Nobody’s perfect, and neither is their work

Almost every project requires some minor touchup when it’s assembled. This is handwork, after all – imperfections are part of it, and what sets it apart from machine work.  The goal is to minimize the amount of corrections and fixes that have to be done.  In that respect this was pretty successful. But now that it’s assembled, I’ve found a couple of places that need minor fixes.

Most of this sort of work is pretty simple.  For example, one of the lower rails had a small nick where it joined the leg, less than 2mm across. The solution was to take a chisel and cut a sliver about the size of the end of a toothpick from a piece of scrap mesquite. I dipped the end in some cyanoacrylate glue (super glue, if you get it at Wally-World), and wedged it in the nick.  Once it set, I carved it flush with a chisel, and sanded over it. Viola, invisible repair.

A note about the glue: I really, really like the Titebond CA glues.  I don’t think there’s much difference between them and the competitive brands – except the bottle. Which is much less prone to clogging and mess. The gel grade is really thick, the medium grade is what I use most of, and the thin grade is wonderful for small repairs.

Mesquite is prone to a lot of surface variation… cracks, knots, holes, and such. I took a couple of small cracks, added a little of the medium-grade CA glue with a toothpick, and sanded over it while still wet with a piece of 22o-grit sandpaper. The dust bonds with the glue, and fills the crack almost invisibly.  I’ve used this particular technique a lot; occasionally using a random orbital sander instead of sanding by hand.

The one serious problem I found was a gap along the edge of the rear apron.  I think the tenon was probably miscut at a slight angle, and although it looked fine when doing the test fitting, squaring the assembly inside the clamps probably pulled it open just a hair. There are a couple of ways of dealing with this (tearing the table apart is not one of them).

Option 1: cut a thin, tapering wedge the length of the gap, brush it with glue, tap it in place, and shave it off.  For gaps this size, a narrow slice of veneer works even better. It usually looks good, but not in this case – because the gap runs along the cross-grain of the apron, and the wedge would almost have to be made lengthwise to the grain, or it would be too fragile to handle.

Option 2: Fill it with wood filler. And no, I’m not talking about any of the grades of commercial filler. Minwax, Plastic Wood, Elmer’s, Famowood, any of them. They’re all terrible. Even the ones that insist that they’re “stainable” really aren’t. The colored ones won’t match your wood. They don’t take stain well. Don’t even try.Can you see it?

Make your own. All you have to do is save some of the 220-grit sanding dust from the wood you’re working on, and mix it with a few drops of the first finish you plan to apply. In this case, that’s danish oil.  It took about three drops and a quarter-teaspoon of dust to make the paste, and I patched into the crack with a toothpick. It sands flat (but requires a light touch), will always stain or finish to match the wood, and is nearly invisible. Note that this is not for structural repairs – only small cosmetic repairs.  The repair took about 10 minutes, and I doubt anyone but me will ever know it’s there.

The Copper Filler Odyssey

My first attempts at the copper fill I intended to do for the voids in the mesquite were a resounding failure.  I really didn’t think it would be difficult; just melt some copper rod with a blowtorch, and let it drip into the void.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The problem is that copper is a terrific conductor – both of electricity and of heat.  I hit the end of a 1/8″ copper rod with a MAPP gas torch for almost 15 minutes, and it didn’t even soften appreciably.   It turns out that copper is usually melted in a crucible, at about 1800 degrees. And I didn’t happen to have an industrial ceramic crucible lying around the garage.

So, plan B: I got some 1500 mesh copper powder and mixed it into some System Three epoxy.  My first results were lousy; I didn’t get enough powder mixed into it, and the results looked like grayish plastic.  The second attempt was more powder than epoxy, and made a very stiff mixture.  When dried, it still looked awful – but when I scraped it flat, it looked better.  Sanding didn’t improve it much, until I realized that it had to be sanded to a much finer grit than I generally use in woodworking.  Instead of stopping at 220, I sanded it up through 1000 grit – and all of a sudden, it looked right.

I mixed up a larger batch (much larger than I actually needed, as it turned out), and packed it into all the open knots and voids on the table.  After about 24 hours setting time – enough to be hard, but not completely cured – I flattened it with a plane (yes, it dulled the blade) and a card scraper, and polished it up to 1000 grit. It looks exactly like I had visualized.

The Drawer Pull Shaping the pull

The last piece to make was the drawer pull.  I glued up a small block of mesquite, cut the rough shape on the band saw, and shaped it with a rasp and sandpaper.  It was a simple process, but when I wasn’t at all sure how it would look when I started.  It turned out to be pretty easy, but kind of a fiddly, picky process to get it shaped the way I wanted.  I cut a small hole in a piece of soft pine, and set it in a vise with the crown of the knob in the hole, so I could brace it securely and not deform the wood of the knob.  It was mounted to the front of the drawer with a brass screw, with the hole countersunk on the inside of the drawer to accommodate the screw head. The finished pull

Next time: Final assembly and finishing.

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2 comments on “Nobody’s perfect, and neither is their work

  1. Dan says:

    First of all your table is beautiful! Is there a site that I can go to follow your entire projrct? I am just starting to lay out the table and would like to avoid any pitfalls that I can. Is there a set of drawings for the table?
    Dan

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