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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wolfgang's trestle table

When I grew up doing-it-yourself was a virtue. A lot of Americans seemed to think that way -- a lot more than nowadays.

My problem has always been chosing the wrong projects and not finishing them. The wrong do-it-yourself project is building a dulcimer or a spinning wheel instead of fixing a toilet that won't stop. Bending wood with pipe clamps on the living room floor never went over well with the redhead, and neither did unfinished Xmas presents stored in the basement years after the giving.

There were just too many fun distractions, but I am happy to report that those days are now history. I did eventually finish the chest of drawers and other Xmas gifts that awaited completion.

At this time of year, when winter storms flush the coastal creeks and heap logs, drift wood, and redwood burls on the Pacific beaches, I think about beach combing, finding wood with character, and building a sturdy trestle table.

Wolfgang Schleidt had just such a table at his farm house. Zoology grad students gathered around it for evening seminars. Over coffee and Gugelhupf we discussed issues in animal behavior, and there we met Nobel prize laureate Konrad Lorenz in person.

Wolf returned to Vienna, Austria in 1985 and now, retired, lives in an old farmhouse in the countryside.

I wrote him last week:

"I always loved your old trestle coffee table in Maryland. Must look for some drift wood one of these days to make a trestle dining room table. The redhead is not keen on the idea, but I think I can change her mind. The waves on the coast are huge, and a lot of good stuff is going to wash up."

Wolf responded:

"Just for the record: that old trestle coffee table was not made from drift wood, but from the floor support of our old corn house: very well seasoned maple beams, and one piece of oak, that never had seen an iron nail. Therefore, I was able to persuade our lumber mill to run them through their planer, and get them all to the same thickness.

The trick part was to glue them together, without any clamps!

It was in the Fall of 1965, shortly after we had moved into Beall Farm, and all I had were the basic hand tools (Craftsman handsaw, chisels, wrench set, etc. which I still use these days) and a Black & Decker electric drill. So, I got myself an eight inches long ½” wood drill and VERY carefully drilled into each beam two horizontal holes. They had to be VERY carefully lined up for two ½” threaded rods with a washer and a nut on either end, which were used as “permanent” internal clamps. Because I did not want the nuts to stick out, I chiseled out a space around the four holes on the outer beams where the nuts were to be placed, deep enough to cover the hole and nut with a wooden peg.

The only furniture we had at that time were a few old chairs and folding picnic table, left behind by the Bealls,
and our bed and four oak stools we had brought up from North Carolina. I used these four stools for support during assembly in our living room: I set them up, two and two each, with an old board across, placed my beams on top, carefully lined up, applied about a pint of Elmer’s glue to the sides to be fused (as thin and even as I was able to do), pushed the threaded rods through and tightened the nut as tight as possible.

Next morning, when I inspected the fruits of my labor, I found underneath the table top four beautiful lines of pearls on our plush wall to wall carpeting. It was Elmer’s Glue fused to the pile."

Wolf and I seem to have a lot in common.


brian miller said...

That's a great story about the table and the pearls of glue. What a treat you must have had meeting Konrad Lorenz. It has always amazed me that he was right about so many ideas years before they were accepted.

We had a nice snow yesterday and the day before. I'm still putting out cameras and it will be a good chance to look for tracks in the snow.

Karen Allen said...

I enjoyed your table story. We often muse about who sat around our table--the one you and the "redhead" left with us when you moved to California. I can remember long, delicious dinners with fascinating people at that table at the CRC. Perhaps one day you could help us document its history during the Wemmer period. Its work continues. One day, it's a place to spread out homework; the next, it's the setting for dinner for 12.

Dale Madison said...

Thanks for the memory regarding Wolf's table, the recipe for that great "coffee cake", and our meeting with Konrad. I'm still into building and fixing things, and I wonder how many animal behaviorists are actually gadgeteers who found a respectable profession to tie into their passion for constructing and jerry-rigging things.