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Making Art From a Free Table

I was walking my dog a while back and noticed that one of the people in my neighborhood had put out a wooden dining room set with a sign on it that said “FREE!” At the time, there wasn’t much that I could do about. I couldn’t carry all that stuff on my back… not while also walking the dog. Still, the thing filled my mind for the remainder of the walk to the point that once I got back home, I jumped in the family van with my wife and we headed off to grab it.

The tables and chairs were in OK shape, but they certainly needed love. We thought that it may be a fun project to fix them up, refinish them, and then either use them for ourselves or give them to someone else.

A great idea, but we got busy and the table and chairs languished in our garage for months. Project limbo.

But, as the popular hashtag goes, makers gonna make. That table kept giving me the stink eye every time I walked by it in the garage, silently taunting me for my inaction. Eventually, I couldn’t take it any longer. I broke out the belt sander and decided to check out what was going on under the finish. And good news, it wasn’t a veneer wrapped around particle board. It was real wood. Not a single piece, of course. It was a bunch of slats that had been laminated together to form a table. This was something I could work with.

So I sketched a lion on the thing.

Then I broke out the angle grinder.

Holy crap. If I’d’ve known that carving with an angle grinder was so much fun, I would’ve gotten one ages ago. Not only was it super fast to rough in the basic shape of my carving, it was just ridiculously gratifying to have wood chips just flying around as I took that angle grinder to the table. Did I mention how much fun that was?

With the shape roughed in, I started adding in details with my Dremel tool. Strangely, this felt like the most terrifying part of the process. Even though there was a lot less wood being moved around at this step in the process, it felt that if those details got messed up, the whole thing would just look wrong. So this became the most time-consuming step in the process.

Eventually, though, I got over my fears and was able to get something carved in that looked reasonably good. The piece still lacked detail, though. I’d spoken with some more experienced wood carvers before and one of them mentioned a technique of adding contrast to the carving by burning in details with a torch. I happened to have a small butane torch for jewelry work, but for something the size of a table, I needed a bit more than that. Propane torch to the rescue!

And wow. If I thought carving with an angle grinder was fun, detailing with a blowtorch was on a whole different level. I’d done basic wood burn art before with a wood burner (basically a soldering iron with a different tip on it), but this was something else. It’s like painting with fire. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?

Only downside is that the clean-up sanding process is messy. I looked like I’d been working in a coal mine by the time I’d finished the burn and sand process.

But once that was complete, the only thing left was the final finish. For a long time I was wavering back and forth on whether to simply coat the surface with polyurethane and treat it like a wall hanging, or cover the top with clear epoxy resin (like what they use on bar tops) and keep it as a table, albeit a really fancy one. However, seeing as we didn’t really have a need for another dining room table and the piece without legs is easier to store, I ultimately opted for making it a wall hanging.

Legs were removed, polyurethane was added, and the thing was declared done.

So that was fun.

  • Make art with something found for free? CHECK
  • Carve with an angle grinder? CHECK
  • Paint with fire? CHECK
  • Have a whole bucket of fun? Oh Hell yeah

Now the real question after all that: What’s next?

Well, there’s an old coffee table sitting in the garage…