I decided to title this Instructable "More Than Just a Table Repair" not because I'm doing more than just a repair, but because this is more than just a table. This is a member of my family and an inspiration to me.
This table was purchased used by my grandparents back in 1947, not long after the end of World War II, when my mother was just 3 or 4 years old. My mother and all of her siblings grew up with this table. All of their family dinners and all of their meals at holiday gatherings were eaten at it. Countless stacks of homework, bill paying and letter writing happened right on this very surface.
My grandparents then gave it to my mother in 1962. I am the next to last of my six siblings that grew up with this table. This, like any other table, was very much a center piece for our lives growing up. We ate meals here. Talked endlessly on the phone here. Argued, laughed, cried.
We were poor growing up and couldn't afford nice things. There were times when we didn't have electricity or a phone because we couldn't pay our bills, and it was early on (when I was about 10 or so) that I realized how different this table was from the rest of our furniture. Most of the other furniture we would get for free on the side of the road or from friends or family who were just going to throw away if we didn't take it. Much of it was made cheaply out of cheap materials and was on it's last legs. This table was well built of real wood and had been here longer than me or any other piece of furniture in the house. I was proud of this table, proud that it was the one quality piece of furniture we owned, and proud that it was the one thing that wouldn't embarrass me about our home when I brought a new friend to the house.
I don't recall how this topic would come up, but I would often tell my mother that when she passed or if she ever decided to part with her belongings, this table was the only thing I ever wanted. If she somehow struck it rich and had lots of money; a fancy home; nice cars... I would still only want this table. Because of my pride and emotional connection with it, this table meant and continues to mean the world to me.
I have always been a maker of sorts right from an early age. I was constantly building some sort of project or painting or drawing. But because of this table, I was always very fond of furniture and how it was made. It was not until I was in my late twenties or so that I finally decided that I would like to be able to build furniture for a living. And part of that hope was that I could make high quality heirloom furniture for people that couldn't normally afford it. I still plan on doing that and am working towards that goal.
That's why I almost cried the day when, about 10 years ago, my mother called me and asked if I would still like to have it. She told me that it was a little beat up and the leaves didn't work on it any more, but none of that mattered to me. I wanted it even if it was a splintered pile of toothpicks. I knew that I would one day take on the task of fixing it and making it beautiful once again. I knew that I wasn't ready to take it on yet because I didn't trust that I would do it right, but I knew that someday I would feel ready.
I have been learning and working on my skills and although I don't feel I'm even close to great at it yet, I feel that I am ready. In this restoration, my intent is not to make it showroom new again. I want this table to continue to show it's age and history. This table is a story of the past 70 years with my family and I don't want to erase a single chapter of it. I only intend fix what is broken; make it strong and whole again. Much like we would do with a sick member of the family, I only want to mend it and not erase it's memory.
Step 1: Here's What Needs to Be Fixed
The main things that are wrong with this table are:
- The top has split itself into three pieces
- The finish on the top is peeling off in places
- The leaves can no longer be pulled out from under the table
- The cross braces that connect the legs are coming out
- The table has a general wobbliness about it
The finish on the legs, cross braces, aprons and leaves is fine and I would rather not touch them for this project. They will require some dusting and maybe even scrubbing in some places, but that should be it. I also want to leave as much of the history in the tabletop as I can, so I would like to do little to no sanding on the top if it's at all possible.
Step 2: Tools -n- Stuff
Here is a list of items I used for this project.
- For fixing the legs and aprons
- Crescent wrench
- Two pound dead blow hammer (it's made of plastic and won't damage the wood)
- Flat file
- Gorilla Glue
- A couple 7 or 8 foot lengths of paracord
- Small length of 5/16" dowel
- For fixing the top
- Titebond II wood glue
- Citristip stripping gel
- Glass bowl
- Paint brush
- Four 5' pipe clamps
- Two 6" C-clamps
- Dremel tool with router attachment
- Plastic scraper
- Minwax Polycrylic
- Foam Brushes
- Electric sander
- 600 grit sanding paper
- "00" steel wool
- Safety goggles
- Rubber Gloves
- Scrap pieces of wood (to protect the table during clamping)
- For fixing the leaves
- Grinding wheel
- Four bolts
- 1/2" wood chisel
- Another small piece of 5/16" dowel
- General usage materials used for different parts of the table
- Screwdrivers (flat and phillips)
- Electric drill with various size bits
- Various sizes of wood screws
- Painters tape
- Scissors (for cutting painters tape)
- Fine tip marker (for writing on painters tape)
Step 3: Disassembly
The first step in the fix was to tear the whole thing apart. I started by flipping the table over and removing all the screws that held the tabletop to the aprons. I numbered each hole and screw and noted their placement with blue painters tape. This would ensure that everything went back together in just the same configuration. I numbered the screws even though I knew I would be replacing them just to make sure I replaced each one with the correct size. I then removed the leaves from the table. This gave me three separate components to work on; the tabletop, the leaves and the leg assembly.
