Recently, my wife and I decided that a new dining table would be one of my next shop project priorities.
In this instructable I'm going to document the design and construction of a solid hardwood harvest-style table.
Step 1: Option: Video Build
I made a series of three videos documenting the design and build of this table. So, if you like, you could watch those. Otherwise, read on!
Step 2: Design Beginnings
Fortunately, and coincidentally, I had a perfectly good set of solid hardwood legs already available and sitting in my shop. I had salvaged these from a broken down Ikea table that I'd picked up on trash day some time ago. The pine tabletop from that salvage had already been used a few months ago to build a Media Stand in our TV room.
The legs were an ideal match, as a classic rectangular harvest-style table (some people might also call it a Farm table or similar) was what I wanted to build. It could not be a large table -- our smallish kitchen meant that it could only be about 60" long. But I would make up for that by making it a bit extra wide, at 42". I already had a bunch of ash in my garage just waiting for the right project.
In Sketchup I quickly drew up the legs that I had, added in some long and short aprons, and very quickly had a basic design from which to work from.
Step 3: Design Part Two
Partway through the build process, we realized that we had a problem with this design. As you can see in this drawing, my design had 25-1/4" of legroom under the apron. This is pretty standard for tables like this. General table building guidelines agree that you need at least 25" clearance.
However, we are a pretty tall family. As well, we are used to a sort of pedestal table, which had closer to 28" of clearance along the edges. This gives plenty of room to cross your legs and enjoy your time at the table. This design was not going to work.
Here is a look a the new leg-and-apron design that we settled upon.The basic idea involved taking the long aprons -- the ones along the long side of the table -- and pushing them in by about 5". This would give us 10" of open space along the long side of the table. Lots of leg room. It also gives the table top a bit of a "floating" appearance. The end apron would need to be a bit taller, and thicker, to handle the load, since the long apron now connects to the short apron, rather than to the leg. A shallow arch in the apron adds a pleasing curve, and helps lighten the look of that heavier board.
Step 4: Lumber Preparation
I had a stash of air-dried ash lumber out in my attached garage, which I brought into my shop. I first tested them for moisture content. I checked in three different boards, in different spots on the boards, and they had an average of 9% moisture content. That is really quite good. The garage is unheated, but it is attached, and has an insulated room above it. I left the boards stacked and stickered in my shop to acclimatize.
After two weeks in my shop, I came back to these boards and tested them again for moisture, in several places. As well I used a drill to make some shallow holes so that I could get the pins deeper into the wood to ensure I was getting a good reading. Now the boards were registering between 7-8% moisture content, which is good enough for me to proceed.
At this point I skip-planed the boards (which is to say I planed them lightly, but not to final thickness) and edge-jointed them and did a preliminary layout of the boards. And in the interests of full honesty, I discovered that I did not have quite enough of my air-dried lumber, so I had to run out to a local lumber dealer and picked up a few more kiln-dried boards of 5/4 ash.
I then proceeded to plane to final thickness and rip to final width
Step 5: Layout Is Important
There was lots of sorting and flipping and rearranging as I settled on a final layout for the boards that were going to be used in the table top. This is an important step. I explain my thoughts on that process a lot more in another article on my website
Once satisfied, I mark the boards so that I can preserve the layout. The drywall square on the right is for marking where I want the edge of the table top to fall -- at this point the boards are all still comfortably longer than needed.
Step 6: Make the Top
I used my dowelmax dowel jig to add dowels to help align the edges of the boards that make up the top.
Dowels are not necessary for edge jointing, nor are biscuits or other reinforcements. But I do like to use them when doing a LARGE glue-up like this tabletop, as they ensure that the boards are perfectly aligned to the one face. In this way, I can ensure that the top of the table top is almost perfectly smooth and in one plane.
I would NOT recommend trying to glue it all up at once. I would glue two or three boards together, clamp them up and set them aside, and then glue another two or three together, and so on. (The dowels do slow you down. If you were just using glue, and maybe some cauls, then that would be a different situation.)
For the final step in gluing up the top I had two large panels, so it was just one joint that I had to worry about.
As an aside, if you're making yourself a table like this you should take a look at how many clamps you have that are large. This table, at 42" wide, was quite wide. I was almost in trouble...
Afterward, I used my old Stanley #80 scraper to take care of any minor glue squeeze out along the joints of the top.
Step 7: Finalize the Size of the Top
The final step in building the top was to clamp a straight edge near the sides and use a flush cutting bit in my router to trim the ends flush. The top was nearly perfect, but by using a flushcutting bit you can make sure it totally flat and a nice clean single edge.
(The word "final" there is not quite correct. There still is a lot of sanding ahead, and later in the table-building process I will be rounding over the edges of the table with a roundover bit in the router.)
Step 8: Preparing Aprons
The next step was to work on the aprons. I'd already jointed and planed them, so it was a matter of ripping them down to thickness and trimming them to the appropriate length.
NOTE: I'm using dowels for my joinery, so I can cut my aprons to exact length. If I was using mortise and tenon joinery, then I'd need to allow an extra three inches (1-1/2" at each end) in the length of the aprons, to accommodate the tenons.
Then I set up the saw to rip a shallow dado about a half-inch from the bottom of each apron. This is to accommodate the table clips that I will be using to fasten the table top to the apron+leg assembly.
I need to rip a stopped dado for the short apron pieces to prevent the dado from being visible. To do that I put take on the fence to mark where the blade starts and stops (roughly, I don't need super accuracy) and then I raised up the blade into the workpiece, pushed it to the next mark, and then lowered the blade.
