June 6, 2021
For a beginning woodworker or even a tenured woodworker, making a tabletop is one of the simplest yet exciting projects you will embark on.
Joining at least two wood boards to form a tabletop is the first and main challenge in forming an everyday indispensable home item–the table. Every project exercises your problem-solving skills.
Among other things, there are a lot of factors to consider in starting a project, and one of this is the first step–finding wood boards or planks with matching wood, design, cuts, and without any blemishes and scratches to assure the quality of the product you’re making. It is quite a challenge to find one wooden board that fits the size of one tabletop, and when you do, it will cost you a fortune. Because of this, more often, plywood is used for making tabletops, but it can also be solid wood planks and will depend on your creativity how you’ll be able to make a sturdy, yet, a fashionable table.
Lengthwise Planks Wood joining Method
This is the most suggested technique in making a tabletop and the easiest since you’ll simply align the wood planks side by side and connect them with edge joining. You can simply use glue, which is cost-effective and quite strong on its own without the use of other joining methods and special tools.
Edge joining is a method of joining narrow, long wood planks by their edge grains to make a broader piece of wood suitable for a tabletop. By mastering this method, you can simply add more wood planks side by side to attain your ideal broadness.
Steps On Joining Tabletop Wood Planks
Step 1) Wood Sourcing & Checking
Choose the best planks of the type of wood you want to use for your project.
This is quite rigorous, but it is worthwhile if you’re able to choose wisely. The standards you should abide in choosing wood planks are:
1) free of blemishes and damage like cracks or markings and,
2) it should be flat, no twists and bows along its length.
Choosing the right wood will save you a lot of effort, money, and time in making the damages less visible.
Reminder: Don’t layer the damaged plank with another wood during the process.
Step 2) Running The Planks Through A Planer
There is a high possibility of obtaining wood boards that already have the same thickness if you’ve purchased them in a home depot or wood store. But if not, it would be a good idea to trim them to the size that will match all of them.
A planer is a woodworking tool that can cut through lengths of wood. Its purposes are smoothing rough stock, making the surfaces of wood parallel, and making wood parallel and consistent in thickness.
You can make use of a benchtop planer or a hand planer in doing this.
Step 3) Work On A Large & Flat Workbench
A large workspace is much needed when you’re working on wide and big projects such as making a tabletop. When working on the tabletop, you’ll need to line up the boards, hold them in place with a series of clamps, and all kinds of movement necessary to make it perfectly flat.
If you don’t have a large workbench, you can use flipped drywall, which is a suitable and resourceful alternative.
Step 4) Wood Planks Arrangement
Once you’ve managed to level all the wood planks into a consistent thickness, line these on the workbench and joint them all together via edge joints. Make sure that you’ve aligned these precisely and arranged them on their final positions and appearance.
You’ll need to scrutinize each piece closely, considering the pattern and design the final output would look best in. This is the part when you look at all the possibilities of making your best masterpiece yet, so cut and trim pieces that need more work on them.
Step 5) Edge Gluing Preperation
As soon as you’ve determined the design and arrangement you’ve had in mind, gluing the parts together comes next.
The number one you need to do once you’re done with the layout is to mark each wood piece with a pencil or chalk so you’ll know the arrangement and won’t get mixed up.
Mark all of the planks across the surface with an upside-down ‘V’. as you glue one piece at a time, you’ll turn each piece right side up. So those with the upside-down ‘V’s signify the order of what you’ll glue next.
Then, mark the boards’ joint lines with ‘I’ or an ‘O’. The letter ‘I’ signifies that a board’s face is to be turned Inside or ‘O’ if it’s outside or away from the fence of the joint. This will prevent you from getting confused even if the plank is turned in whichever angle.
Step 6) Clamp The Wood Pieces
Reminder: Only glue 3 wood planks at a time.
After you’re done with the preparations, you may now glue the boards. Drying the glue will take some time, and you will need to use clamps to hold the boards in place. Make use of gluing cauls. Cauls are clamping boards that can clamp stretch across the wideness of the boards. This clamp keeps the boards in place during the drying period of the glue. Cauls have an arc and are placed on top, center, and under the boards.
There are two things you need to remember when using clamps and the drying stage. First, since the planks are freshly glued, they tend to move around, and you need to be careful with the alignment of the height during clamping. So to monitor this, use the second round of clamps to use on the joints, which will prevent the boards from sliding off of one another–keeping them aligned and in place. Second is the amount of pressure while clamping. If the clamps are too tight, they also cause the boards from going out of place. The clamps should all have equal pressure on them.
