Journey of the n00b #1: The End Table.

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Blog entry by Michael Wilson posted 08-08-2011 04:33 AM 2092 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Journey of the n00b series Part 2: In search of an elegant solution: Creating a 45 degree reference angle. »

I know nothing about nothing about wood working. So I figured that keeping a log of what I learn and when will, if nothing else, give me something to point at and laugh in a few months.

So I made my box. That should be post #1, but it’s not really worth more than this paragraph. The box is: a 6×6x12 box open along one long side, merely glued. The pieces were rough cut on a table saw from 1×12x48 pine. It was the first thing I’d ever made with wood. Really, ever. In 42 years. As such, the goal was “the simplest thing I could call a box.” It’s not sanded, planed, finished…nothing. The result is plain, stout and wonderfully functional.

I moved from a tiny apartment into a house several months ago. I have a “reasonable” budget for tooling up and I live here alone. So… I have almost no furniture. No furniture as in “I sleep on the couch.”

The real goal is to make my own dresser, platform bed, workbench, computer desk/tables,etc. But I figured I should do it incrementally since I have no mentor, background or schooling opportunity. Plus I’m an autodidact in every other area of my life, why not this.

The next project up from the box: An end table to sit beside the couch. Again, aesthetics aren’t really a part of the concern. Doing some measuring I came up with 18×18” top, 24”(ish) tall, in two “box” sections, each a foot tall. All out of the same 1×12x48 pine. (Why this, you ask? Well, it’s the widest, longest board I can take off the shelf in Home Depot and fit in my little toyota, so I make due.)

As for joining, my first thought was to dowel the whole thing together. So I started with that.

The MOST IMPORTANT piece of this project is that it really has nothing to do with the end result. The physical thing is useful, but not the goal. It’s about doing a bunch of stuff, incrementally more difficult than the box, and seeing what fills my head as a result.

No matter what I did I simply couldn’t seem to get my cuts right. Then I posted something here about cutting to length on a table saw and “was shown the error of my ways” ;). Off to the hardware store for a circular saw…and some more boards…and those “clamp” things I keep seeing…and some glue…a square or two and a measuring tape.

Clamping the boards to my old kitchen table (a butcher block that has served me very well for the past 15 years) I still wasn’t happy with the cuts I was getting with my circular saw (it was a bit too exciting to find out the hard way that the blade turns the opposite direction I expected. It makes perfect sense after a few seconds of thought.) Again I posted a question here and learned about shooting boards and bench hooks. So last night I set to making a pair of bench hooks and a shooting board, clamped them up and went to bed.

Today was the day! I bounced out of bed (well… “fell off the couch” just doesn’t have the same ring to it) and went downstairs to start again with the help of my new toys and a jig for the circular saw that looked like a smart thing to make, and indeed ended up being.

I ripped a couple of my boards to 9” wide, so I could double them up for the 18” (symmetry and all.) Trying to cut them down, even with the bench hook, was problematic as I didn’t have a clamp with a deep enough throat to clamp the assembly to the bench, so I had a thought… I grabbed a lag bolt and had a moment of silence before drilling a hole in my old table so I could use the lag bolt as a dog. Worked wonderfully; not PERFECTLY mind you, but wonderfully.

Pleased with my result I used my shiny new doweling kit to put a couple well calibrated holes in each side. (Review: This thing is awful, not worth the aluminum scrap it’s cast from. There’s a right way to do make one of these and this is not it.) But I did get one top and bottom 18×18 made, resolving that I’d find another way to put this thing together.

What I ended up doing was gluing and screwing it together using 2 inch deck screws. I drilled pilot holes and overturned them as a poor-man’s counter-sink.

The whole bottom half took a few hours of figuring, trial and error, bad cuts redone, etc.

Armed with that I started on an identical piece that would form the top half. From 1×12x48 to finish was about a half hour.

The amount I learned from this still surprises me.

For instance:

Factory boards aren’t necessarily flat, straight or square. Relying on them to be any of the three is a quaint little delusion that made perfect sense to me 12 hours ago.

I need a smarter way to square things up. Laying a large aluminum square over the top of something just doesn’t cut it.

A dull plane isn’t worth a damn. I’m guessing that sharpening that blade is a very particular process.

Rough-cuts on a circular saw, while better than freehanding on a table saw, are still insufficient.

Material preparation is almost certainly as important (if not more so) in wood working than in machining (where you can get something to .001 tolerances with simple diligence.)

Working with materials that are NOT well prepared (flat, square and straight) will result in some very strange gymnastics when trying to assemble your finished product.