With all the apron pieces out I positioned them upside down on the table top. This gave me a chance to check how they fit, and make sure they are all the right length. This also gives me a first look at how it looks -- you just have to visualize it flipped over.The center crosspiece is left long. It will be cut to size later, after the long aprons have been dry fit with dowels, so that it is exactly the right length.
Step 9: Legs?
Remember, I am using salvaged legs on my table.
These are simple square and tapered legs. If I had not salveaged these legs, I would start with any hardwood lumber, and glue it up into enough layers to give a 3-inch by 3-inch leg. After they are jointed and planed I would add a taper along the two inside faces of the leg, starting at 4-5" from the top, so that they taper down to about 1-3/4" by 1-3/4" at the foot.
Step 10: Understructure Joinery
As I mentioned, I am using Dowel joinery in this table. I start with drilling dowel holes at the top of the legs for attaching the short apron.
The long aprons have three dowels at the ends. The short aprons have four where they meet the leg.
I then need to drill dowel holes into the face of the short apron, for where the long aprons will join. This is the reason why the short aprons need to be thicker than the long aprons. With the way the long aprons attach to them, I wanted there to be more substance there to accommodate the joinery.
With all the joinery drilled and tested, I now moved on to mark the curve on the short apron pieces. I followed the simple technique of using a thin springy piece of wood and pushing it to make an arc.
And in the final photo, here are the two short aprons with the curve cut in them. You might have noticed in a few of the preceding photos how the one piece had a rather large knot in it, which I now cut away. This photo also nicely displays the dowel holes for attaching the long aprons, and the stopped dados for the table attachment clips.
Step 11: Legs and Apron Glue-up
Now I could move on to assembly. I sanded the legs around the dowel holes, to expose the bare wood. Most of the strength comes from the dowels, and not from the butt joints. But I still like to clean those off for gluing.
I'm using 2" compressed hardwood expansible dowels. They swell up after being coated in waterbased glue. A while ago I had to cut open a piece with some dowels that had been put in the wrong place. The dowels were swollen and totally tight in the wood. There was no sign of any gap, and all the grooves in the sides of the dowels had disappeared.
After the two leg assemblies had dried I moved on to the rest of the apron pieces. It made sense to use the table top for the assembly, so spread wax paper on it to prevent any glue drips from affecting the look of the top.First I glued in the central crosspiece and clamped it firmly.
Then I moved on to attach the long aprons to the short aprons.
Back during the design phase I was not sure that I needed this middle crosspiece. I thought the table was probably strong enough. I mostly included it to help keep the long aprons aligned, and because I had plenty of wood so why not? But as I planned the final assembly I realized that I did not have any clamps long enough to reach from end to end to clamp the long aprons in place.Fortunately I had that central crosspiece. So I could use shorter clamps and clamp from each end to the central crosspiece. I was careful to NOT apply excessive clamping pressure.
Step 12: Paint the Base
I sanded the entire frame and cleaned away the dust and then primed the entire leg and apron assembly and painted it semi-gloss black.
As a side note... when I first thought about building a table I envisioned the whole thing as having a natural wood finish. However, the "gift" of those painted legs caused me to consider a painted base. I've done something like this once before, but only on a small scale. So I was pretty confident that a painted base could actually enhance the look of the natural wood top.
Step 13: Finishing the Top
I now turned my attention back to the top. I routed a small 1/8" roundover all around it. The reason I left this until the end was that I knew it would take a couple weeks for me to get this far, and I was concerned that the table top might get bumped as I moved it around the shop. By leaving the roundover until now, I would have the chance to clean up any such dings in the edges through the roundover process.
I then labelled the underside of the top with my name and the date. I used the acetone-toner-transfer method for this. I learned this technique from John Heisz's website. Basically you can use acetone to transfer toner from a laser printout (not inkjet!) to wood.
Two coats of shellac on the table top were next.
Step 14: Applying Finish to the Top
For the top, I had decided to use brushing lacquer. I needed to take this out of my basement shop, as it needed a lot of ventilation. My son helped me carry the table up to our attached garage and I got busy.
I used a natural bristle brush, a good respirator mask, and started applying the lacquer. It applied thick and clear. A lamp was necessary (visible in the top-left corner of the photo) to cast a bright light across the project. The finish is so clear that it is important to bend frequently and look across the project, so that the bright directional light will reveal what parts are still unfinished. (This is more visible in the video.)I applied two coats of finish to the bottom, and three coats to the top. The lacquer dried quickly, and almost completely smooth. There were maybe a handful of small bubbles after each coat. I used some 400 grit sandpaper to buff those spots out. After the final coat there were 2-3 bubbles that required sanding and then some spot touch-ups with lacquer.
Step 15: Putting It Together
I left the table top for a further three days in the garage to off-gas, and three more after that down in my basement shop to harden up. The can recommends waiting seven days after finishing before putting it into use.We then carried it up to the kitchen and laid the top upside down on the floor, with an old flannel sheet for padding.
The leg-and-apron assembly was then brought in and I measured it to be centred on the table top, and placed some painter's tape to mark the corners in case it got bumped.
I used metal table clips to attach the table top to the base. They fit into the slot that I milled along the top of the apron, and are screwed to the table top.The next two photos show part of the process of drilling pilot holes and attaching the clips with screws. I probably used too many; I just scattered them around on the apron.
Step 16: Final Photos
Here are some more photos