A Grand Rapids End Table

Every woodworking project I tackle seems to come along with a lesson learned through making a mistake. A previous project taught me that I should take more time deciding what to make. As a woodworker, since you can make whatever you want, you might as well make something interesting and custom sized for a particular spot in your house.

With this end table I took my time looking for the perfect piece to reproduce. While the Arts and Crafts thing is way out of style, I don’t care. For whatever reason I just happen to like this period.

In the early analysis paralysis phase of the project, I made up an end table Pinterest board and set about searching for end tables made between the years 1900 and 1910. I picked this one because of that unusual door. Auction catalogs are handy since they often include measurements and multiple views.

This small table was made by a large factory operation, the Grand Rapids Furniture Company in 1910. I was unable to find any information about it. A lot of furniture designers and makers at that time were German immigrants living in the Upper Midwest. The region had a lot of German language newspapers that featured art and design trends from the Continent. To my eyes this table looks like a mishmash of a Continental European Art Nouveau and an American Mission style. But this is just a guess.

To turn a photo off the internet into plans I use the free version of Sketchup. Sketchup has a handy photo tracing feature that adjusts for perspective. I used this tool to get a rough idea of the dimensions of all the parts of the project. From this tracing, I took some guesses and came up with a full set of plans.

I used those plans to make full sized template pieces to cut and shape the curved parts. These templates, cut from scrap pieces of plywood, are stuck to the white oak I used for the nightstand with double sided tape and run against a pattern bit in a router table to shape the final pieces. I’m holding on to the templates in case I want to make another one of these tables.

While I’m not great at drawing (I’ve worked on and off on this skill) being able to compare proportions between a photo and a drawing helped immensely. Tiny adjustments to a curve, in particular, make a big difference as to whether something looks right or looks bad. Those adjustments are made to the templates rather than the (expensive) hardwood.

If there was one lesson from this project it’s that if you have a choice between doing a particular task with a hand tool or a power tool you should probably choose the hand tool. Hand tools are safer, more accurate and, in the case of this project less likely to cause a mistake that’s hard to correct. I won’t bore you with the details but from now on I’m going to use a plane instead of a router when I can. Though, in a funny paradox, one of the tasks that I wanted to do with a hand tool had to be done with a router because of the order in which I glued the project together. While I made a mistake with a router (my least favorite power tool), in the end, a router saved the day. The original was probably made mostly with power tools, incidentally.

And I’m not entirely happy with the clear finish. The piece will darken with age, but I think it might look better in a tinted and darker finish. Finishing is an art unto itself and you could devote a lifetime to it.

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12 Comments

  1. Looks great, Erik! The hardware is well chosen, and the gap around the door looks even. The latter is a testament to your skill, well done!

  2. I love the style and the skill in execution. I have a two guy friends whose whole house is Arts and Crafts, and it is a great place.

  3. Beautiful work! Turned out so so well. I have started using a spokeshave for curved parts like that, allows working with the grain in ways that the pattern bit on the router just can’t do, and leaves a nice “live” surface. Also, leave the table in a sunnier spot in your home and it’ll darken very quickly – a year or two!

  4. Nice work! Would love a post and pictures on how you built your tool wall. Very clean and organized, a place for everything and everything in its place!

  5. Beautiful work! I am a fan of the Arts & Craft movement and wasn’t aware that it ever went out of style. Simple, clean, and gorgeous woods. Tiger (quarter sawed) oak is one of my favorite woods. Where do you plan to put this? Would love to see a photo of it in place.

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