Surface Prep

(ed: written March 2009)

I had weekend access to a good home woodshop recently, and started to make a small desk.  I will freely admit that I’m entirely inexperienced in any sort of cabinetry or fine furniture making.  Certainly I can knock 2x4s together and screw some plywood to them, but that is the boundary of my experience.  The reading I have done about more elaborate (and expensive!) techniques gives me numerous options to try, but with every choice being unexplored territory, I thought it was best to merely pick one and plow ahead.

Without further ado, the top of the desk, lit from above.

tabletop looks good
It doesn’t look too bad.  The grain looks decent, even though the tabletop is made of three boards butted together along their sides.  (As an aside, you can spend way too much time looking at every possible combination of say, 7 boards, trying to match the grain).  I knocked down the glue lines and did a little detail sanding.

I presume any competent woodworker knows what is coming.

Let’s look at that tabletop with different lighting (light is now at the top of the picture):

tabletop looks bad

“Plow ahead” indeed.

As a public service, I state that it is a good idea to practice with a belt sander before using it in earnest for the first time, perhaps on the back of your workpiece if possible.  The (now highly visible) lands and valleys are from uneven application of the belt sander, and in fact you can see where I laid the sander down wrongly at top right.

Since wood stain emphasizes uneven surfaces, much detail sanding is now needed.  That said, I’m not unhappy with the results.  The tabletop is not very thick, and is stronger than I thought for only being glued along the edges.  I read George Grotz’s The Furniture Doctor a while ago, and he is most emphatic about the strength of glue when used properly.  Thus far, he seems to be vindicated.

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