Monday, December 2, 2013

Dining Table

Jon and I love hosting and cooking big meals together. It is easily what we would say is our biggest passion as a couple: finding people who are hungry or in need of friendship and feeding them. Even in our tiny cottage house in Richmond, we would use any excuse we could think of to pack people in and cook a feast. Any time we wanted to have more than 4 people at a time for a meal, we needed to borrow a larger table from friends. It was a hassle and never fit the room quite right, but it was worth it to us to bless others in our lives. We would often daydream of owning a large farmhouse table but our finances never aligned with the hefty prices those usually require.

There is one in particular that we used to drool over in Pottery Barn. The Benchwright Table. It was large and richly colored with extending leaves on either end. We loved the simplicity and the sturdiness. The industrial metal accents didn't hurt, either. Every time we went near that store, we would visit "THE table" and imagine how we could ever own a piece of furniture like this.

Then one day this past fall, we saw these plans from We had already built our bed and patio furniture from her plans, and found them to be very easy to follow. Why not also try to build our own dream dining table? It seemed simple enough to reproduce. We could even adapt the plan so as to incorporate extending leaves to make it more like the extending table we had grown to love.

Some of our dear friends just bought a house a few blocks away. They are a wonderful couple and have become some of our closest friends in Memphis. They recently divulged that their attic had large wooden planks on the floor that they intended to repurpose. Possibly for building their own dining table? They graciously allowed us to pry up 3 boards for our own table and see how they worked.

After some extensive research and analysis (ahem... googling), we determined that the boards were most likely 100 year old Douglas Fir planks. Sturdy and straight with minimal resin pockets from sap, they seemed to work quite well as we began sanding and planing. I sanded the reclaimed wood for the top 3 times each using 60, 120, and 220 grit sandpaper with my orbital sander. My arms felt like they were still vibrating for a full day afterwards. The results were indeed stunning. I know the lighting in these 2 photos are terrible, but it still shows how big a difference removing all the dirt made to the wood. A dark brownish grey became a beautiful warm red with excellent grain patterns.

Since Douglas Fir is a softwood similar to pine, we decided that using pine boards for the frame and legs of the table would be the closest match. We used low-end pine for the underside supports and higher-end pine for the visible areas. We thought about purchasing 4x4 posts as the legs instead of constructing them by the plans, but decided that with our current life situation to stick to the plans. The less room for error or extra math required, the better.

One major problem we ran into was the nails. Either by hammer or nail gun, those nails did NOT want to go in straight. They started out that way, but then would bend in the wood and shoot out the sides. It didn't make much sense to me, but we were glad we were going for a more "distressed" look since we had to remove and re-nail in so many places.

We enlisted in the help of some friends for help in this crucial stage. Extra hands when using a table saw or nail gun is necessary! Plus, we had to be extra precise to make sure the legs were all the same length and did not wobble.

Once we constructed the frame, we had to figure out how we would adapt the plans to allow for extending rails to add leaves. We came to the conclusion that it would be easiest to notch the end aprons with a jig-saw and use 2x2 wood rails to run in the grooves. We relied on the supports under the table and the table top itself to act as counter-levers when the rails extended. Below, you can see how the frame looked without the rails and with them constructed. You may also be noticing a pattern in my husband's face. He really did grin this big the entire time, so excited to see this beauty coming together so smoothly.

The most difficult challenge we had for the whole table was trying to stain the wood in a uniform manner. We had 3 different types of wood that we wanted to make look the same. The 2 pines were a pale yellow with no markings or major imperfections and subtle grain patterns. The table top had 100 years worth of abuse as floor boards, along with distinctive grain patterns and a warm reddish tone. You can really see in the photo below just how different they were from one another!

After filling all joints and cracks with wood filler, we applied wood conditioner the table. We used scrap wood to sample multiple stains before finally finding a winner. For the frame and legs, we mixed 2 coats of Minwax Early American and Dark Walnut. The Early American picked up the reddish tones we needed for it to match the table top. For the top, we just used 1 coat of Dark Walnut.

We realized quickly that the wood conditioner worked wonders on getting an even coat on the wood, but it seemed to seal the wood filler from absorbing any stain. The wood filler stood out like beacons against our dark wood stain. Quite flummoxed but refusing to be defeated we tried sanding and applying more and more stain to the wood filler. No dice. Then I had the idea to use some ink. I knew I had a bottle of black India ink left over from foundation art classes in college stowed away somewhere. One light coat immediately wiped off darkened the wood filler PERFECTLY. It was like a miracle. It hid any imperfections or glue marks we had made as well. After that, we applied 3 coats of polyurethane and it was beautiful. Angels sang in heaven and all was right in the world. Or at least in our dining room. The sense of accomplishment was at an all-time high for us Tobins.

Now without further adieu, here are all the glamour shots of our little beauty.

These 3 show the rails for the extending leaves:

Here is the table without the leaves. It seats six people and is about 6'2" long.

These next 3 show the table with the leaves. It seats ten comfortably and is 8'6" long.


  1. Amanda & Jon this looks amazing, I'm so inspired!

  2. Wonderful Dining Table. I want to make it.

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