One of the great joys of doing both commission work and making my own pieces is the variation. I enjoy long, complicated jobs, packed full of decisions and problems to overcome, they’re great for honing your design and problem solving skills and its obviously satisfying to stand back after weeks or months of work and breath it all in.
This piece is currently for sale on the Sons of Soil etsy shop.
When it comes to my own projects though, I like to take a totally different approach especially when it comes to furniture, I have started to embrace a far more instinctive and atmospheric design process.
This inspiration comes from all sorts of strange places, music and writing especially and
in the case of this little pallet coffee table it was whilst listening to the somewhat known Texan songwriter Townes Van Zandt, his dark and dishevelled sound are bound to appeal to me, but don’t ask how a human brain translates songs about Mexican bandits and death into coffee tables, mine just does.
The recent hot & humid weather here in St Neots means that I’ve been stripping down
furniture outside and perhaps it this combined with the music that put me in a ‘sittin on the front porch’ kind of mood, in my mind I’m transported from rural south west Cambridgeshire to muggy south Carolina, and what do you need when you’re sitting on that porch? – besides a banjo or 12 gauge – somewhere to put your ice tea.
A little cubic side table won’t do the job, I see something with a bit more scale to it low but wide and with a bit of colour, but not too much, combined with some semi sanded reclaimed timber, sat on a robust and sturdy base.
A kind customer of mine has recently given me some spare pallets – as my reputation warrants – but also a few old jack rafters left over from a building project. These are nice old slow growth pine rafters and just from the tight end grain I can tell they’ll plane up very well. Amongst the five or six pallets stacked nearest to the workshop a pleasant looking untreated pine one with pleasingly regular slats catches my eye. These will be ideal.
So the rafter gets chopped up into rough leg blanks which are hand planed smoothish and square, I draw on them until I find the right shape, something robust but not to blockish, definitely no curves! I trial one on the bandsaw and after fiddling a little copy that onto the other three and tidy up again with the plane.
Next comes pallet stripping, something of a lottery, but fortunately this particular pallet is bone dry so after a few wiggles to loosen everything the nails come out easily. After that I again hand plane the slats square and true. The reason for hand planing is not only to add extra authenticity but because that way you’re able to find the exact point of rustic-ness and this is much better done one pass at a time than with a machine.
With that done its simple enough to set the angle for the legs ( 5° out & back ) and chop up all the parts for the apron, struts, ties. After jointing, test fitting and a light sand they get glued.
I’ve reserve a pallet runner with ‘British Gypsum’ written on it for the lower middle tie because this will perfectly tell the story of where the table comes from, to properly honour this I glue and fix it using the nails I pulled out of the pallet a few hours ago.
Whilst thats glueing up I need to think about the top, I decide to do a flag-esque geometric design on the top and feel the best method is to effectively parquet floor the chopped up pallet slats onto a plywood top, reclaimed plywood mind you, salvaged from an old spray-paint booth. This means I can thoroughly fix the pallet wood pieces down and don’t have to worry about their relatively diminutive dimensions being too flimsy.
After a few dozen mitres are cut and arranged for maximum impact the parts are glued and tacked in place from underneath. I then whizz up some slats for a trim, round the edge and fix them on using glue and those lovely original nails again.
The following day I sand down the glued up table base and start testing finishes, I want this table to be something that can be used inside & out and also stand up to alot of abuse from hot cups, spilt beer and the occasional heavy scrubbing so I’m opting for an oil based external varnish. After playing around with few pigmented varnishes I decide a clear matt does the most justice to the beautiful timber and apply a thinner coat which brings out enough of the grain and texture but doesn’t make it look too new.
Whilst thats drying outside I start sanding the top, I want the top to be 90% flat and its going to be a little cleaner feeling than the table base, with less rustic-ness so I start off with a belt sander which brings things down nice and quickly before finishing off with a random orbit to soften things and bring back the grain. Now smooth, I rout out the diagonal pattern on the top so when I paint the designated slats they are distinct from the others and really pop out. Once the routing is done and the grooves cleaned it’s a quick once over again with some sandpaper and then onto painting.
I have a very specific idea for the tone of the colours I want to use, a brunt red and a scruffy blue, I also want the grain to still come through after they’ve been applied. In this case the only answer I’ve found is to mix acrylic artists paints with the varnish, that way you can get the colour you really want and mixing your own is ideal for small quantities.
I’m feeling risky so I apply the two colours and the rest of the clear varnish all in one pass, carefully coming up to the point where the still wet neighbouring colour is, challenging myself not to accidentally mix them together. Once this is done the project is 90% done, do some varnish, rub down, do some varnish etc. Two coats is good, three is always better.
The End of Work.
So there it is, from a Townes Van Zandt youtube playlist, out of my brain, into the workshop and the onto the Sons of Soil etsy shop. Inspiration is everywhere and I’m damned lucky to be able to do something with it.
If you live in St neots, Hail Weston, Huntingdon or anywhere in PE19 click here to get a discount on any carpentry, joinery, building or custom woodwork project we complete for you.