6 Mistakes Not to Make Building a Farmhouse Table

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Intro: 6 Mistakes Not to Make Building a Farmhouse Table

It's been two years since I built my very first farmhouse table. At the time I was getting into woodworking and did my best to follow along with the great plans you can find online.

Recently I built a few farmhouse tables for my friends. Here are the 6 biggest mistakes I made and how I changed them.

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Step 1: Mistake 1: Crooked Table Top Edges

One of the biggest things I underestimated when I first got into woodworking was the importance of having square and flat wood.

I mean when you buy construction grade pine from the big box store it should be perfect right?

Wrong.

Oh so wrong. There is an entire art and science to getting your stock ready for construction. For this build I used the following process:

  1. Using a jointer to joint the top surface of the board.
  2. Using the flat surface as a reference against the fence of the jointer to get a straight and square edge.
  3. Using a planer to flatten the bottom surface of the board.
  4. Using either a jointer or table saw to flatten and square the remaining edge.

What if you don't have a jointer and/or a table saw?

At the very least I would cut off the rounded edges you typically find on construction grade pine lumber. This helps to reduce the gaps between the boards.

Step 2: Mistake 2: Not Using Wood Glue

This was the BIGGEST mistake I made.

I built the first table by just using pocket holes. Nothing wrong with pocket holes but I didn't add any glue to the joints. So no our dining room table has the added feature of shaking while we eat.

For this build, I used wooden dowels to help align the boards on the table top and then used Titebond 2 wood glue in all the joints.

Fun fact: Wood glue creates a joint that is stronger than the wood itself. So if you have applied glue correctly, then the wood will split and break before the joints fail!

Step 3: Mistake 3: Not Taking Account Grain Direction

Wood movement was another concept that I hadn't even heard during my first farmhouse table build.

You want to alternate the cup direction of the wood on the table top. To do this figure out which direction the rings on the end grain of the wood are rotating. By alternating these the table top will have a harder time cupping during seasonal changes.

Step 4: Mistake 4: Attaching Breadboards the Wrong Way

Just like the tabletop, I added breadboards to the ends of the table with pocket screws. Breadboards are another measure to help with the seasonal change in the size of the wood. As the wood expands along the width of the board, the breadboards allow for the movement while still keeping the end of the table flush.

I explained it wrong in the video, for a great explanation be sure and check out this article by Wood Magazine: https://www.woodmagazine.com/woodworking-tips/techniques/joinery/breadboard

The actual construction consists of:

  1. Using a router to create a tenon on the table edges.
  2. Using a table saw to create a mortise in the breadboards
  3. Drilling holes through the table top and breadboard for wooden dowels.
  4. Gluing the center of the breadboard and installing the wooden pins.
  5. Cutting the wooden pins flush to the tabletop.

Step 5: Mistake 5: Not Flattening the Table Top

In the first tabletop build, I lightly sanded the table top. For this build, I used a combination of a hand plane and belt sander to not only get the surface smooth but also flat!

Step 6: Mistake 6: Using Wood Filler Instead of Wooden Plugs

I joined the base together was 4.5 in lag screws. In the previous build, I filled the holes with wood filler. This time I cut out wooden plugs and glued them into place. By using the same wood to fill as the supports, I was able to get a more consistent stain and finish color.

Speaking of stain and finish, I used:

  • 1 Coat of Minwax Dark Walnut
  • 3 Coats of General Finish Arm-R-Seal

Sanding up to 220 grit between each coat!

Step 7: That's It!

I'm by no means an expert, but these are some of the biggest lessons I've learned since building my first farmhouse table. I'd love to know what additional tips you have found from your experience building. Let me know if the comments below!

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    15 Discussions

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    GregH104

    2 months ago

    Great video, I learned a lot from it!

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    Artuino

    2 months ago

    Thank you for your valuable advises..I'll keep it..these will be handy when I start dealing with woods.

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    Wallythecat

    2 months ago

    Great story and not at all boring. I found a belt sander can be used cross grain to flatten things out. A straight edge and pencil to mark high spots, and more sanding - keep the sander moving always and repeat as necessary. It is possible to get things amazingly flat this way. I'll do that and follow up with a light dusting of blue chalk line chalk in an old sock to highlight the scratches. Progressively smaller grits and sanding with the grain and chalk in between. When no more scratches show with the blue chalk it should be getting pretty smooth. In automotive work this would be called a "dry guide coat". Same idea, similar (but different) product.

