Assembling the table top pt. 2

Well, we’re finally getting toward the end of this project; or at least it feels like it.  However, this part was by far the most intimidating part of the process for me.  It took a lot of skills that I’ve never tried before.

I sent the two pieces I made in the previous post off to a local lumber yard that let me use their drum sanding services.  For a fee, they took those pieces and sanded them down to an even 1.5″ thick on each one.  Once I got them home, I glued the two pieced together the same way we did in the last post.  Before you glue, though, take this opportunity to start your final dimensions of the table.  Take one of the two pieces, measure from what will be the glue line out 20″.  Use a straight edge guide and cut this out with your circular saw.  Now, one of your boards is exactly 20″ wide and both sides are parallel.  After you glue, you can use that side you just cut as a reference for cutting the other side at 40″.  Then, square up the ends at 94″.  Why 94″?  The final length is going to be 96″.  We will two 3″ breadboards on each end (explained later).  However, each breadboard will be attached to a 2″ tenon.  So we need 94″ total.

Confession time?  My table is a quarter inch narrower than it should be.  I’ve always said I won’t hide my mistakes!  The MDF edge guide I used flexed in the center of the table length while I was cutting and took more off the center than it did the ends.  So, having learned my lesson, I reset the straight edge of fix this, but this time I added a clamp in the center of the guide too.  When I got halfway down the table, I moved the clamp behind my saw so I could finish the cut.  Learn from my mistakes!

Even though the top two pieces should have basically been exactly the same thickness, I did have a slightly raised glue joint on one end.  I was able to clean this up with my hand plane.

NOTE:  I did not sharpen my plane before I used it (actually, for a long time before I used it).  BIG mistake.  I ended up gouging a few spots, and had to belt sand them out.  Sharp tools are a godsend, dull ones make everything harder.  Lesson learned.

On the ends of the tables we’re going to be using breadboards.  Here’s a GREAT article on what they are, and why they’re necessary.  Essentially, the table top is going to want to expand and contract from side to side as the seasons change.  As the pieces expand at different rates and in different ways, the table could warp or cup.  The solution it to fasten to boards on the ends to hold everything flat.

Here’s the kicker: if you don’t do that properly, you could ruin the table.  If you just use screws to attach the pieces (as many, MANY DIY furniture blogs would have you do) you’ll actually keep the table from expanding and contracting.  This will, inevitably, cause cracks and damage to the table.  The solution?  A tongue and groove joint with haunched tenons!

I did a pretty poor job documenting the pictures as Don and I worked on this, but here’s the steps:

  1. Cut a board that is about 2 inches longer than the width of your table.  Plane it to the exact thickness of the table.
  2. Mark out your mortises/tenons. I chose three tenons, each 7 inches in length.  The space between each tenon was also 7 inches.  This left 2.5″ on each side for the haunches.
  3. Add about 1/8 inch on each side of where your tenons are marked.  This will allow the tenons to move as the table expands.
  4. Using a dado blade or router bit, make a groove in each breadboard.   Because my table was 1.5″ thick, I opted for a half inch groove.  I went about 3/4 inch deep to balance strength and aesthetics.
  5. About 1/8 inch at a time, plunge out the mortises with your router.  We did it on a table by marking out the mortises and slowly lowering the piece onto a half inch spiral bit.

Set a guide on your table so that it will take 2 inches off each side.  A really handy trick I found was to use scrap pieces as the spacers between two pieces of plywood.  Glue them together so the spacers are exactly as wide as the table.  After the glue dries, joint one edge of the plywood pieces so they’re dead straight.  When you clamp this guide to the table, you’ll ensure that the shoulder of each side of the tenon matches up on each side!

Mark and cut out the tenons.

Leave a little extra and fine tune as needed.

It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it should be tight.  I used my block plane and chisels to tune everything up.

Mark two hole locations on each breadboard where the tenon will enter the mortise.  I went 1.5″ in from each side of the tenon, and 1″ deep off the shoulder of the breadboard.  It’s all aesthetics, really.  I decided to use walnut dowels, 3/8″ thick to drawbore everything.  The walnut will add a really nice contrast.  You could use any hardwood, really.

Here’s the really important part: ONLY ADD GLUE TO THE CENTER TENON.  You want the other tenons to be able to move back and forth and float.  Now, in my picture below, you’re probably noticing I have glue on the outside dowels, right?  Well, what I did was drive them most of the way in, apply a tiny bit of glue to the dowel, and then tap it in about another 1/4 inch.  That means the glue is only sticking the dowel to the breadboard, not the tenon.

Cut off the dowels with a flush cut saw, clean up with a chisel and sand.

