The writing table - my first woodworking project, completed in 1983.
Someone recently asked me about my first woodworking project, especially from a design perspective. After giving it some thought, I realized I have never put up a blog post about that table; something I’d like to fix.
I actually designed my first project; it wasn’t something devised from a plan. The design developed as many of my projects have over the years – by being inspired by a photo and seeing how I could incorporate what I saw into something for my home.
The photo above is of my "writing table" which was inspired by a dining table I saw in a magazine sometime in fall of 1983. Fortunately for me, I still have this table in our home (I have lost track of some of my early pieces; handed down to family and friends as upgrades were acquired). Currently this writing table serves as a desk in our guest bedroom.
In the beginning…
While a student at the University of Alabama, someone suggested I check out a class called Wood Technology. This was a fancy name for a woodworking shop class the university offered. I had been around woodworking as long as I could remember – my dad was and still is a woodworker (and now a talented wood carver – see a short blog post about him here). I thought this would be in the least an interesting class. I had no idea it would have such an influence on my life.
Taking a woodworking class was a great way, and I think the best way, to learn the basics about woodworking. I had many industrial quality tools to work with including the largest band saw I have ever seen. Two times a week, I had a seasoned woodworking professor to guide me and offer suggestions. And again, the tools – the first table saw I worked on was a cabinet shop style saw; pretty sweet really. The table took all semester to build and I got an "A" as a final grade.
Note the cross members; probably over-kill for a table this size.
The top is attached with small L brackets.
The top is attached with small L brackets.
For my writing table, the design was simple: four legs joined to aprons with dowels. The frame has two cross pieces to help give the table strength. The top is a glue-up reinforced with dowels and has an additional band of wood which wraps the table top on all four sides.
The lumber is mostly construction grade 2 x 4s with some 1x stock here and there. The shop had a 24 inch capacity thickness planer which I used to bring the table top down to a thickness of a full inch.
I learned three things from this project: First, I had my first lesson in wood movement and proper joinery for cross-grain design. I was mildly warned about the pieces which cap the ends to the table top. I simply glued them in place which means this little bit of trim runs across the width of the top. Over the years, the width of the table top expands and contracts as wood does. Cracks appear which isn’t ideal, but a failure has not occurred.
Second, I learned a little about staining pine. I had used some water to raise some dents which happened during construction, but either I did not allow enough dry time prior to stain, or I did not sand sufficiently and dark spots developed as stain was applied.
Thirdly, a slight warp developed in the table top while the table was being constructed – another lesson in wood movement I guess. Really, it was good that I got a taste of warped wood so early. Being in a class room, I had a teacher and other woodworkers to discuss the problem with.
A good first project - full of woodworking lessons.
Even though other types of joinery have become popular over the years, for me, basic dowel joinery has proven to be a very reliable way to marry two pieces of wood to each other. Even though I look forward to the day when I can effortlessly create hand cut mortise and tenon joints, I have to say that a proper dowel joint is a perfectly acceptable alternative. This writing table proves this.
The dowel joint gets very little respect these days. Not too many people drool over the typical dowel joint, like "man that sure is a killer dowel joint you made." But I plan to use this style of joinery more in the future.
The table top needs to be re-finished. Over time, it has accumulated the patina of a few scratches and dents, but as a first project, this one has aged well.
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