April 10, 2017

Tom's Grandfather's Table

1 comment
Tom Bihn's Design Table

When I began making outdoor gear, in about 1972, I used the back side of a ping pong table on saw horses, out in the garage, as a cutting surface. At some point my parents wanted their garage back and I was therefore in need of a more modest sized cutting table. The year was 1974 and my mom's father ("Pop") was recently retired, and, as retired guys so often do, was dabbling in woodworking. A quiet and thoughtful man, Pop and I spent a weekend building a cutting table. The cutting surface was smooth Masonite which we glued down to a thick plywood base; it had a large shelf for rolls of fabric under that main cutting surface. It served me well for the next several years, as its 48" x 60" surface was adequate for vests, jackets and backpack (to cut out sleeping bags, I still had to use the ping pong table.)

When I was in my early 20s, I lived for while in a tent in the Santa Cruz Mountains. At some point I was in need of an outdoor kitchen and I hadn't been using my grandfather's table for cutting for a while, so we decided to use it as a kitchen table. We built a roof over the table so we could stand out of the rain while preparing food, and using thin plywood, we built a rough cabinet enclosure around the base of the table for food storage. It sat on some concrete pavement stones in the forest near my tent, and was once again quite useful. (See main photo.) Later, when I moved back to civilization and started making gear again, I retrieved the table. Its cutting surface had not faired so well out in the weather, but the basic structure of the table was still going strong. I fitted a new table top on it (I think it was particle board with a white Melamine top surface) and I was back up and cutting.

The table came with me when I moved my workshop to Dave Meeks' bee barn in the late 80s. Some days, David and Alayne would invite me up to the house for a lunch of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and just about every time afterwards, I would fall asleep on my cutting table. When I opened my store/workshop in downtown Santa Cruz in 1990, the table seemed to be on its last legs (hehe) and I was looking at replacing it. My good friend (and hero) Rob offered to help me build a new table -- but when we were discussing its history, he said rather than build a new table, he'd cut some new supports and we would shore up my grandfather's table. A few days later Rob returned with a bunch of carefully cut 2 x 4s and we screwed and glued them onto the old table, and it was as good as new. Better actually, because now Rob was part of it too. I added wheels, and in 1992 when I moved my Santa Cruz shop from 109 Locust Street to 103 Locust Street, my friends David Giannini and Perry Jones just piled stuff on the table and rolled it down the sidewalk.

All these 40+ years later, here in my design studio, the table lives on: I've sheered it up by attaching a piece of plywood between the bottom ends of the legs, and once again added giant casters so I can push it out of the way when necessary. The current top is a relic from the old Trager factory in Seattle: a section of modular table top on which were likely cut thousands and thousands of R.E.I. tents, L.L. Bean duffle bags and Eddie Bauer backpacks.

I always thought souvenirs were kinda silly, but you could say that this table is a souvenir: a reminder of the friends and family that got me here. It's not so bad to be attached to stuff maybe after all.

Tom Bihn's Design Table
The table in Tom's design studio.

Pop holding Tom, 11 years before they made the table together.


Teo - November 19, 2019

Lovely story and that top photo is wonderful.
Thanks for sharing.
:) Teo

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