Introduction: Log Table
This modern table looks like it's made from solid wood logs, but it actually just a box covered with discs of wood and clad with sticks to make it look like one. The inside is hollow, but heavy enough to not be pushed around accidentally.
This project aims to encompass everything from my free Introduction To Woodworking class as a capstone project. With a few woodworking fundamentals under our belt we can apply them by creating something really special. Learning woodworking skills in isolation allows us to really examine the detail of how and why, but by bringing them together.
This project will cover elements of cutting straight, router work, sanding, painting, gluing, and finishes. As with all our lessons in the Introduction To Woodworking class, this was easily completed without any special equipment, just the standard assortment of hand power tools.
Ready to flex those woodworking muscles? Let's make!
Step 1: Source Logs
Finding logs might seem a little odd, but there's a surprising number of places that you can find all kinds of wood for free. You can usually find logs curbside, but some other common places that I've found wood are from local arborists or tree services, city parks departments, and golf courses.
Wherever you find your wood the most important attribute is that the wood is dry and not freshly cut. Freshly cut wood is known as "green" and if you start working with it now it will shrink, warp, and crack as it dries and loses moisture. If you're serious about woodworking and using more wood like this in future projects you can get a wood moisture meter and find out just how green the wood really is (you want 10% or less), alternatively you can tell how dry some wood is by
- sight: dried wood is typically lighter and yellower in color. Dry wood will also have the telltale signs of cracking or fractures when you look at the ends.
- feel: if you can strip some bark from the log place the back of your hand on the wood flesh, green wood is typically cool to the touch where dry wood will feel warm.
- weight: green wood is heavy with moisture, dry wood is much lighter.
- sound: green wood makes a dull sound when 2 pieces are struck together, dry wood makes a distinctive hollow "clunk" sound.
- smell: green wood will smell fresh and earthy, dry wood smells like...wood!
Dry wood (also called "seasoned") can take a long time to reach they truly dry stage where it can be worked with. The lumber you get from the store has all been kiln dried, drying wood by yourself without a kiln is possible but can take a while depending on thickness - here's a great Instructable showing how you can dry wood at home. Don't worry, if you keep looking around you're sure to find suitable wood for this project.
I chose thinner logs anywhere from 1-5" in diameter, keeping my selection to logs that were mostly straight and about 3' or longer.
Step 2: Make Plywood Box
The trick to this log table is that even though it looks like it's made from solid logs it's really hollow inside with the logs surrounding it. To start we'll make a box that will be the base for this log table. You can make your box any size you like, I made my box 26" high with a square base of 24".
The desired dimensions were measured and marked on 1/2" plywood and then cut with a circular saw.
Repeat cuts for each side until you have 4 sides of the box.
Step 3: Glue Box Together
With the box pieces cut, we can start gluing. I started by joining two pieces together and then the other 2 sides and letting both dry for about an hour clamped to keep the pieces square, after the two halves were then joined together with glue and left to dry overnight.
Gluing end grain is not ideal as there's less grain surface to adhere to, however for this box we'll be adding a top which will provide sheer strength to the box and help hold it all together.
After gluing, pilot holes along each edge and sink long skinny screws to add a mechanical fastener to the box.
Step 4: Add Box Lid
This box will have an open bottom, so only a lid needs to be made.
An easy way to check for squareness is to measure the diagonal opening of the box, the diagonal dimensions should be identical. The box opening is measured and the square plywood top was cut using these measurements.
The plywood top was cut using a circular saw and placed on top of the box for a dry fit. If there's a slight overhang from any issues with squareness it's not a big deal. Not only will this entire box me covered with logs later, but we'll come back and clean up all the edges once the box is finished with the router and a flush trim bit.
Step 5: Glue Box Top
Because glue ups can be messy and you don't want your box to be stuck to the floor of your workshop, remember to place down a drop sheet.
Since this is another application of gluing to end grain I used a liberal amount of glue. The box top was placed on the box and lined up to be square with the sides.
Any overflow glue was easily cleaned up by rubbing sawdust onto the glue spills to soak up the excess. The box top was allowed to dry overnight to ensure the glue was completely cured.
Step 6: Flush Trim Box Edges (optional, But Great Practice!)
Even though the entire box will be painted black and then covered with logs you may want to flex your router skills and trim up any overhanging edges of the box. Using a flush trim bit with a bottom bearing the overhangs can be neatly cleaned up.
Secure the flush trim bit in the router and place the router base against the piece that requires trimming, set the depth so the bearing rides completely on the abutting piece of wood as a reference.
