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Attractive Non-Slippery Tabletop/Work Surface?

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Forum topic by Lovegasoline posted 08-11-2020 09:31 PM 269 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Lovegasoline

161 posts in 886 days


08-11-2020 09:31 PM

I have a large architect’s drafting table, one of the huge burly steel beasts 6’ long, that I got for a steal many years ago (these are everywhere for cheap since practically all drafting has moved to digital). However, at 6’ it’s just too big for my space.

I’ve recently done some modifications to it, I swapped the top for a shorter one (the old one overhung the sides considerably) and added a small work surface table top beside it … so the top is now split between drawing table and work surface. The latter is fixed horizontally and doesn’t raise and incline like the drawing surface, and will function as a standard tabletop to hold drawing supplies, coffee cup, glasses, books, reference materials, tools, etc. It’s just some veneered furniture grade plywood with some poplar edge boarders.

I’m open for suggestions on how to finish it.

One thing I’d learned in the past is that nice looking slippery surfaces aren’t always good as work surfaces. For example, I have several wood drawing boards (approx. 18” x24” or around that size) that are lightweight and hollow so they easily accept thumbtacks and they are unfinished raw wood … you use them on your lap, leaned up against a drawing horse (sort of like a saw horse but for drawing), or on a table top. Of coarse they get dirty, marked all over, stained with ink, etc. from use. Years ago I wanted to make one look swanky and sanded it and applied shellac. It looked great. Only problem was that it was a very slippery finish. Drawing paper slid around and didn’t stay put due to friction. It was then I realized a nicely finished smooth satiny finish wasn’t functional for this particular application. It’s a similar situation to what Chris Schwarz advocates for workbenches … pretty and slippery is no bueno.

Still, I’d like to apply a finish so I can more easily clean it. I just don’t want it to in any way edge towards being an air hockey table where anything placed there is easily dislodged or slides off. I want some friction.

Ideas?

I also have some drawers (1/2” Baltic Birch) for a cabinet I made to hang underneath the drawing table (as mentioned it’s a 6’ long table!). I was considering finishing the drawers by shooting shellac (Zinsser’s Sealcoat). It’s been decades since I’ve used shellac from a can vs. making it, but I was thinking just a one or two light coats would make the drawers easier to clean and offer some protection. Would this make their surfaces slippery? The drawers are 30” long and I’d prefer the contents not to shift all over when I yank them open.

PS: A related story. I’m reshaping some countertops and refinishing them. One of them was sourced from the street, a beautiful hard maple butcher block which was previously a large table top. I’m not sure what it was originally finished in, but it was a low sheen. Somewhere down the road after I had it in use someone must have used a solvent or chemical to clean it that reacted with the mystery finish. The finish became super grippy, mildly gummy, and sometimes paper would stick to it and leave a residue, or saran wrap would stick really good to it. It was like those old plastic slip covers for furniture people used in the 1960s and would stick to your bare thighs in the summer. Anyway, I’m in the process of refinishing it and when scraping the old finish I had rubbery shavings that could be wadded up in a ball almost a bit like chewing gum. In the interim, I made a quick and dirty temporary counter top of plywood, and finished with General Finishes Water Base Polyurethane in Flat. After installing the temporary countertop, due to force of habit I wasn’t used to the new slick surface. My Coffee grinder would spin in a circle when I released it due to the motor torque. I also cracked a Japanese waterstone (one with a fixed wood base) when I lightly ‘threw’ it on the counter top (not really ‘thrown’ but placed/slid onto the counter) and the momentum had it glide across the surface and off the edge where it hit the floor and cracked. So I see the utility of a non-slick surface.

-- “It is the beginning of wisdom to recognize that most men are fools and knaves, but it is the end of wisdom to embrace that vision.” -Arthur Kleps


6 replies so far

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John Smith

2655 posts in 1011 days


#1 posted 08-11-2020 09:48 PM

some photos of your modified drafting table would be nice to see.

.

-- there is no educational alternative to having a front row seat in the School of Hard Knocks. --

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Lovegasoline

161 posts in 886 days


#2 posted 08-11-2020 10:31 PM


some photos of your modified drafting table would be nice to see.

.

- John Smith

I’ll try to post some, but at present it’s being used as a work surface (and sharpening station!) so is covered in junk and not much to see. It’s a project that has made huge demands on my design skills and in that it’s been very interesting and challenging. Lots of brainstorming and some prototyping because ideas that seem great may not necessarily function so well in the real world with meat, materials, gravity, and other forces.

As the drawing surface is now shorter it doesn’t span the entire 6’ width or overhang to attach to hardware which raises and lowers it, so that had to be modified and in such a way that will accommodate t-squares and other edge referencing tools without obstructing them. Some areas need to be able to be quickly and effortlessly modified and converted for different functions. There’s a lot of critical dimensioning to allow storage of items with fixed sizes, below, besides, and behind; a horizontal work surface is great but pencils will roll off and underneath the drawing table top, so ledges need to be made (that hopefully will not guillotine off fingers when the top is lowered). A side tray to hold drawing supplies (still working on the mounting system, magnets???). The ambition was to make a drawing table command center (I’ve not used a drawing table for decades) which would permit many functions including photographing drawings, conversion to an all purpose work surface, reproduction holders, book holders, shelves to support opened drawing pads for viewing, lighting systems, unobtrusive keyboard or laptop holder, monitor mount, ‘wet’ palette drawer, door baffle, power strip, trash can not in the way of feet, drawers, or anything else and instantly accessible, cup holder that will not spill onto artwork, magnification, music control, etc. Nothing interfering with anything else. I’m mostly concerned with its function and its integration with the space and objects around it.

