Refinishing, and refreshing, memories

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Do you have a recurring woodworking task where you do the same thing over and over? I do. For me, it’s our old coffee table.

By “old” I mean it’s probably the piece of furniture we’ve had the longest in continuous use. We bought it back when my only power tools were a drill and a sander, and my shop was a cardboard box I kept in the closet.

It came from one of those unfinished-furniture stores about 30 years ago, and it’s actually pretty nice. Solid oak with a four-footed pedestal base, it’s been the center of our living room ever since. Seriously, every single piece of furniture has changed over the years (some several times), but that coffee table’s a fixture.

Since we have cats, read the paper daily, and occasionally eat on that coffee table in front of the TV, every few years I have to sand it down and refinish it. No idea how many times in three decades I’ve done this task, but I swear that if restored it any more it’d be a tree again.

To make an already too-long story short, it’s refinishing time again. I’m not a big fan of refinishing – that falls in the arena of doing a lot of work just to make something back the way it already was, like plumbing repairs, replacing appliances and the like. But this task is a bit different.

In my shop with the table upside down on my assembly table, I’m invariably surprised by what I already know is there but always seem to forget in the intervening five or six years between refinishings. We got that table when my daughter was two and it immediately became her favorite place to sit with a tiny chair; she sat at it, in fact, till she was just too big to do so. It was a common sight to find her at that coffee table with a coloring book or other toys when I came home from work or on a rainy weekend.

But underneath that table are some Crayon scribblings, plus the word “Courtney.” Nearly illegible and probably written there not long after she learned to write it, it’s been there for a long, long time.

Seeing that there each time I refinish that table instantly changes everything from an annoying chore to a delightful several hours.

A.J.

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