The photo is from 1978. My son, his truck. Behind him, my truck.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Picnic Table

Sunday, June 10, 2012

For several years now I've been buying outdoor deck furniture from a strong young woman who sells from the back of her pickup truck, usually accompanied by her mother riding shotgun in the cab. 

She makes chairs and side tables using the kind of redwood that would be rejected by most self-respecting furniture makers: full of sapwood, wanes, knots and voids.  The design is somewhat chunky and the workmanship is less than thorough.  I'll be lucky if they last ten years through our soggy winters. 

finished with clear linseed oil
And yet I like them.  They have a simple honesty.  They use lumber that would otherwise go to waste.  They're inexpensive.  They're local.  I like buying directly from the craftsperson.  The young woman has a simple honesty, just like the chairs.  Most important, she has a vulnerability that brings out my protective instinct.

So I asked her if she built picnic tables, and she said yes.  I ordered a round one, five feet in diameter, plus four rounded benches.  I needed them in one week.

A week later, she delivered. 

The table was massive.  Immediately I saw that it was too tall, which seemed to surprise her.  "How high should they be?" she asked.  We measured two old picnic tables on my deck, which are 30" high.  Hers was 32". 

She agreed to cut the legs down, so I got my power saw.  "Is that a hand saw?" she asked.

Clearly she had no idea how to use the worm gear Makita, and also she seemed puzzled as to how to mark the angled legs to remove two inches.  So I measured and cut the legs myself while she watched, learning.

After she left, I whacked a few nails that she'd left sticking out.  The table still looked kind of crappy, and upon study I realized that it was the massive edge that made it look like the work of an amateur.  Running my half inch rounding router bit along the edge created a much more pleasing effect.  Later, I stained it with Superdeck Red Cedar so it will shed water, at least for a while.

I bet it's the first large round table she ever made.  I bet she had to rush to meet my deadline.

She charged me about one fifth what it would have cost in a store.

I love it.

finished with oil-based stain
I spent my career hiring beginners, often teenagers, and training them.  This woman is no teen and not exactly a beginner, but I feel like I've just done it again.  Her next table will be better — and probably built in less of a rush.

Was I too soft on her?  Not by my values.  I remember when I was starting out, taking jobs I'd never tried.  How else can you grow?  Sometimes I failed.  My customers were usually kind to me even in failure.  The ones who were unkind hurt me badly.  A few more of them, and I would have quit.  Fortunately if you're straight with people, usually they're forgiving, as long as you do your best to make up for the mistakes.  In this case, the price made up for the problems.  I enjoyed my part in the process, helping to fix it up. 

Deck furniture can come with good karma.  I'll be buying more from this woman.


  1. Those are unusual curves on the ends of those benches. Novice invention?

  2. Hi Cindy. I asked for curved benches; she delivered. I don't know whether she invented that particular design.

    I've got a much older round table with curved benches that are entire curves - which is probably the more common design.

    I'll ask her, next time I see her.