Table Play

January 4, 2009 — 8 Comments

I kicked off the new year by finishing up a project I started last year. This is a play table I just finished today for Ray.


Most of the in-house projects I’ve taken on in my current woodshop have been either for the shop or for Ray. Given the way the last few years have been for me at work, I can’t see it having turned out differently. Adult-scale furniture takes me a long time to construct and finish, and as my shop is not very large it’s difficult to store large boards and panels while a piece is under construction. Also, an unfortunate busy spell at work can keep me out of the shop for months at a time, and the larger pieces tend to require a kind of continuity and focus not made possible by such a staccato schedule. So on a variety of fronts, these small-scale pieces are great.

I’ve made three pieces for Ray so far:

A desk and chairs made mostly with handtools, fabricated out of 2x4s:

Ray's Desk

A stepping stool made with the boards of a thrown away futon:

Step Stool Installed

And this latest piece, a play table.

In Use

With all pieces I make for Ray I try to experiment with skills and processes I haven’t yet tried. The last two pieces used curves and sprayed finishes. The desk and chairs were my first legitimate (i.e. non-woodshop furniture) foray into handtools. And this play table was also the first show-in-the-house piece for which I used a spokeshave and which features exposed handcut dovetails.

A lot of people who see these projects while they’re being constructed wonder why I don’t just run down to Ikea to pick up a step stool for $10 or a desk and chairs for $25. They wonder why I handplane children’s furniture or throw pieces away that aren’t turning out well. Why all this effort for something so…ephemeral? And on some level, I understand where they’re coming from. It’s highly unlikely Ray will remember these pieces when he gets older. I certainly have no recollection whatsoever of even using a step stool, much less what it may have looked like or where it may have come from.

Perhaps I don’t really have an answer which would make sense to anyone who would go to Ikea or Target. Why I make these things goes beyond the fact that I just like spending time in the woodshop or that I want to make stuff for my kid. This might sound a little over-the-top, but through these projects I very much believe that in some small way I’m shaping the way Ray sees the world. I want him to know that it’s still possible to make stuff and to know the people who make your stuff. That not everything we use is disposable. That with just a little bit of effort and practice you can still have something to do with the very artifacts around which your life happens–something other than breaking out a credit card, lugging a box home, and cursing at Swedish assembly diagrams.

8 responses to Table Play

  1. I’m nearly loathe to write this, but, seriously?  Has Ron Howard not wasted so much of his adult life trying to teach people precisely why you’re making this furniture?  I say “wasted” only because folks are asking you.

    My wife and I have found non-Euclidean geometry via our amateur carpentry and a motivation to make a small train table.  Your work is impressive, moreso after my much less impressive attempt.  In our weak defense, we don’t have a woodshop nor more than a small cache of low-grade tools.  But our heads were searching a different solution space than yours, i.e., we—mostly she—sought the end rather than the toil.

  2. Wow you sure do know who to make some cool stuff! Would love to get my hands on some of those play tables for my kids!

  3. Your kid has cool toys and stuff. I’m, . . .  jealous.

  4. Hi Narayan,

    For what it’s worth, I’m about 3-4 hours from Berea; my family holds an annual reunion there.  Upon reading the description of your masthead, I thought it might be interesting to note.  +)

  5. Thanks, all.

    Daniel–had no idea you were in that part of the country. I went in late November–don’t know if you saw the flickr sets for the woodworking conference or my visit to the Shaker Village. But even as most of the trees were bare or almost bare, I was very taken with that part of the country. I can only imagine what it’s like in the summer. I just wish the road between the Shaker Village and Berea had shoulders–so many things I couldn’t photograph.

    It’s funny–since I started making stuff for Ray, most adults I know have one or more stories about the stuff that their parents made. And more importantly, how that stuff, regardless of how hacked-together or crudely made, is still proudly in circulation somewhere in the family.

    And most woodworkers I know have some story about how one of their early projects–replete with flaws and experiments gone bad–has been claimed by a loved one. They lament that evidence to their lesser-skilled days will probably never make it to the burn pile.

    Here’s a good story to that effect.

  6. I too love to take old things and reuse them or remake them into usable things again.  Great job, thanks for sharing.

  7. You make quality stuff. Very lucky that you have time to make them. I am sure that you enjoy the time you’re working on the furniture. Great stuff!

  8. What a great Dad! I’m sure your son will appreciate and treasure the furniture. Maybe, even hand them down to his future children.

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