A Base to Successful Marriages

My wife asks for few things. Very few things. In fact, on the subject of furniture projects, she has only asked for one thing: a dining room table. Two years ago (technically it’s closer to three – ref. The Big Reno), we agreed to let the contractors do the vast majority of the project but we’d put our mark on the final touches. One of those final touches was to build a table to share both our family meals and holiday celebrations. My mind began to tackle this in earnest.

With the construction chaos at it’s peak, I dragged my on-her-way-to-sainthood wife to my favorite lumber yard (about an hour away) to make sure she liked the look of these two massive 24″ walnut slabs I’d spotted about a year prior. The photo below is from an older post (circa July 2014) and shows one of the two 8′ long slabs from the same tree.

8′ x 24″ piece of choice walnut

She said she liked them well enough and helped me put them into the van. She also helped me schlep them into the basement to acclimate. By the time October 2017 rolled around, I knew they’d acclimated long enough. That’s when I uncovered them from the bottom of the wood pile and started planning my first cuts.

But before I get to that I want to explain myself. Despite all the normal excuses like other projects, work, family life, etc., my delay wasn’t caused by any of those reasons. The walnut had spoken to me and although the top was going to be challenging, it was simply going to feature these two gorgeous works of nature. My major hang up stemmed from an inability to figured out the table’s base configuration. It sounds crazy but it’s completely true. I struggled for months on end to convey what I wanted. I took a design class with George Walker, sketched poorly but often, sought professional advice (thanks Tom), took endless pictures, and scoured Pinterest.

My wife, unlike me, is a deeply visual learner. She needs to see things laid out in their final configuration to fully grasp and make a decision. She is also quite exacting, which puts me in a quandary because I’m a broad-brush, it-looks-close-enough sort of person. I felt stuck until a conversation with my buddy Brian a few months ago. He knew I was planning to use painted poplar for the base. While lamented to him about my analysis paralysis he said something to the effect of “do you think the world is running out of primo 8/4 poplar?” I laughed and immediately felt the weight of this design lift off my chest. Later that night I told my wife I was just going to build the base and if we hated it I’d just burn it and make a new one. We’d only be out about $75. #perspective

Shortly after this freeing experience I made the first few cuts on the top and sectioned out the base components into a rough configuration. Around the same time, I was unfortunately confronted with a bought of mild insomnia. While trying to put myself to sleep, I grabbed the book on my night stand. It was Nick Offerman’s latest book Good Clean Fun. Toward the end there is a modern slab table whose based jumped off the page. Now, this did nothing for my ability to fall asleep, but it did give me a moment of complete clarity. All the pieces came together and I knew what to do next.


Modern slab table from Nick Offerman’s Good Clean Fun

Stay tuned.

About Shawn Nichols

Heady. Phishy. Woodworker
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7 Responses to A Base to Successful Marriages

  1. tombuhl says:

    I like your action plan and realization that you can (give a few years lead and ponder time) just create another base should that be necessary. I think of most of my projects as prototypes. While setting up for high production values, I’m pretty good/bad at accepting results coming from my efforts. Been at this for ten years now and lately I’ve taken to re-work a couple of my favorite pieces that had little aspects that bugged me. Glad I waited before rather than rushing in to “fix” the “flaws.” I am looking forward to your dining table journey.


  2. Funny you mention this. My wife just asked me to build a farmhouse style base for our table and ditch the trestle which has become somewhat wobbly due to the gymnastic antics of three little girls.


    • Oh no! Any thoughts on the failure mechanism?

      Brian really emphasized beefing up the base as much as possible and he said two of the dining room tables he made didn’t feel as sturdy as he’d hoped. I started out with the trestle table as my first choice by my wife wasn’t too thrilled with the design. I didn’t like the farmhouse style because I feel the corner legs are limiting to the amount of people you can squeeze in. I’m hoping in works out for both of us.


      • The bottom mortise seems to be the weak link even though it’s both wedged and drawbored. My hypothesis is that the dry warm house air in conjunction with the kids leaning / sitting on the edges, has introduced some play. It’s still usable and not coming out anytime soon, but it’s wobbly enough to be annoying.


    • tombuhl says:

      I built a trestle small dining table for a friend. Never thought of the “stand up to children” aspect. I only had one girl, but she was a climber, so we quickly figured out what was stable and what was not. That was well before my woodworking life. She would take naps on the top shelf of floor to (high) ceiling built-in bookcases. First time that happened we frantically looked all over the large house for her (maybe three at the time). Saw a pile of books on the floor, then looked up. Sound asleep in her perch.


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