Thursday, March 31, 2011

Latest From the Shop: Lathe Turned Table Tops

The wife of an acquaintance of mine found a beautiful small wrought-iron two-level table frame.

Lovely, simple, and elegant.

Ideal for a sun room or a porch, a perfect perch for a Christmas cactus or a vase or some kind of porcelain Foofery.

You know, like that.

Problem was, it came with a couple of Jiminy-Fixit inserts made from grade-B plywood by somebody who might have once pounded a nail into a 2x4 as the sum total of his woodworking experience.

The wife was unhappy with this situation and asked her husband to make better ones.

Unfortunately, the sum total of his woodworking experience was that he once pounded a nail into a 2x4, it bent, he smashed his thumb and vowed never to risk damaging a hammer like that again.

All was not lost however, my acquaintance once gifted his lovely wife with one of my turned exotic hardwood pens and as my office is full of my craft, he suggested to his wife that much less pain would ensue for all parties if I was assigned the task. The wife, knowing him (and not knowing me), agreed to this foolish course of action and suggested that he ask me and offer to pay.

He did.

And I said, “Sure, couple of small table tops. No problem. Have it done in a jiffy.”


I took the table frame home.


I was busy that first weekend and didn’t get to it.

I was busy the second weekend too.

And the third.

Eventually I just sort of forgot about it.  Which I’m sort of prone to do. At least I think I am anyway, I forget. I often sit in the shop. I talk to my cat and drink a beer and maybe another beer. Time passes. Eventually my wife comes to make sure I haven’t killed myself by lopping off something vital on the tablesaw. I’m not really sure what happens there in my happy place, and I don’t really care.


After about a month or so, my friend politely asked me about it, “Say, wife wants to know…if it’s not too much trouble…”

“No problem, Friend, this weekend for sure.”

“You’re the best!”

“Aw shucks!”

And I went home and put the table frame in the middle of my main work area, between the primary saw and the big lathe, where I would see it and remember.


Somewhere around the sixth week, or maybe it was the seventh, I moved that damned table frame out of my way because I was tired of tripping over it. 


Time passed.

I communed with ShopKat and Mr. George Killian (God bless that Irishman).

Somewhere, stars flickered and went out.

Summer fled and winter was upon us and I switched from beer to whiskey as befitting the change in weather.

My acquaintance mentioned in passing that the wife thought a plant would look good on that table. In the spring. You know.

Boy, you don’t have hit me over the head with the obvious. Well, I mean, you can, but it won’t help.


It seems that some more time passed. The exact amount is open to debate, but radio carbon dating appears to be involved.

My acquaintance finally cornered me in my office.

“She’s threatening to kill me, then cut up my body with a chainsaw and feed the pieces into the leaf chipper.”

“Have you tried buying her flowers? That’ll usually get you another week.”

“Have mercy, you flinty bastard! You have to help me!”

“Anything. You want I should drive you to a shelter? We could get some beers on the way, you know it’s almost spring?”

“Please, God, I’m begging you. It’s been six fucking months!”

“Really? Six months. That’s it? I’ve procrastinated for far, far longer than that. There was this one time…”

“Oh God, please!”

“Hey, it’s not me she’s threatening to go all Fargo on.”

“I’ll pay you double!”

“Hmmm double you say?”

“Triple, you fucker! And I’ll bring you coffee for a week.”

“Well, now we’re talking. Besides what are friends for, right? And hey, Buddy, for your own sake, be careful around this woman, she sounds like a real psycho.”


Turns out, I did manage to find a little time this last weekend.



The tops are 1” thick, kiln dried Alaskan birch heartwood, 16” from point to point. After I made the basic six-sided tops, I turned them on the big lathe and cut a recess to insert the black walnut medallions.  The tops were then turned smooth and sanded on the lathe.  Then taken off the machine and finish sanded and buffed. Then I  remounted them and added the decorative circles with a face-beading tri-point and the #1 Wagner texture tool at low speed.  The tops are finished with two coats of Tung Oil and a hard waterproof poly-acrylic.  Then buffed to a satin glow with a micromesh pad on the FESTOOL ETS-150.

They must have been satisfactory.

There was a large latte on my desk this morning.


