The Coffee Table Book (Addendum)

Vermont is a bloody nice place. Nice people. Nice coffee. Nice environment. The ONLY state in the USA which has a state capital (Montpelier) which does not have a McDonalds outlet in town. I mean…how good is THAT! I particularly recommend the Rivendell Book shop there as being a very cool little bookshop selling a mix of new and second hand titles, which also features highly knowledgeable staff who can find a second hand copy of Finnegans Wake in an instant, without resorting to looking on the computer to see if they have it in stock and if so where in the shop it might be. The shop also has a very happy looking turtle in a large tank in the rear children’s book room. You don’t get that buying books through

Vermont was also the birthplace of Edward John Phelps.

Edward was a man of excellent whiskers, crinkly laugh lines around his eyes, and a habit of quoting other, similarly whiskered men, for example a certain William Connor Magee.

Now ol’ Billy Magee actually lived during the early years of photography, albeit he died well before every man and his monkey was busy snapping selfies every second of the day. Despite Billy and photography sharing their timelines all we have as a visual reminder of little Billy is this:

I think we can all agree that either Billy was, ahem…not everyone’s idea of a “Babaliscious Stud”. Or perhaps that this is not exactly the best drawing in the world. Still…now I know who inspired this character:

Despite appearances ol’ Billy Magee was no fool, and he is famous for saying “The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything”; exactly the words that Edward would quote some years later.

And so it is that via a circuitous route we come to the postmortem of the coffee table construction, for it certainly was not without the making of mistakes.

To be fair, the only “formal” learning I have received concerning woodwork came in the form of a woodworking class I took in Year 9 or year 10 in High School, and I can’t say I was “Top of the class”. Still…life I think can make one more practical as time goes by, and so those long ago learned basics are perhaps today augmented by a little more common sense and a set of basic tools with which practice has made me familiar, plus some feeling of security that comes from the knowledge that any mistakes made are mine alone and won’t be counting toward a dreaded school report at end of term.

Things I would do differently next time:

  • Keep a wider separation between random bits of cloth and electric planers.
  • Even when knowing which way I wanted the legs glued, slap myself a few times before drilling and gluing them together.
  • Work out some way of rigging up a planing jig (without having to buy one) so that I could have finished the timbers for the top slab to D.A.R. state ie. planed to squared dimensions. The individual strips within the edge-dowelled slab don’t quite come together in some places as the sides were planed to eye-sight not in a jig. Overall this looks OK as the finished piece has a deliberately “organic” shape anyway, but having the timbers D.A.R. would have been nice.
  • Cutting to length braces that match the distances between the leg cuts on the bottom shelf, allowing the legs and shelf to be (dry) clamped to the exact dimensions, using the braces to keep the correct distances between the leg pairs before drilling the dowel holes in the tops of the legs and then in the top slab. Despite the best care somehow the legs ended up moving out a little during this step, thus the cut-outs in the bottom shelf each have about a 1.5mm gap instead of each leg being tight into its cut-out.

That said, I am happy with the outcome. It is nice to put something down on that table and know that it is a product of my own effort, and not something that has been spat out at volume from some distant, anonymous factory. It is also nice to know that this piece of furniture has not required the felling of some new forest in order to make it, as it is (mostly) a product of re-using old timbers. Finally, it is good to take some old piece of timber and turn it into something useful.

Thus life’s circle turns and what was ageing and passed it’s first purpose has become something new.