In Defense of “Quick and Dirty”

If you follow this blog, then chances are good that you follow Chris Schwarz’s remarkably prolific blog as well. If not, then perhaps this post deserves a bit of background. For the last couple of years, Chris has been deep down in the rabbit hole of “staked” furniture. I’ve followed it with curious interest, but along with his foray into campaign furniture, it’s not exactly my style, so I haven’t really been tempted to play along. “Staked” is a term used in early estate inventories used to describe furniture that consists of a wide slab top, with simple legs mortised through the top. The joints can rely on a cylindrical or cone-shaped tenon, but either way, it’s basically the same joint that affixes the legs to the seat on a Windsor chair.

The joint was prolific in Europe for hundreds of years, being used in everything from stools and benches to tables and chairs. As joinery became more complex and tastes in furniture more discerning, its use fell out of favor for all but cruder furniture and a few other specialized contexts.

Windsor chairs avoid the crude look engendered by staked joinery by virtue of elegant turned legs and a comfortably shaped seat. A flat-topped table has more trouble shaking of the humble look of the joinery. Yet the technique does have one distinct advantage: it’s fast.

My wife wanted me to build a play table for my two-year-old son. She wanted it soon. “I don’t care if you nail it together, I just want it done.” She had been asking for weeks, so her impatience was justified. However, I tend to put things off until I can find the time to build a true object of beauty. She quickly objected that children’s play table needn’t be a thing of beauty. Counterproductive, really. A play table is something that should be used and abused without fear of rebuke. Paint, crayons, markers, Play-Doh, glitter-glue. These humble playthings are instruments of doom to a fine piece of furniture.

A staked table was just the answer. So, two nights ago, I walked into my shop at 8:30 PM after the rest of my household was asleep. At 10:45 PM I walked out with a finished table in my arms – hand tools only, except the lathe. The tavern table that has been featured in my last two posts required 40 hours of shop time to build (you’ll get to see the finished object soon, I promise). The play table is about the same size, and I knocked this sucker out in 2 hours, 15 minutes. Now I know why this style hung around for a few hundred (thousand?) years. Economy of labor is a beautiful thing.

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Here it is, in all of it’s humble glory. 23.5″ tall, 17″ wide, and maybe 30″ long? I didn’t measure, I just cut.
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The battens are nailed to the underside with cut nails, and the legs are bored straight through both batten and top. Three legs are beech, and the fourth is poplar (as is the rest of the table) The tenons are conical, so I used my tapered reamer to shape the mortises.
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Tables like this have cross-grain issues with the battens cross-grain to the top. Usually they develop cracks after a number of years. I preempted the issue by using a cracked board. The tenons are glued and wedged in place.
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I made no attempt to remove the gouge marks from the lathe. I could have used the skew to get a smoother surface, but what would be the point?

 

Despite not measuring a damn thing on this table (except the height), the angle of the legs turned out pretty close. I really don’t think I could have done better if I was measuring instead of eyeballing.

 

And the best part about a quick and dirty table? I was happy to let my 4-year-old daughter help me with the paint job. And she was excited to help.

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How long will this table last? 10 years? 25? 100? I have no idea, but I have no doubt that it will serve its purpose for as long as we need it.

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3 thoughts on “In Defense of “Quick and Dirty”

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