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Forum topic by RoadHogg posted 03-29-2014 12:36 AM 1445 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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RoadHogg

124 posts in 1395 days


03-29-2014 12:36 AM

Topic tags/keywords: coffee table finish species question finishing

At lunch yesterday, a friend asked me to build him a coffee table. I said, “No problem”...then he showed me a picture of what he wanted. I fear I’m in over my head but I want to at least make an effort. What I need is some sage advice, or at least some random guesses as to species, materials and finish to use for a project like this. This retail piece is selling for $1200. I assume he wants to keep costs in a similar ballpark. Any help you can offer will be appreciated. Thanks.

-- "The difference between school and real life is that in real life the tests come first, and then the lessons" -- Robert Lang, ReadWatchDo.com


21 replies so far

View RibsBrisket4me's profile

RibsBrisket4me

1526 posts in 1973 days


#1 posted 03-29-2014 12:40 AM

Gotta break it down into manageable bites.
It’s a box
Has a top
Two drawers
And moldings

Search wood magazine or plans online for similar pieces and get to it!

Good luck!

View AandCstyle's profile

AandCstyle

2575 posts in 1724 days


#2 posted 03-29-2014 01:42 AM

Regarding the species and finish. I think it looks like cherry in the middle pic, but it might be something else altogether. You will need to pick a species, or maybe a few, then make sample boards using various dyes and/or stains to get as close to the color as your friend will agree to. Then, finish it with a very durable product, such as polyurethane. Again, get your friend to agree to the final wood and finish before you purchase your stock.

The actual construction looks to be fairly straightforward but it might be a little challenging getting the top flat. Ask your additional questions as they arise and I am certain you will get good advice.

-- Art

View redSLED's profile

redSLED

790 posts in 1360 days


#3 posted 03-29-2014 02:19 AM

Labour-wise – this is my break-down for you if you work quickly and your shop is ready to go:

- Final design plans/measurements and client feedback/confirmations: 1.5 hours.
- Already have store bought kiln dried cherry lumber? Cutting and milling everything: add 2 hours.
Or
- Already have dried rough cherry boards? Add above plus planing/jointing: add 2 more hours.
- Final cuts, joinery, pre-assembly, glue-ups and sanding of all pieces: add 6 hours.
- Fixing mistakes and other delays: add 2 hours.
- Staining and finish test samples plus feedback/OK’s from client: add 1.5 hours
- 2-way travel and shopping time trip to store(s) to buy supplies/finishing materials/wood/hardware: add 1.5 hours
- Later 2nd store trip(s) to return/exchange or buy some supplies/finishing materials/wood you previously forgot: add 1.0 hour.
- Final prepping, glue-ups, final assembly of all pieces: add 2 hours.
- All finishing prepping, sanding and all finishing steps if not spraying catalyzed clear lacquer for finish (excluding drying times): add 4 hours.

At this rate you are up to about 21+ hours of labour give-or-take which IMO is realistic unless you are a fast cabinet maker in a professionally equipped shop.

Also add 1-2 hours for veneering work if you are going with staining birch plywood pieces instead of using 100% solid cherry.

Hope that helps.

-- Perfection is the difference between too much and not enough.

View Minorhero's profile

Minorhero

372 posts in 2072 days


#4 posted 03-29-2014 03:01 AM

The thing that caught my attention was some of your last sentences: “This retail piece is selling for $1200. I assume he wants to keep costs in a similar ballpark.”

I would not make that assumption unless he point blank told you that is what he wanted to spend. I have on more then one occasion had a friend ask me to build something and when I tell them just the wood cost they back out immediately. It seems that most of them think that either 1) supplies don’t cost as much as they do, or 2) they think that because we are friends I am willing to put in many many days of labor for free. Sometimes they are right about the second part, but I am just not wealthy enough to eat 300 some dollars of wood cost making them a present.

View RoadHogg's profile

RoadHogg

124 posts in 1395 days


#5 posted 03-29-2014 03:11 AM

“I would not make that assumption unless he point blank told you that is what he wanted to spend.”

My statement might be misleading you. My wonderment is mostly about the species and finish…and any tips on construction. I certainly did tell him that having me build furniture for him is NOT a way to get cheap furniture. He wanted a quote anyway. I need to decide on species as a starting point so I can price material.

-- "The difference between school and real life is that in real life the tests come first, and then the lessons" -- Robert Lang, ReadWatchDo.com

View TheWoodenOyster's profile

TheWoodenOyster

1275 posts in 1402 days


#6 posted 03-29-2014 09:43 PM

Man, I would guess something relatively cheap and smooth grained, maybe cherry as Art said above.

A dark stain, like walnut or java. Something like that is probably the way to go.

Quote it how you want to, but to me that looks like a timesuck, especially if you use solid wood to make the top panels and sides. Not to mention, you’ll have to stain it, which is a crapshoot (at least in my shop). Redsled’s estimate above seems ambitious in my shop, though he may very well be able to make something that quickly. I’d be cautious on this one. Maybe you don’t want that advice, but just my .02

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View MNgary's profile

MNgary

296 posts in 1884 days


#7 posted 03-29-2014 10:13 PM

I suspect pecan (not the hickory many suppliers call pecan) with a chestnut stain and shellac would come close.
.
Butternut might be another wood to consider.

-- I dream of the world where a duck can cross the road and no one asks why.