Step 4: The Leg Assembly
The first item for me to fix on the leg assembly was the positioning of the aprons. To do this, I loosened the bolt near the top inside of each leg. This loosened the aprons from the legs and also made it possible to slide the corner brace up and down as needed in the grooves in the aprons. The tabletop sits on supports that are attached to the aprons. With the aprons being too low, the tabletop was sitting directly on top of the leaves, jamming them into the tops of the legs and preventing them from being able to slide.
The next item was the cross braces. Each cross brace was connected to the leg in two places. In the upper connection, there was a dowel and in the lower connection there was a screw. I examined each cross brace attachment to see what needed to be done. All of the dowels were intact, but the glue that had been used to keep it in the leg had failed on each of the dowels. Also, one of the dowels was too long to fit all the way in it's hole. I checked the depth of the hole that it was in with a piece of tape and drill bit and then filed the dowel down until it was the correct length. I then glued it into the hole using Gorilla Glue. I used this glue instead of wood glue for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I was unsure whether there was still old glue in the hole. Wood glue can only hold wood to wood. It needs to be able to get into the fibers of the wood or it won't hold. In order to ensure there was no glue I would have had to scrape or drill out the hole and that would make the dowel very loose in the hole. Gorilla Glue doesn't have to be wood to wood to get a good bond. It can bond with most anything. The second reason is that the holes were already somewhat loose around the dowels and Gorilla Glue will expand as it sets which will fill in the space and make a nice tight fit.
So, each leg got the dowel glued in and a new screw. The screws on the whole table needed replacing because they were all rusted. I ran into a bit of trouble with the screw in one of the legs. When I went to remove it, it broke off in the hole, so I removed the leg entirely to fix it. On closer inspection I noticed that there was not just my freshly broken screw in the hole, but also an old one from a previous repair job. I was able to get my broken screw out, but decided not to try to get the old one out because it would not be in the way, nor could it be seen with the cross brace in place.
The hole my broken screw was in was pretty chewed up once I got the screw out, so I needed to repair it. I did this by drilling a new, larger hole with a 5/16" drill bit and plugging that hole by gluing in a piece of 5/16" dowel. Once this was dry, I put the leg back in place. I then drilled a new hole for my screw and glued in the dowel. I cinched the legs together with a couple pieces of paracord while everything dried. I used a combination of a tarbuck knot and a honda (or bowstring) knot to pull everything nice and tight until the glue dried.
With that done, it was time to move on to the tabletop.
Step 5: Stripping and Gluing the Tabletop and Modifying the Tabletop Supports
The tabletop is a straight forward fix. The top had two splits that ran from end to end on it, separating it into three pieces. The first thing to do was to strip the old finish off. Then I just had to glue it back up, re-attach it to the table and put some polyurethane on it.
I've never used a finish stripper before, so I wasn't sure how much to use. The instructions say to use a brush to put it on and then just scrape it off after at least half an hour, but I found that putting it on thin like a coat of paint is not the way to go. At least for this table, more was definitely better. Once I had put enough on, the whole thing bubbled up quite nicely and was mostly easy to just scrape off with the plastic scraper. Some areas needed to be done twice and I still needed a little extra pressure with the scraper to get it up, but it all came off nice and clean.
