My homemade gift will be a table/bench

My homemade gift will be a table/bench

I eschew the holiday gift guide this year, even the low-cost holiday gift guide for the uber-manly forest tamer-slash-landscape commando in your life (sorry if that is you and you are not uber-manly…or even slightly manly), and instead give you one exhortation this holiday season: make a gift. OK? Make A Gift…MAKE A GIFT!!! Seriously…ahh, you know what I was going to say.

Gifts typically fall into one of these categories: Gifts that say something about the recipient (the gift that is requested); gifts that say something about the giver (the gift you want somebody to want); gifts that say nothing about anyone (the thing that is given because the giver has no idea what else to do–think Chia Pets, or Applets & Cotlets); and gag gifts (which should be both expected and occasion-appropriate). Do NOT ever give a gift that is ‘ironic.’ Unless you are Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker, irony

I'll start with a raw slab of Pacific (Bigleaf) maple

I’ll start with a raw slab of Pacific (Bigleaf) maple

is not for you. There are some folk who can attempt irony and achieve wry, or droll; kind of like swinging for the home run, but hitting the standup triple. These people are also rare, and generally know who they are. To everyone else, bypass the ironic gift and just give the Chia Pet. The result will be the same. But the perfect gift says something about both the giver and the recipient, and is another category altogether.

At a birthday party recently, I witnessed one of the greatest examples of Category II gift giving, ever. The gift was, basically, a woodpecker skull on a string. At the same time, it was an preserved sample of nature’s perfection, anodized or ebonized in some way, and polished. You might be thinking Southwest-y, or macabre, but instead it was sculptural and abstract and wholly beautiful; a unique piece of wearable art, a mandala or medallion. This is a gift that speaks to trust and the secret knowings that pass between good friends, and also says much about the recipient (whom I know will wear it proudly), and the giver (who knows where such things can be acquired, and whose taste is like this: winks left eye, holds up ok sign, makes clicking noise with mouth ). It was rather a privilege to be a part of the celebration.

My wife make gifts routinely: some years, cookies or candy, and sometimes we include my famous Pumpkin Pie Infused Vodka, maybe spiced nuts or quickbread. You make the things, you portion them

It will have natural edges and hairpin legs

It will have natural edges and hairpin legs

out, and you say: I like you well enough to give you the delicious work of my hand. But this year, the project is a table, and you have just enough time. So get started.

Furniture made of natural edged slabs of wood can be shockingly expensive, but if you can procure the wood, you can make one yourself easily at fairly low cost. I will NOT be telling you where I get my slabs. I realize that I am just the sort of person that ought to have a bandsaw mill or an Alaska Mill, but those things could be hard to store and so I do not. I have heard you can make your own mill with clamps, 2×6’s, and a chainsaw, and be assured that it is only a matter of time before I try it…and after that you can call me ‘Winky,’ or ‘Stubby,’ or some such. But for now, you have to find your own slab. After that, you will need a sander (random orbital is best), sandpaper (several grades from rough-ish to very fine), wood finish (Minwax Wipe-on Poly is a great ‘starter’finish), and legs for your completed piece.

I'll sand it

I’ll sand it

A word on the legs: you can make this as complicated or as simple as you like. If you have the mad woodworkerz skillz, complicated and multi-angled joinery might be for you. A simple slab-and-stretcher setup is a reachable goal, but will up your sanding and finishing time somewhat. You may wish to salvage legs from a thrift store or garage sale find, and industrial casters can be very cool in the right setting. My recipients favor a MidCentury Modern style, so I elect to use some vintage style hairpin legs. These have the distinct advantage or requiring very little time or effort to attach. I got mine from this guy, make sure that you know how tall or short you want your finished piece to be prior to ordering–and account for the thickness of your TABLETOP (and try to use a slab at least an inch thick; thin slabs have a tendency to warp or cup, especially when trimmed)!