All that said, it’s worth adding two things:

1) I plan to do more with this, so it’s rough state is something I’m happy to live with for a while.
2) The end product, spartan as it is, is precisely what I envisioned. I spent hours trying to figure out which way to join what to what, should this board be an outside joint or an inside joint, etc. But it helped me distill some basic principles about where stress is likely to be applied to the finished product and how that can help determine the jointing, etc.
3) I’ll never have enough clamps as long as I live.
4) The support work of woodworking is easily more fun than making the planned project itself. The amount of time it takes to get from “I need an X that does Y but is Z long.” to having The Thing in operation is amazing.

The next project is likely to be a computer table/desk I’ll make from a solid-core door I bought yesterday.

Well if you’ve read this far, you’re a trooper, thanks. I certainly couldn’t have gotten here without your help.

8 comments so far

View greg48's profile


630 posts in 3767 days

#1 posted 08-08-2011 04:59 AM

I approve of your selection of raw materials, it’s a lot cheaper to learn on pine than hardwoods. When you do make the leap to hardwoods you may wish to try something soft and inexpesive also like alder or poplar. They’re not especially beautiful woods but the knots are a lot smaller. You also have the right attitude; start simple and make each succeeding project more challenging while incorporating what you learned before.

p.s. Learn to sharpen that hand plane, no powered machine will give as much satisfaction as that first long curl falling at your feet.

If you don’t mind, I think I will put you on my watch list. Good luck and we will see you later.

-- Greg, No. Cal. - "Gaudete in Domino Semper"

View Michael Wilson's profile

Michael Wilson

588 posts in 3500 days

#2 posted 08-08-2011 03:33 PM

hey thanks o/

I know it’s an awful lot of verbage for such a 101 project. But I’m trying to keep track of this as I go forward. It will eventually be worth it ;)

Now I’ve got to get myself schooled on material prep.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17227 posts in 3628 days

#3 posted 08-08-2011 07:26 PM

Noob – Kudos on moving forward, love the double box end table. So many tools and projects, so little time.

Creating something from nothing is huge, isn’t it? And Oh, the fun (but total necessity) of material prep. Straight and square sounds so basic, and it is, but it’s certainly not a given when buying raw stock. Now you know why the bins are always messed up at the lumber yards: we scour the stacks for the best stuff because it saves us so much prep time…

Consider a strategic investment in a good book on joinery. It starts with the basics and applies those concepts to boxes, shelves, cabinets, etc. It’s from a hand tools perspective, but the concepts translate easily into a blended (hand and power) shop. Name of the book is The Essential Woodworker:

Keep trucking, and I look forward to seeing your builds as they become reality!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View Michael Wilson's profile

Michael Wilson

588 posts in 3500 days

#4 posted 08-08-2011 07:52 PM

Excellent, thanks! Book is on it’s way.

I’d rather learn the hand art theory. Translating to machinery will make easy sense I think. (Plus, I’m not about to drop a few hundred on a joiner or planer…as much as I’d love to :)

View clieb91's profile


4208 posts in 4944 days

#5 posted 08-12-2011 12:50 AM

Mike, The end tables came out looking pretty good. You are on the right track to a nice living room set, and the best part when some asks where you found it you can tell them I built it. That is the thing I love about my office suite, that and the cost for it.

I like the jig you found. Haven’t seen one with the measure before. Certainly going to think about making one for sheet goods. Also there are a ton of books out there about every facet as are some magazines. Check out Shop Notes or Woodsmith, good information (especially the readers tips sections) and no ads.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View Michael Wilson's profile

Michael Wilson

588 posts in 3500 days

#6 posted 08-12-2011 01:29 AM

Hey thanks. That is admittedly the flattering angle. The backs are wrong by upwards of a quarter inch all over the place, hence all the talk about material prep.

That little t-square looking jig saved my cuts for sure. I still couldn’t get a clamp down on the things that I was happy with, so I spent a lot of time trying to steady things with my elbow and other “I’m not that limber any more” gymnastics.

There are a couple magazines I read all the way through in one sitting. They both have 3-ring binding holes cut in them. Liked them so much I subscribed on the spot. Unfortunately the first issues they sent me were the ones I’d bought, but that’s ok.

Everything now is focused on prepping and sharpening that plane then getting some board squaring fu. So most of the other stuff is on hold until then.


View Michael Wilson's profile

Michael Wilson

588 posts in 3500 days

#7 posted 08-16-2011 01:47 AM

@Smitty: Thanks for the recommendation. It came today. I tell ya, as a fledgling book binder, it’s sure nice to get stuff from Lost Art Press. They make books worth having.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17227 posts in 3628 days

#8 posted 08-17-2011 03:38 AM

Hope the content works for you, too. :-)

Good luck.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

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