My inspiration is the time traveling octopus in a space capsule.
I want it to be a piece of furniture that doesn’t need to be remade down the road and can function into my old age. That means eliminating as much as possible reaching above, to the side, or stooping and bending over to access anything. Imagine an octopus sitting in a chair and able to access everything in all directions with its tentacles without moving. That’s the inspiration. For example there’s the book Human Dimensions & Interior Space by Panero and Zelnik, but those are generic metrics and I have a very specific space and my own body. It’s an interesting project. I’m at the point in life where I’m very critical of both form and function, and very cognizant about the overwhelming mass of poor design out there in the world.

-- “It is the beginning of wisdom to recognize that most men are fools and knaves, but it is the end of wisdom to embrace that vision.” -Arthur Kleps

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SMP

2447 posts in 754 days


#3 posted 08-12-2020 01:18 AM

One thing I learned from Richard Maguire making his english style workbench, is he recommends for a working bench to use 50/50 BLO and turps. And basically apply coats until it doesn’t accept anymore coats. For me this was 2 coats a day for 3 days, after 24 hours I applied another coat and then had to keep wiping it dry as it ooozed back out every hour or so.You get a very nice looking but grippy surface.

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Lovegasoline

161 posts in 886 days


#4 posted 08-13-2020 06:39 PM

Thanks for the suggestion SMP.

I think I’m going to try an oil & varnish finish (boiled linseed/stain polyurethane/OMS) and maybe go light on the varnish. I’m gonna start another thread specifically about oil.

-- “It is the beginning of wisdom to recognize that most men are fools and knaves, but it is the end of wisdom to embrace that vision.” -Arthur Kleps

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bondogaposis

5839 posts in 3199 days


#5 posted 08-13-2020 07:08 PM

I spent many years drafting maps before the age of computers and what we always used was this stuff to put on our drafting tables. It would last 10 – 15 years in a professional setting used daily. It comes in different sizes for any drafting surface. You could finish the wood however you want and then put this over it and in casual use would last a lifetime.

-- Bondo Gaposis

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Lovegasoline

161 posts in 886 days


#6 posted 08-13-2020 07:12 PM

bondogaposis,
You’re a cartographer! Thanks for the tip. I have a few of those (but different drawings benefit from differing substrates, harder or softer … ex. a hard laminate, a covering like you reference, chipboard, etc. etc.).

Actually, the surface I’m finishing isn’t a drawing surface per se. It’s essentially just a small table top.
Imagine a split-top drafting table (part an inclining drawing board, part a table top). But it’s a table top immediately next to the adjustable drawing surface. It’s not too wide although packed into it’s smaller footprint is a lot of functionality. It needs to hold what will inevitably become a clusterf*ck of accumulated tools, supplies, junk, and ephemera. Anything too slippery will be like an air-hockey table sending items off the back or side into the irretrievable depths of the packed and small interstices between table and the corner walls it nearly abuts. Further, there’s the pencil, pen, tool rolling issue … a magnetic removable low height pencil ledge has been fashioned to affix to the tabletop’s left edge where it contacts the drawing board … so that pencils do not roll underneath the latter and become a federal case to retrieve. The right edge will have a removable dovetailed pencil tray with compartments (but space demands may see the latter positioned elsewhere).

At the other and of the air-hockey spectrum is something like tool chest drawer liner. But that is too grippy. I just want a functional wood surface that’s not slippery and has some protection against stains, spills, etc. and can be cleaned. One other option I’ve considered is not sanding it to too fine a grit before applying the finish.

It may be overthinking, but often a finish has a variety of functions to perform and in some cases as much – or even more – than the form itself. Which is another way of saying a finish can be inclusive of the form-function and inseparable from it, they inhere in one another. Indeed … one philosophical position would state that the entire world is comprised only of surfaces and that surfaces are the most important things. The superficial layer, surfaces, are where all the meaning is generated and is where all the action is. Everything is superficial, i.e. everything is a surface. The idea of ‘depth’ is nothing more than a myth. There are no ‘deep meanings’ beneath or beyond the surfaces of things. Indeed there is nothing beyond the superficial despite people wanting to imagine otherwise. Scratch the surface and you do not get ‘depth’ ... you simply get yet another surface to interpret. Ad infinitum.

Back to wood :)


I spent many years drafting maps before the age of computers and what we always used was this stuff to put on our drafting tables. It would last 10 – 15 years in a professional setting used daily. It comes in different sizes for any drafting surface. You could finish the wood however you want and then put this over it and in casual use would last a lifetime.

- bondogaposis


-- “It is the beginning of wisdom to recognize that most men are fools and knaves, but it is the end of wisdom to embrace that vision.” -Arthur Kleps

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