Monday, October 10, 2011

Pallets and Pews

We enjoy taking custom orders in the Opportunity Center woodshop. It gives us a chance to try new things and expand our skill sets, which means we can make better and varied products, and we have more skills to teach. All of our missionaries who work in the woodshop were amateurs, so we've been learning as we go. We try to fund most of our operation with the products we can make with our hands, so improving the quality and variety of our products allows us to become more sustainable.

Our biggest indoor custom order came from Alderman French of the 21st ward, which is our neighboring ward to the north. The ward has purchased an old church building, and is in the process of turning it into a community center, that will also include offices and meeting spaces. Since it was a church, it was full of old oak pews. Alderman French asked us if we could turn the old pews into a conference table. Of course, we said yes.

The project took an exceptionally long time, as the Opportunity Center was very busy from Spring through Summer, and we made the table for free. When we finally got down to it, we discovered that the backs of the pews, which were nice and wide, were bent plywood, so they would not make good table tops. The seats, although upholstered, were solid oak. So we disassembled the pews, cut the seats to a width that would fit into our planer, and planed them down so they would be nice and flat. We ended up gluing five seats together, to make a 5 ft. by 8 ft. table top.

We originally thought we could use the carved oak ends of the pews for feet, but found it to be a huge problem logistically. So we ended up building a supporting frame out of the recycled pallet wood.

Attaching table tops to their frames is a delicate business, as wood swells and shrinks with changes in humidity. Furniture makers have discovered a variety of ways to compensate. We, however, were unaware of all that. So we got decorative bolts and bolted the table top onto the frame. It gave the table a slight industrial feel, which we felt worked, as it was all recycled material.

We stained the whole table a nice dark brown, and sealed it with polyurethane. The table top was exceptionally beautiful, as it was furniture grade oak. A lot of the wood from the pallets looks great, but to get free furniture grade lumber (although it cost some processing time) is a sustainable way to make more traditional looking furniture.

The Alderman loved his table, and we enjoyed the opportunity to make something unique and learn a bit as we did. This coming winter, we are going to try to develop more indoor products. If you have ideas of wood products that you think would be desirable made from recycled wood, and some price ranges, you can contact our executive director, Dr. Terry Goodwin, at, or leave a note on our Facebook page.

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