A Kitchen Remodel 4: A Hand Crafted Table

Since the cabinet manufacturer could not sell me a table to match the kitchen cabinets, I decided to build one myself.  This allowed me to custom-design it to fit. True to my scene designer/Technical Director nature, I began the process by drawing what I envisioned.  I knew that I wanted to build the frame of cherry and that it would need sturdy legs since I had plans to put a granite top (to match the countertop).

VectorWorks perspective of table

I chose to design square legs for a simple linear shaker line that coordinated with the cabinetry. I knew that I wanted to build a table that was taller than table height (30″).  Since I was concerned that the granite top should not butt directly up to the new countertop, I decided to build the table at bar height (42″) instead of counter height (36″). This decision was revisited once we put the table in the space.  Since I had allowed for it in the initial design because I wasn’t sure that I wanted the table as high as 42 inches, I was able to cut off 4 1/2 inches to bring the table top to 1 1/2 inch above the rest of the counter tops.

I visited a Woodworker’s Supply store  (the only local source of cherry hardwood in the area) to get a firm handle on the dimmensions of available stock.  I was amazed that thicknesses anywhere from 1/2″ (2/4″) to 2″ (8/4″) and above were widely available in 8′ lengths and random widths (from about 4″ to about 8″).  For reasons of strength and visual bulk, I chose to build most of the table of 5/4″ stock This is where I remind my students that finish lumber loses 1/4″ in thickness, so the 5/4″ is a nominal dimension and actually measures 1″.  However, I discovered that the 5/4 cherry hardwood actually measured from 1/32 to 1/16″ thicker than a true 1″.  Although I am not certain, I believe that this is because it is customary for fine woodworkers to finish plane or thickness sand the stock to precise measurement themselves.  Lacking such tools (I was using the tools in our scene shop while the shop was down for Christmas break) I was careful to choose flat stock and sanded with a large belt sander.  I did use my own electric planer for joining (planing the edges) the stock as necessary.

VectorWorks orthographic construction drawing of table

It is probably also useful to mention that buying hardwood is different in several ways than buying stock for theatrical productions.  Lumber yards in my area sell lumber by the stick.  When I call up I ask for and am quoted the price of a 2x4x16 or a 1x6x12, or whatever.  By contrast, when you buy hardwood, you are quoted and buy it by the board foot.  A board foot is defined as a volume of wood that is 1″ x 12″ x 12″.  Thus, a length of 5/4 lumber that is 5 1/2″ to 6″ wide and 8′ long is 5 board feet.  This is because it is 1 1/4″ thick x 1/2′ wide x 8′ long.  Thus, the math works out as follows: 1.25 x .5 x 8 = 5.  Also, in my experience while both top and bottom surfaces are planed pretty smooth, plan on having only one edge planed smooth (or even straight for that matter).

The orthographic drawing above shows how I constructed the legs as 3 layers of 5/4 stock laminated together.  Close examination of the End View on the orthographic projection reveals how this permitted me to build pairs of legs as connected end-frames with the upper and lower stringers socketing into the center layer for a permanently rigid tenon connection.  I was originally planning to tenon the upper stringer on the front and back into these end-frames, but chose to compromise by using blind dowels and pocket-hole joinery (I used a Kreg Jig that I picked up at a local big box home improvement store a couple of years ago and that the students in my scene shop seem to love.)  I also blind-joined the bottom front and back stringers (which also serves as the support for shelf of 1/2″ cherry wood slats) to the end frames.

It has been years since I worked with this species of hardwood (I think since I built a box of it in 7th grade shop) and found it to be an absolute joy!.  Most of my recent construction with hardwoods has been with oak which is so much harder and splinters easily when cutting and shaping the edges.  One concern that many people have with cherry wood is that its grain is notoriously uneven since the heartwood is much darker than the sapwood.  Without being highly selective and going to great expense, both will probably be evident on any project larger than a bread-box.  Also, unless great care is taken, cherry tends to present a blotchy look when finished.  This can be part of the charm but can also be undesirable.  I sanded through several progressions of grit (150, 250, 350 & 400) using an orbital sander for the first 3 grits and finishing off the last by hand.  This minimized the blotchiness and the wood took the several coats of rubbed oil very well.  I plan on making a few more applications in the coming months and then using a rubbed on polyurethane finish once I am sure that the layers of rubbed-oil have dried.  Another thing to keep in mind with cherry is that it will darken over time and that process is accelerated by direct sunlight.  Again, this can be part of its charm, but if undesirable can be an unwelcome surprise.

Faux granite table top ready for epoxy coating

planned to have a granite top prepared for this table.  When investigating this possibility, the vendor of the kitchen countertop indicated to me that granite could not be used in this way and  that the installer wouldn’t install it on a table because of the weight and liability.  I briefly explored using  Chestnut granite tile available locally from The Tile Shop, but found that the edging and corner pieces needed to give it a finished look pushed the cost to almost the same as solid granite and that the proper materials needed for mounting it brought the weight to within spitting distance of granite anyway.  Meanwhile, when  the installer was putting in the granite top in the kitchen, I found out that I could buy a custom-fit piece directly from his company and that he would have no problem installing it on a suitably sturdy frame.

Faux granite table-top (right) just clearing authentic granite counter

Because I wanted to start using the table immediately, I installed what was to be a temporary 3/4 ply top with a 1/4″ hardboard “skin” which I then painted using standard interior latex wall paint in a series of black and various brown brush-painted and rag-rolled layers in an attempt at approximating the Tan/Brown granite.  The effect was so pleasing that rather than finish it with polyurethane (which was my original plan) I stole another technique from my own production book and bought an epoxy plastic finish (I used a couple gallons last year on a production of EURYDICE to create a couple of large water-holding scenic elements) from my local Lowes home improvement center.  This self-leveling epoxy gave the table top a smooth shiny finish that while not identical to that of the granite surfaces in the rest of the kitchen, is good enough to fool most anyone at first glance and leaves the table a lot lighter and easier to move than granite.  I might go ahead later and replace it with the real thing, but this is good enough for now.

Next time, I’ll discuss some electrical matters relating to the kitchen remodel.

That’s enough for now! Have fun!  Be safe!




One Response to “A Kitchen Remodel 4: A Hand Crafted Table”

  1. WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by searching for
    Pneumatic orbital sanders

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