Matching Wood for Tabletops


Earlier this summer I finished a small table. The top, which I like a lot, was more luck than skill. All I had to do was not mess up the wood. Making a tabletop with pieces from the same board makes things easier. For one, the color is going to match. With straight(ish) grain it’s easier to get a nice pattern, too.

The only downside to this ribbon figure is that the stripes run in opposite directions. Controlling tear out took some work. Eventually a 12 degree back bevel and hand scraper did the trick nicely. And cross-grain planing only.

I hit up the lumberyard again recently looking for similar straight grained boards for a coffee table.

I failed to keep the simple objective of “straight grain” in my head as I moved board after board in the heat. Which is how I ended up with several striking boards that definitely do not have straight grain and are proving to be a real bear to piece together in a way that does cause a neural fit on looking at them together.



After laying them side by side and dealing with cruel reality that they do not match color-wise, grain-wise, or good sense-wise I ditched the idea.

However, I couldn’t let go of the idea of using the two nearly bookmatched boards as the center of the table

I then played with every conceivable matching permutation  with the other boards I have. Well over an hour of laying boards out and snapping pics so that I could go and look at them again. And again.

Finally, I settled on the combination below. It was the one that, strange as it may sound, made me feel at ease. That may just be the sense that I won’t hate it once it’s glued up.


Make Jack a Dull Boy

As I am working on a project that requires dovetails, I have spent most of my time in the shop this week shaking the rust out. It is entirely possible that I have reached a cabin-fever pitch of practice.


Those are the practice joints and the many practice cuts I made warming up and trying to work out what I was doing wrong. Not that I keep these around, but they were all lying on top of my shaving pile that I only sweep up when it’s waist deep.

Surprisingly, I have not mastered dovetails this week. At least not to the level I want. But I have identified places where I need work or work-arounds.

All Work and No Play

I am in the midst of milling the pieces for a coffee table. In order to stave off insanity as I flatten, cut, and plane to size some 30 bf of 6/4 stock I have been making some shop tools so I feel like I’ve accomplished more than making a shit-ton of shavings. photo I made a try square and straight edge as much for the practice as need for the tools. I’ve hit a point where I would like to make what I can. Because I am cheap. I actually made both tools twice. I was way eager with my first straight edge and milled the board the same day as I shaped it. So, it bowed causing a belly. I used cedar this time around, which is a lot lighter than the jequitiba I used for the first go round. I also ditched the handle and shaped the middle to fit my grip. image I didnt like the first try square I made – the proportions were off and the cedar blade didnt feel right. I made the second with a cherry blade, which I like a lot better. image-3 Given that I make a lot of things twice I think it’s time to start using cheaper wood to purposely make “prototypes”. This would mean facing the reality that I rarely get it right the first time.

smacks head, walks away muttering…

It has been suggested that I would benefit from adult supervision. Less a life coach and more a babysitter. For instance, I walked around the house in circles this morning looking for my phone then realised I had set out to find a book.


I’d ordered hardware for my camp stool a while back, not trusting that the local hardware stores here in the DR would carry what I needed. When it arrived I thought it looked a bit thin. Then I drilled the holes and did a test sit in the thing. The hardware is indeed too thin, or I too fat. Whichever, need bigger hex bolts.

As such, the stool is totally ready except for the necessary parts. I’ve been sitting on this project for a while already, and another delay is…well, another delay.

This brings a Chinese idiom (chengyu) to mind: 万事皆备,只欠东风. Roughly translated as ” Everything is ready except for the east wind.” If memory serves, the story is that a general, in preparing for the defence of a city, prepared such a complex and meticulous plan that every element was critical. Of course as the attack began there was no wind from the east, which was apparently a very crucial part of the plan. I want to say there were flaming arrows involved, too. Anyway, the town was SOL.


After a lot of work the bench has entered this world at 38″ tall, 23″wide and 67″ long. Benchtop is 3 1/4″ thick. Weight? Er, probably around 175. It’s a big baby. And since it’s all yellow pine (entirely from 12×2 boards), it ran under $100. Before the vise.


It’s possible that as much time went into deciding what kind of bench to build as did building it. Eventually, Paul Seller’s plan from his “Working Wood” won out. I had the book and DVDs already, but more importantly it’s a straight forward design that looked sturdy and workable. A workbench, not a lifetime experience, was what I was after.

Light, glorious light.

Not perfect, not a looker. Now that it’s done I have a real tool for  other projects.

