“Well, what do you think?” asked Neville, my newly acquired co-conspirator and fellow furniture fundi. He was standing next to a round oak table in his furniture store. It was bulky, yellow and possibly the second ugliest table I had ever seen. The only one rounder and uglier than that was the one that stood in my parent’s voorkamer for 20 odd years. “I am struggling to sell it.” He said. “Most people are not interested in round tables, and those that are say it’s too big. I am not sure what to do with it. The owner wanted to dump it and I thought I would try and do something with it. Any suggestions?”
Saturday rolled around, and so did Neville, trailer in tow, along with the ‘The Beast!’, as it came to be in my mind. We hauled it off the back of the trailer, down the drive and got stuck at the door to my workshop. We couldn’t get it in. It would have to be dismantled outside and brought in in pieces. Ten minutes and a thousand wood screws later, the top was off and rolled into the corner of my workshop. After carefully maneuvering the base through the door and having it take up most of the floor space, I came to the realization, that I needed a bigger door and a bigger workshop.
As with most projects when I don’t know what to do, I ignored the problem and hoped that it would go away. But ‘The Beast!’ was not going anywhere. The top sulked in the corner of my workshop demanding my attention. Mostly because I kept having to roll it out of the way every time I needed to get to my stores. The base just sat there tripping me up every time I walked past it. Eventually, in frustration, I took apart the cross braces, folded the legs together and stuffed it in front of the sulking top. Which simply meant that I now had to move two pieces of The Beast! every time I wanted something out the stores. “Enough!” I cried, “You win! I will deal with you now!” after the tenth move of the day.
I had not looked it over properly yet, and began my inspection. The table top was made of 20 mm thick solid Oak. At some point in its 40 odd years of existence, the jointing had started to fail, probably because of shrinkage and the movement of the Oak. Several bad attempts had been made to repair it. The first involved gluing the separating pieces together. Clamping a round table together is really difficult to start with. Without the proper tools it becomes a nightmare. The first attempt had involved spreading wood glue into the crack and then applying vertical pressure across the separating pieces to hold them together. When that failed, nails, a couple of wood screws and a few self-tappers followed. Surprisingly that too failed to solve the problem. But a bigger problem appeared to be developing. The stretchers had started to work themselves loose, and these needed to be repaired. The expert solution was to first glue and then nail square strips of wood into the stretchers. With the base stabilized the repairer expertly glued four pieces of thick meranti onto the oak, and screwed that in place with the 1000 screws we had to remove to get the top loose. Despite the messiness of the job, it managed to get the table past its 40th birthday. I am just grateful that no one has had to do that to me, just yet.
I loaded the top onto my table saw, as this was the only surface I had big enough to hold it. Measure. Ponder. Measure. Ponder. Go play with the dogs.
The problem was I had never squared a round table before. It was too big for my table saw so I would have to use a circular saw. I wanted to to cut it so the grain kept its neat straight lines. Eventually I worked out where the center of the table was, and measured my first cut. I would be able to cut it square and remove most of the damage caused by the expert repairs without loosing too much table top. With one side squared, the others took shape and voila. The Beast! had been reduced. If nothing else, it was easier to move it around my workshop. The top now measured a respectable 1 sqm.
I ripped four 40 mm thick strips out the long grain left over from the removed ends and cleaned the varnish off them before running them through the thickness planer. I flipped the table top over and cleaned and scraped the underside before gluing and screwing the strips onto the edge. This provides a solid look and feel to top and a neat edge. The surface of the table was in pretty good condition, despite its age. Shrinkage and bad repairs aside, it had clearly been looked after. But the yellowed varnish had to go. I first scrapped the surface using a shaving hook, followed by a Stanley blade. I sanded the bare wood till it was smooth, oak-white and beautiful. A quick turn with the round over bit and the router to smooth the edges and it was done. I then turned my attention to the legs.
Each leg was 75 mm thick. They were joined together with a 150 mm wide stretcher, mortised into the leg. These ran diagonally under the table. A brace across the bottom added further stability to the legs. I cut through the center joint on each piece separating the legs. I removed all the additional glued bits, screws and nails before cutting the mortise joints flush against the edge with a tenon saw. I scrapped off the varnish and ran each piece through the thickness planer to square them up again. I squared the top and bottom on the table saw and made sure each leg was the same length. A quick pass on the router table with a round over bit and the legs were ready. I ripped each stretcher to 75 mm wide. I removed the varnish and squared each piece on the thickness planer before rounding the edges.
I used pocket holes and pva wood glue to attach the stretchers to the legs and used more pocket holes to attach the top to the base. A couple of coats of teak wood stain, followed by three coats of a mat polyurethane varnish completed the look. And with that, The Beast! was truly vanquished. In its place stood The Elegant Lady. A sleek modern looking four-seater table, perfect for open plan living.