Over the last seven years, I’ve taken on several major projects, and I’ve learned important lessons from all of them:
The Coffee Table
When I first decided to get back into woodworking, my approach was (and to some extent still is) amateur. I set out to build my girlfriend a coffee table, however, I had no idea how to build one. I got ideas from a woodworking magazine on how to make legs and then attach them to the top, but the top was the most daunting part. I had no experience using a biscuit joiner, nor the tools required to stand the top once I was done, and plywood was absolutely out of the question.
Then I had an epiphany. Prefinished maple flooring. The finish was extremely durable, and all I had to do was nail the board to a substrate and finish the edge. I thought it would be soooo easy. The legs and skirt came together nicely. I cleaned up some hemlock scrap to make the legs, and I used the table saw to rip a nice 45º edge on two sides.
But then came the top. I chose ¾” MDF as my substrate (my first mistake). While solid and flat, the MDF weighs a ton. It takes two people to move that coffee table to this day. Once I’d nailed the flooring into place and then trimmed up my top, I had to figure out how to finish the edges. In my mind, I had two options: I could use real maple 1x3 and trim the edges using a miter joint, or I could use real wood veneer.
I succumbed to my second mistake and chose to use veneer. Miters scared the hell out of me, and veneer seemed much less intimidating. Beside, the veneer might give a nice “slab” appearance to the top. So I slapped some contact cement on the front edge of my top and to perfectly cut piece of veneer, making sure to let it dry before putting the pieces together.
I had no idea what was about to happen.
If you’ve never used contact cement before, you should know something. Contact cement is exactly what it sounds like. Cement…on contact. In retrospect, my veneer should’ve been larger enough to trim on all four sides rather than perfectly cut to fit because as soon as the veneer sagged down and touched the edge of my top, it bonded instantly. Horrified because I knew I’d screwed up, I made my third rookie mistake of trying to pull it off so I could reposition it. The veneer tore (as did my shirt when I tore it from my body in a heated rage and vowed revenge against the woodworking gods).
Of course, I quickly realized the mistake I’d made. I ran the top through the table saw to clean off the edge and went to work with the solid lumber that I should’ve used in the first place. Lesson learned. I chickened out on the miters though and chose to butt the ends of the boards together. Seven years later and two thousand mile moves have proven the coffee table to be sturdy, and the top itself has held up nicely against discoloration, scratches, and stains of any kind.
But man, that thing is heavy!
Pics are below, taken very recently (like tonight). You'll have to excuse the mess...the table is currently being store because we don't have room for it.