  1. That's certainly a table I'd kill someone for. In a good way...

  2. I am going to sound like such an effing teenage groupie dingbat, but so be it. I'm fast becoming addicted to your blog, sir. Your writing is superb.

    I laughed out loud reading this post, and that does not happen very often. Particularly after a day like the one I had today. Many thanks. I needed that laugh.

    Also, I don't know much about woodworking from personal experience, but I know a beautiful piece when I see it. That table is a work of art.

  3. Guess you're right. A warrant officer gets it done...eventually.

    A man of many talents. It's really too good to be covered by a plant. A nice ceramic piece would
    do it justice.

  4. Nice!
    16" wood lathe, or is it even bigger than that, 24" maybe? Somewhere back reading your blog you mention that you had a BIG shop.

    Do you re-sand lightly after using the texture tool (fancy knurling tool to an old machinist like me)?

    Beautiful addition to that iron, 6 months and a weekend sounds about right.

  5. Jim , what did you use to get the patterning?

  6. It's a beaut.

    Pity I don't have a wife your pal's who would threaten to go full hobbitt on me. Consider yourself lucky.

  7. That is beautiful...patience is often required if you want something done perfectly!

  8. Well worth the slight delay. Stunning!

  9. Did you knurl those annular patterns ?

  10. I work just like you do! Where are those things I said I'd make someone for easter... it's getting close-ish.

    Your table turned out beautiful. I'm bet she's glad she waited!

  11. sheila, who is not lurking today,March 31, 2011 at 7:18 AM

    The tops, with their hexagon shape and the circular pattern inscribed on them, remind me of the shorthand notation for a benzene molecule.

    Now I'm having flashbacks to the traumatic organic chemistry course I took in college. Thanks a lot.

    That said, the tops are quite lovely, and I would not want to spoil the view by placing a plant pot or ceramic piece on top.

  12. When you're doing a textured stripe like that, do you cut the border before or after texturing?

  13. Nice work, great inlays. You are the God of turning.

  14. Thanks Random Michelle K,

    I haven't got that far reading his past posts and seeing alleged kitty pictures.

  15. What a gorgeous piece. Well worth waiting for (possibly because I'm not the one waiting for it). I am glad your friend retains his limbs and you have a nice cup of coffee to show for your efforts.

  16. Micky-T,

    Those are MANLY pictures, not kitty pictures. Don't confuse the two if you don't want to offend our extremely manly host.

  17. That kitty has long since stopped being a kitty and grown into The ShopKat(tm). Best damned cat ever. She's a regular feature around here.

    To answer the questions: the patterns are cut with a Wagner Size #1 texturing tool. It's heavy steel bar with a turning handle on one end and small knurled wheel on the other. It looks like this. The tool is pressed against the piece, turning at low speed, the more pressure more distinct the pattern. In this case the tool was applied parallel to the direction of spin which produces the pattern you see in the pictures. Angling it and/or moving it during turning produces other patterns such as crosshatching or spirals. It takes practice. I lay the pattern down first, then add the beaded boarders with a different tool.

  18. Missed your question the first time @Micky-T: Yes, I sand the texture, 1000grit followed by #12000 micromesh. Just enough to knock down the edges and add a buffed shine.

  19. Nice piece. Those walnut medallions would make a nice home for a soon-to-be-finished bottle of fine bourbon.

  20. When backing out of the carport one morning, I struck a pillar with the passenger-side mirror of a borrowed truck. I paid up and replaced the mirror, then thought it might be cool to have the damaged mirror mounted on a wooden base as a make-up mirror for my daughter. I called a friend who made snakeskin and turned-wood pen barrels I'd bought as gift items. He accepted the challenge and took the mirror to his shop. Six months later, I ran into him at a school function. I didn't have the heart to ask about it, and he didn't have the nerve to say anything. Three years later we moved, and I never saw that mirror again. See, there are parallel universes.

  21. Speaking of which...what ever happened to my sassafras wood bird-house you were about to finish a year or two ago?


    Oh, and loverly work on those table tops.

  22. Ships of wood men of iron like an old chief used to say.

  23. @Wendy, it hasn't been a year or two, you big fibber.


    Sassafras? Ur, when did I order that stock? Now that you mention it, it does seem like it's been a while...

