board. So, a little focus on the affected areas, followed by spreading the love around the rest of the table top to ensure you have a table top that looks its best.

DSC02366Once done with the 80 grit, I took the time to carefully sweep all of the dust and loose grit off the table top to prevent the coarser grit from making deeper scratches in the wood. Once I got the 120 grit pass on the board, I switched to my random orbit sander with a 120 grit pad on it.

The bottom

With the top taken care of, I flipped the table over to start working on the legs – being sure to take the time to protect the table’s top with a beach towel. Soon, it will be time to get a finish on this piece and move it to its home. I can hardly wait!

Today, I Labored

Yesterday, I was hoping to get out into the shop, but instead, I did something I had never done in the 23 years I have spent in Florida. Rhonda wanted to go tubing on the Rainbow Springs river, and we all piled in the car for one last big hurrah for summer here in Florida.Tubing with StevenBut today I got my time in the shop to push the front coffee table further toward the finish line. In fact, with the top close to being done, the next step was to build a splay leg base for the table. No big deal, right? Well, I was certainly nervous, since I had never done that before.

Rip it, Dano.

I first had to take a big chunk of walnut and turn it into four leg blanks. That was easy with my band saw. Using a MicroJig push block helped keep my hands safe, and the Infinity rip blades made resawing even 12/4 stock a breeze.

The cut right from the saw

I mean, come on. This was high-quality stuff! It took very little time to make these roughed out blanks clean and ready to use as legs. The next step was to calculate where the legs were going to go on the bottom of the table. I struck lines across the center pivot mark I had used to cut the table top into a circle and calculated about how far in from the table’s edges I wanted those legs to go. That was easy – I settled on four inches.

Setting where they go

From there, the part I assumed was going to be the toughest step was upon me. How was I going to get a five-degree splay on these beefy legs for the table? I mean, this is something I had never done…

Wait, I have seen it done a lot. Think, Tom. All the times you watched Norm Abram, Scott Phillips, Tommy MacDonald, Marc Spagnuolo… they all had this down to a science. Instead of figuring out how to cut two separate angles, you rotate the workpiece so you only have to cut the angle once…

So, i tipped the saw five degrees from perpendicular…

Saw tipAnd, in the scrap bucket, I found a piece of 2 x stock which I ripped with a 45 degree bevel for the workpiece to rest against …

A wedge to keep the piece tipped properly

Then, I made the cut. Ta da!  Like a champ. Once I made the cuts, I was sure to carefully mark which parts pointed where. With no marks on these babies, it would have been a very easy matter to get turned around.

Mark it

From there, I wanted to verify that the angle on the ends of each of the apron pieces was going to be five degrees. Again, back to the scrap bin, a quick saw reset and instant gratification. Exactly as I had suspected.


With things going this well, I continued to press my luck. I cut the aprons to their five degree angles, then marked out how long I needed them to be. Knowing that I wanted all four to be identical, I used a stop and made the cuts. Bingo. I also marked carefully where I knew I was going to need a five-degree bevel on the tops of the aprons. Just to keep things straight.

Time to bevel

How was I going to attach the base? With Z-clips. Those little bent bits of metal screw into the underside of the table, and a tab fits into a little slot you can cut with a biscuit cutter. Four quick plunges later, and I had my top ready to go.


I carefully lined everything up, and screwed the base to the top. With just a little bit of effort, I wrestled the unfinished table into the living area and called everyone over to take a peek.

In place

Sure, it’s a departure from what I normally build, but I think that it came out looking really nice in the space. Now, I just have to start sanding, rounding over edges and finishing, then the summer of coffee tables can come to a happy conclusion.

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.