I probably would have done some things differently in building this, like not fuck up the mortises so violently. There are a few tweaks I may make down the line. This will probably be a Frankenstein’s monster bench – a way for me to play around with ideas without worrying that I am screwing it up. That we’ll be moving in a year and I might have to leave it behind plays a part in that, removing whatever remaining concerns about making it pretty and perfect.

The Shadows

No, not the name of my Goth band.

A while back, in trying to bore some straight holes, I’d set up some squares to use as reference. As I went along I realised I wasn’t watching the brace in relation to the squares, but the shadow of the brace along the wood in relation to the shadows from the squares. Since getting squares to sit still while boring can be a pain, I just started marking the shadow lines and using those as my points of reference.

Having a goose neck lamp that is adjustable helps a lot.

This week I chopped two miserable mortises before remembering that trick. I’d used a jig to register against the side of the chisel, but that was distracting to me. And I wasn’t able to chop straight, anyway.

Using guide lines drawn off a square’s shadow allowed me to chop mortises with straight walls. The process was pretty easy. Mark out the mortise, set up a square along one end and draw a pencil line along it’s shadow. Advance a bit, repeat. As I chopped I would set the chisel to what I thought was perpendicular to the surface, check against the line, and correct.

While this may be veering off into unnecessarily complicated territory, I found that after a few chops my sense of holding the chisel straight improved a bunch. I used the lines as reference less.

I could have stuck with the jig, but I feel like (s0me) jigs are like training wheels. Sooner or later I’ll want to kick them off. Using the shadows helped me move from training wheels a bit faster.

Exit wound

In training as a Peace Corps volunteer we had a Moldovan doctor who liked to intersperse pictures from his field days as a military doctor in his presentations. Including pictures of recent  amputations and exit wounds. Given his soviet bearing, I never asked why.

I’m making a workbench, and this was the fruit of my labor chopping, hacking really, mortises yesterday. More exit wound than mortise.


Clearly, chopping a mortise through a knot that size is dumb. But, I had to move my original mortise because of another mistake and really am too lazy to remake the entire leg. There is a long discussion of practice and not rushing into work in there, but I’ll keep that for myself.

So, I knew the knot was a bad idea, and as soon as I chopped into it realised the full breadth of just how bad . Didn’t stop me, though. For whatever reason, I powered through. Which wasn’t bright. Ended up having to come at it mostly from behind, as the leg is laminated and the other board was knot free.

The hard part about experience is all the stupid shit you (I) do along the way to getting there.

Part of me wants to ditch the leg entirely and make another so I have clean mortises. But, it might be a good reminder in the future to practice, warm up and go slow.

This arrived yesterday, too. Made me happy after that knot.


Had no idea what a beast this vise is until my wife, who carried it home from the DPO, told me to go get it from the car.

Three Legged

The seat of my camp stool has been done for some time and needing legs. Three legs. As such, I spent an inordinate amount of time making three different legs because I wanted to see what I could do without a lathe. This was something of a blank space in the internet. No clear directions on how to hand carve curves that taper in and out. Or end abruptly in the middle of the piece.

Legs in pine, sapele, and oak

Three legs – tapered and rounded sapele in the middle; rounded and tapered down then back out on the right in oak; and a rounded leg tapering to the flat top of a rounded foot in pine.

I didn’t bother keeping track of how I went about the rounded taper. I forgot with the taper in-and-out in oak.

So, on with the pine leg that tapers down to a flat topped foot. image-17

The process was draw lines, taper, draw more lines (as shown in this post on cabriole legs), chamfer and then round. I used a combination of chisel, plane, and rasps.

Initially  I’d set out some guide lines using a method for drawing an octagon from Chris Schwarz as seen here. Also, finding the centre at both the top and bottom and using a compass to draw circles provides other reference points.



The foot was a completely experimental. It rounds horizontally and vertically. Basically whittling a ball. Finally I sawed the bottom off to flatten it and arrived roughly at the point I had intended. image-21




Functionally useless

Immediately defunct is not something I try for. But, that’s what I got today.


I made this 3′ straight edge on Monday. Chosen from a kiln-dried board of jequitiba that sat in my workshop for months. I had eyed it for a few things, and each time I’ve checked to make sure it was flat.

I should have listened to the voice in my head (voice, not voices) when, as I was planing it to size,  it bowed on me. However, my indomitable spirit persevered. Or I was thickheaded. With no little amount of effort, I re-flattened it. And checked it as I went. Seemed ok.

Two coats of oil and two days later I checked it. Way not flat. It bowed, again.

Now I have a shiny curved stick.