View Pezking7p's profile

Pezking7p

3097 posts in 1119 days


#8 posted 03-30-2014 12:03 AM

Usually, in those big furniture stores, those pieces are made from maple or birch and stained.

If your friend is looking for something comparable, or a little cheaper…
I think you’re time will be best spent by making the box out of plywood and using edge banding. Also, many lumber suppliers will supply either completed drawers or pre-finished drawer sides that simply need to be cut to length and joined into a box. I recommend going this route unless you are very quick at making drawers. Keep the build simple. Cover joints with molding. Brads and glue wherever possible.

If your friend is looking for custom, high-end furniture that just happens to look kind of like that coffee table he showed you, then all bets are off.

-- -Dan

View redSLED's profile

redSLED

790 posts in 1360 days


#9 posted 03-30-2014 04:44 PM

^ Some very good tips there from Pezking7p and TheWoodenOyster to keep your complexity, labour hours and costs down.

-- Perfection is the difference between too much and not enough.

View Redoak49's profile

Redoak49

1964 posts in 1456 days


#10 posted 03-30-2014 05:04 PM

I have built quite a few cabinets, end tables, dressers and and other furniture but I am slow and it would take me considerably longer than 21 hours.

As a rule, I do not build anything for my “friends” as well as I do not loan any tools to “friends”. I want them to stay my friends and the potential for things going wrong is always present.

I assume that you have built something similar and have a good idea what it would take. If I were building it, I would take the time to make a sketch and pretty good materials list and a list of what tools will be needed before I came close to giving a price.

I can not really tell from the picture how well it is built and if it has a solid wood top or not. Making large flat tops is not very easy for me as it takes a real craftsman to make a solid top which is completely flat and stays flat.

Best of Luck

View RoadHogg's profile

RoadHogg

124 posts in 1395 days


#11 posted 03-30-2014 05:13 PM

Wow! Thanks to all for the suggestions. Some background information I should add. The amount of time I use to create the table is not as important as the finished product. I’m just starting out and in creating this table, I’ll be gaining as much value as the customer will. Buying completed box sides for example, will be a cost to me as compared to creating them myself…in both the overall monetary cost and the loss of experience on my part.

To begin with, I think I need to decide on the species and finish first. I want to start by doing some finish on a few pieces for the customer to choose from. My greatest fear is telling a customer that I can build what they want and then have them, in the end, choose one small detail that they had focused on and tell me it isn’t right. To me, the overall look of the piece is the most important and the most variable. If I can get them to commit to a species and finish, I think I can create the rest from their pictures and dimensions.

I too was thinking a ply carcass and solid top, or even a ply top with edge banding. Moldings and drawers etc should be more of a matter of taste for them rather than a fundamental construction decision…meaning, the cost, species, finish, on the moldings will simply follow the carcass, they won’t dictate the carcass materials and finish…at least, it seems that way to me, but I’m a newbie and I know very little for certain.

Please keep the suggestions coming. They are VERY helpful!

-- "The difference between school and real life is that in real life the tests come first, and then the lessons" -- Robert Lang, ReadWatchDo.com

View RoadHogg's profile

RoadHogg

124 posts in 1395 days


#12 posted 03-30-2014 05:24 PM

“Usually, in those big furniture stores, those pieces are made from maple or birch and stained.”

Thanks Pezking7p. That’s a great help. I’m thinking if I can use either of those in a ply product, I have a chance with this. I explained to him the benefits of ply and he wasn’t against it.

“I suspect pecan (not the hickory many suppliers call pecan) with a chestnut stain and shellac would come close.”

Thanks MNgary. That’s very helpful!

“As a rule, I do not build anything for my “friends” as well as I do not loan any tools to “friends”. I want them to stay my friends and the potential for things going wrong is always present.”

Thanks Redoak49. That’s good advice. I know the danger. I somehow think it won’t happen. I know that’s naive.

Thanks to everyone else for the advice too, there’s some great stuff in here!!!

-- "The difference between school and real life is that in real life the tests come first, and then the lessons" -- Robert Lang, ReadWatchDo.com

View jeffswildwood's profile

jeffswildwood

1331 posts in 1445 days


#13 posted 03-30-2014 07:05 PM

I too have been over my head on projects. I agreed to to them not knowing what was involved. First thing I would do is a cost estimate to my friend using the chosen wood and labor as a basis. I usually underestimate the labor and have to eat part of that but I make sure I don’t lose out on wood cost. Have another estimate on hand that you can use for a lesser wood such as pine select or even just pine in case when you tell him “about 1200.00 dollars” he freaks. As for the build, I agree with Ribs above. “it’s just a box”!

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way thats says "I meant to do that".

View RoadHogg's profile

RoadHogg

124 posts in 1395 days


#14 posted 02-12-2015 03:23 AM

It’s been a long time since I started this thread. If anyone is interested, you can see the build blog for this table. The customer loved the finished product.

-- "The difference between school and real life is that in real life the tests come first, and then the lessons" -- Robert Lang, ReadWatchDo.com

View CaptainSkully's profile

CaptainSkully

1437 posts in 3026 days


#15 posted 02-21-2015 11:42 PM

Wow RoadHogg,

You totally nailed it. Managing customers’ expectations is the most difficult part of the process. You ended up making a very nice piece. Having wrestled with breadboard ends, lock-miters, etc. myself, I’m very impressed with your skills. Nicely done. Thanks for blogging about it too. I find that much more gratifying than just a finished project.

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

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