A custom dining table for a local family in Boise Idaho
This table came across the wire a few months ago with some initial ideas around the designs. As we got to know each other we realized this needed to be able to fit a unique space in the home AND serve the clients family for years to come.
Of course, kids always put a different stress on a table than adults do. And of course parents always cringe when they see a fork being stabbed into the beautiful wood. “And this is why we don’t have nice things” is the ring in many homes with small children.
Growing up around a table for memories and connection should not come with a warning sign. Kids should be able to use the table and hang out, in any fashion, without raising your blood pressure every time you sit down.
Without a small budget of gorgeous linens to protect the table the other option is to turn to a custom furniture maker.
We could hear this tone in the parents voices when they explained what their table needed to do and how they saw it fitting into their growing home.
A hardwood that fits the bill in all categories- both for the family AND for the woodworker is a difficult balance to strike and requires meticulous care and thought around all aspects of use and build.
We knew white ash would be a budget friendly option for a custom dining table and would work well. But white ash doesnt have a lot of character to it. This kitchen has some really warm and inviting aspects throughout that would lend best to a more “lived in” look. We went looking for reclaimed materials and found some amazing white oak that was both straight and clean.
The difficult with reclaimed materials is that we lose so much material to the milling process for glue edges and straight boards. And sometimes we lose the character that comes with reclaimed material.
We knew we could hit a happy medium if we made our own material to get that lived in look and feel. The challenge being of course for it to look and feel intentional. It can easily “get away” from us and start looking intentionally made. That happy medium of random and intention take time and specific care. You have to feel it.
Now, white oak compared to white ash are almost at the same hardness scale. Not a noticeable difference. Except white oak has a lot more to work with. What we mean is that there are options for character and grain patterns that arent present in the character of white ash. White ash is clean and pretty free of any knots or character.
White oak has to fit the build. White oak is about 30% more in cost and is certainly more difficult to work. It can tend to have “wild grain” patterns and character to it. We always find ourselves prepping ourselves whenever it comes into the shop. We have to mentally gear up for it. And of course, our tools need to be diamond tough and sharp.
With a look that fit the home and would serve the family for generations- we turned to the legs. The design process of any dining table has to take all into account from the very beginning. We can’t divorce the wood from the legs. They have to sing together for that perfect duet of harmony and right balance of robustness.
Our client loved the look of cast iron. Which they had to sell us on. Cast iron legs have a TON of disadvantages that need to be taken into consideration. The legs are imperfect. They aren’t level. Nor are they square. Once we receive them in we need to take great consideration to get them to a useable level. We can take them dark with certain chemical finishes or can take them lighter with certain urethane finishes.
But cast iron legs sure make up for these discrepancies in their show stopping effect. Not one is like the other and they are truly a unique look and feel. We worked with a vendor to make them elegant while being beefy.
Reclaimed continually entered the conversation which meant we had to work with materials that were less than ideal from an efficiency standpoint.
We had a technical dilemma of the table extending. Many extension tables have 2-3 leaves for the middle section because they are built at 12″ wide. New building practices are geared more for efficiency than they are for aesthetics…
A single leaf in the middle needed to be the ticket. This would allow the top of the custom dining table to feel less busy when fully open and eliminate more complex hardware required for multiple leaves.
We knew this custom dining table wouldn’t want be covered with a table cloth that often because the family would want to enjoy warmth and beauty the natural wood would allow.
Lets talk about table thickness for a bit-
Wood comes in many different thicknesses. Many customers think of the table from this vantage point first and we have seen in our experience this is usually the last (and often times the least important) detail to work through. Its best to leave this specific detail to the skilled woodworker. Many typical woodworkers will use 2″ thick because this is the most commonly available material that is “thick enough”. Which may sound odd but that too often leaves much to be desired. A chunky table isn’t always the answer.
We have seen the increase in dimensions around furniture for the last 40 years or so. Couches are taller. Tables are taller. Benches are skinnier and kids fall off them easily. Manufactured furniture has taken efficiency as far as they can and it has not been in favor of well appointed pieces.
A good balance between weight, design, and longevity takes practice. And mock ups. And lots of renderings. Every centimeter needs to be thought through. And if it can’t be justified or we find ourselves trying to make sense of it, then we often decide to let go it.
This was a good balance of using 1.25″ thick material for the center section of the whole table and then we jumped into thicker 1.75″ for all the edges. This proved to be a great balance the table was calling for. And the leaf was easy to manage at 24″ wide. It wasn’t too heavy.
For the design, we incorporated breadboards into the table. We wanted to run the boards horizontal to the length of the table in order to get a certain look and aesthetic. For the boards to stay straight, we jump into breadboards. Breadboards run the opposite direction in order to prevent warpage and assist in the table staying flat, naturally. Breadboards are a very technical part of any table because it interlocks the wood while allowing to move, seasonally. So glue has to be applied only in certain areas.
Walnut dowels against white oak is always a winner. Instead of hiding the dowels under the table we took them to the top so they were more visible to whoever enjoyed the table.
The finish was a hardware oil. It has 0% VOC which lends to a warm and robust finish built perfectly for families and dining tables. One of the issues we have with finishes is they can easily mask the wood when they aren’t done right. We always like the wood to come front and center for the star of the show.
A penetrating style finish is best for this happy combination. One other thing we must consider is the ease of maintenance. If the table is too finicky to maintain, that can be a pretty big downer in use.
Sunlight can work a slow yet methodical death on wood. And of course liquids and hot pans must be considered.
All this adds up to a table that blends in like it was always meant to be. A custom dining table built for generations AND for the conversations your family will bring to it daily.
And just like that, this table is a wrap. From start to finish was around 8 weeks. Every table is like bringing a new baby to life. And then the time comes to kick it out of our shop for it to now bring joy to a new home. We say goodbye and hello at the same time. Hello to a new home and family we will likely see again in the future.
There are many details in this table we came to love dearly and it was a drag to let go of it. Thats both the beauty and struggle of high end custom woodworking. We want to keep our creations around but we must make way for new projects AND allow a piece to live out its new life serving the purposes it was created for.
We make custom dining tables and haven’t done the same design twice. Making your piece truly one of a kind and built for your specifications. Please bring your ideas to us. Our clients are always surprised with how easy it is to get their custom piece built.
Also, if you have a name for this table you think would be a fitting depiction, let us know down below in the comments. We couldn’t make sense of something that stuck, so for now it’s nameless…