Introduction: Hand-Made, Split Wood Table

About: I enjoy photography, horticulture and carpentry, and am almost always doing something relating to of those things.
I had access to a lot of poplar trees that were about to be killed. So instead of letting all that lumber go to waste, I decided to make this. 

My table was built completely by hand, without any power tools. I did so because given the rural nature of the design, I thought it would make it feel more genuine. While I'm glad I did so, there were many times I was tempted to grab the drill or circular saw. Decide before you start this whether you want to use power tools or not, it could save you a lot of time.

A lot of the tools and processes used in this instructable are inherently dangerous, be careful, use common sense, wear all necessary safety equipment.

Step 1: Tools and Supplies

The tools I used are:
  • Hand Saw
  • Machete
  • Hammer
  • Hatchet
  • Steel Wedge
  • Gloves
  • Spring Nail Punch
  • Pocket Knife
  • Flathead Screwdriver
As I said in the introduction, a drill and circular saw would make things easier, but would take away some of the authenticity. 

You will also need trees and nails (or screws if you're using a drill). I used both 2" and 2.5" finishing nails.

Step 2: Selecting and Cutting Trees

Most of the trees I used were about 2" in diameter, which worked out for me. I only used poplar trees for consistency and because they grow like weeds around our house.

Once you find a good tree, clear the area around it with the machete so you can get in. I would also clear off as many branches as I could with the machete or hatchet. It saved me time both cutting them off later and cleaning them up from my workspace. When you cut the tree, be careful that it doesn't fall on you or anyone else. This shouldn't be too much of a problem because any trees with a 2" base won't be too heavy. 

Once the tree has fallen, cut the trunk at the point where it gets to be too thin (1.5" or so), and trim off the rest of the branches. Try to avoid stripping off the bark. 

The number of trees you need will vary on two factors: the size of your table and your skill at splitting them. I just cut and split until I could layout a large enough table.

Step 3: Splitting Logs

The best method I found was to saw a small line where you want to split the log. Next, I used the hatchet to get the split started, laying it's edge on the line that I already cut and hammering. Once the log started to split, I used the heavier wedge to split it all the way down. The reason I used the hatchet first was it's sharper edge. My wedge was extremely dull, so starting with it wouldn't have worked. Yours might work better. 

One of the big problems with this step is that logs don't always split well. As you get farther down, the wedge can skew to the edge. You just have to keep going until you have enough splits that are long enough for your table. Save the shorter ones, though. They can be used for other parts of the table.

If you have access to a table saw, it could produce a smoother, flatter table at the cost of authenticity. 

Step 4: Layout

As you cut and split your logs, lay them out how you'll want them. Because all your logs are different lengths, especially the split ones, you can trim them to your desired length at this point. My table was approximately 18x10", so there were enough split logs for the table top, two 10" pieces to hold the top together, four 32" legs (which I planned on trimming once the table was put together), and a few extra split logs that I would use as braces.

Step 5: Assemble the Top

Layout the table top upside down, and nail it together from the bottom. The supports should be a few inches in from the edge. If you're using nails, it's smart to use two nails per support/split log intersection. One straight down, and one diagonal. The purpose of this is to prevent it from falling apart when lifted. If you're using screws, one should be plenty. Because the split logs are likely different widths, there will be gaps between some of the logs and the supports. If so, use shims in between the gap. Otherwise, the table will be significantly more uneven.

Step 6: Notch the Legs

Notching each leg helps them fit together better, keeping the legs straight and even. Saw halfway through the middle of each leg. You need two cuts per leg, the distance between which should be wider than the diameter of the legs. Once you make the cuts, use a screwdriver or chisel to knock out the wood in between. The wood should split easily and come right out.

Step 7: Attach Legs

Once again, it's time to layout the table upside-down. Because all your legs are different, experiment to see which pairs match up best. Once you find the best matches, use zip-ties to secure the X's. Next, nail or screw each pair of legs to the table top supports. It would be prudent to use multiple nails, as this joint will take the most stress of all the table.

Now that the X's are attached, and it's starting to look like a real table, put a few nails through the center of each X and remove the zip-tie. 

It looks like I didn't get a good picture of this step, sorry.

Step 8: Add Supports

I used three spare split logs as cross braces for the legs. One went at the intersections of the legs, and two went halfway between the table top and the intersections. It's a pretty straightforward step, but crucial for the table's stability.

Step 9: Trim the Legs

I made my table 26" tall. Once you decide how tall to make yours, measure from the top of the table, straight up (the table should be upside down), perpendicular to the ground. Remember to draw your line perpendicular to the ground, too, not perpendicular to the (diagonal) leg. Once all the legs are marked, go ahead and make the cut. When that's done, flip the table over and check for wobbles. If it does wobble, trim the legs so that it doesn't. If not, enjoy your new table!