Tables sometimes get a bad rap for wobbling when it’s really the floor’s fault, according to Tom O’Neill.
“It’s a sensitive thing,” he says. “In order for your table to be level, you have to find a flat surface.”
O’Neill is on the level. He’s been making unwobbly (as long as they’re on a flat floor) tables for more than 20 years, first in Houston, then in Austin, then in Marathon, and now back in Austin. His shop, first called Tom’s Tables and now Austin Table Studio, is in a little artist-studio strip on Old Koenig Road.
“My sort of shape is this Shaker style,” he says, pointing to a simple but elegant farmhouse-style, rectangular, cypress table. “I have noticed that, to me anyway, the most beautiful pieces are simple and have their roots in some one of the classic styles.”
“I like to make them with benches,” he adds, lifting a walnut bench. “You can put five kids on there for a birthday party.”
O’Neill uses mortise and tenon construction, creating hole-and-peg joints rather than nails. The furniture is hand-planed and all wood (no plywood), sometimes reclaimed wood. He says the typical table takes about a week to build and another week to finish with hand-rubbed oil and a layered wax polish. They range in price from $800 to $3,500. Along the way, he sometimes takes a break to play an acoustic guitar he keeps in his workshop.
He’s a table specialist, but he makes other furniture as well. Right now he’s working on some tall desks that will allow those who work at them to stand up.
“A lot of times my customers want something that’s a mixture of my style and their ideas,” he says. A customer might want a table with pipes for legs, for example, or a brightly colored tabletop.
Before he was a furniture maker, O’Neill worked in the oil and communications businesses after graduating from the University of Texas with an engineering management degree in 1982. But in the early ’90s, he felt the call of the table, and he’s been crafting furniture ever since.
“I wasn’t really trained to do this,” he says. “To me, it’s just instinctive, like a bird would go build a nest.”
Austin Table Studio
900 Old Koenig Road, Austin