An Experimental Design with Experimental Finishes

***Note – This is a post I wrote a year ago and never got around to posting it***
My favorite Tom Selleck movie is the 1990 classic, Quigley Down Under. Selleck plays 1800’s sharpshooter Matthew Quigley who travels to Australia to work for Alan Rickman’s Elliot Marston to shoot dingos on his land. As most of Alan Rickman’s characters turn out to be, Mr. Marston is something of an evil bastard. I don’t want to spoil the entire show, but at one point Quigley and Marston are discussing the rifle Quigley brought and the conversation goes something like this:
Marston: Aaah. The legendary Sharps.
Quigley: You know your weapons. It’s a lever-action, breech loader. Usual barrel length’s thirty inches. This one has an extra four. It’s converted to use a special forty-five caliber, hundred and ten grain metal cartridge, with a five-hundred forty grain paper patch bullet. It’s fitted with double set triggers, and a Vernier sight. It’s marked up to twelve-hundred yards. This one shoots a mite further.
Marston: An experimental weapon with experimental ammunition.
Quigley: You could call it that.
Marston: Let’s experiment.
This somewhat sets the stage for a desk I just finished building. For the last year or two my main computer has been setup on the bar just outside our kitchen. My patient wife has finally had enough of all the ‘stuff’ that gathers around my computer and ordered me to move the setup to the basement. The problem was I didn’t have a desk or table that I could set up the computer on. When I mentioned that, her reply was, “Well, you’ve been looking for an excuse to not work on those plantation shutters, so build one.”
I had my marching orders. Build a desk/table as fast as possible and move my computer gear to the basement.
I went out to the shop to consider my options. As part of the above mentioned infernal shutter project I have about 100 bd ft of 6/4 poplar on my racks. Having not really used poplar for any furniture in the past, and feeling too cheap to make a run to the lumber dealer (disgraceful, I know) I decided to borrow from my shutter lumber and make this new desk.
Still feeling cheap, I started designing the table in SketchUp to use as little of this lumber as possible. That led me to my first experiment in this project – the idea of resawing the poplar to glueup the panel for the table top. Now I know what you’re probably thinking, “You’re going to resaw a 6/4 board for a table top? Do you want that table top to collapse as soon you set up your computer on it?”. I picked an 8″ wide board that had a nice color streak on one edge and ripped it in half then jointed and planed it, as well as a 4″wide board so I could end up with a 24″ wide top. After all the milling, the planks ended up about .492″ thick. The glueup went great. I ended up with a top that had a nice bookmatched section down the middle and was really flat. That got me thinking the table base would benefit from some hidden cross braces to help distribute weight on the table.
Again, using this same 6/4 stock I started milling the legs. They ended up as 1 3/8″ square. Much thinner than most of the legs I have made in the past but I really didn’t want to go buy any 8/4 or 12/4 stock. Besides, the thinner legs matched the thinner top. I went with mission’y-styled aprons, and with some mortise and tenons, the base was assembled. This brought me to the second experimental part.
After seeing a poplar table made by Bob Rozaieski over at Logan Cabinet Shoppe and seeing how the poplar turned out with some dark dye I decided to try some General Finishes water-based stain. After sanding to 180 grit with my beloved Festool ETS 150 I applied the stain a rag. First two mistakes. After the stain dried I realized I had forgotten to pre-raise and the grain and resand and the surfaces were all fuzzy. Also, applying the stain with a rag didn’t work so well. Too bad I didn’t read the instructions that said it’s best to use a foam brush. So, I resanded back through the stain, back to 180 then sprayed a light mist of water over all the surfaces, let it dry overnight and then lightly sanded it again with some 180 by hand. Then I grabbed a foam brush and restained the whole thing and then wiped off the excess stain with a barely-damp rag.
Now things started looking better.
For the third experimental portion of this project, I decided to stay on the water-based theme and spray the entire project with some water-based poly. I started with a can of GF water-based poly but ended up having to finish with Minwax water-based poly because I didn’t buy enough GF. I quickly realized that I should have waited till I had some smaller needles for my Earlex. I sprayed the whole thing with my Earlex and a 2mm needle and even with the flow dialed all the way back I still got some orange peel. Not the fault of GF, Minwax or Earlex. My fault for not checking for the recommended needle size. ¬†Oh well, it still turned out decent.
With all the finish work done, I attached the base with z-clips and the screwed the cross piece to the underside of the table top. I did make sure and widen the outside holes on the cross piece so that any seasonal expansion wouldn’t fight with the screws too much.
Next I moved it into the house.
Since I built the whole thing with a lot thinner stock that I would normally use I decided to stress test the table and see how well it would hold up. I climbed up on the table and laid down and it didn’t even squeak. For some of you that might not seem like much of a test, but keep in mind I weigh in at about 270 lbs. I’d say that’s pretty good for a table top that is a hair under 1/2″ thick. It’s at least good enough for all my computer crap.
Poplar Computer Desk
***A year later the table is holding up pretty well except for the poly. I’m not positive, but I think the GF has held up fine and it was the Minwax that failed. Not positive, and not sure why, but that’s my suspicion.
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