Now that you’ve seen my pictures, I cannot emphasize enough how much you need to watch this video.  There were a few steps I didn’t document well, such as elongating the dowel holes on the outside tenons.  Watch the video!  That’s my cop-out for the day.

Assembling the table top, part 1

I’ve taken a somewhat minimalist approach on this post, because I’ve covered a lot of these topics before.  To build the table top, we’re going to start with 8/4 lumber.  I chose white oak, in part because of the cost (relatively less expensive) and in part because I am a big bourbon drinker, and like the idea of using its signature coopering wood in my build!  As a bonus, it makes the shop smell fantastic after you work with it; it’s like walking into a rickhouse!

If you start with 8/4 rough lumber, you’ll need to do the same steps we did for the hard maple frame in the previous post; joint one face, plane the other side parallel, then joint the edges perpendicular to the faces.  I was shooting for 1.75″ thickness, which would leave a quarter inch to sand and surface the table top once everything was all glued up.  My final thickness will be 1.5″.

If you don’t have access to a jointer or planer, buy S3S or S4S pre-surfaced lumber, and use a hand plane to joint the edges.  You want them as flat and squared as possible.  This will ensure a solid glue joint.  After laying out the boards for the appearance you’d like, use this method to joint the edges.

Laying out the boards for appearance
I would have REALLY liked to avoid that piece of sapwood on the top right board being on the inside.  But, the other side of the board had some worse imperfections, and this was the only way to make it work.  

Once you have the board layout together, it’s time to prep for gluing.  I made some custom 48 inch sawhorses to support the whole thing using this guide.  I then put some duct tape on the top to keep the boards from sticking to the sawhorses.  

Now it’s time to clamp.  While my pipe clamps are five feet long and I could technically clamp the whole table top in once piece, I decided to do it in two pieces.  Doing two, ~20 inch pieces would allow me to send it to my local lumber yard, where they could flatten each piece and sand it down to exactly 1.5″ on their 36″ drum sander.  For those who don’t have access to a service like this, I’ll cover some other options later.  After I get the two pieces back, I’ll only have one glue seam on my final piece as I join those two pieces, which can be easily flattened with a hand plane.

Spread a good, quality wood glue like Titebond 3 on the edges, using an acid brush or foam brush to make sure you get a nice, even layer.

I used cauls to help keep the top as flat as possible.  Essentially, you tape two pieces of wood (I used 2×4 scraps) and flatten one side each.  Then, clamp them down to the table top to keep everything flat.   Pipe clamps do the majority of the work providing pressure for the glue up.  I got 10 of these Pony clamps for $125 with the pipes, which is a ridiculous Craigslist find.  The guild also has a bunch of clamps I could have used.

Follow the directions on the glue bottle, but leave this clamped for at least an hour, if not more.  When the glue is kind of tacky, use a cheap chisel or metal scraper to remove the glue that squeezes out.

Double pedestal dining table, part one!

AUTHORS NOTE:  The first time I published this, I wrote solely on how to do this using machinery that I had at my mentor’s house.  I realized, afterward, that part of why I started to write this blog was to make these projects more accessible.  So, I have now added italicized instructions which clarify how to accomplish these items without access to expensive machinery.

First and foremost, sorry for the long delay between posts. I haven’t stopped working, but the projects have been household maintenance related (and puppy training related!).

The cause of much of my delay…

Just in time for the holidays, I’ve started the building process for our new dining room table. I used several different styles as the overall inspiration for this table. It’s somewhat influenced by the farmhouse style, in that it will have a large, thick slab of wood for the top instead of a thinner top with aprons on the side, like a more traditional table you’d see.

We want a table that can regularly seat 8 people, but could expand to 10 when necessary. Our room is about 14′ long by 12′ wide, so we decided to go with a 40″ x 96″ table. For the height, we’re going to be right at 29″ tall, which is about standard. To make sure this was the right fit, I cut a sheet of plywood and placed it on some sawhorses in the room.

It’s huge! But in a good way. And, actually, it fits pretty well within the normal spacing parameters. The long sides are each 50″ from the walls, and the short sides are right at 30″. Everything I found recommends 36″ to allow for chairs and room to move. Since we won’t regularly seat people on the ends, I’m not worried that we only have 30″ there. That also leaves us 14″ for a china cabinet on the right wall, which should be just about right for my grandmother’s cabinet we will be using in the future.

