I had every intention of joining Brian (over at Toolerable) and Jonas (over at Mulesaw) this weekend in Denmark for the Great Welsh Stick Chair Extravaganza. It must’ve been a rough week at work for me when I bought the airline tickets… after traveling about 3 hours on Friday to the airport and 10 minutes of utter confusion, I realized that I had purchased tickets to depart on Saturday and not Friday. My return flight was at 6am on Monday morning, meaning I’d only have a 24-hour stay to woodwork in Denmark running on almost no sleep. That didn’t pass my common-sense factor, so regretfully I ate the ticket cost and found my way back home. About the time I would’ve arrived on Jonas’ doorstep, I pulled into my own driveway and bee-lined for bed. An expensive oversight indeed.
Since the original plan was to dedicate this past weekend to woodworking (via a Welsh stick chair), I wasn’t ready to let my bone-headed mistake get the best of me. I still dedicated the weekend to woodworking, but rather than coming home with camaraderie and a Welsh stick chair, I was able to knock off an unfinished project from my to-do list: the Big Green Egg Table.
From the last Egg-table post (almost a year ago!!), I was stuck on how to attach the table top to the base. I was left with a few options (see here). In the end, I decided that the best way to accommodate the seasonal wood movement was to mortise and tenon the front of the top to the frame and use buttons to attach the back to account for the movement. The thought crossed my mind to install fake tenons in the back to make everything look symmetrical, but I didn’t feel like doing the extra work. After all, this is an outdoor table that will get beaten up by weather, heat, and food drippings.
I ended up mortising the front of the top. No rulers; it consisted of turning the entire table and framing upside-down and marking where the tenons rested. From there I flipped the table up and, using dividers and straight edges, marked out the tenon locations on the top (based off what was marked on the bottom). Since I was doing two mortises on the top which would require alignment, I start mortising from the bottom of the table at an angle that would get narrower (1), and broke through to the top (which kinda gave me a “how am I doing” with my measurement transfer). I had to take care of blowout to the top surface, since it’s truly the top of the mortise that everyone sees. If there was any question, I stopped short with the chisel and drilled a small hole through the remaining. I then flipped the table top right-side up and checked the fit against the base. So far, so good… then I just did the same from the top, taking a little extra care not to stray from my marked-out area (2). I know there are opinions that critique adding a little bit of a slope to handle a wedge in the tenon, but that’s what I did… only on the walls of the mortise (left and right in the picture below) that would be affected by the wedge-spread. Good or bad, the two joints turned out relatively gapless and are indestructible when I lifted from the table top: tight mortise and tenon joints indeed. Mission accomplished. On a side note, I have a table that requires one of those on all four corners… I sweated enough to line two up, four is gonna be a nightmare! But at least I know now that I can do two.
On the back of the table top, I used chisel and router plane to groove out two trenches on the inside frame to allow for seasonal movement. The buttons were made from scrap and clamped down with a screw.
You’ll notice that there’s a slight gap between the top and the base. Obviously, the top isn’t dead flat; there was a conscious decision on my part to ignore this. Side-tracking to get the top dead flat would’ve added hours upon hours of extra time invested (keep in mind, I’m doing this entire thing by hand). Anyway, I’m holding to my stated goal: if my beer doesn’t tip over when I set it down to open the grill, then it’s flat. Guess what? It’s flat.
The design was to go for a rustic look as well. On the table top, I used a scrub plane (a nicely curved blade) to take out the major warps, but also stopped there and used sand paper to smooth rather than continuing on with a jointer or smoothing plane. It left the surface feeling bumpy and used, like the surface of old monastery floorboards. To complete the rustic look, I used Tremont decorative nails to nail the shelf boards down (using small hand-drilled pilot holes to prevent splitting).
The other dilemma I lost sleep over (the first being how to attach the top) was what finish to use for outdoor use. My brother-in-law sent me a book on finishing, and from reading it I was set on using marine-grade spar varnish. This is one of those “combine A and B, hack your watch, and paint it on” finishes… I’ve never done this and was a little apprehensive. I found myself complaining about this to a carpenter that frequents my local pub. His reply? “If you’re comfortable with oil, then just use oil!” His arguments made sense: marine varnish would make it look like plastic (which I didn’t want), and I had a cover for the table to protect it from the majority of the elements. Just keep up on the periodic application of oil and it should last just fine, he said. So back to “old faithful” I ran: Boiled Linseed Oil. A few coatings of that and I have a great grilling table:
This marks my first major project done, cradle to grave, entirely without electricity (except for cleaning up shavings and sawdust with my shop vac). Ok, so it sucks that it took a year to finish and that winter is around the corner for its use, but better late than never I guess. Though I don’t have a nice Elm chair to showcase, at least my mistake got something accomplished.