Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Project Highlight: Oak Plant Stand

Wood species: White Oak
Finish type: Water-based stain and spar urethane
Completed: April, 2014

We had a problem. We have lots of plants, and plenty of light in our kitchen, but nowhere to actually put the plants in the kitchen. Oh, but the solution is easy! I have a workshop, I can just make a simple plant stand!

This project actually started as my first project. I began this when I had barely any tools at all, save for those a friend of mine graciously donated to me. The original design I came up with for this was very simple: two rectangular sides, and two rectangular shelves (one middle, one top). At the time I didn't have a bandsaw, and so it didn't occur to me to put curves into it until my wife looked at my design and said, "can you put some curves in those legs?" I decided to model the legs off of our kitchen table set, which had very similarly shaped legs. I took a template from that and used it along with my jigsaw to cut the curves into the legs.

The actual plant stand itself measures 2' tall, 4' wide, and 1' deep, with the middle shelf 1' from the ground. The shelf is secured by two full-length mortises on either leg into which the shelf fits. The top has two mortises cut on the bottom face into which the legs fit. All that was glued together, and then finished with a dark "espresso" water-based stain, and gloss spar urethane for UV and water protection. I used a round-over bit on my router to nicely round all edges of the stand, making for a nice, touchably smooth feel.

For a relatively simple project, it was plagued with mistakes. The first and biggest mistake I made doing this project was not using flat wood. I didn't have a planer or jointer at the time, nor any hand planes. I was also just starting out, so the importance of working with flat wood hadn't sunk in. All went fine until I went to join the legs to the shelf and top. The cupped wood meant my tenons (the legs, or ends of the shelf) were cupped, not straight, and so wouldn't fit into the mortise I had carefully cut with my router. I considered widening the mortise to fit the board, but realized that would leave a gap where the cupping was. I could try and flatten out the tenon to fit in the mortise (at the time, the tenon was cut smaller than the board, it was a real tenon). That just ended in frustration.

What finally solved it was a Christmas gift from my wife, a Steel City 13-inch thickness planer. With that, I was able to flatten the wood! But it left me with rather thin boards, only 1/2". The mortises I had originally cut were a bit smaller than this, and needed to be deepened anyway (the planing made them shallow). So, I opted to cut the mortises to fit the entire size of the board, rather than trying to do a smaller tenon. With my newly flattened boards, everything fit together like a charm!

I made a bunch of other smaller mistakes along the way as well. The fully-blind, internal mortises for the shelf started out half-blind, going all the way through on one side of the legs. My original design had been to simply slide the shelf in from the back. But with the legs curved as they now were, that wasn't really a "back" anymore. So I had to somehow make the half-blind mortise a fully-blind one. Enter in the small chunks of wood! I managed to glue pieces of wood in to close up the gap, and after finishing, it became nearly impossible to tell anything had been done. Problem solved!

As originally designed, the plant stand was supposed to be more like 5' long. It ended up 4' long after numerous failed attempts at tenons, and also after a design change where I pulled the legs in a bit from the top to form a lip all the way around (the original design was to have the legs flush with the outside edges of the top).

Truly a project full of disasters, but it goes to show if you're able to roll with the punches, mistakes can turn into design features! ■

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