I have been very, very lucky to be paired with Donald Turner as my woodworking mentor through the St. Louis Woodworker’s Guild. Don has been a great resource for design, construction, and technical advice. He’s helping me take my idea and make it reality, and I can’t be more grateful. The entire frame building process took place at his shop, which makes mine look puny! Here’s the design he helped draft based on my ideas:  Pedestal Table 2D design

For the table base, I’m using this kit from Osborne Wood Products. I ordered it in soft maple, since we’ll be painting the entire base and frame. We also opted for the “extended” version that is a little longer and includes a third leg on each pedestal. If you were going to make your table smaller and sit people on each end (say, a 72″ by 36″ table) you’d probably want to opt for this kit.

The top of this table is going to be solid white oak, 1.5″ thick. My best estimate is it will be about 200 lbs. Strength is key here, and it’s better to overbuild. I could use oak for the frame, but the grain would be difficult to hide. The base is soft maple, but I don’t think that’s really going to be strong enough for the frame pieces. On Don’s advice, I opted for hard maple. It’s strong, cheap(ish), and paints well. I purchased it rough cut in 8/4 from WunderWoods in St. Charles.

If you don’t have access to a jointer and planer, consider buying S3S or S4S presurfaces 8/4 lumber.  While it won’t be perfectly flat, it will have most of the work done, and you can clean it up with a hand plane.  

Since it’s rough cut, the first step is to establish a flat side. That’s a job for a jointer. Don’s jointer makes mine look like child’s play.

I’ll put this on my Christmas list

Once we established a flat side, we can use the planer to make the opposite side completely flat and parallel.

Multiple passes required

We took the thickness down to 1.75″. We then ripped the pieces to 2.5″ widths, and cut them down to final length on the miter saw. The two long stretchers were 90″ and the four shorter stretchers were each 34″.

We’re using a half lap joint to build the frame. This will make a strong frame that can be easily assembled. It’s also a relatively simple joinery technique. The top of the pedestal is 8″ wide, so we laid out the spacing for each lap joint accordingly.

Set the table saw to exactly half the width of the board, then cut through it in multiple passes (pictured below). Use a miter gauge or crosscutting sled on your table saw to do this.  You could also cut it with a handsaw, bandsaw, or even a jig saw.  Just make sure you’re consistent. Use a chisel to remove the waste.

To cut the taper, we marked the line with a pencil based on the design Don drafted.  Then, we cut about 1/16th inch off that line on the bandsaw, and used the jointer to clean the edge up.

In absence of a bandsaw, use a straight edged piece of MDF to guide a circular saw to cut the angle, similar to how I’ve cut sheet goods in previous posts.  

Checking the fit

I forgot to get pictures of the next step, but hopefully a written explanation should suffice. With the frame on a table, bottom side up, place the pedestal (bolt side down) onto the frame. Align the pedestal with a square so that the sides are flush with the frame, then mark where the bolts touch.

Using the smallest bit you have, drill a small pilot hole through center of the spots where the bolts were marked. We used a drill press to ensure the holes would be square, but you could get away with a drill guide like I’ve shown previously.

Turn the pieces over, and using a forstner bit (on a drill press) or spade bit (on hand drill), make a hole large enough to receive the washer that came with the kit, and drill about halfway through the wood. Then, drill out a 3/8 inch hole through both sides where the bolt will go through.

The picture below is how it looks when assembled.  I sat on it, and it had no problem handling my weight.  We don’t plan on gluing any of the half lap joints; the bolts should pull everything together, and it will be easier to move if it’s not glued.

Walnut T Desk with File Cabinets

This is a recent piece my friends commissioned for their home office. They wanted to be able to work next to each other, but weren’t able to find something they really liked off the shelf. The top of the T is 9.5 feet long. Table top is 3/4 A2 walnut plywood framed with 6/4 lumber. Cabinets are the same plywood, with prefinished birch drawers and solid walnut faces. All finished with a layer of shellac, then grain filler with Zar Moorish Teak, then three coats of semi gloss Arm-r-seal.

I’ll start by admitting I didn’t do a great job photographing every step, but that’s partially because this was a custom job for my friends, and I wanted it to be a one-of-a-kind piece, so I didn’t upload plans like I normally would. The top is built in three sections for transportation and convenience. The top pictured is one of two that creates the top of the T. It is 3/4 walnut ply, cut to 23″ in width and 56 inches in length. The frame is walnut, cut to about 1″ thick with a 1″ rabbet on which the table top rests and is glued to. This makes the desk 24″ wide by 57″ tall.

On the mitered corners, to add some strength, I decided to put some splines. I clamps these two scraps to the table top, then used my biscuit joiner to cut a spline into the miter. Two splines on each corner.

I took some walnut and planed it down to fit snugly into the splines; about 14mm or so. Glued in place.

