What type of wood?

Before I could start building my coffee table for my EC&I 831 learning project, I needed some supplies. Luckily, I had a shop available to use with a ton of tools. However, I needed wood. From my design, I knew the sizes of wood I would need and the lengths I needed them to be. But, one major question remained: What type of wood should I buy?

I tried some searching online to see what I could learn about selecting wood. This reddit post was very detailed, but didn’t provide much insight into what type to buy, just the order you should pick things up in the store. If you want to get really technical, The Art of Manliness has a very detailed guide to picking lumber I found. I found the following video to be quick and straightforward:

This video by Wood and Shop was a little more advanced than my needs for this project, but has been bookmarked for any possible future projects I will do.

After a while researching, here are a couple of tips for getting wood for a project that I obtained:

  • Always buy more than you need. Extra will be useful for any mistakes you make (I’m anticipating many…)
  • Check for warping, twisting, or winding. The straighter and flatter the wood is, the less you’ll have to fight it.
  • Check for checking (splits or cracks) and knots in the wood.
  • Have a friend with a truck.
  • Check the moisture (I didn’t do this and was delayed waiting for it to dry)

Ultimately, my decision came down to what was reasonable. Since this is my first go at things, I settled on what Lowe’s had and went with what they recommended: cedar. It was fairly soft and marked up quite easily, even from a fingernail.


Because of this wood choice, I’ll need to ensure I have a good polyurethane coat to protect the project when it’s complete. The next step is to make my measurements and cuts.

Regarding learning this online, I found that just heading to a place that sells wood to be more useful. There is a ton of information online, which I’m sure is good. But, if you can talk face to face to an expert, they can guide their recommendation based on your experience and specific project. Perhaps this could be done with a video conference call or through tweeting experts, but it’s probably more effective just to head to where you’ll already be going to make your purchase.

Planning it out with SketchUp

After scouring the web for way too long, it became time to make the design for my table.

Despite great aspirations to make my table really cool and something unique, I ultimately decided to try to make my design as simple as possible since this is my first go round at this.

I ended up basing my design off of this table created by Ana White. The design is called Rustic X Coffee Table. It was simple, but I decided to make it even more simple.

I ended up cutting out the side x and wanting to change how the bottom shelf was structured. And, I wanted to change up the dimensions.  I decided I wanted to make sure my design a little more detailed than sketches on scrap pieces of paper, so I downloaded SketchUp to start my design. I have some CAD drawing experience, but not a ton with SketchUp itself. So, I headed off to YouTube and found a ton of resources. After watching a couple intro tutorials I got the basic idea. From that point on, I just typed exactly what I wanted to do into YouTube and found a tutorial specific to it.

After designing my table once, I decided to screen record myself (I used Microsoft Mix‘s screen recording feature) building it again, to see if I have a good understanding of the tool and clean up my original design.

I also was able to very easily make the entire screen recording into a quick animated gif using Giphy.


Here is a link to the actual SketchUp Model in their 3D Warehouse if you want to try it out yourself. I’m sure my actual design will change as I dive in and try to make it all fit together, but this was a good starting point. I also embedded their neat 3D viewer below (click and drag to rotate the view).

I am always amazed at the resources available on YouTube for learning, especially when it comes to software. Additionally, I found it extremely easy to make my own videos and share them on YouTube. I have made flipped math videos for my students before, but I haven’t shared anything as raw and quickly as my table making tool. I hope that maybe someone can make use of it. I also came to the conclusion that it was time to contribute. If you’re going to learn from videos on YouTube, you might as well share your experience and method in the off chance it might help someone else.



Down the Rabbit Hole

When I embarked on my learning project for ECI 831, I figured the research portion would be the easiest part of the entire process.

Little did I know, there are endless resources online from DIYers. I spent hours upon hours clicking through websites, finding myself opening up anything that looked somewhat interesting. The websites that I found most useful were Instructables, Makezine, and videos on YouTube. Soon, my browser looked like this (this is even after I closed 20 or so tabs). Note the mess of tabs I had open.


