So there was this burning desire to own a piece (or two) of iron/mesquite furniture that began about a year ago after I visited a local furniture maker
who makes wonderful pieces
out of recycled Mesquite trees. The downed trees are dropped off at his yard by local landscapers and do-it-your-selfers who pull these "unsightly" trees from lots or prime ranch land needing a slight makeover. (Most people in West Texas don't care for the ugly, thick trunked Mesquite with it's spindly leaves and dark brown bean pods. After all, we need real shade trees out here in the summer time.) Rather than take the thing to the local dump, landscape personnel know they can drive downtown and drop off their goods to help the local furniture guy out. (Or maybe he pays them something for the stump and large limbs they bring? I don't know...)
Either way, the guy has a great set-up and he's a wonderful furniture craftsman! I've seen mantles, chairs, lamps, side tables, bed railings with matching posts, dining room tables, poker tables, and all manner of things made from the dark red, lustrous tree: Prosopis pubescens
But here's the thing- I'm cheap.
Not only did I not
want to pay the price for a finished piece, but I challenged myself to craft my own piece. Two years ago I made myself a hunting knife and used a piece of Mesquite for the handles. I liked how the color turned out and I was sure I could make a small console table if I put my heart into it. Now it was getting interesting...
Several months ago, I found the perfect iron frame that I thought would grace our entryway pretty well. Only problem was, it was more than rustic- it was R-U-S-T-Y. Here's the frame in its original state:
When I found it amongst all the other rusted relics, I thought it had great form and I really liked the fact that it was completely different than anything I had ever seen. It was graceful as well as practical. And the price was good. So I set out to get rid of the rust while I searched for the perfect piece of wood to top it with:
The above picture was taken soon after I received the piece back from Abilene Powder Coating
. This is a wonderful, if not little known, business on the West side of Abilene owned by Mr. Kim Parsons. I told Kim I wanted a black powdercoat finish. "No problem, would you like matte, semi-gloss, or high gloss finish when cured?" (What? I had choices?) I told Kim to coat it with a "wet" look. I think he did an amazing job! He got it just right. I tell you, up close it looks like it was carved out of wet wax- it absolutely glistens. Kim is a great guy and not only did the price match his quote, he got it done quickly.
So now it was off to Lankford's Mesquite Lumber to find that perfect slab of wood to top off that frame. Now that the frame turned out twice as good as I had hoped, the pressure was really on to top it with a wonderfully grained piece of wood. It took a LONG time to find that right piece but Terry Lankford was very helpful and stored the piece inside once he found it amongst the hundreds of planks already cut and stacked outside on site. Here's what the raw piece looked like before I started finishing it:
That wet, drizzly look you see in the middle is a concoction of epoxy in its liquid form. The main difference between this piece and the pieces that Mr. Lankford makes, is that mine has an unusual twist. When I mixed up the epoxy, I added jet black ink to the mixture to turn it completely dark. (Regular epoxy, if left alone, will dry clear as glass.) I knew that if I got the finished wood to the desired dark red tone it would look really great with small etchings of black drizzled into the voids in the grain. Here is what the slab looked like when the epoxy dried and I sanded everything flush prior to applying the finish:
As you can see from the above close-up, the blackened epoxy is already contrasting nicely with the faint red grain already starting to show through. I won't tell you exactly what steps I used for sanding, but I will tell you that to sufficiently gain the smooth finish I wanted on all sides, it took a total of 7 hours to achieve- or, the better part of one full weekend. Not having done a project of this size before, I did some head scratching as well as some grunt work to transform that slab. Here you can see some improvement with one coat of oil on top and a simple routed edge that is still lacking finish:
I had never had an occasion to use a router before, and wanting the lines to be straight as possible, to resemble finely made furniture, I opted to use a router attached to a table. Well, I got the whole borrowed rig home and set it up, read the tool's instruction manual front to back, selected the right router bit style, and tried to get the whole set up level so that I could draw the piece down the length in one steady draw to keep the line perfectly horizontal. The problem was, my garage floor isn't exactly level, and my borrowed table wasn't large enough to support the slab by itself (rough dimensions are 14"w x 37"l x 1.5"thick). Realizing I didn't have enough support tables to align properly with the router table, I opted to 'free hand' the rout using a fence attached to the wood by clamps. I can tell you it took a while to properly set up and clamp but it is as straight as possible. I turned on the router, slid it across the fence from left to right down the long (front showing) side and when the dust settled I had a better than average cut and let out a triumphant whoop in the garage. (Note: never scream exuberantly in the garage when playing with a power tool. The wife tends to get upset and call 9-1-
1 thinking you have just relieved yourself of a body part!) Here is the top with a second coat of finish- note the deeper red tone of the wood is starting to come through:
And here's the table with a third coat of oil and just about the right red tone I was looking for:
I could still see some areas that hadn't quite taken enough of the finish to make for a smooth, even look, color-wise. So I got out the q-tips and went to work on the routed edge once more. Here's the final look, with 4 coats of finish and the smoothness I was wanting to achieve:
Would I do it all over again, you ask? In a heartbeat! I'm already looking for a frame to make the perfect, matching coffee table for the den to match this piece. While I didn't save any money by the time I bought all the supplies and raw materials, I have lots of items in stock to use on my next project that I won't have to reinvest in. Plus, I have learned a lot by taking my time putting this piece together. I can't tell you exactly how many hours I have invested, but I can tell you that it was about 6 months to get everything to come together. Most of this was due to finding the right frame and specific piece of lumber, but part of it was getting help from my well-tooled buddies in town. Many thanks to Jim Waldrop and Shane Jennings for their efforts in lending their tools and or garage for a couple of hours in order to assist me with the rough cutting and routing of this piece. Fellas, I couldn't have done it without you!
Certainly, the table turned on me- but, I'm turned on by this table- I love it!