Picture of the splines after flush cutting and finishing. I got the finishing steps from this article, finish #1:

Drawer faces in process. I know the opening to my cabinets is 25.5″ tall, so I am opting for 26″ of total drawer face, leaving a quarter inch overhand on the top and bottom.

Planed, sanded, awaiting the finish.

Plywood cabinet boxes built using general dimensions from this video. I decided to add a back, get rid of the top (since it will be covered with the desk top) and add a piece of support to the top of the front as well. Additionally, instead of trimming it out with lumber, I edge banded the plywood with walnut veneer.

Here you can see some of the pockethole screws. I tried using a knock-off from Amazon, but had really bad results. The lock ring was loose, and even when it wasn’t loose, the depth on the holes was too deep and the points of the screws poked through. Kreg K4 to the rescue! Well worth the extra cost, worked like a charm. Drawer slides are from Rockler.

Half inch prefinished ply for the drawers, with a 1/4″ groove for 1/4″ prefinished ply to create the bottoms. The Kreg Microjig was a lifesaver here as well. I modified the plans from the video so that the screws would be on the face (which will be covered by the solid walnut front) and on the back, where they won’t be seen.

A look at one of the cabinets after completion.

The final product, assembled! Metal L brackets on the corners where the parts join, and I simply plywood box built to add extra support on the back. Metal brackets sit inside the file cabinet and screw up into the plywood to hold the top down.

Sinker Cypress Flag Memorial Case

For the Reddit r/woodworking Dovetail challenge, I decided to finally tackle a project I’ve been meaning to work on for a few months: a memorial case for the flag my family was presented at my grandfather’s funeral in November. My grandfather grew up during the Great Depression, served in the military until retirement, and raised a large and loving family. To honor his roots and the connection we have to our family, I built the case completely out of cypress taken from our family’s land there.

If you’re looking for perfect dovetails, this won’t be for you. But, it’s a special wood (in rarity and in sentiment) and I wanted to think outside the (90 degree) box (literally and figuratively) when contemplating a way to incorporate dovetails. This was really something I did for my family and myself, but I also know my grandfather would be proud to know that I made this and would want me to share the process as well.

The sinker cypress I had to work with. This was reclaimed from my family’s property. I don’t know how old the tree was, or how long it had been in the mud, but the character is beautiful.
Using these plans I began ripping down the cypress. Really the only change I made to the plans was that, instead of just gluing the joints, I added dovetails and dovetail splines.
To get the necessary 22.5 degree angle, this was really the best option. I also build a 45 degree miter sled for my table saw, with a 22.5 degree piece I added on to cut the molding that gets glued on.
I’m sure there are many ways to layout the dovetails, but the dividers method was by far the easiest for me. It worked really well. I used a bevel set to 7 or 8 degrees to mark the angle, I honestly can’t remember.
Marking the waste
Using a Japanese style dovetail saw I got off amazon, I was able to cut the pins.
It was about here that I realized how brittle this sinker cypress is. It would continue to cause me issues, as the cypress wanted to splinter really bad. My chisels are sharp, but this wood just didn’t want to cooperate.
The fit. It’s not perfect, but these were literally the first handcut dovetails I’ve ever done, so I am happy with them!
Again, not perfect, but I am happy with them. Also, a lesson for others to learn from my mistakes. Don’t make your rabbet cut go through your dovetails! I think my family will forgive me for that mistake.
Glued and clamped.
After glue up.
Now it’s time to mark out the splines. I used the same dividers method, but opted for only three splines since I was worried about the very thin ends on these 45 degree joints.
Use a saw and chisel to remove the waste, just like a regular dovetail.
Since everything HAD to be hand cut, I laid out the rough measurements of the splines, trimmed with my chisel to fit, and sawed into individual splines.
Splines in, glue setting.
Used a flush cut saw to trim the splines. you can see where the splines and the tails splintered quite a bit.
Beauty shot of the splines
I decided to coat with shellac since durability isn’t really an issue. I really liked the way the shellac brought out the color in the wood too.
I had another piece of thinner cypress, also from our land, that I planed down to about 1/4 inch thick. Three panels, edge glued and then trimmed to make the back panel. Not pictured: I cut a sheet of Lexan glass to fit the inside of the case as well. The glass shops near me either 1) wouldn’t make a triangle cut or 2) wanted $80 to do it. $20 sheet of Lexan to the rescue.
The finished product. Well, almost finished. But I want to leave the final step of filling the case with my grandfather’s flag as a private means of remembrance for my family.

Easy splines for mitered corners (biscuit joiner method)

I’m currently working on two projects: the nightstands to match the bed I recently made, and also this desk that was commissioned for some friends.  I am not going to share the entire build process for the desk (I think they’d appreciate their desk being unique), but I wanted to share an easy little workaround I made for a spine jig.