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    makeorbreakshopWallythecat

    Reply 2 months ago

    Great call on the belt sander. I've recently purchased one for just that task. Good call on the blue chalk, didn't know that was an automotive trick as well!

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    kmpres

    2 months ago

    Very well done video. You're obviously a student of media or have an armload of video software and are not afraid to use it. That puts old folks like me at a disadvantage but that's OK. I'm happy to see it and am looking forward to seeing more from you.

    About the video, your opening photo showed a leg pedestal so I though your first "mistake" would be about the built-in stress points inherent in that particular design. The timbers are quite robust so it is probably not an issue for everyday use, however the side stresses pressing down on the table's front and rear edges would be concentrated angularly at the center mortise and tenon location on the vertical posts. This could lead to cracks developing at those locations in time, depending on the loads placed on the table. I suggest a back-to-back "capital letter K" design for future tables that would distribute the loads more evenly across the timbers and avoid stress cracks.

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    jwilliamsen

    2 months ago

    In regards to your breadboard ends: You might be able to get away with what you did depending on how dramatic the humidity difference between seasons is in your area, but in the future, you might want to elongate your dowel holes in the tongue of the joint - all but the center hole. Specifically, you want to put a pin in the center of the table end (no hole elongation) and then elongate the holes on either side - maybe 1/16" to each side of center (it's OK to glue the center like you did). This allows the center pin to keep the board centered (duh) and then allows the table top to grow and shrink across it's width without putting undue stress on the breadboard ends. This is important because wood expands/contracts across it's grain significantly more than it does along it's length, so when you have a joint where end grain meets side grain (as in your breadboard ends) NOT taking this into account can mean that your project disassembles itself - or at least becomes "rickety" as the expansion/contraction cycle loosens the joint. The amount of growth you can expect is determined by wood species, initial moisture content of the wood, and humidity change across seasons. There are online references you can check to see how much you would want to elongate those holes.

    In regards to flattening the top, another technique would be take a pencil (soft lead) and lightly draw some big lazy squiggles across the top - enough so that there is a line every few inches. Then, use either a jointer plane or a belt sander to flatten the top until the squiggles are gone. The lines give you a reference to what is high and what is low - and when you are finished in a particular area. With the jointer plane, you want to stroke at about 45 degrees to the grain of the wood, and with a belt sander, you want to keep the sander flat on it's platen (don't let it tilt and dig in) and use wide, arcing, sideways sweeps with very light pressure - again at about 45 degrees to the grain of the wood - never let the sander start or stop when in contact with the surface. In both cases, finish with light sanding with either a belt sander, linear sander, or by hand, stroking in the direction of the grain. Palm sanders can leave swirls.

    When finishing (staining) softwoods, you will get better results by "conditioning" the wood before using the stain. Softwoods are like sponges - irregular sponges - and will have areas that totally suck up stain (like end-grain) and other areas that don't take it well at all. This leads to a "blotchy" finish instead of a nice overall color. Conditioning solutions can be purchased or home-made - I've had good results with both - and they are definitely worth the time and effort. Remember: Few people notice a perfect finish - only the imperfect finish stands out ;)

    Finally, a word on glues: You might want to do some experimenting with polyurethane glue instead of aliphatic resin (wood) glue. Polyurethane glues require a slightly different work flow, but since switching to polyurethane about 15 years ago, I can't see going back. I use aliphatic glues for some things (like biscuit joints) - but not very often. Polyurethane glues actually harden (aliphatic resins remain "liquid"), poly takes stain like wood (no bright areas where the stain wouldn't bond to the glue lines), poly doesn't dull tools or gum up sandpaper, poly is waterproof and can fill minor gaps. My favorite brand, so far, is Gorilla Glue.

    At any rate, I really appreciate your willingness to share your hard-earned lessons. I KNOW how much effort goes into making videos like that - so kudos for that. Woodworking is a journey, not a destination - we are all students - and it's awesome when we share what we know to help everyone on the same path get better at doing what we love.

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    terrefirmax2

    2 months ago on Introduction

    Good instruction and advice. I wonder if you ever use reclaimed wood. In my neighborhood they bulldoze house then haul off heart pine joists, flooring, even existing furniture. So wasteful.

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    Kink Jarfold

    2 months ago on Step 7

    We learn from our mistakes and your instructable will hopefully help some not make them to begin with. Nicely done!

    KJ

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    remael

    2 months ago

    these are the best kinds of Instructables

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    scifiguy451

    2 months ago

    It's easy to forget here that what NOT to do is just as helpful as what TO do. Maybe more helpful.

    1 reply