Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Fri 10th Nov, 2006

Interesting carpentry

Well, that was more excitement than I needed.

For the last three or four months I've been building a table. Not just any table, but a dutch sliding leaf table; when it's finished, the main table will seat six (1.5m long) and two 'leaves' can slide out from underneath to seat ten (2.5m long). I'm following the instructions in a woodworking book, and my 'brother-in-law' Rob has a table of the same construction, so I also have a working model to go off.

The process has been a lot of fun, and a useful lesson in how to tackle big projects. You need some planning, so you know how much wood to buy and what shape it should be, but at some point you have to put saw to wood and actually start building things. In that case, don't be daunted - just start with some part that needs doing, and break large procedures down into simple steps in order to find something that you can do now. It's all remarkably like programming, really.

There are, of course, a few differences. For instance, if you glue the table frame together badly, you can't really just unglue it and start again. It's easy to take wood off, but it's much more difficult to put wood back on. The old saying 'measure twice, cut once' is very true. And today, in the brief forty-eight hours while I borrow the long clamps from the ACT Woodcraft Guild, I glued the table frame together. (I had a small window of time because they don't normally lend this sort of equipment, but when you've been coming along every Thursday for two or more years and no-one is going to be at the shed between when you borrow them and when you return them, and the shed boss is amenable, you can get away with it.)

There were four interesting - in the Chinese 'Interesting Times' - parts to this procedure. Firstly, I had to do it alone. This wasn't a big problem - I'd pushed it together before by myself - but with glue drying I had to work quickly. Secondly, I discovered that one of the joints was pulling together at an angle, so I had to adjust the position of the clamp, holding it and the two blocks that spread the pressure and the two blocks that kept it off the side of the legs while I screwed it together. For other people this takes six hands, but I had mastered the technique of doing it with two and one knee.

Then I found out the third interesting thing: the two longer clamps I'd borrowed for the lengthways beams were not, actually, long enough to reach. With one, I could take the clamp ends off two clamps - I had a spare - and bolt them together, forming one longer clamp. This allowed me to discover the fourth interesting thing, that one of the tenons wasn't cut correctly and forced the joint apart; with the glue drying rapidly I had to take that joint apart, cut an extra bit off, put glue in the mortises again and clamp it together.

Then it was back to trying to work out how to make one clamp reach an extra thirty centimetres. In order to pull evenly in the middle of the joint, I had put the one Franken-clamp on the other two, shorter, clamps (which were in the middle of the joint). I briefly considered and discarded plans for constructing an elaborate wooden extender. It would take too long and the glue would be completely dry. If I had some chain, I could bolt the chain to the long clamp and around the shorter clamp. Chain; wire; wire rope...

Ah-hah! I had some excess wire rope in the length on the garage door. I took it's little clamp off - lucky I had bought a spare - and resolved to get some half-decent wire or bolt cutters in future. Then I wrapped it through one hole in the long clamp shaft, around the short clamp, and tightened the nut on the wire rope clamp up (having managed to lose the other nut on the floor somewhere). Miracle of miracles, it held! With the wire now tuned to high 'C', and all eight joints of the table frame pulled together, I let out a much needed sigh of relief. My pulse stopped its frantic pace, my shoulders relaxed. It was done!

One joint isn't quite perfect. But it's not bad for my first table.

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