Start out by sanding your slab, working from coarsest sandpaper to finest. Since you are the craftsperson, “smooth” is at your sole discretion; but the more effort you expend on this, the better

And sand some more

And sand some more

your finish will be. Typically I start at 80 or 100 grit, depending on how well-planed the surface is to start with, and work my way through 150, 180, 200, and then 400. I wipe the piece down with a damp cloth between sandings, this removes the dust and also raises the grain of the wood–resulting in smoother finish after the next sanding go-round. After you are sanded, attach your legs. Since you have decided what your leg system is, you are the captain of this ship; but my hairpin legs attach with 3/4″ lag screws, so I’m already done.

I finish the natural edges first. If the bark is on, I brush it with water-based marine varnish to seal it from decay and make it shiny. But I am off the barky wood, and so polish my edges and finish them the same way as the top, according to manufacturer’s instructions. When I a have 2-4 applications of finish on the edges, I do the top (I don’t finish the underside so the wood can

Then apply finish and polish to a high sheen, to enhance the grain and deep figure of the wood.

Then apply finish and polish to a high sheen, to enhance the grain and deep figure of the wood.

‘breathe.’). For my workpiece, I don’t know whether it will be used as a bench or a table, whether it will be sat upon or what the coaster situation might be. I have decided that 12 hand-rubbed coats will stand up to any use…but really, 3-4 will probably do. I just like a mirror-finish to my workpieces. Look at that handsome devil! He’s making furniture! That’s what I say to myself as I rub out the bright surface.

If your gift, like mine, is to be from the ‘whole family,’ you will likely want to force your child to take a turn on the sander–ok, ask–and ask your spouse-type-person to wipe on one of the coats of finish. OK, cajole. But once you’ve gotten to this stage, you’re there. Sand, attach legs, finish edges/top. You have created furniture. Let your gift sit at normal interior temperature for 3-7 days to allow the finish to cure. Possibly I have cut some corners in this how-to gift guide, but if you’d like more detailed instruction, ask me in the comments. I hate to pull back the curtain on the salvaged lumber/slab furniture industry, but I just don’t think there is that much to it. I would say I am into this table about $200 in total materials, and yes, that’s a pretty nice gift. But when your friend says, I’d like to have one of your tables, and a gift-giving occasion* comes up, it’s nice give a Category II gift–one that says something about both the gift and the giver.

*OK. This isn’t a Christmas gift. It’s a wedding gift, made for the couple who had the wedding of the century last August. K & C had expressed appreciation of my furniture, and when my wife and I were somehow among the gliterati invited to the event, I didn’t have to think very hard about what we could give for a gift. Plus, a piece of furniture is perfect for a young couple, just startin’ out. I am so happy for the two of you. That whom you love and want to marry had to be held up for public vote is appalling.

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6 Responses to MAKE A GIFT

  1. Mario says:

    Nice. Artisanal gifts are the best.

  2. Deirdre says:

    I love to receive home made gifts. I’m not into baking, so I especially like baked goods. Your wife’s other ideas sound lovely as well. I look forward to my sister’s jams, chutneys and fruit butters every year. Every time I wear the great hat my brother knitted for me, people comment on it. My daughter in law put together fabulous holiday centerpieces a couple of years ago.

    In the past, I have planted bulbs in pots in the fall, and given them as Christmas gifts. I’ve put together other kinds of planters, too. Cacti and succulents are good candidates for non-gardeners. I’ve started divisions and cuttings of special plants for people. I’ve done beaded or embroidered ornaments at various times depending what I was into. Last year it was bead snowflakes.

    Next year, I’m thinking needlepoint.

    • calvincaley says:

      All the members of my family are frightened of attempting canning. It might be too science-y for us. I like your craft ideas, for certain. My other handmade gift this year was going to be a miniature spray booth with a shop-vac connection and removable filters so my Dad can airbrush his tiny craft projects, but I fear I have run out of time to do it justice. He may get a schematic and a promise instead…

  3. Corene says:

    I know your wife would love a desk as a gift…

    • calvincaley says:

      The ‘Benchable’ is just a warmup. All the hoop-de-doop and dickory dock has got me a little biz for shop time right now, but when the post-holiday doldrums arrive, I’ll get busy making sawdust like a Japanese beaver.

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