First Commissioned Piece - Custom Sewing Table

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Project by Lenny posted 02-07-2011 07:12 PM 3436 views 6 times favorited 28 comments Add to Favorites Watch

When I was still employed, a co-worker (Jenny) asked if I could make a custom sewing table for her. I told her I could and began asking the litany of questions: what species of wood, what finish, color of hardware, etc. Ultimately, Jenny found an example of what she wanted online and shared some photos with me. Since this was to be custom made, we actually took some measurements at her desk to determine the best table top height and other dimensions. I priced out the amount I would charge for the piece and explained that for not too much more she could buy it delivered from the site she had found and have it much sooner. Jenny wanted me to make it. Last May, I purchased some lumber and began making my first commissioned project. I retired last July and a month or so before the retirement things got hectic such that I wasn’t spending a lot of time in the workshop. Then, also in July, my shop renovation began and it wasn’t until November-December that my shop was ready for work again. So, I did not finish this project until the end of January.

Jenny chose pine and requested that it be as clear as possible, i.e., no knots. She also preferred it to be as “white” as possible, that is, little or no red or brown streaks. I did my best to sort through the lumber when I purchased it to comply with the request and feel I was successful. I had not worked with pine for quite some time and forgot how unforgiving it can be in terms of dings and dents. I also believe that being a soft wood it is more susceptible to cupping and warping than hardwood. This became very evident when I glued up three boards for the table wing but more on that in a moment.

The carcass consists of two rail and stile side panels with flat solid pine panels, a back that is ¼” Baltic birch plywood, a top frame and two shelves. I opted for pockethole joinery for the side panels and joined the shelves and top frame to the side panels with biscuit joinery. The back sits in a rabbet and is glued and nailed to the side panels and top frame.

Jenny requested a design change from the original table. Where the original had several drawers and compartments, she simply wanted two doors. I made my first ever raised panel doors and I am (mostly) pleased with the outcome. Since both sides of the door would be visible (opened/closed) I opted for mortise and tenon construction versus pocketholes. The fold-down wing and supporting framework, including hardware, are true to the original. I installed leveling feet for any needed adjustments in her home. I also took a bit of artistic license and added an ogee edge to the table top and wing. I felt the square edge was too plain and boring.

The finish is 3 coats of Minwax Satin polyurethane knocked down with #0000 steel wool between coats, topped off with a coat of Minwax paste wax.

I have to say that much of this project was not enjoyable. It fought me tooth and nail. It took three takes to get the wing completed. The first one was just three boards glued up. For color match reasons, I did not alternate the growth rings. I am not sure why Norm Abram changed his line of thinking about growth rings toward the end of his career. The glued up panel cupped radically! So, I made a new wing but decided on breadboard edges to minimize any cupping and I did alternate the growth rings this time. Well the second take didn’t go well. As you probably know, you cannot glue a breadboard edge along its full length. At the ends, where no glue is used, I ended up with a gap between the breadboard edge and the panel that I could not live with, so it was on to take three. I brought the panel back down to the tenons and made up new breadboard ends. This time, based on a suggestion made by Dustbunny (Lisa) on a post about making breadboard edges, I used some silicon caulk on the ends and voila, I ended up with breadboard ends I was satisfied with.

Another reason this was not an enjoyable project was the mistakes I made. I won’t go over all of them but a couple of examples would be 1. The raised panels are not centered exactly and 2. If you notice, the doors are not the same size…but should be! Somehow I erred in my measuring where to place the middle shelf in the carcass, resulting in it being lower than it should. Therefore the top door had to be larger than the lower. I think this speaks to working when tired and/or frustrated. As I think back on the night I glued up the doors, I remember centering the panels perfectly. Did they shift while I slept? Did the workshop gnomes move them? More than likely, they shifted a bit when I tightened the clamps and I didn’t notice it. As we all know, it is often best to walk away until another day. Still, overall I am pleased with the end result and more importantly, the “customer” picked up the project today and is pleased with it.

I’d like to thank Grizzman and Patron for lending and ear and suggestions when I sought their help regarding the breadboard edges. Thanks also to Paul (HarleySoftailDeuce) who saw the project in process and offered his opinion and suggestions when I asked a few questions of him. Also to Dustbunny who doesn’t even know she helped! Thanks for checking in on this project.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

28 comments so far

View RONFINCH's profile


143 posts in 2953 days

#1 posted 02-07-2011 07:19 PM

As usual, Lenny, nice clean lines on this project. Like you, I try to stay away fron Pine, I hate it! I’m sure that Jenny will love it!! Did you give thought to trying European hinges on the raised panel doors?