Start the router away from the wood and slowly introduce the router to the piece you are cutting, with the base and bearing guide pushing against the 2 pieces of wood work the router along the overhang to trim it flush.
Here's a picture showing the trimmed wood in the foreground and the yet to be trimmed overhang in the background.
Step 7: Paint Box
A matte black spray paint was used to paint the box, this will help disguise the fact that this table isn't made of solid logs. In a well ventilated area, and with protective covering around the box, the entire surface was sprayed until covered. Hold the can about 7-9" from the surface to be painted and apply paint in a continuous sweeping motion. The first coat is meant as a base layer and will not cover the wood completely, allow to dry and apply successive coats to build up the paint. Over-applying paint by spraying too much can cause drips, which are harder to fix later.
This box required 2 coats to get good coverage, the coats don't need to be perfect as the box will be covered - just enough to hide the natural wood color.
Step 8: Cutting Logs
The trick to getting this project to look right, and keep the weight of the table down, is to cut the logs lengthwise. This can easily be done with a circular saw by attaching the logs to sacrificial board and clamping the entire piece to the worktable.
Start by screwing through the sacrificial board and into the log in at least 2 places at either end of the log to secure it to the board, add more screws as necessary so the log is fastened adequately. Secure the board to your stable workbench with the clamps out of the way allowing full access to the entire log without the saw getting caught up on anything.
Set the circular saw base to 90° and a shallow blade depth. To make a clean cut without bogging down the saw multiple passes were made, in between each cut set the blade depth a little deeper until the log is cut the entire depth. Stop the cut about 4" from one end to allow a notch that will fit over the top of the table.
To remove the material another cut is made perpendicular to the first, adjust the blade depth so that only the desired cut out is removed.
The process isn't hard but does require patience and attention to blade depth to ensure the wood is cut correctly. Here's a video demonstrating the setup and cut for the log:
Of course not every log is going to be straight, or cooperative. Instead of running the circular saw through again, most times a hand saw is easier to cut through any stubborn portions that the circular saw missed:
Once cut through, back out the screws and set the notched and bisected log aside. Load up the next log into the sacrificial board and repeat the process until there's a stockpile of logs to choose from.
Since we're running a circular saw close to screws it's important to be mindful of placement when attaching a log to the sacrificial board. In the 40 or so logs I cut for my table I only accidentally ran into one screw. There's little risk of damage to the saw blade, but your log may become detached. Go slow and be aware of how the work feels as your saw passes through the log.
Step 9: Glue Log Sections to Box
Once a few log sections have been cut they can be arranged along the perimeter of the box without glue to gauge rough placement. When I was satisfied that I could cover the sides with the right diameter pieces I started with the largest diameter logs and glued them to the box, holding them in place with clamps so they didn't move while the glue dried.
Since the log cuts are flat against the box there is a lot of surface area for the glue to bind onto. However, to make things extra secure we'll go back and attach some screws from the inside to mechanically fasten the wood to the box as a backup.
Continue gluing the log sections around the perimeter, moving around logs until logs that fit the best.
Step 10: Fill in Gaps
Even with the best arrangement of logs there's still likely to be small gaps where too much of the black box is exposed. The smallest branches and cutoffs from your logs are a great way to conceal any large gaps you might have.
Finding the straightest branches is best as there's more surface area for the glue to stick to. Turn the box on its side and start to cover up the upwards facing side with branches using a liberal amount of glue to ensure a good bond. Allow the glue to dry before rotating the box and working on the next side.
Step 11: Trim Bottom
While the box is on it's side is a good time to trim up the bottom of any longer pieces, or fill in for any of the shorter section of notched log that didn't quite meet the full length.
With the circular saw blade depth set to maximum any long sections of log were trimmed flush with the bottom of the box.
Step 12: Adding Fasteners
Even though the glue had lots of surface area to adhere the log sections to the box an extra measure of using screws through the box was added for extra security.
This will prevent any of the logs ever coming loose, either through wear and tear, or if there was a chance of the glue not bonding as tightly as expected.
After adding the screws the box was flipped upright.
Step 13: Make Top Pucks
To cover the top of the table small disc cutoffs were used, this gives the illusion that the table is really a solid stack of logs.
A log was clamped to the workbench and the end trimmed off to make it relatively square, then the remainder of the log was cut into 1-2" pucks. To add variety 2 different diameter logs were cut into pucks.
Step 14: Glue Pucks to Table Top
The cut pucks were arranged on the table top to get a rough idea of placement, then glue was applied to the flattest side of the puck and stuck to the table top.
