Finding the Perfect Farm Table- part deux

So, I missed the holy grail table and thought all hope was lost. I’d been back to the charity shop and found a few that would do but I never seem to arrive early enough and they were always marked vendu– “sold”. We have a perfectly good garden table, and though it is quite large and in good shape, it is white PVC, not really the vibe I am going for on the lush green landscape of our patchwork countryside.

Sitting on the patio with my daughter, husband and the neighbor, Joseph, we were taking a coffee break from the endless gardening and renovations and the subject of the table came up once more. Sometimes I just can’t let things go. My daughter said she still felt awful for talking me out of the table and was trying to change the subject. Then our neighbor Joseph commented that a man in our village was selling a large farm table. It was his mother’s and was very old. “Let’s go!” I said!

Joseph, my daughter and her boyfriend and I take our van in to the village to see the guy.  Monsieur opens up his shed and amongst the old office furniture, bicycles and garden equipment there is a large table covered in a plastic tablecloth. The legs look great. It is quite large with two leaves. We pull off the tablecloth and the top looks odd. At first, I think it is just very dirty wood. And then I see that it is a type of melamine or plastic. Bummer!! The man assures me it is wood. I am thinking no way. I crawl under the table and see it is in fact made of thick large planks. Oak, or “chatigner” chestnut, Joseph says.

We pull the table out. It’s big. Four meters long extended. The frame is in decent shape and the leaves are all intact, but the top is covered with a type of plastic coated tar paper. Apparently, this was put on tables in the early 20’s to make them more sanitary. So, I am thinking, how hard can this be to get off? I’ll scrape this off, sand it down and voilia! He is asking 150 euros. And I am thinking 75. We settle on 100 and even though we have a large van, he offers to put it in his trailer and drive it over.

We unload the table and Peter and my father-in-law, Bill, proceed to inspect my purchase. I am excited to get started but that excitement turns to horror when I realize what I have got myself in to. The pallet knife does nothing. The sander doesn’t touch it. Mineral spirits, nada. I start searching the web. “How to get tar paper off wood”. Vinegar, boiling water, heat gun. Try them all.

I finally decide on a sharp scraper and a pallet knife and just power my way through it. An hour at a time. Not something you can keep at for too long as this stuff is tough and you must press extremely hard to get it to release from the wood. Not to mention it is July and about 85 degrees outside. Even though I am wearing gloves, the blisters start to appear. Bill comes out and takes a shot, doing some good work. In the end, I take about a week to get most of it off the main table and the first leaf. Then the table sits, for a month. I have to psyche myself up to get on it again.

In August, I take the main top and one leaf that I scraped and sand it down with an electric palm sander. It’s stained from the tar so I use some teak cleaner and a stiff brush. It comes up well and after sanding it again I try some stain on it to even it out. We decide that the frame is cherry wood and the planks are chestnut. I stain the two leaves and try a finish coat to see how well it will seal. It looks okay but will still need some work and I must get back to the last leaf that is still covered in tar.

By September I am thinking that I am never going to get this thing done. I am leaving in a week for California and know once I get back, summer will be over and the table will need to go in the barn.  I am determined to complete my project. I finish removing the tar, scrub the planks again and do a final sanding.  Stain it, seal it and take the photo.


We found some vintage bistro chairs at the second-hand shop as well as an antique bench. It’s set for 10 but can seat up to 14 in a pinch! I am hoping my daughter will be able to enjoy it next week when she arrives for a visit.


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