Recently, a friend approached me and enthusiastically pitched his case to me. Gerald has a massive solid oak dining table with three table leaves. His family often reconfigures the size of the table so of course want to have the leaves convenient. In their previous house, there was a little nook just the right size to store the three leaves, but not in their new house.
Looking for a solution, he searched the internet for inspirations and found a picture of an open cabinet to store table leaves vertically. With half the problem solved (the concept), Gerald came to me asking me to build one to match his table, both in colour and style.
At first, I wasn’t too interested – staining wood has always been a bitter point for me. For one, colour matching can be very hard, and different types of light can make colours seem different as well. Also, I have this slight adversion to staining wood. I’ve always preferred a clear finish. But Gerald really wanted this piece and he wanted me to make it. He won me over, and I took the job.
The first step was to see the table and the table leaves. So I visited Gerald’s house and took pictures and measurements of the dining table and leaves.
That gave me all the details I needed to design the Table Leaf Storage Unit. So I went home and drew up a set of plans. For most of my work, I don’t bother with drawings, plans, or cutting lists. But in this case, because it has to match the table and fit the leaves, the size is critical.
I got the plans approved and got started on the build. It was straightforward – laminated strips for the top, a bullnose molding below, four frames mortise and tenoned together and a base. I added strips of wood to create steps in the base to support each leaf by the edge of the leaf, as opposed to just the bullnose moulding.
For finishing, Gerald and I collaborated testing different stains and settled with a gel stain called Early American. How they come up with these names is beyond me. Maybe it simulated the dirt and grime built up on furniture built way back when? Anyhow, the stain went on, followed by three coats of an oil/varnish blend. I had to be careful not to get too much gloss. The end product looks great. I’m really happy with it. Gerald and his wife are really happy with it. Life is good.
Best of all, I learned that staining isn’t all that bad. It’s nothing to be feared. Sure it’s an art and can require a lot of skill to pull of certain effects, but it is certainly not something you should avoid doing just because you don’t think you can. Staining, glazing, dying, toning… it can be intimidating, but it can be learned. One step at a time.