We just had a new patio added on the back of our house and needed a large table to seat 10 or more people - all the tables we saw when shopping were for either for 4, 6 or 8 at the most - and ranged from $150-$600! I had seen several of this style "live edge" tables as rustic dining room tables, but never used outside. I did some research to see if it was even practical and after determining it was, started the planning to make one myself. The goal was to keep the total under $400.
As an experiment, I did a time-lapse of the majority of the process - wow, I get tired just watching it! It is here - 14 days reduced to 3 minutes - enjoy - http://youtu.be/ngZ_2pP5csQ
I looked at some local sources for the wood slabs (lumber yards, and saw mills) - I was pleasantly surprised at how many choices I had. I finally settled on purchasing 2 slabs from Craigslist - the person selling them had 6 slabs cut from a large maple tree - they had been drying for about 4 years - properly "stickered." The only problem I ran into was that I needed to rent a truck from Lowes for $50 to pick up these 2 11-foot long slabs - all told, the project came in at $361.
- 4”x4”x8’ Douglas Fir Post - (legs and frame)
- Set of Maple slabs – 4’ x 10’
- Valspar Duramax Semi-gloss #5 Dark Tint Base - 1 qt
- Titebond III waterproof wood glue - 1 Qt
- 2”x4”x10’ Board – straight edge
- WaterLox Tung Oil Marine Finish
- KREG 2.5” Blue-Kote Pocket Screw – 50
When researching the type of finish for an exterior table, I had to make sure it would be able to endure harsh winters and hot, humid summers. I ruled out polyurethane and varnishes - they crack and chip with wide extremes of temperature. I needed something that would expand and contract with the temperature (-20 to 100 degrees). For the top, I used WaterLox Exterior Marine Tung Oil - it expands and contracts without cracking. For the base I was more concerend with durability than appearance (and the Tung oil is very expensive) - I came across this article and decided to give it a try for the base. The only problem I had was I could not find the oil-based base (NY has pretty much outlawed Oil-based paints... thanks). I settled on Valspar Duramax #5 Base from Lowes. If dried with a slightly whiteish finish - the oil-based version would not. Nevertheless, it is barely visible on the base.
Step 1: Fatten and Flatten...
- Design and planning
- Build work surface - saw horses with wood tops
- Trim to size + ½” and butt-edges – make angle template, cut with circular saw, then butt together and re-cut.
- Join two slabs together with Pocket Screws
- Plane bottom surface
- Flip and plane top surface
- Attach bottom seam and cross braces if needed
- Sand and remove bark
- Build base and mount top to base
- Stand up and finish top and legs
The first step was to cut the slabs to size - this required figuring out what final shape I wanted - flat, cut-off ends or natural. For our needs, we decided on on cut-off ends and natrual-edge sides. I took pictures of the two slabs and used a variety of image-editors to come up with shape-only outlines that I could maneuver to see how to butt together for the final shape and size I wanted. I used Powerpoint and an excel spreadsheet to scale the models to 1/15th scale.
I set up a workbench in my garage, because I could not fit this project in my basement workshop. I worked on the bottom side of the table first, locking toether the 2 sides with 2 parallel 2x4s screwed into the bottom. I trimmed the ends flat and trimmed the inside edge of each side flat using a power saw. I then butted the two edges together (lightly) and ran the saw down the common edge to flatten out and give the two butted edges a common surface. I drilled 72 holes using a Kreg pocket Jig. NOTE - I drilled way too many - I spaced them every 6 inches - I could easily have used half as many with no problem. Before screwing together, I applied Titebond III glue to both surfaces and clamped from the bottom using as many clamps as I could muster.
Step 2: Planning and Planing...
After the glue up, I let it sit for 24 hours to "settle" a little bit. I then used a Harborfreight power planer to rough-plane the bottom - no real need other than as a practice for when I do the top - I was only ever planning on finishing the top with the tung oil and the bottom with the external oil-based House paint Base #5. This gave me a good practice surface to perfect my technique as illustrated here.
I have since had the opportunity to build a router-based jig to do the flattening - like this - this would have been worth the time had I known about it - and gvien me a much nicer, flatter surface - although with a lot more work. Since this was basiclly going to be a souped up picnic table, I was less concerned with achieving a mirror-smooth finish and more looking to protect the wood from the elements. If this were an interior dining-room table, use a router to get that beautiful flat finish.
Step 3: The Basic Base...
I had originally planned on using pressure-treated lumber for the base (I know, how crass....), as I was leaving the lumber aisle in LOWES, I spotted some beautiful Douglas Fir 4x4 lumber - rounded corners, hefty, and less expensive than the ugly PT wood I had planned on using. I quickly switched gears and loaded up with that instead. It only took 5 8-foot pieces to make this base - with a little left over. Perfect! This made the base simpler, stronger and gave it the "heft" I wanted.
After building the simple frame and coating it thoroughly with the aforementioned exterior #5 Base paint, I laid the top on and that is when it became apparent that the slab was starting to twist - I had seen a small amount of uneven-ness, but it was accentuated when I laid it on my now perfectly-square base. Nothing I could do now but fasten it down and let nature take its course.
The twist appears to have been minimized after attaching to the base - again, thankfully the base is hefty and stiff enough to not warp with the top.
Step 4: Finishing finish...
As stated earlier, I used WaterLox Marine Tung Oil Finish. I spoke with Customer service at WaterLox about whether I needed to use the sealer first, they said it was basically the same stuff as the finish and to just go ahead and use 2 coats of the finish. I ended up doing 3 coats total, knowing that I would re-coat each spring - the idea behind the Tung Oil is that it never really dries - it is constanly evaporating - this is what make it so flexible and durable - it never hardens to a rock-hard finish. Although you would be hard pressed to gouge or score it - sure seems plenty hard to me.
It has been 9 months since I built the table and one of the coldest winters on record - the finish survived beautifully. However, upon inspection this spring, I noticed some black staining UNDER the finish. Around mid April, I was able to examine it more closely and it appears there is some mold growth in parts of the table - looks terrible. I spoke with several people and they confirmed something was in the wood before I sealed it. So, I had to strip off the Tung Oil, treat the table with Concrobium - an algecide/mold killer/preventative. I used the planer again, this time I was not at all concerned with a mirror finish - since it was outside, a rough look was fine.
The Concrobium cleaned it completely, so I soaked the table top with an entire bottle and let it dry overnight. I then decided, as long as I had the finish off, to stain the table a dark brown - using Minwax English Oak. I also added a mold and mildew prentitive paint and stain additive to the stain - can't hurt! I then applied 2 thick coats of Tung Oil and the finish is smooth and strong - we will see how it lasts next year at this time!