The first coffee table I ever owned was from a big box store. It was your classic "I just got married and want new furniture" type of coffee table. It was massive, machine made and, not surprisingly, wore poorly and broke easily. I vowed whenever I got a new coffee table, I would get something "better".
Leap forward about 10 years later (the amount of time it took me to convince my husband we needed a replacement!), Matt Wallace of Nacoille Studio had made us the most awesome maple plank dining room table. I came to learn that he co-owned Ottawa City Woodshop. They had just started offering woodworking classes. One class he offered was a live edge coffee table making course. My husband and I leapt at the chance to learn and quickly signed up. We were both really excited.
So, our first night of class was a snow storm. The roads were terrible and we were late, which meant we ended up getting the last piece of wood. I had had my heart set on walnut, but both were already taken...bummer. Then I saw my piece...my live edge, perfect size and thickness (mind out of the gutter folks!!) hard (I said out of gutter!!) maple slab. I knew everything was going to be OK.
Thus began six weeks, eighteen hours, of challenging, but not surprisingly, very fun work! The first three classes were spent on flattening out the wood. This is called "planing". We did this with a manual hand planer. It was shockingly difficult! Our hands were cramping, our biceps were sore. I remember my father-in-law saying, "You know, you could just put it through a planer machine to make it flat. It would take about 30 seconds." Someone was NOT getting the point. It felt so good (k, well, it actually kinda hurt) to make something with our own hands.
To give context, I am more of a "good enough" kind of gal. My husband is more of a "it has to be perfect" type of guy. Thank gawd for Matt, who would jump in with positive reinforcement and reassurance, and even though the table may not have been perfectly flat after 6 hours of planing, he assured us our wine glasses would not fall off.
So we pushed ahead to the sanding phase. Again, started with hand sanding...with sand paper. Well, this did not last long! This barely made a dent in the maple and Matt took pity on us and we used the electric sander. I may have been too enthusiastic at a few spots, and created a few extra ridges, but really, I was just adding character :)
Once we were happy with the finish, it was time to deal with the cracks in the wood. Now, the cracks themselves are cool; we did not want to fill them, but we wanted to ensure, as much as possible, that the table doesn't crack in half in 5 years! So Matt instructed us on how to insert Dutchman into the table. These are essentially triangular pieces of wood that look like bowties; to insert them, you spin up a router and etch a space in the table.
This part was scary. If you used the tool incorrectly, you could go right through the table. I remember Matt offering to go this part for me, and I was like, "No dude, I got this!", lying through my teeth! Once they were in, we planed them down again. All that was left was staining and applying the legs.
At some point in the process, a reporter from The Ottawa Citizen actually came in to do an article on Ottawa City Wood Shop and their classes. Well, James and I got interviewed; you can read it here. Now, I may have received some teasing for how the writer pointed out the "sparkle in my eyes", but it was still fun to be part of the article. I actually have the paper copy of the article taped to the underside fo the table.
So lessons learned? There really is no substitute for making something yourself, with your own hands. It gives the object a story, a history, and let's be honest, what better answer to the question, "Hey where did you get that beautiful table from?" then, "Oh that table? I made that myself!!"
Special props to our teacher and all around good guy, Matt Wallace. Literally and figuratively, we could not have done this without you buddy!
Check out upcoming courses at Ottawa City Wood Shop; you won't regret the experience.
As a quick side note, after all our hard work, I bought coasters for the first time in my life!! I always thought coasters were for old people, like plastic covering a sofa, but there was no way in hell I was going to get a glass water mark on my baby.
These beauties are made right here in Ottawa and they are kick ass. They are made by N-Product. I chose Sandy Hill as it is the neighbourhood around my alma mater, Ottawa U, and Little Italy, as that is the neighbourhood that my Dad grew up in; I have great memories of Pamilla Street from my childhood.
Have you ever made something yourself you are really proud of? I would love to hear all about it-please share below.