Crawfish Table Number Deux.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Domestica,Family,House,Pictures,Reflection | Sunday 22 April 2012 10:11 pm

In 1994 my brothers an I designed and built a crawfish table (well… adapted a picnic table design, to be honest) — a table made for the intent of standing at and eating crawfish.  Once a pot of bugs was done boiling, it was hoisted up and dumped out onto the table, an inner and outer rail keeping them corralled onto the table-top. Folks bellied up to the table and ate their fill without the need to grab a pile and go find somewhere else to settle in.  While eating, the shells were pitched through a hole in the center directly into a garbage can, rather than making a pile of them to be dealt with later.

Like all of the outdoor furniture we built, it was a heavy, solid, sturdy, beastly monstrosity — anything worth building, was worth overbuilding. Made from pressure treated 2x lumber, it would withstand the elements and insects. It was coated with more than five layers of outdoor polyurethane to help protect it from the crawfish, and us from the chemicals used to treat the wood. Our little furniture “company” was known as Hurricane Furniture (prophetic, I know!), on the premise that come a hurricane or tornado, you should abandon your home and seatbelt yourself into our outdoor furniture — you’d be safer (“tornadoes just bounce right off of our shit”).  It was branded with our signature logo — literally branded — burnt right into the wood.

This table saw eleven years of life in the sun, rain, heat, humidity and cold. Eleven crawfish seasons this table was put to use, occasionally hauled from house to house as needed. It stood the test of time. It was damn near indestructible.

Damn near.

It didn’t give up without a fight.  Oh no. When I evacuated for Katrina, I put it in front of my garage door to ensure the wind wouldn’t blow it open. It was a silent sentinel, a guardian of my tools. The storm hit and I was the lucky recipient of 9′ of water on my street. That foul, acidic water didn’t recede for more than a week, and the table was beneath it the whole time. Upon my return I found it, just about where I left it in front of my garage door and still holding it closed, only it had tipped over onto it’s side and turned 90 degrees. It was still intact, but the table-top had warped and twisted and it was fouled with dirt, the borderline bulletproof polyurethane coating eroding away from the wood. Sadly, the table was ruined beyond future use.

After the storm I moved to Austin, carting my meager surviving possessions with me. Among them was my crawfish boiling pot and burner… they were in the garage attic, and had survived high and dry. I vowed to return to my duties as boil-master some day, but unfortunately that was hard to do in an apartment.

It took a few years, but eventually I got back into the groove — there are live crawfish to be had in Austin, the best ones being trucked in from Lake Charles for pickup on Saturdays during the season. I host a boil a year now, and generally act as boil-master for at least one other hosted by friends, sometimes two. I missed it, dearly. It’s a lot of work, but it’s in my very bones. It calls to me. It reminds me of home, family, and good times. It allows me to make more good times, and carry on healing bits and pieces of my soul.

But, there has been a big, overbuilt table-shaped hole these last seven years. The absence of the crawfish table has not gone unnoticed, or unlamented. I’ve had a yard of my own for it to live in for many years, but hadn’t had the opportunity to build a new table.

Until now.

I knuckled down, and made a new one this year. It took a little digging to find the original designs I had, and some CSI-like action — oh yes, I was a clever motherfucker, for the original designs were done in CorelDraw v3, and nothing opens those any more, not even CorelDraw. Using a hex editor I was able to extract the shopping list and some basic notes I had jotted down. I was also able to see the postage-stamp sized preview to determine that I used five boards for the table-top, giving me the overall dimensions — 3’x5”.

I redesigned the table digitally (in a format that is more universal and likely to stand the test of time). I kept the same basic design and expanded the table-top to 4’x6′. I tweaked the height a bit. I also changed the way the inside rail fastens to the table — from pegs in holes, to a routed recessed area. I’ve also added a removable second tier table made of PVC that can be used to put drinks, paper towels, etc, replacing the paper towel rods drilled into the outside rail, and the car-window drink holders as well.

All the while I was cutting and assembling the lumber, my brain kept whiplashing back to 1994, and building the original table with my brothers. It made me smile for the connection to the past and to my family, and a little melancholy to think of the distance between us now, both physical and emotional — one more thing to thank Katrina for. All the while I was sitting underneath the giant wooden hulk, brushing on polyurethane, I was reminded of how much I despised getting that lovely crick in my neck the last time, and how much — after five days — I was getting damned tired of the smell of it.