“What is a spline?” you may be asking.  Well, when you make mitered corners for any sort of box, the corner ends up becoming two pieces of end grain that are joined together.  End grain glue ups are substantially weaker than long grain (face grain) glue ups.  How do we improve that?  Well, one way is to add a spline.

For a picture frame or small box, you can accomplish easy splines by creating a sled for your miter saw that you set the frame in which will cut a slot perpendicular to the miter.  For a big desk like this, though, it becomes a lot harder.

One solution is to use a biscuit joiner on which you create a jig that attaches to the joiner.  I really didn’t want to spend a ton of time building that.  All I needed was a perpendicular reference point; I could use the fence on my joiner to adjust the height, and use the alignment points to make sure I got the corner on center.

The solution?  Use two cutoffs to create a reference edge!

Since these are cutoffs from the stock I used to make the mitered edges, the height is exactly the same, making clamping a breeze.  And, since I used my miter sled to cut them, I know they’re accurate 45 degree angles.  I just plunge the biscuit joiner in at it’s deepest setting to cut the slot.

I ran a strip of 1/4 inch walnut through my planer until I got a snug fitting piece that would slide in the slot.  Glue liberally, let them dry.  Then, use a flush cut saw to cut off the excess, sand, and finish!

Completing the Mystery Project

When we left off, I had just rough-cut and planed down some of the persimmon. To get a truly flat, squared piece of lumber, I had to go to the local Woodworker’s guild where I am a member and use two of their machines: a jointer, and a planer. The jointer is a power tool that lets you take a piece of wood and make the face side perfectly flat. You then lay that against the fence and square up the edges. From there, you run it through the planer with your flat side down, and it makes both faces of the board parallel. You can absolutely do this with hand planes, it’s just a lot more time and effort. I didn’t get any pictures of the process, because frankly that was my first time using those power tools and I don’t feel particularly qualified to teach them. But, that’s part of why I joined the guild; a member was able to help me use them.

Next, figure out the dimensions you’d like for your mallet. That’s right, we’re making a mallet! This is about 5.5″ long by 3.5″ tall. The thickness of the mallet will be determined by the thickness of our stock. After surfacing, my pieces of persimmon came to 5/8″ thick. I decided to laminate three together for a total thickness of roughly two inches.

What we want to do at this point is create a slot for the handle to go in, and we want to taper it slightly so we can use a set of wedges to hold everything together. Using a 2 degree angle, cut two smaller pieces so that (on the bottom) they leave a 1.5″ centered slot. At the top, because it’s tapered, it will be slightly larger.

Glue those two pieces on and then clamp the heck out of them.

Add a final piece on top once that glue has dried, and this is what it should look like:

Take the head, and cut a 2 degree angle on each side. Make sure the narrower part of the mallet is the bottom.

Now to start on the handle. I took a nice piece of 8/4 ash and worked it down to 1.5″ x 1.25″ x 14″ long. You can change the length to suit your tastes, and we’re going to shape the handle down so don’t think I’m crazy when you pick this up and it feels way too thick.

On the 1.25″ side, we want to mark a tenon that is 5/8″ wide and centered. Make the tenon as long as the height of the mallet head, plus 1/2″ or so.

From there, make a rough outline of what you want the handle shape to be. Make sure it remains at 1.5″ at the top for at least an inch down the handle. Using a jig saw, band saw, or coping saw, cut this profile out. I did this before cutting the wedge slots because I didn’t want to damage the tenon after it’s cut.

Cut two slots, about 5/8″ in from the front and back of the tenon, and 1/8″ thick. Stop 1/4″ before reaching the bottom of the tenon.

Now, taking a piece of the persimmon, cut a wedge that is 1/8″ at it’s narrowest and slopes 2 degrees, making sure it is about an inch longer than the mallet height.

Apply glue liberally to the tenon and wedges, then insert the handle and slowly hammer the wedges in, making sure to hammer both at the same time.

Use a cutoff saw of some sort to cut the wedges and the top of the handle off, and use a block plane or sander to smooth the top.

Handle roughed in before more sanding.

If I’d had a spokeshave, I would have put a lot more time into this handle. But, it’s pretty comfortable to hold and considering I sanded it using a dremel, I’m fairly pleased.

Make sure to brand it!

Finally, apply at least two coats of a penetrating finish like tung oil or boiled linseed oil, and let it dry! This was a gift for a friend, and I forgot to take a picture before my wife wrapped it, but the finish will deepen the color and give everything a really nice feel.