Step 7) Dry Run & Glue Up
This pertains to experimenting with the type of glue you’ll be using to fix the boards. If you haven’t much experience with glue, the dry run should be done. This is to record how long the glue dries and how much adjusting you’ll need to do before the glue sets.
Here’s how to do it:
- Set up the cauls at the bottom of the boards then place the panel boards. This is for an experiment so just use excess wood and make use of three pairs of cauls.
- Glue the boards and put the top cauls, clamping only lightly.
- Then clamp at the center. Clamp along the width of the boards with light pressure.
- And then, apply alternate tightening of the clamps little by little which maintains the flatness of the panels.
Three types of glue are recommended for the dry run. One is the yellow woodworker’s glue, also known as polyvinyl acetate or aliphatic resin, which sets up the least time from five to ten minutes only. When using these, you should practice finish clamping in record time. Second is the ‘Titebond Extend’ which sets in 10-20 minutes. And Thirdly, the Gorilla glue which has the longest setting time, 40 minutes.
When you’re ready with the application of your chosen glue, set up the boards and apply glue to the joints by going in the direction from one side to the other. You may use a brush to spread the glue on the edges to speed up work. Get your damp rag at the ready to wipe off excess glue.
When you’ve finished applying the glue, examine the boards you’ve finished and how well the wood is absorbing the glue. You may apply more glue to the joints and edges. Similar to the dry run, finish clamping on all sides and adjusting.
Step 8) Wipe-off Glue Squeeze-out Right Away
In 20-40 minutes after gluing, wipe off excess glue with a damp rag as much as you can. Repeat this process to make sure to get all excess glue. Don’t worry about getting the wood wet since it will dry along with the glue.
Step 9) Inspect The Joints
It takes about 24 hours for the glue to fully dry. After that, you must check the joints if they are properly fixed. If there are damages made during the process, which you may have overlooked, address them, and continue to the next step. Inspect for any possible warps and defects that might happen during the glue drying process.
Step 10) Add The Next Couple of Wood Planks
You have plenty of opportunities to make here since you’ve already gone through such a process. You can either add more planks to widen the board or be creative, with the help of more clamps.
Step 11) Sand The Entire Surface
Your tabletop is nearing its finish. But before that, you need to make the surfaces smooth and free from rough surfaces, tear-outs, and pieces of wood that stuck out. Most woodworkers find sanding as the least enjoyable, but once you’re done, it is one of the most satisfying feats you’ve done in the project.
Step 12: Finishing
For this final step, you have two options. Commonly, applying stain and urethane, which gives out a manageable and even surface, is done. Though, with time, the original attractiveness will be hard to remake. The solution for this outcome is to resand it rigorously to bare wood and refinish once again.
The second option is to finish it with oil and wax, which takes a considerable amount of time to apply. This finish is easier to repair and revive once the tabletop is done. Frequent reapplication with this is also recommended.
How To Prevent Warping
During the process, there are plenty of design techniques that can be done to prolong the quality of the furniture by also attaining the layout you wanted.
One is the use of breadboard ends. The woodworker creates a ‘tongue’ on each end of the wood panel and attaches it to the edges of another board with mortise and glue.
The second is to connect the board to the piece with figure-8 fasteners and buttons.
Warping often occurs in quarter-sawn wood because the edge should match. Patterns that lean toward the interior of the tree should be matched with another of its kinds, and if it is toward the exterior, then the other panels should also be the same. The main explanation for this matter is that the augmentation of the interior is different from the exterior. The opposite action of contracting and expanding of these two different siding woods will make a visible seam as they oppose one another.
Techniques To Make It Stronger & Tougher
The first thing to maintain the quality and sturdiness of the furniture is the alignment; this is why we cannot emphasize enough the importance and the rigorous process that must be observed with maintaining the alignment and positions of the wood and precise measurement.
Another is to make use of other joint configurations like biscuit joints, domino joints, or dowels to reinforce and support the joints. This will also make connecting and aligning easier.
You may also make use of battens. Battens are vertical wood pieces that lay at the rear end of the tabletop and secure the panels together when the time comes. Four pieces are attached at the rear, and putting it equally will make sure to hold the assembly of the tabletop.
Lastly, gluing plywood as a foundation or base. The plywood will be hidden well by the panels at the top and will make the finishing product denser and heftier than what was intended, but it will have a quality feature to it.
Jason is a 40-year-old woodworker, carpenter and author who have been involved in the woodworking and woodcraft industry with 17 years of experience. He is expertise in technical aspects, woodcraft and furniture building projects.