Now that the old finish was off, it was time for the glue-up. I did the gluing in two stages to give me better control of the alignment of the boards. If I only had to concern myself with how one board met another instead of all three at once, I could get a much smoother seam. The gluing process is pretty simple; I just ran a bead of glue on the edge of both the boards to be glued, making sure that it was nice and even and completely covered. Then I just clamped the boards together, adjusting the fit of one to the other as I went down through tightening the clamps and wiping up any glue that squeezed out with a wet rag. I used scrap pieces of wood between the clamps and the tabletop so that the clamps didn't mar the wood. I used pine for this so that it wouldn't leave any dents in the tabletop, as it is a softer wood than the maple the table is made of.
One of the trickier parts of woodworking is allowing for seasonal movement of wood. When it's humid, the wood swells across the grain (tangential movement), meaning that a board will get wider as humidity goes up. The length of the board changes almost not at all and doesn't need to be factored. The amount of change depends on the type of wood and amount of humidity, but most native hardwoods (oak, maple, beech, etc) will change their size up to 1/4" for every foot of board width. That means my table might be 32" wide in the summer (when it is most humid here) and about 31 1/4" in the dead of winter (when there is next to no humidity). No matter what you do, you cannot stop this process. Even with many coats of wood sealer, varnish, shellac or polyurethane, you will still have movement. This is why wood furniture has to be built with safeguards in mind to allow for this growth.
Once the tabletop was clamped and drying, I had to address the problem of the tabletop supports. The reason the top split was because the wood was not allowed to move with seasonal changes in humidity. Each of the supports has three holes in it across its width to attach the tabletop to it; one hole at each end and one in the center.The center holes will remain as they are to keep everything centered, but I decided to make the outside holes into slots to allow the table to shrink and swell. When the top shrinks or swells, the screws in these slots will slide from side to side with the wood so the pressure does not tear the wood apart again. I used my dremel tool with the router attachment to make the slots.
With the slots now complete, the tabletop is ready to be attached. But first I need to make some fixes on the leaves.
Step 6: The Leaves
I already addressed the big problem with the leaves not sliding earlier by adjusting the aprons, but there were a couple more problems with the leaves that needed to be taken care of. First of all, one of the support arms was a bit out of alignment, so the support rod didn't ride in the guide like it was supposed to. Secondly, and more important, half of the support rods were missing!
The old rods didn't work well because they were short (maybe 1 1/2") and not much of them stuck into the wood. That made it easy for them to wiggle their way out. To make replacement support rods, I got four bolts the same thickness as the old rods that were about 3" long with threads for the first 1 1/4". This would allow me to bury them so deep in the wood that they should have tons more support and be less likely to work their way out. I then cut the heads off them and filed off the rough bits so they would move easily in the curly-q guide slots.
Next I had to fix the alignment of that one wonky support arm. I unscrewed it from the leaf and drilled the hole to 5/16" so that I could fill it with a dowel to give me something to re-drill into. I then trimmed the dowel down to be flush in the hole, realigned the arm and drilled a new hole. After that, it was just a matter of attaching the leaves back to the table and I was ready to put the top back on.
Video one of leaf movement.
This was done without the tabletop to better show the movement of the support arms.
Video 2 of the leaf movement
This time with the tabletop in place. My daughter helped me with this and we just can't manage to be serious about ANYTHING! Apparently that's not me in the video, but a game show hostess that happened by.
Video 3 of the leaf movement
An under-table view of the sliding mechanism. Done at the same time as video 2, so there is the same lack of seriousness.
Step 7: Attaching the Top and Finishing
I attached the table back the way it was using new screws in all the same holes that were already there. Then I went about adding a polyurethane finish to the top of the table. I ended up putting four coats sanding lightly in between each coat with 220 grit sandpaper to make sure that each layer had a good bond with the one below it. The poly that I used had a gloss finish and I didn't even consider how shiny the top would end up. Once I got all four coats on and everything nice and smooth, it was just too shiny for my liking, so I sanded it with a 600 grit sandpaper. But because this is an old and not perfectly smooth tabletop, the finish ended up being pretty spotty. I then got out my "00" steel wool and gave the entire surface a quick once over and it came out nice. Now it has an even finish that is something in between a matte and semi-gloss, which is just what I was going for.
Step 8: Put the Table Back in the House and Make the Wife Happy
After about two weeks of not having a table in the kitchen, everyone in the house (not just Wifey) was very happy to have it back in it's proper place.