Do you need a new coffee table? Perhaps you've thought of going to your local Ikea to purchase one? Why bother?! You've got through ability to make a gorgeous hand polished table, and I guarantee it will wow everyone around. The best part, this is a beginner friendly tutorial with few tools necessary.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
I had two species in mind for this project, the first, a slab of Eucalyptus, very pretty but difficult to work with, eucalyptus is tough and a heavy wood, I recommend working with something a bit softer. Perhaps maple or Walnut.
For the legs I used a chunk of reclaimed Mango, this piece, filled with a complex grain pattern was heavily damaged by termites. It'll prove a challenge cleaning and filling all the holes, but it'll be worthwhile.
A woodworker is only as good as their tools, I've often been told. While there is some truth to that, I believe that even the most inexperienced beginner with the most basic of tools is capable of great projects. This table at first glance may seem daunting but it's not a very difficult project. For a basic tool list you'll need...
-1 chisel, preferably 1/2 or 3/4, for those that like metric I recommend an 18 or 20mm chisel.
- A sharp handplane, you will use it to flatten stock to cleaning an edge, it'll be your best friend in the projects to come.
-sand paper, grits 120,220,320 to start. You can get higher grit sandpaper if you'd like but 320 is enough for a good finish. You may also subsittute 320 with 0000 steel whool for final finish.
- A square, I use a clear drafting triangle, but you can use an Engineers square or try square.
- A saw, use a Japanese Pull saw they tend to be easier to use and offer a very high quality cut.
-A ruler, minimum use a 12 inch, though I recommend 18 or longer.
-A pencil... Need I say more?
- Wood Glue, any will do but I recommend glues that are easier to clean up like Titebond.
- your favorite finish, personally k love Tung oil it is a very forgiving and beautiful oil based finish. Easy to apply with no special equipment needed, Tung oil has been used to dazzle by woodworkers for thousands of years. I use Southerland Wells Polymerized, but any brand of Tung Oil will work.
Give this finish a try, you won't regret it!
You can of course use more tools, while those listed above will do all of your basic work. More specialized tools like the Router will make a job much faster. If theres a tool to buy it's the router, an incrediblly versatile machine, it'll flatten and rough stock for you, just please use hearing protection and a facemask.
Step 2: Flattening the Stock
eucalyptus is a pain apart from being an extremely tough with to work with eucalyptus also has a tenacity to warp due to weather changes therefore I had to use a router to flatten the stock the dimensions I was working with were 40 in Long by 18 in wide by 1 inch thick thankfully the slab I had was a little bit over an inch and a half thick which allowed me to flatten it out without going under my desired length.
If you don't have a router, I recommend finding a slab that is close to your final thickness. If you want Popeye arms however, I recommend grabbing a nice hand plane and flattening the stock by hand it'll prove to be a better workout than CrossFit.
the mango slab that I had is 16 inches tall by 12 inches wide by a little bit over 2 inches thick. for the legs I only needed one inch thickness. Using my bandsaw I cut the slab in two and then flattened both faces with my handplane.
Make sure once flattened you mark a true reference line on your project. It must be as straight as possible and you will use this line to reference all of your measurements and angles.
Step 3: Cutting the Leg Tennon.
With the Mango legs flattened and the termite holes cleaned up, I began measuring where the tennons would go. To attach the legs to the table each leg would have 3 tenons cut with identical mortises on the table. The mortise and tenon joint is one of the mechanically strongest around. I decided on three 2 inch by 1 inch tenkns for the legs.
Measure twice and cut once, since I have a bandsaw, I used the machine to cut out the tenons quickly. A Japanese Pull saw and a coping saw will also make quick work of the material. Be extremely careful not to cut in the wrong spot, it's been known to happen.
After cutting as close to the line I take my 18mm chisel and carefully slicing material away, I use my chisel to make a flat edge. Use your chisel to cut thin pieces of material until you have a flat face with your reference line.
Step 4: Stabilizing the Slab
remember how I said that eucalyptus was a pain in the butt to work with?! yeah well it kept on checking on me and warping so I had to reflatten it and try and keep it as straight as possible which was a challenge to be sure.
Due to the moisture in the air the Eucalyptus kept cracking on me so I had a simple solution and lay some butterfly Keys. A way for a woodworker to express themselves while providing a functional form to stabilize a wooden slab.
I measured the butterfly keys to be one inch by 2 inch and three quarters of an inch by inch and a half. since Eucalyptus is a red wood I decided to contrast it with some Maple butterfly Keys which I roughed out using the bandsaw. to clean up the keys I used a very sharp chiseled to sliced very thin shavings until I got as close to the line as possible resulting in a crisp key.
Eucalyptus as Ive said before is famously difficult to work with so I decided to take pity on my hand tools and I used a router for this job. using the completed butterfly Keys as a template of itself I got a very sharp knife and scored a very thin line around the perimeter of the butterfly key then using a pencil I decided to mark the line further making it more visible.
