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Craft Tabletop Build

 

This project is about the design and construction of a new tabletop for my wife's craft table. In the video (above) I spend most of the time talking about design, and less about building. Building a tabletop is pretty straightforward. This web page will add a few points that I left out of the video, due to time constraints.

In my wife's craft/sewing room we have a 6ft long desk. This was a "rescue" desk from the local university, which was disposing of it. The reason they were getting rid of it was that the laminate top had some cracks along the edge.

We put some clear vinyl over it and it served for a few years. But as you can see the cracks were getting worse and opening up. It was long past time to throw out the old top and make a new one!

The base of the table is a steel frame, and did not need any work. I just needed to build a new top.
I decided to build it out of some old boards that I picked up about a year ago. These had gone through a few sets of hands before I got them, but my understanding is that they were salvaged beams from a barn or commercial building and sawn up for lumber. Some of the beams were Beech, and some were Maple.

The maple was wormy, but I thought it would make an interesting top, so I decided to see if I had enough maple to make a tabletop. The various holes -- leftover mortises from the previous life of these boards -- was going to make this a challenge.

After some preliminary cutting and culling, I was left with this pile of lumber, which was only enough for about 24" of tabletop. I needed a table that was 29" wide (and 72" long).

On the left side of the photo you can see a shorter piece. I had a couple of these, and decided that I would use these as well, in order to make up the lumber I needed. I have never used two short boards in a table before, but I thought I could make it work.

Here is a preliminary layout of the boards. They have been jointed and planed a bit, but not to final thickness. Unfortunately I was still about an inch short of my desired width.

I decided to add a red-oak piece to the front of the table. This would add a strong piece (the maple was soft maple) to the front, which could take a beating. It would also help me make up the width I needed.

More importantly, adding that piece of oak would allow me to discard one piece (this board in the photo) which was FULL of worm holes. From a design/aesthetic point of view, that one board just did not fit with the rest. The other boards had a moderate amount of worm holes, but not as many as this one piece.
Rather than simply butt-joint the short pieces, I decided to finger-joint the ends of them with my Woodgears Box Joint Jig

I cut a series of 1/4" wide fingers in the ends of two boards...

I then applied glue to both of them, and glued and clamped them together. I clamped them along a four foot long level to make sure it was straight as it dried.
I think the result is much less obtrusive than a simple butt joint would have looked.
I also started gluing some of the boards together in pairs and triplets. I used my dowelmax jig to make sure that the boards stayed in perfect alignment while doing so.
Unfortunately I ran into another snag ...

After gluing these boards into groups, and then some planing them to final thickness, and jointing the edges of the boards that I finger-jointed, .... I AGAIN was faced with the reality that I was going to end up with a table top that was not wide enough.

I had to stop and back up again. and consider other options.

What I decided to do was to get rid of that oak board. I was never entirely happy with it's inclusion. Instead I found a slightly wider cherry board in my stash. It had a lot of sap on the one side, which is why I had passed it over in the past. However in this situation, having sapwood on the bottom of the table was not an issue.

I am also very fond of putting cherry and maple together. I think the two species complement each other very well. The dark red cherry looks great when combined with the pale white maple.

I ripped the cherry in half also, so that I had a piece in the back as well as the front, and therefore it frames the central expanse of maple.

I had to cut this bit out of the video, as it was getting way too long.

When working with a lot of boards, I find it very important to mark the boards, so I remember how I've sorted them. In this case, I was still going to be planing them to final thickness, so I marked on the end. Each board is marked with a number, which indicates it's position. Also an arrow to indicate which side is the top, and the "R" indicates that this is the right end. (there are L's on the other end -- I'm not taking any chances!!) When I cut the ends off, to bring them to final length, I also immediately re-mark them, usually in pencil, as that is easy to remove later.

Gluing together the last two pieces to make up the tabletop.
After the top was glued up, I cleared out all the wormholes -- most of them were packed with sawdust, whether from the planing process or from the worms themselves, I have no idea. I then filled them all with a cherry wood filler.

I chose cherry wood filler to go with the cherry edge pieces. I decided that no matter what I used, the holes would probably be visible, so I decied to go with a strong contrast. The result was a bit shocking at first, but once it was sanded down, it looked better. As well, the underside (Where I did not fill the holes) looked just as speckled as the top side.

I routed a simple roundover along the edges, top and bottom.
And here it is ready for finish.
I used a pretty extensive finishing regimen:
  1. sanding with 100 and then 120 grit over both sides of the top.
  2. First I wiped on a coat of shellac seal coat.
  3. light sanding -- shellac isn't supposed to raise the grain, but I still find it rougher afterwards. I used a light 400 grit sanding for all sanding steps mentioned.
  4. brushed on a coat of waterbased polyurethane
  5. sanded
  6. brushed on a second coat of poly.
  7. sanded
  8. flipped the table over
  9. brushed on two coats of poly on the bottom. You need to put finish on the bottom or you will likely have wood movement issues, as the top will absorb moisture from the air at a different rate than the bottom. (Rule #1 of woodworking: Wood Moves.)
  10. flipped the table back over
  11. brushed a third coat of poly on top
  12. light sanding
  13. brushed on a fourth coat
  14. VERY light sanding
  15. I had some minor dust nibs and issues, so I made the call to wipe on (not brush) a fifth coat of poly
  16. let it dry for a few days and then buff with a 3m scothbrite-type pad (equivalent to #0000 steel wool, but never use steel wool on a waterbased finish). I used a few dribbles of water to lubricate the pad while buffing, and then wiped it dry.
Here is a picture of the bottom - no shellac, no wood filler, but the worm holes stand out just as much. If you're going to use wormy maple, you better be prepared to celebrate the wormholes, as hiding them is pointless!!

And that was about all. I left the finish to harden for about three days in total, and then carried it out of the shop to install in my wife's craft room. We're very pleased with the result.

Here is a closeup, showing one of the fingerjointed pieces. It's not perfect, but I think it looks pretty good.

 

Thanks for reading!