Every where I turned online I was finding something that I could take and apply to my project. I was finding inspiration everywhere and valuable resources galore. I couldn’t stop myself.  If it looked like there was even the tiniest chance there might be something useful I Ctrl+clicked the link (shortcut to open in a new tab, for those that don’t know!).

It was clear that I needed a better way to manage this. Most links had something I could benefit from, but not all of them were going to be essential for my project. I considered using Diigo (my preferred social bookmarking tool), Google Docs, and PearlTrees as spaces to collect the link I found most useful. Ultimately, I settled on the tried-and-tested Pinterest to house those links most valuable to this project. This decision was based largely on the fact that so many educators swear by Pinterest, but I have been reluctant to fully engage with the tool.  This project will prove to be an opportunity to put it to the test with a meaningful project.

Here is the current state of my Learning Project pin board, which I will continue to trim down and add to as I work through the project.

Follow Kyle’s board Learning Project on Pinterest.

I think it’s safe to say that at some point or another, we’ve all sat down to watch a quick YouTube video, and looked to the clock 2 hours later and wonder what happened. We’ve all fell down this rabbit hole.  This is a very real part of trying to research and learn online. If I were to repeat this part of my learning project again, I would limit myself to a certain amount of time to search aimlessly online for resources that may be useful. Following this broad, open-ended search period, it would be important to focus your researching to very specific things that you want to learn. Aimlessly searching, hoping for the “answer” to fall into your lap, will not get you very far.

The next step for me is to do some much more focused research. I’ll be looking at options for the top of my coffee table, legs, and what sorts of tools I’ll need.

Photo credit: Down the rabbit hole! (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Learning for the Sake of Learning

For my EC&I 831 course, I have been given a gift: Learn anything you want.

There’s a little more to it than just learning something: we need to use open, online resources and, most importantly, share our progress as we go. Being an advocate for Genius Hour in the classroom, this sounded like an amazing opportunity and finally an excuse to justify the time it would take me to explore something on my own time. I’ve been thinking about doing my own personal genius hour ever since I read John Spencer’s blog post Teachers need genius hour, too. In his post, John suggests that we become stronger teachers, and gain a better appreciation for the struggle of failures and learning – something that I think many of us advocate for in our classrooms, but have a difficult time sharing with our students.

My initial excitement for this learning project opportunity soon turned into panic. Five days passed and I was further than ever at deciding what I wanted to explore. Every time I sat down to try to narrow down my ideas for my project, my list seemed to grow by a few more items. Before I knew it, I had a list of just over 50 ideas. Luckily, I’ve seen this problem before. I finally understood why my students had such a difficult time picking their Genius Hour topics. And, even though I had never been in this position, I knew I needed to outline some rules to narrow down the search.

My rules:

Make something.
Something I have never made the time to do.
Unplug. No screens.

My list of about 50, quickly cut down to three. Ultimately, none of those three were enough to get me excited to learn and write a blog post about it (hence the delayed start to this process). I settled on an idea that is simple, challenging, and meets all of my rules.

I’m going to build a coffee table from scratch.


A quick Google search showed me that there are plenty of websites and videos already out there. As far as social media goes, it looks like there are plenty of communities and forums ready to share and welcome a rookie. I’ll be checking out Make and Instructables as I try to figure out sort of shape my coffee table will take. Reddit has a large community of DIYers sharing projects and tips quite often, r/DIY. I also know some people who are willing to share tools and space with me as I try to figure this out.

My very rough plan for this learning project will be:

Research, research, research. Find out as much as I can about different designs, tools, and materials that could be used. I’ll find an open tool that I can collect and share ideas and resources that I find.
Make my own design. Hopefully, I can use a free tool like Google Sketchup to make a digital plan, but I’ll explore other options here as well.
Learn the tools. Spend some time practicing different cuts, drills, and whatever other skills I’ll need.
Start building. This will be interesting. I just hope to keep all my fingers.
Fail. Fix. Repeat. This is optional, but I fully expect that I will make a bunch of mistakes in the building process or things won’t go quite as planned.

Needless to say I’m looking forward to diving in and am thankful for the opportunity to learn for the sake of learning. Stay tuned for more!

Photos from Unsplash: Mikesh Kaos and Mathieu Nicolet