By Aaron Dibner-Dunlap
From the initial pass of the plane till the last, four years passed – we both fell in love, we both got engaged and we both moved away from the town which housed my shop, the place where we became friends drinking malty IPAs in miserable weather and a pile of shavings. I had just finished my tool cabinet and Aaron was being promoted from apprentice on my project to craftsmen on his own. We set out to make matching sofa tables. Mine was finished three months after we scribbled the design on the back of a napkin at a bbq restaurant. His developed in fits and starts over the years.
In some ways I am conscientious about how my skills as a woodworker have improved – my dovetail pins are smaller – my drawers tighter- my tenons just as crooked but they now encase raised panels. What you don’t notice is how having more experience dampens the emotional trajectory of a project – watching Aaron start with a keen yet inefficient perfectionism, and then periods of project fatigue and design compromises, followed finally by the unadulterated sense of pride that you made something and that means something -Although you are not sure what – helped me rekindle the excitement of begin a novie anew.
The table looks great – a coat of finish always magnifies the potential you knew was lurking beneath the surfaces, and hides the errors no one else ever notices. As i have done in other cases, I am writing a little intro because its my blog and I can do that – but I am turning the mantle over to Aaron for a guest blog entry. His voice is in italics.
Hey readers. What a long, strange process it’s been. Matt and I share an excitement to get new projects started. But Matt stands alone in his fervor to drive things through to completion.
Back when we drafted the plans on the eve of Obama’s last election, we were so hopeful for our future, and what better way to celebrate those feelings of unity than by starting a joint project? Well, two joint projects – twin sofa tables. We planned, bought the initial pieces, and started to make the frame. Then, while I was on a trip to the Philippines, that jerk finished his table. https://raecreation.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/sofa-table-red-oak-2013/
The design of the tables was simple – a 2 or 3 drawer piece, very long (38″ in my case, longer for Matt’s), very shallow, & tall enough to stand level behind a sofa. We bought 48″ 2x2s to serve as the posts, and would cut them down to size when we decided where the table would finally stand.
Some early shots – back when Matt had a garage instead of a house. And back when I had more hair.
We each dreamed up a few embellishments for our lower platforms. While Matt had some nice Moroccan tiles – and the know how to set them in place – I chose a simpler – and easier – design. The toughest part about this was engineering the through-mortises (yes, those are real).
The frame was entirely red oak, but I was left to my own devices to decide what the drawer faces and tabletop would be. I could have been boring, like Matt, and stuck with red oak. But I was hankering for some contrast, so we headed to a sawmill near Philly to see what there was to see. And then I saw it – the most gorgeous slab of ambrosia maple that I knew I needed as my top. It was heavy, and twice as thick as I would have liked, but we couldn’t get them to resaw it so I changed my design out of convenience. Ambrosia maple top and drawer faces it would be.
The drawers were the last pieces to be completed, and they were the most painstaking. As is Matt’s way, we went with dovetails – at my discretion, 4 half-blind. I had lots of help from my betrothed, Anjali – she has a real knack for painstaking detail work – and Matt chipped in too I guess.
Without a need for Matt’s dovetail saw, chisels, or planes – though I will always need his banter and beer – I had no more excuse but to move it from his shop to my apartment to do the final sanding and finishing. I wish I had a photo of this setup: since Anjali wouldn’t let me woodwork in the apartment, we ran a 100-foot extension cord out a window, 1 floor down, so that I could use the rotary sander without dusting every book in our place.
I just used Danish Oil as a finish for right now, so I’m careful to keep my liquids away from it – see my water bottle sitting next to it instead of on top. But I like how it deepens the grain while retaining the natural color. I really like how the live edge of the table looks with its asymmetry. We ended up filling some pretty serious cracks (and a few beetle holes) with epoxy which made me feel a little better about having movers lug the thing across the country.
Now we’re in Mountain View, CA – and it looks really nice standing up against a wall under a painting my grandmother made in the 1960s. It feels a bit subversive to have something so truly old-fashioned in the epicenter of digital innovation.