The support table, part 1

A cluttered and unorganized desk could be seen as a reflection of the owner’s mind. What then if the desk is completely void..? Anyway, clutter ain’t good for productivity, so let’s build a support table thing.

While working on a project, the work bench will be filled with stuff in a heartbeat. Cleanup means putting everything back in place, but often you’ll find that the next step actually involves that last tool you put away. And so the dance continues…

A small support table serves several purposes. Apart from being another horizontal surface where clutter can gather (which is the main purpose of any flat, horizontal surface it seems), it is a place to put away tools while working on a project. Where I put the box of screws. The screw driver bit set box with the thousand useless bits you do not dare to loose. The coffee cup. A full tub of shortbreads (yeah right, as if that will ever happen! You take one, then they’re just gone!).

I also need a place where my sharpening setup can stand at the ready at all times. If the chisel becomes dull, I can step over to the diamond plates and sharpen up in a minute, then be back at work. No need to clear a space for the plates, putting them on the bench, sharpen, clean up, then put everything back…
I also want to have a small cast iron bench vise at one side to maintain card scrapers and other blades, saw sharpening and miscellaneous metal maintenance. In addition it’ll be nice to have a dedicated place to do light metal work. I do not want any filings on my work bench if I can avoid it – I work with oak a lot, and a few pieces of iron would be bad news (it blackens oak in a heartbeat).

The top

I had a 2×8” lying around that would be a great table top; very few and small knots, not too warped and twisted and dry as a bone. I cut two pieces, flattened one side on the jointer / thicknesser and took the thickness down until both pieces came out with clean faces. A quick pass on the jointer on the side faces to clean them up – I did not care about parallell faces at all here – and I was ready for glueup. Or so I though.

I forgot to check the fence on the planer, and I did not check if the edges were 90 degrees to the faces. I made a spring joint, but got too focused on creating the spring in the boards. Forgot to check for square. Oh, well. I’ll put that on the “getting experience” account. The top came out a bit cupped which is evident in the image above. It might be a bad idea doing a glueup late in the evening after work and entertaining two kids until bed time…
The cupping was even across the top. This tells me that the joining faces was out of square, resulting in a cupped top. A bit of plane flailing with a heavy scrubbing cut remedied that in under half an hour.

The 5 1/2 removed the hump very quickly.

I planed down the worst of it by planing the center part of the cup lengthwise. I then switched to diagonal plane strokes to take it down further. It is not a good idea to go straight across as you would need to take very short strokes. Lots of starting and stopping which does nothing but tiring you out fast. The diagonal stroke makes you work efficiently as you can take longer strokes. It also help you maintain flatness. I worked all the way along the top with a slight overlap of each plane stroke, then moved back to the starting point while planing. Rinse and repeat until satisfied with the result. Fast and efficient.

Man plus hand plane is really a cheap planer – a machine capable of taking on a 40cm slab do cost a pretty penny. Takes up a lot of space, too… So do I, of course, but I can move!

Marks left by the plane

After most of the cup was taken out, I checked that the ends were out of twist with winding sticks I made from some cutoff. I planed down the high corners and worked my way along the top, checking for square here and there. I then tied everything together by planing with the grain, working my way across the entire top. I used the No.7 hand plane for this. The No.4 smoother was used locally where the grain was difficult. I set the cap iron extremely close to the edge – just a sliver of silver was visible over the cap iron – and the problematic area came out silky smooth.

Dead flat.

It is not visible in the image, but I am sandwiching the top between the Veritas planing stops and the dog in the vise. I’m using two pieces of scrap to bridge the vise jaws. This held the top perfectly even when scrubbing at 45 degrees at the opposite end.

I then used the no. 80 cabinet scraper to smooth the entire surface to pristine finish. I could’ve used the smoothing plane too, but I needed some bench time with the 80.

The No.80 cabinet scraper. Kind of a card scraper on steroids. The thumb screw decide how aggressive the cut is.

In a couple of minutes I ended up with a pristine surface ready for finishing:

This was achieved by hand in 30 minutes, from cupped to dead flat and silky smooth. Including a coffee break!

This time, I’d be darn tootin’ sure that the edges are STRAIGHT!

The underside got a quick and rough flattening job. I did not spend a whole lot of time to get it smooth, just smooth-ish. It is on the underside and will never be seen. No need to fuss too much with it then.

I wanted the top to be a bit wider, and at the same time make something that would prevent things from rolling off the top and become stuck between it and the wall. I had some 2×4” lying around that I though would fit the bill as I did not want to buy any wood for this (this thing has turned into kind of a “use what you got” project).

I used the plough plane to create a couple of dadoes, a chisel to knock off the walls between the dadoes, the router plane to level everything and the rabbet plane to clean up the wall of the rabbet.

The last wall of a dado remains to remove.

After the rabbet had been cleaned up, it was time to bring out the jug of glue.

I glued the top to the 2×4”. Good thing I do have a few sash clamps…

I had to cut the top to width as it was about 7mm wider at one end. I did not bother to make all faces parallell as it would be a waste of time. A quick pass with the track saw took care of this, but it reminded me why I prefer hand tools. Even though I have a pretty decent dust collector, a lot of dust flew everywhere. To be expected, as the dust system of the different tools only can do so much. The hand tool approach would’ve been to strike a line, “scrub it down” to near dimension with a plane set up for a heavy cut, then a couple of passes with the 7. While checking that the edge ends up at 90 degrees….

