In End Grain

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My son and daughter-in-law’s house burned to the ground in the voracious California Woolsey fire, and they were left, literally, with the clothes on their backs and their pets. The immediate shock left us feeling simultaneously hollowed out and filled with gratitude that they were all alive.

This was their first home and they had owned it for 97 days. Their two-year-old daughter won’t remember this house, except through pictures and the stories we’ll tell her about it. Fortunately, she was with her other grandparents on that morning and didn’t have to experience the trauma of driving down a mountain road with houses burning on both sides.

Over the following days, our minds drifted from the magnitude of their having lost everything to the particular things they lost. And always we circled back to the fact that they all survived—that what was lost was just “stuff.”

Despite this resolute attitude that anchored us through the horror, I admit I felt a tiny pang of sorrow when I realized the coffee table I’d made for my son in honor of his college graduation was gone.

Truth be told, I suspect that my son and daughter-in-law weren’t too crazy about the table’s design, and that perhaps its loss wasn’t something they’d overly mourn. Years earlier, before he met his future wife, my son told me he wanted a Game of Thrones coffee table. This is definitely not my daughter-in-law’s style.

Nor is it mine. Game of Thrones?!? Even though I remain a huge fan of the medieval-fantasy television series—which features fire-breathing dragons, by the way—I didn’t have a clue how to create that look. They didn’t have coffee tables back in medieval days. The only thing I knew for certain was that ideally the table would’ve been made out of forged iron, but I wasn’t about to switch hobbies. I was a relatively new woodworking student at that point and a highly polished, precisely joined table was the only thing I knew. Psychologically, I wasn’t ready to tackle “rough hewn” yet because I feared other students might mistake it for my best effort and not an intentional diversion.

Fire seems to be a major element in both medieval life and in the Game of Thrones’ plot lines, so I incorporated “flames” into the design of the legs. Using a scroll saw, I cut a flame into the middle of each leg, then tapered them so that the flame sort of disappeared into them. (Heavy emphasis here on “sort of.”) The top of the legs featured an emphatically masculine V-shaped cube that was double-tenoned into the slimmer bottom.

As painful as it is to admit, the table didn’t read “Game of Thrones” as much as it screamed “Harley biker.” It was a quirky table, and the upside is that I’ll eventually make them a new one more to their liking.

This coffee table had a short life—not even eight years—yet it had endured four moves, dog-nail scratches on its top, cat scratchings on its legs, spilled smoothies, magic markers, and a few refinishing jobs with ever more durable material to thwart its adversaries.

But it couldn’t stand up to the fire. I hope, in true Game of Thrones fashion, it burned brightly.

This article was originally published in the June 2019 issue of Popular Woodworking.

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