It's a good idea to go slow here, as using too much glue will cause it to leak out from under the puck and ooze around the edges. This is not ideal as even with clear drying glue, you can see a shiny film where the glue spilled.
After gluing all the pucks down allow the glue to cure overnight.
Step 15: Make Router Sled
To trim the uneven top a router sled is constructed, similar to what I taught in the Hand Router Lesson of my Woodworking Class, except longer to accommodate the width of the table. As with the router class, a long and sturdy board was used as the sled. The removable baseplate was taken from the router base and the holes transferred to the sled, openings were drilled at the marks and a larger opening for the router to extend through.
The main criteria aside from the width spanning over the table when the router is at both sides is to have a sled that does not deflect. If your sled deflects you can try adding another piece of wood over the entire board to act as a transom.
Step 16: Make Leveling Edge
To level the entire top of the table with the router a level edge needs to be set up for the sled to float on. The top of this level edge needs to be higher than the tallest point of the table, so if there's any super tall log sections it's best to saw them down to a more manageable height before starting leveling.
A scrap of plywood with a level edge was attached with a small screw to one side of the table, a level was placed on the top straight edge of the plywood and rotated on the screw axis until it was level. Another small screw was sunk into the plywood holding it secure and level.
With the router sled on top of the leveled side, and the level situated laterally on the sled, another scrap piece of level plywood was placed on the opposite side and moved until level. A screw was sunk through the plywood, then the level was moved over to the plywood and the same leveling procedure was performed and screw sunk to secure the opposing leveled side.
Check that both sides and the sled are level. It doesn't have to be perfect as there may be multiple passes and the level jig will need to be moved down to level the table further.
Step 17: Router Top
With the router depth set to make a minimal cut, start the router outside any cutting and slowly engage the bit into the wood. Work slowly and make many small cuts until the surface has been cut down. Lower the router depth using the movable base and continue making small passes until the router can't be lowered any further.
After each leveling take a moment to clean up the shavings, the router removes a lot of material and it's a good idea to clean up the work surface before moving on so the shavings can escape and not bog down the machine.
Remove the leveled plywood boards and move them down about 2" and re-level them and repeat the routing process until the surface is at a depth you like. I kept my table surface with the majority leveled, but some of the smaller pucks are lower that the level, I think it gives some nice depth.
Step 18: Sanding
The router leveling leaves the surface level but not smooth. Using a coarse sandpaper like 80 grit sand the surface to remove any router tool marks, burns, or ragged edges.
Switch up to a 100 grit sandpaper and repeat the sanding, continuing up the sandpaper fineness to about 200 git. If you left any pucks shorter make sure you get in there with the sandpaper on your power sander or by hand.
Clean the table of any sanding debris with a vacuum or compressed air, then give it a wipe down with a damp cloth to prepare it for staining and sealing.
Step 19: Staining
The wood logs I used were very light in color so a stain was applied to any exposed wood to give it a warmer look. As with any stain, test the stain on some scrap of the same type of wood to get an idea of the coloring before you commit to your work piece.
It's a great idea to wear disposable gloves when apply stain as it can stain your hands as easily as it stains wood. When applying stains I like using a lint-free rag and wipe it on. Finishes like this are discussed in more detail in the Woodworking lesson on Finishes. Apply as many coats as you like to get the deepness of stain you desire, allowing time between stain applications for each coat to cure.
Step 20: Protective Feet
To protect the floor from scratches I put adhesive felt feet on the underside of this table.
I used 3 felt feet on each side of the table to distribute the weight and give plenty of protection against any potential scratches - the felt also makes the table very easy to slide around when you want to move it, rather than picking it up.
Step 21: Glass Top
I measured the widest dimensions of the tabletop, then padded that dimension by 1" on each side (for me this came out to 26"x26"). I brought this measurement to my local hardware store and had them cut a piece of glass to size.
Step 22: Glass Pads
The glass top will rest on the leveled wood table top, but needs a rubberized pad to rest on so it's not directly on the wood. These inexpensive pads have an adhesive back and will grip onto the glass and prevent it from sliding around.
Stick a few of the clear pads around the perimeter of the wood table top then rest the glass on top.
Step 23: All Done!
This striking rustic log table was made with everyday power tools, in a humble shop space, and over about a weekend.
The best part about a project like this is that you were able to apply all kinds of woodworking basics that can be used in future woodworking projects, like furniture building and crafting.
If you made your own version of this rustic Log Table, or something similar, I'd love to see it!