View Lenny's profile


1596 posts in 3556 days

#2 posted 02-07-2011 07:25 PM

Thank you Ron. What are you thinking regarding the hinges, that they would give a more sleek look…less conspicuous? I didn’t consider it but it’s a good thought.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3332 days

#3 posted 02-07-2011 07:33 PM

lenny , i think this turned out just beautiful…an important thing here, is you learned from the troubles you had and it has made you a better wood worker…but you did a wonderful job, and jenny will always be proud of the wonderful job you did for her..thanks for posting this…so what is next….....grizz

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View ellen35's profile


2738 posts in 3461 days

#4 posted 02-07-2011 07:33 PM

This is beautiful! I love the lines on the doors and the way it folds so nicely.
I’m sure your “customer” will be thrilled.

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3702 days

#5 posted 02-07-2011 07:39 PM

Lenny, thats a nice table. Beautiful work indeed.

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3299 days

#6 posted 02-07-2011 07:50 PM

Very Nice….especially being done in pine. I mostly use pine for making prototypes and for a practice wood….it is a great wood for these as it is readily available where I am…and fairly inexpensive. I agree on the unforgiving nature of pine as far as dents and dings – it is the easiest of woods to make a faux distress look…...I always recommend that table tops and working surfaces be a hardwood….I like Beech for a pine like look – I’ve even used Basswood in that capacity.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View Lenny's profile


1596 posts in 3556 days

#7 posted 02-07-2011 07:53 PM

Thanks CJ. Thank you Ellen. She seemed genuinely pleased when she picked it up and her husband made a comment about her playing with her “new toy” as soon as they get it home. Thanks for the comments Grizz and once again for the input you provided. As for what’s next, in-shop, I continue to work on my router station cabinet. From a “business” perspective I will soon be embarking on a blanket chest that some friends will give to their son as a wedding gift. They came over this past weekend to discuss details.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View Lenny's profile


1596 posts in 3556 days

#8 posted 02-07-2011 07:55 PM

Thank you Reggie. Thanks for the suggestion of beech and basswood. I will store that info in my memory banks. God only knows if it will be there when/if I wish to make a withdrawal!

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 3914 days

#9 posted 02-07-2011 08:04 PM

Lenny you did a beautiful job!
But I don’t think it was “workshop gnomes” giving you problems they are all at my house right now. ;-))

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Lenny's profile


1596 posts in 3556 days

#10 posted 02-07-2011 08:59 PM

Hey John. Thank you. It could be the same gnomes John. I hear they are migratory! It’s comforting to know they visit other shops.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2806 days

#11 posted 02-07-2011 09:21 PM

Lenny – You did a very nice job, it looks like maple in the pictures. The lines are clean, the way it folds up is really cool. One of the things you may want to do is to make a new set of drawings of this project. Fill this drawing with notes of all of the things that you did and had issues with in one pen color, make additional notes of things you would do differently in another color. These notes will help you in the future when you are bidding more work and pricing material.

I do this so that when someone asks for a “special” type of something, it helps me to build in the extra material that I will probably need for test pieces or prototyping joints, stretchers, legs, etc…

If you are looking for a pale wood that is hard, try ash.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View RexMcKinnon's profile


2593 posts in 3224 days

#12 posted 02-07-2011 11:46 PM

Nice design.

-- If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3363 days

#13 posted 02-08-2011 01:36 AM

It looks like you got several great things from this project Lenny. The satisfaction of a very beautiful result, a lot of learning points, a happy customer, and being paid for it. That’s not bad for your first commission.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View DaveRI's profile


12 posts in 2709 days

#14 posted 02-08-2011 01:48 AM

Thanks for sharing the trials and tribulations because to look at the piece I would have been thinking, “Another great woodworker, how can I ever measure up to these guys? I mean they do such fantastic work without effort and every time I do even a small project I run into all kinds of issues.” So I guess I’m saying misery loves company and I appreciate your misery. Wow, sorry Lenny. But hey, it came out fantastic.

View Lenny's profile


1596 posts in 3556 days

#15 posted 02-08-2011 03:18 AM

dbray45, that’s a wonderful suggestion about the drawings and notes. Thanks for the tip. RexMcKinnon thanks. I am accustomed to making things from a plan. On this one I just had some photos and had to come up with some design elements of my own. Thank you stefang. Hi Dave (DaveRI). One of the things you will find about LJs, we know we are amongst friends so we often just tell it like it is. I too often take solace in knowing other woodworker’s experience, shall we say, “challenges”. Looking forward to meeting you Saturday. Hi Barry and thanks. At least two of you have commented that the pine looks like maple. Boy did I ever go through a lot of boards to find just the right ones!

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

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