I squared off the ends, but the track saw has limited depth of cut. Not a problem, and the finish from the hand saw is very close to the machine:

A quick once-over with some sand paper, and everything blended in nicely. Since this is a piece of shop furniture, I decided that the edge of the table would benefit from a bit of reinforcement. I added a strip of oak:

Working “scrap by scrap” means that sometimes you don’t have the piece of wood you want. The oak strips I found after rummaging through the reject pile was way too short, so I spliced two with a dovetail. Because I can. The strip was not wide enough to cover the entire front edge, but I did want to “lighten” the look of the table top anyway. I planed a chamfer along the underside of the top with my No.7. Problem-B-gone.

Handplaning this chamfer took me less than two minutes. Shorter than slapping a router bit in and do the 5-8 passes needed. The cleanup took less time, too!

After using my Japanese Shinto saw rasp (works great, ありがとう*) to round the corner, I used the No.4 smoother and the cabinet scraper to level the oak to the pine surface. A quick wipe with some K240 Abranet (sand paper thingy) made the edge nice to the touch.

*thank you

coo, coo, ya flying rat!

Time for finishing! Two coats of Chestnut Shellac sanding sealer:

After the shellac had cured fully, I used a card scraper to remove any dust or raised grain, then wiped the whole surface with K240 Abranet to prepare for two coats of varnish. Not sanded. Wiped.

Trestjerners (three stars) water-based semi-gloss acrylic / polyurethane floor varnish. Great stuff! Tough as nails and easy to achieve great results.

I used the card scraper and did a light wipe with K240 Abranet between coats. The result is pristine!

With the top done, time for the base. I made it simple and crude from some 2×2” I had stacked in a corner. The rails were joined to the legs with haunched tenons (for practice purposes mainly)

Cross members fitted with lap joints. I removed the one at the bottom of the image since the table turned out to be a bit high.

After a major brain-fart (placing a mortise and tenon cross grain 5mm from the edge should not be done for a reason!), I got the base slapped together. Since it won’t be shown when the support table (more a support bureau kind of thing really) is completed, I glued and screwed the rest of it in place. Mortising in fast grown pine can only be so fun before you start picturing it ablaze in the fire pan…

The top rails has not been attaced yet in this picture, nor has the lower cross members.

We’ve had an unusual long period of frost here in Etne – usually we may get snow during the winter for a day or two, up to a week. This year it has been -5o to -10o Celsius for almost 6 weeks now. This has made my shop bone dry. I’ve seen the humidity level drop to 37% for days! Suffice to say, the moisture content of that top is loooooow. I therefore expect the top to expand, possibly as much as 4-5mm. The table will be screwed to the wall, so I screwed the top to the top rail at the back, and made turn buttons for the front.

A piece of gash, some sawi’n and choppin’ and fettling about, and ye have yer turrrnbuttoms! (read it with scottish or irish accent).

The turnbuttons allows for wood movement without blasting the frame to smithereens. I cheated a little and used a power router to make the grooves for the buttons. I forgot to add them before I glued the rails in place. Shame! Shame! Shame!

Or – I do not mind power tools. It’s just fun to mock them a bit. Man over machine kind of thing?

I mounted the turnbuttons with 5mm free space. They are slightly too low, so they slope up into the slots. Should keep them tight. The top is immovable.

This really looks good, I think! WAY better than pocket holes………..

I then screwed the frame to the wall. That thing is going nowhere! There’s some real nice shimmering going on in the grain, and the contrast between oak and pine is lovely. All in all, I am very happy with how the top came out.

This concludes part one of the support table build. In the next part I’ll make a set of drawers under the table top. I am considering two columns of nearly 60cm wide drawers, one 20cm deep drawer at the bottom and two or three 15cm deep drawers above that – 6 to 8 drawers in total. There will be a low shelf directly underneath the top.

The top has 10cm overhang on either side to accommodate tool storage on each side. I’m considering hinged side panel doors à la tool cabinets.

I have not put any finish on the frame, as it will be hidden from view at some point. I’ll probably cover the front and sides with some nice plywood, making it a really nice piece of shop furniture. For now, I have a support table and a place for my sharpening equipment. About time!

The table is 43 cm deep, 150cm long and about 100cm high ( appr. 1’5” by 4′ 11” by 3′ 3”). It is placed so that it will not get in the way of working – the blue shavings bin is placed opposite the work bench vise (it really needs to be placed elsewhere). I’ve placed the work bench 100cm (3′ 3”) from the support table, giving me ample space to move about.

This has been a fun build – and a bit frustrating at times. I don’t mind the minor whoopsies, though. Better to do them on a project that does not matter too much, than in a fine piece of furniture with expensive materials.

The top on this support table looks really good. I cannot wait to drill a couple of holes for some french wood screws and slap the vise on top of it! The first dent hurts. Better get it over with soon and lick my wounds.

But where to turn for comfort and support…?

6 thoughts on “The support table, part 1

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