You may have noticed my absence from the blogosphere these past few months. Well, that sort of thing happens when you get a newborn! Rowan Stewart-Maccarrone, at your service!
In related news, I managed to get his changing table done just-in-time, and it came out beautiful! All of the problems I had initially with warping wood went away after I figured out what to do. Then, it was a matter of cutting out the rest of the pieces and putting it all together.
Actually milling all the stock for the table came together quickly, once I had stable wood to work with. All pieces were ¾" thick except for the corner pieces, which I made 1" square, and the top cap and slats, which were ¼" thick. Since all the wood came from 5/4 stock, this meant some thinning down was necessary. For most of it, the planer was what the doctor ordered — I did do some resawing too, just because I hate to lose all that wood to sawdust.
|Rough fit, with the floor dado cut. These joints are STRONG!|
Before doing any styling of the pieces, I had to make sure my mortise and tenon joints would be good. So, these were the first things I tackled. I used my drill press and a forstner bit to bore out the grunt of the mortises, and a chisel to square everything out. Then I used my table saw to form the tenons on the adjoining pieces, nibbling away bit after bit until I got the fit I was looking for. Some light chisel work to align the mortises and tenons together, and I got a very strong fit all the way around.
Next, I used my table saw to bore out a ⅛" dado on the bottom of the sides, front, and bottom pieces for the floor. Once done, I could mount the floor with a simple pressure fit, no glue necessary!
|The slats in roughly the position they'll be.|
With the floor mounted and the structural parts of the form complete, now it was time to turn to the more stylistic parts of the project, and in particular, the vertical slats on the back. The top part of the back has a slight bow in the middle, showing more slat than on the sides. Since the slats would be mounted into rounded mortises, it seemed easier to draw out the curved form, and make the mortises first using the drill press. Drilling into flat wood would work much better than into a curved surface, and I could drill up far enough to reach the depth I ultimately wanted. Sure enough, it worked perfectly.
Once the mortises were roughed with the drill press, I ran the top piece through the bandsaw to cut the curve, and carved the mortises to final shape. The slats are rounded, so the two ends of the mortises needed to be round too to match the shape. I did this partially with the forstner bit, and also with a pair of curved carving chisels to fine-tune the shape.
|Not quite the color I'm going for, but I can fix that!|
The last part, then, is the top cap. This is a ¼" topper to the back part of the changing table that overhangs slightly on all sides. To form this, I needed to slightly inset the two corners and the top panel. I opted to cut the inset to ⅛" deep. After laying out the shape of the inset on the bottom of the cap, I used my chisels to score the line all the way around. Then, I secured the cap to my bench and grabbed my router with a ⅛" straight bit to bore out the interior.
With all that done, the table could be fully assembled! I gave it a test fit on the dresser it would ultimately end up on: perfect!
Back in the shop, it was time for some finishing touches. I cut the dip in the front panel with my bandsaw, tracing along a pattern I had printed out from my Sketchup model. Then with my router mounted in my table and a round-off bit installed, I ran all the sides, front, and top cap through, giving a nice soft edge.
Lots and lots (and lots!) of sanding later, and the table is ready for its finish!
I had decided early on that I wanted to do a very dark stain to match the dresser as closely as possible. I opted to seal it with clear shellac as well as an easy-to-maintain and durable finish. For the stain, I initially tried some espresso water-based stain I had on hand on the bare wood. This...didn't turn out so well. The stain colored the wood, but not anywhere near dark enough, even after two or three coats. Clearly this wasn't ideal.
I took to the internet to figure out what I could do. Surely there was a way to stain light wood like Alder dark; manufacturers of consumer-grade furniture do it all the time! Turns out there is, and it's simple: gel stain! I picked up a can of General Finishes Java Gel Stain to use for the project, and began working up some samples.
|Left and bottom: Wash coat plus two stain coats. Top was|
one stain coat.
I immediately saw the difference! After just one coat of the java stain, I got almost the exact shade I was looking for! But, there was one thing I noticed wrong with the finish: it was splotchy. Alder, it turns out, is similar to other softer woods like pine in that they tend to stain unevenly. But, this too has an easy fix: a wash coat of shellac!
With a diluted 1# cut of seal coat shellac, I gave a light padding to the wood, just getting it wet enough to seal a bit, but not completely. Once dried, I again applied a coat of the java stain on top, with dramatically better uptake! Another coat afterwards, and I had a match! A top coat of 2# clear shellac sealed the deal, giving a nice shiny luster and bringing out the deep colors in the finish.
With my finishing schedule in hand, I took to the changing table itself, and went to town! All pieces were finished individually, then assembled afterwards, making it really easy to get in all the corners and ensure a seamless coloring.
Finishing done, now it's a simple matter of gluing it together and calling it complete! Technically, the mortise-and-tenon joints I used were strong enough to hold together on their own while I waited for the glue to set, but just in case, I lightly clamped the form together as the glue set.
Once dry, I tested the table for strength. Solid as a rock! I'm not at all worried about my son getting injured in this!
But, the ultimate question was at hand: how closely did I get the color to match?
See for yourself! ■