As usual, click any photo to bring up a larger version.
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
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
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
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
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
I had to cut this bit out of the video, as it was getting way too
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:
sanding with 100 and then 120 grit over both sides of the top.
First I wiped on a coat of shellac seal coat.
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.
brushed on a coat of waterbased polyurethane
brushed on a second coat of poly.
flipped the table over
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.)
flipped the table back over
brushed a third coat of poly on top
brushed on a fourth coat
VERY light sanding
I had some minor dust nibs and issues, so I made the call to
wipe on (not brush) a fifth coat of poly
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.