How Not to Build a Farm Table: A Craigslist Story

how not to build a farm table

We have a gorgeous, absolutely beautiful custom made farm table in our dining area. Beautiful at first glance. Sit down at it however, and try to eat and you’ll discover a few not so lovable details. Like glasses will tip over if placed in just the wrong spot. Your clothing will catch on splinters in the chairs or the edge of the table. Some of the plugs look suspiciously like wood filler. And if you look closely, the gaps between boards just might be packed with yesterday’s (last week’s?) noodles, rice, etc.

How did we get such a treasure? How can you find a farm table with as much, ahem, character?

Step 1: Search Craigslist for “Farm Table”

We did exactly this and quickly found items hand made by a local woodworker. Custom farm table? Yes, please!

Step 2: Tell the Builder What You Want

Here’s where I think I did a great job. I showed him a pinterest board with elements I loved. I told him my must haves: rustic, strong, matte finish. “You know those bar counters with the like fake glass stuff on it?” I asked. “Yeah.” “I hate that. Matte finish. Not shiny.” We understood one another.

Wood grain with tool marks: so beautiful.

Wood grain with tool marks: so beautiful.

Step 3: Wait for the Magic to Happen

And here’s where we took a little detour to crapsville. See, Builder Guy knew what I wanted. Exactly. And we stopped by his garage (in the sweltering heat and humidity of summer *remember this—it’s important*) to check on progress. I was SO excited. It was gorgeous, exactly what I wanted! We asked when he’d be done, and he said, “Give me a day to get the poly on it and we’ll be good.”

Except in a day all was not good. He said, “Oh, with the, uh, hmm, humidity it’s really taking long to uh dry, so another day or two.”

After another day or two we went to pick it up. It looked … odd. Not like the rough natural wood I’d seen on the previous visit. I could see the hand-hewn edges, I could see the gleam of the original 160-year-old nails in the wood. But they were submerged under a layer of murky film.

He confessed that he’d put a thick layer of liquid glass on it. Like those bar tables that look like the wood is four inches under the surface of very still water.

“But I wanted matte…”

“Yeah, I did some research on how to make it not shiny.” And he described the waxing process he used to dull the sheen. “I mean you just have to buff it now and then, and maybe keep hot stuff off it.”

Step 4: Enjoy

So we took it home. We shouldn’t have. I should have said right then and there that he’d messed up, it was not to spec, not acceptable. I *did* say these things, to hubby, who then called Builder Guy, who came back and got the table, spent 40+ hours scraping off, burning off, doing whatever he could to get that layer of crap off the table. He did get most of it off. A few shallow places have a “pool” of liquid glass, and in the process of clearing it away, he damaged the plugs over the screw holes (hence the wood filler, which did NOT take the stain he applied), and the surface of the table is considerably thinner than it was - by a good 1/4 inch.

We accepted the final product and brought it to our nicely air-conditioned home. So much less humid than the garage where he stored the wood, where he built the table.

The wood dried, the table contracted. The boards separated and the liquid glass that clung to the seams splintered and crumbled. It has that rustic picnic-table look to it now, with see-through gaps that I need to carve out with a butter knife and vacuum every week. Sigh.

Farm table an american classic

I don’t entirely hate the table. I sort of like it, actually. What I like most about it: It cleans up beautifully, apart from the gaps. It really is stunning upon first (even second and third) glance. And it’s sturdy enough to dance on. That there makes all my disappointments worth enduring. But I will never, ever commission a table off Craigslist again.