  24. ::whine::

    I need to quit my jobs so I can go back out to the shop.

    Just curious - is that a 3:1 Killian's / Bushmills mix in the finish?

    Very nice, Jim!

  25. this is a table to be passed down through the generations. lovely.

  26. Quality work takes time. Six months seems about right for a custom high quality project like this.

  27. New reader here, Jim...thanks for the blog! Absolutely gorgeous work you do there...I am a painter, so my approaches are different, but I know art when I see it. (the blog post is hilarious too - laughed my ass off. I have a commission hanging fire too, except its the other way around. I have half their money up front, and the wife hasn't made up her mind what she wants! I'm chasing them down...its a hoot!)
    And Jim, this is my second comment on your blog...my first one is way the hell down at the very bottom of "The Sunday Morning Come to Jesus Moment on Second Amendment Solutions." Just had to get it off my chest - in a good way. If you have time, go read it. I know it's way back. Be seeing ya soon...

  28. I hate to be redundant but that really is a stunning piece of work.

  29. Well, hell, Chris, of course it is, it took six months to make for crying out loud.

    Damn SWO.

  30. I highly encourage all of you to go read Cameron's comment under this post.

  31. Maybe we could barter a sweater or afghan for the
    wife (or you) for one of your works of art? I, too, have examples of my work. And your writing rocks.

    I'm still waiting for my husband to retire so I can
    have a KnitCat (patent pend).


  32. That looks absolutely gorgeous. Makes me wish I had a porch so I'd have an excuse to buy something like that.

  33. Well, I have to admit, the final results are well, er.. for a lack of better words eye candy!

  34. @Wendy, it hasn't been a year or two, you big fibber...Wait...

    Sassafras? Ur, when did I order that stock? Now that you mention it, it does seem like it's been a while...

    Uh huh...Supposedly you'd already started it or had it turned or it was a work in progress...from the last chunk you had, back when you did the last round of bird-house postings a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

    How do I know the time frame - I was very, very recently unemployed at the time and I've had this job for just over 18 months...

    subcat = ShopKat's counterpart at sea

  35. Man! I feel your pain. GOD, I was reading about ME! Some of my friends think that I can just do my beautiful work on a whim. But there is beer, dogs, fishing,beer, chainsaws, with beer, dogs, things I can't remember, beer, oh yeah, my wife. WTF! Now you want WHAT?

    Yours Woodworkingly,

  36. A kindred spirit! I too allow minor projects linger far, far longer than others consider reasonable.
    In fact, I see our Christmas front door wreath in my peripheral vision as I type. Hey it's only three months since Christmas. Nearby are three packages filled with gifts - finally taped shut and labelled - that must be mailed. sigh.

  37. Although a beautiful result, your story is an example of why I've told my spouse that other than one lone soul, he may no longer have his friends, acquaintances, and neighbor do work on our home, Ever!(Including those professionally licensed to do the work.) Only one friend shows up when he says he will and actually does thoroughly and correctly what he says he will. In the meantime, the spouse has to listen to my angry harangues, and then afterward too until we hire someone to come in and get the job finished properly, which all in all, from the first agreement from said friend/acquaintance/neighbor until we hire the professional, sometimes involves Years! Most women cannot rest until our nests are in place rather than in a state of flux. In my case, that would include decorative items a spot is waiting for.

    I have one of your pens by the way, which my spouse brought me as a gift, and I love it.

  38. You may be sloooowm but you sure are talented!!! Thank you for a good chuckle!!


  39. Absolutely gorgeous table. My mother is covetous.

  40. just the other day I saw an iron base for a coffee table outside and didn't grab it. Now I'm so wishing I did. That is a really beautiful table.

  41. I hate you. The table is freakin' awesome and I wish I had 1/10th the ability to do something like that.

    And if anyone continues to give you guff about taking so long, just repeat, "Great works, like great wine, take a little time...."

    ... like sassafras wood bird houses!


  42. Certainly worth waiting for, IMHO.


Comments on this blog are moderated. Each will be reviewed before being allowed to post. This may take a while. I don't allow personal attacks, trolling, or obnoxious stupidity. If you post anonymously and hide behind an IP blocker, I'm a lot more likely to consider you a troll. Be sure to read the commenting rules before you start typing. Really.