But most of all, through all of the table construction, the thoughts looming largest in my mind were: I hope I do this justice, I hope this lives up to what we had created before… I hope I do my brothers proud.

They taught me well, those knuckleheads did. We didn’t always get along, and we never quite knew how to show healthy affection for one another other than through incessant teasing and verbal sparring, but they knew how to create, and they passed that on to me. When there was sawdust in the air, all was right with the world.

Here are the fruits of my labors, and I can’t wait to put it to the test in a few weeks time. I was even sent our brand so that I could properly mark anything I build, proclaiming it properly built in the finest tradition of Hurricane Furniture.

And here are three of the jackasses that helped make me the jackass that I am today. Love you all.



  1. VERY nice crawfish table. Good job. The changes and additions to the original are also really good. Nice looking bunch of brothers too…although I do believe they’re all a bit older now and even better looking. The pictures don’t show the big garbage can receptacle that fits under the center opening.

    I’m waiting with amusement for the reactions of people who’ve never used this contraption. It’s so amazingly USEFUL and convenient. Makes eating mudbugs and shellfish clean and pleasant…and clean-up is a snap. Have fun!

    April 25, 2012 @ 2:38 pm
  2. Well, I figured that folks ought to be able to imagine a big plastic 55 gallon drum under the center of the table. That doesn’t require a visual as much as the rest of the table… especially if you’ve never bellied up to the old table before.

    Here’s hoping it breaks the last one’s record. It doesn’t have flooding to contend with, but it does have dry weather and extreme heat.

    The brothers are older for sure, much grayer too… where there’s still hair, that is. I’m not exempt from the gray, but I’m nowhere near as follicularly challenged. *grins* But, like petrifying wood, we get tougher and sturdier as we age. It’s in the genes.

    April 25, 2012 @ 5:43 pm
  3. Not to minimize your CSI investigation, but it’s plain to see that there were five boards on the old table (along with other design details) from the pictures of it post-Katrina. Why didn’t you just look at those? :-)

    May 1, 2012 @ 6:56 am
  4. Well, the actual, but less satisfactory answer is that I didn’t find those post-hurricane pictures until after I had built the new table and was writing this post and searching for pictures for it (and BTW this is the same question Sweets had as well, dammit).

    The fictitious, but more amusing and ‘CSI thematic’ answer is that I didn’t find those pictures until I already had a suspect in custody and I was packing up the documents from the case and noticed a funny detail in a photo that fell at a weird angle on my desk that led me to the real culprit.

    But the most satisfying answer for me is: “Shut the fuck up Donny.”

    May 1, 2012 @ 10:51 am
  5. I figured that was the reason. 😉

    What’s this new format that you expect will be around longer? And, maybe you should export a PDF or something, in case all else fails with that.

    May 1, 2012 @ 8:21 pm
  6. Also, what’s that shelf made of? And, it seems like at that height it would interfere with conversations across the table. Does it, or am I misjudging because of the angle?

    May 1, 2012 @ 8:34 pm
  7. The file format is .SVG – Scalable Vector Graphics, an open standard specification that’s been in development since 1999 and is in wide use today. And yes, I have exported a PDF of the file as a backup. *grins*

    That shelf is made of two 15″x20″ polypropylene cutting boards (laid edge to edge) from Sam’s… and they’re nicely inexpensive for boards that size — I use them for all manner or projects, especially with building equipment and tools for Curious Confections (they cut well with a table or circular saw). They’re fastened to a 3/4″ PVC pipe frame — again, another versatile product that I make a lot of stuff from — with stainless hardware. The shelf is made to be able to be scrubbed, bleached, and stored in a closet inside.

    The shelf height is 60″, and even Sweets, who is on the short-ish, side can comfortably see over it, as well as reach a drink or roll of paper towels. We took the height into consideration, and also the legs holding the shelf up are removable, which also means they are replaceable if I need shorter/longer ones.

    Also, I just today finished some screens that sit over the top of the table to keep the flies off. The past few years we’ve been using a plastic trough (for mixing concrete, actually) to dump the crawfish into once they’re boiled, and last year I bought an old window screen to place over the top, and it made all the difference in the world… decided to carry that concept over as an improvement to the new design as well.

    May 1, 2012 @ 11:35 pm

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