In Which an Octagonal Table Undergoes a Makeover

Sometimes I think (so does J.) that I spend too much time working alone. Of course, when J. points this out I disagree, and tell her that I love working alone, that other people in the shop are by and large a nuisance, a liability, and worse than this, I have to talk to them. (They talk to me too, but I can't hear them unless I take off my hearing protectors, which is another nuisance.) When communication with your fellow humans becomes a nuisance, then it's probably best to take a break from inanimate wooden objects, and read a good book instead. "Silas Marner" comes to mind.
My workshop friends and companions this last week have been the repairs briefly surveyed in the last journal entry, and we've had some good times together, chatting about this and that, listening to CBC and agreeing that none of us can stand Julie Nesrallah  and "Tempo" and would she PLEASE stop saying bright and clever and cool things about classical music ("Wow, that was the "Carmen Fantasy", and a lot of guys have fantasies about Carmen, and not just the musical kind"), and just get on with pressing the "play" button. We're a grumpy old lot, the brown furniture and me, and aren't really CBC 2's demographic any more. Anyhow, it's been fun hanging out  with the guys, tho' I've spent most of the last few days with the Octagonal Table - in fact we've become quite close (for work friends, that is - I don't think I'm quite prepared to invite him home for dinner - maybe the occasional coffee break, as long as he doesn't take more than one Nairn's Organic Ginger Oatcake with his ersatz instant coffee, and doesn't mind sitting quietly on Wednesdays, which are sacred to the reading of the Gulf Islands Driftwood ( front page, letters, editorial, Viewpoint, and a quick skip over the latest anti-Trust ravings by Peter Vincent, who manages to work the Salt Spring Coffee Company "disaster" into everything he writes, like Mr. Dick and King Charles's head)) over a late coffee break, right after picking up the mail).

Octagon is really showing its age, as you can see: 

Octagonal table

Other than the very worn and faded finish, the main problem here is (obviously) the broken glue joints in the carved top and in the base. A second glue joint in the top is apparently solid, but has a long gap in the centre section, and I doubt that it will last much longer. It also looks as if a repair has been previously made to this joint, as there a squeeze-out underneath, certainly of a modern PVA glue. I really doubt that the joint was disassembled before re-gluing. which is why there is a gap in the middle.

Problem: How to re-glue three joints? This will involve removing the top, re-jointing the glued surfaces, as well as removing the lower shelf for the same. Then the joints can be re-planed, glued up  and clamped, the re-finishing dealt with and the table re-assembled. Bob's your uncle.

Not so fast there. Turning the table over to remove the top fastenings I discover a) that there are ("is"? ed.) none visible, b) that no provision has been made in design or construction for expansion and contraction of the top and bottom, whose movement across the grain is limited by the  carved skirt visible beneath the top (there is a similar skirt beneath the lower shelf), which is secured to the legs, thus forming a rigid ring. Well, this answers another riddle, which is "why did the top & base split"? (answer: they couldn't shrink as they dried). 

So with no fastenings visible, how is the top secured?


A cautious tap with the rubber mallet indicates that the tops of all the legs are tenoned into the table top with a round spigot glued into a drilled hole. To detach the top from the legs these joints will have to be broken.

Then there's the skirt: how is this attached to the legs? In decent work this would be dowelled or morticed. Here, I'm not so sure.

Before dealing with the top, though, I'll take a look at the base:


From underneath, the base looks like this (left). The broken joint extends to the right, and the method used for securing the sections of skirt to the legs is revealed (after a hard tap): a single finishing nail driven at an angle through the lower edge of the skirt. Let's not be too critical. It's lasted a century or more, and was strong enough to resist the compression forces of the shrinking top and cause it to split -  and although aging hide glue is often stronger than you'd think, it won't be strong enough in its dotage to counter the forces that can split rock. ( This is not a bad thing at all: modern glues - epoxies, for example -  would not fail under these circumstances. But something has to give, and it will be the wood itself, tearing itself apart where it is weakest -  a much harder repair.)

So here we go: all the bottom skirt pieces have been knocked out with a sharp blow from the shot-weighted rubber mallet (an essential disassembly tool: Lee Valley Tools, $19.60). Note also the small flat hooked levering tool, which I bought for working on bee-hives before the bees got the better of me. (This comes from a bee-keepers' equipment supply, but LV has an interesting Japanese equivalent.)
Ideally the rusting nails should have been removed before knocking apart, but the shanks are immovably embedded in the oak legs.
It's also becoming clear that the lower shelf has been sandwiched between the lower and upper sections of the legs. This might be a problem.

DSCN0311As indeed it is. One leg - and only one - obligingly allows me to separate the lower portion. The remaining seven are not so tractable. Hmmm.

In passing I'll mention that each  leg has been numbered and labelled, as has each section of skirting, upper and lower. Ambitious problem solvers and jigsaw puzzlers can omit this step.

I think I can see a way of avoiding the necessity to remove the legs from the base,but first the top will have to be detached.


Necessity is the parent of improvisation. Experimentally beating the top adjacent to each leg from below with the mallet does not work, and is only likely to cause more damage. Perhaps a moderate tap would be enough to break the glue joint if performed while putting pressure on the joint?

How to do this? After an unsuccessful experiment with a reversed bar clamp, I remember the hydraulic jack. Enough said. A few strokes of the jack handle, and there's enough stress in the joint to cause the glue to fail with a minimal bash from the mallet. The danger is of course that the jack is easliy capable of exerting catastrophic pressure without even trying. Motto for the day: Do No Harm.


This is as far apart as it's going to get. The top is off, in two parts. The bottom split has been temporarily clamped, and a way will have to be found to clean it up and re-glue it without removing the remaining seven legs.

This is, you could say, a watershed moment: from this point all actions run towards re-assembly and renewal. Now is the winter solstice of our octagonal table, and hopefully things can only improve.