For a Butterfly Key to be effective and needs to be routed at least a quarter inch and thickness. Make sure you take your time, as the router is a very dangerous machine if it's not properly used I recommend taking passes the shallower than an eighth of an inch in thickness.
once I had a rough outline of the butterfly key routed out I used the Chisel to clean up the rest of the inlay. Using the butterfly key for reference I further refined my slot until the key fit snugly. When I was confident of my work I glued in the keys with Titebond and used my wooden mallet to pound them in.
Finally using my trusty handplane I planned the keys to the slabs thickness. Fresh!
Step 5: Cutting the Mortise
Having the tenons cut and cleaned up you want to transfer those lines on to your wooden slab. it is important that you have everything measured out completely and perfectly, as the way these mortises turnout will determine how loose or tight of a joint you have. A better fitting joint will be more structurally sound.
once your mortises are laid out you will want to cut them out. You can do this using the router or drill. Be careful not to blowout wood on the other side. After they are roughed out, you will use the Chisel to clean up your mortises, make sure to use your legs as reference.
Please make sure that you continue to sharpen your tools, a sharp tool will make your work better and you'll be safer.
Step 6: Final Adjustments and Finishing Work
congratulations on getting this far! By now your table should be mostly complete, as you can see mine has the tenons a little bit longer than the mortise. this is actually a good thing is it's always better to have more material to cut than less.
I used my Japanese pull saw to cut the tenants close to the wooden slabs and then once again using my trusty hand plane I flattened them to thickness, giving me a very nice crisp cut.
My table now more or less completed, it was time to do the finishing work. I begin by using my random orbital sander and a 120 grit paper to do a Rough sanding of the entire piece. If you want a very high-quality finish, it is all in the preparedness of your stock. You want to make sure that everything is as flat as possible and a smooth as possible, as tung oil will be able to reflect any mistakes that you make so sanding is very important.
I sent lightly poured water over the entire piece to raise the grain of the wood and giving it 15 minutes to dry out I got a sanding block with 120 grit sandpaper and once again sanded the entire piece going only in one direction.
With a dry cloth i cleaned up the entire piece being very careful to remove all the dust from the wooden slab. I sanded again using 220 grit sandpaper this time. you want to make sure that you don't applied too much pressure to the wooden block as your hand can actually forced the block to cause divots in your piece. you can send it to as high of a great as you want but generally it is considered that 320 is a finishing grit. Be careful to always go in the same direction, don't sand in circular motions and change your sandpaper often. If done correctly you will be left with a flawless surface for your finish.
Step 7: Finishing Your Piece
I love using tung oil as a woodworking finish because of the advantages it brings apart from being extremely easy to work with, its very forgiving. You don't need any special equipment, just your hand and a good rag. Be sure to hang your rags to dry right after you're done, as drying tung oil in rags can combust because tung oil can be highly flammable.
Apart from the workability of tung oil it provides gorgeous grain and luster to the piece not seen with other types of finishes like polyurethane. just make sure that you wear gloves because tung oil is incredibly sticky and pretty difficult to remove from your hands however it's not toxic to humans.
After vigorously stirring your tung oil spread liberally over your entire piece make sure that you get into every nook and cranny and let the tung oil to sit on the workpiece for at least 5 minutes. Once you feel the tung oil getting very tacky grab a spare cloth rag and remove as much material as possible leaving a coat on the surface of your table.
Allow your finish to dry at least 24 hours before continuing on to your second coat. Before applying your second coat grab water with a little bit of dish soap and using a 320 grit sandpaper lightly sand the surface of your table. This will ensure that that all imperfections have been sanded out and leveled. Be careful not to send through your finish or you will have to reapply the coat.
While you can apply the third coat after 8 hours of drying, I recommend 24 hours. I only applied 3 coats of tung oil, before reaching my desired Sheen. However, you can continue putting as many coats of oil as you want. it will make your table a lot brighter and more reflective.
if you decide to get more than three coats of tung oil on your furniture piece I recommend getting higher grits of sandpaper. you will continue to wet sand in between coats however every time that you sand between coats you want to make sure that you use a higher grit starting with 400 and turning onto 500 600 800 and Etc.
After you have reached your desired sheen allow the table to cure for at least a week. Once it has cured, you can further protect your new table by applying a paste wax.
Step 8: Wax Application and Final Thoughts
To apply the paste wax grab a clean Rag and a dab of wax vigorously rub using circular movements and hand pressure. Wait 2 mintues before a final buff with another clean rag.
Congratulations you've just completed an amazing hand polished oil finish and made a custom table that will make your friends jealous! It's been an honor to share my experiences for you with this project. I will be available for any feedback or questions you have. Thank you for reading and have fun!
Runner Up in the