Thursday, December 9, 2021

52 Ancestors - HOMEMADE: Carrying on the Tradition

I have been the lucky recipient of many family heirlooms passed down to me. Quilts, crocheted doilies, and tables have been featured in several of my blogs already.

Q is for Quilt

D is for Doily

T is for Table

I have also written about what an amazing seamstress my mother was. From doll clothes for Shirley Temple, Barbie, and American Girl to slipcovers, draperies, and bridal gowns, she did it all.

I is for Ideal
Before Bridezilla Roamed 

The creative gene must be strong in my family. Since retiring, my husband Barry has become interested in woodworking. His father was a finish carpenter by trade, but in his spare time he made little shelves for Barry’s mother’s salt and pepper shaker collection. He also made this coffee table.

Table made by Ervin Mathias

The wood came from trees growing on the family farm in Timberville, Virginia. An ice storm in the late 1970s or early 80s broke branches and damaged trees. Barry’s father cut down poplars, oaks, cedars, walnut trees, and maples. He took them to a sawmill to have the sawyers do whatever it is they do. Then he let the wood dry in an old chicken house. From the various woods, he made Barry and his brothers and sisters each a coffee table with a checkerboard center. No two tables are the same.

The construction of the table is much like a BIG project that Barry and I took on this past spring. Our daughter was drawn to some geometric wood art that kept showing up on Pinterest. Several shops on Etsy sell wood wall art ranging in price from $80 - $500 depending on size, materials, and complexity.

I’m here to say they earn every bit of that price.

This was the inspiration piece.

Our first plan was to use 1x2 wood from Lowes or Home Depot and then stain it in various colors. However, after I figured out how much wood we would need for a 24”x48” board, I realized this thing was going to be too darn heavy.

In a serendipitous moment, a neighbor walked by and saw us in the driveway one day working on some other project. Our neighbor has quite a collection of tools like you see in Ben Napier’s shop on “Home Town.” He gave us LOTS of helpful advice, including where to find ¼” craft wood in a variety of species. We didn’t even know such things exist.

We purchased a nice grade of plywood for the base and then drew the design, numbering each strip to correspond to the wood strips purchased from Ocooch Hardwoods in Wisconsin – maple, walnut, and mahogany. We were able to select the width and thickness saving us from having to rip the wood.

Design drawn on plywood 
and first pieces of wood glued in place

Following our neighbor’s good advice, we started in the middle and glued only a few pieces at a time, allowing an hour or so before adding more. We also left the outer strips long extending beyond the edge of the plywood.

All the strips glued in place.
We stained the center "medallion"
with red mahogany.

The neighbor trimmed the edges with his fancy shmancy table saw.

Trimmed and ready
for finishing touches

I applied 2 coats of sealer.

I rubbed on Danish oil 

Barry made the frame from just plain 1x2 poplar which we stained dark walnut.

With completed frame

Complete - 
propped up on our porch just to get 
a picture

We are pretty proud with how it turned out. Oh, there are some places where we had to cheat. Our neighbor warned us that no matter how careful we were, it would not be perfect. And it isn’t.

Finished and hanging
(Grandbaboo loves a ladder!)

I’m not sure it will achieve “family heirloom” status, but it had better not show up at Goodwill. I will come back and haunt somebody! 

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Quite an intricate piece! Very dynamic and beautifully done. IMHO it's going to be an heirloom, especially since you documented the creation process.

  2. Oh my, how beautiful! Will you ever make another?

  3. Both the checkerboard coffee table and your patterned wall art are very beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Well done! I am sure it will be treasured!