Making a Fake 4" Thick Table Top

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About: Hi, I'm a hobbyist in the Chicago area, I like to do some woodworking, and automation with Arduino / Raspberry Pi.

In this instructable, I will show how I made my dining table. I wanted a nice and thick (4") oak table top, with dimensions 4 feet by 8 feet. I therefore considered buying 8 4"x6" 8 feet long oak lumbers, and gluing them side by side, like a big cutting board. The problem is that these lumbers are hard to find, and are sold for about $72 per piece, rough sawn. That would be $576 total, not including the cost for planing services.

I therefore decided to fake a 4" table top using 1" oak boards, and doing a 45 degree joint, or "mitered butt joint" on the sides. I am very satisfied with the result, and the cost for the table top was significantly lower ($200).

Material needed:

  • wood glue
  • screws or table top fasteners
  • Table top:
    • 8 1"x6" 8 feet long red oak boards
    • 3 1"x4" 8 feet long red oak boards
    • polyurethane wood finish
    • dowels
    • wood filler
  • Table base:
    • 1 4"x4" 7 feet long pine lumber
    • 2 4"x4" 3 feet long pine lumbers
    • 2 4"x4" 2 feet long pine lumbers
    • red oak oil-based stain
    • 7 2"x4" 8 feet long pine boards

Tools needed:

  • miter saw
  • table saw
  • drill and driver
  • a lot of long clamps, such as pipe clamps
  • orbital sander
  • hand planer
  • paint brush

Step 1: Building the Base

I went with a "farmhouse" style for the base. I used an 7-feet 4"x4" lumber along the length of the table, and placed 2 3-feet 4"x4" across it, joined by a simple cross lap. Each end of these lumbers had been mitered at 45 degrees, just for esthetics.

I then glued and screwed a 2-feet 4"x4" post on each intersection.

The table top will be carried by 5 4-feet 2"x4". This is to transfer the force on a larger surface, and also to keep the table top flat.

12 pieces of 14-inches 2"x4" have been glued to the posts to keep the table top from rocking.

For some reason I applied the finishing before assembling the pieces, but the other way can be done as well.

Step 2: Building the Table Top

For the table top, I glued 8 8-feet long 1"x6" oak boards. It is a good idea not to glue all of the boards at once, but in smaller groups. I used steel tubing on each side of the table to make sure the table top stays flat as the glue dries.

Each short end of these boards needs to be cut to the same length, at a precise 45 degree angle, using a miter saw.

The 2 boards at the extremities of the table, need to have the outside border cut at 45 degree, using a table saw. If this is done before the table top is glued (which I find easier), a custom-made counterpart piece has to be used when clamping the boards, between the clamp and the edge. Otherwise, all the pressure of the clamp is applied on the fine edge of the 45 degree angle and will destroy it. I made several of the pieces of wood shown in yellow in the picture above.

I placed 5 dowels between each board, to make sure that the boards stay aligned when clamped.

When the table top has dried, I used a hand planer to make it flat, and sanded it.

Step 3: Reinforcing the Table Top

The table top is then reinforced with 5 4-feet 2"x4" boards. Only 3 are shown on the picture above, because 2 were glued on the table base posts.

Step 4: Join the Base and Top

The base and the top are joined. If you built your table in the basement, and you will use it on the 1st floor, this is when you have to bring it up, otherwise it won't fit through the basement door :)

I glued and screwed the top to the base, but it is safer to use "table top fasteners" to accommodate for wood movement, especially if you live in an area with differences in humidity between seasons.

Step 5: Join the Sides

The 4"-wide sides are then joined to the table top. Like the extremities of the table top, the edges need to be cut at 45 degrees using a miter saw and table saw. It is important that the edges to be glued are flat and at precisely 45 degrees. Apply a generous amount of glue, and clamp the side to the top. I found that using horizontal and vertical clamps worked well to press the edges together.

I then lightly sanded the edge so it's not too sharp

If it was done correctly, the edge should look seamless. If it doesn't, wood filler can be used. I found that "DAP plastic wood" worked well, but needs to be applied quickly. As it is a solvent-based filler, it gets dry and hard very fast.

EDIT: As suggested by woodchipwilbur below, it would be safer, and it would certainly look better, if the short sides were made with end-grain. This would prevent counteracting forces when the wood dries and shrinks, and would prevent cracks on the table top.

Step 6: Finishing

I used 3 coats of polyurethane clear finish, and sanded before the 1st and 2nd coat.

I am very pleased with the end result, and hope it will last. Please let me know what you think, and share your ideas below.

If you liked the idea to make a fake 4" thick table top, remember to vote for me in the faux-real contest!

Thanks for reading

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    11 Discussions

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    djacobga

    2 months ago on Step 1

    Not only does it look great, but is probably only half the weight of the full thickness tables

    The legs do not compliment that great table top, sorry. They look bulky and out of place. The table top is awesome.

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    bwohn

    2 months ago

    I agree - by adding the 3-5 pieces across the back of the top and not allowing wood movement across the grain, this will 100% fail in <1 season. You need to glue up the top boards (side by side) and then attach to the legs with table fasteners or oversized holes/washers, etc to eliminate this problem. Also, you can run the boards/edging down the sides, but NOT the end grain... same issue as the below pieces, not allowing movement. The only way to do this is to use bread board ends (properly done). It looks nice, just need to do it right since this is "teaching" site :)

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    BirgitJansen

    Question 2 months ago

    Love the table. But do I understand it right, you "only" glued the sides to the table top? No nails/screws to reinforce? How does it hold up?

    3 answers
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    SylvanBBirgitJansen

    Answer 2 months ago

    In general glue when properly used is plenty strong along a joint with that much surface.
    I'd still likely use some biscuits to reinforce the joints. :)

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    ValentinJ2BirgitJansen

    Answer 2 months ago

    Thanks for your comment. That's right, the sides are only glued. If the joint is properly glued and clamped, it is very strong, and will break after the wood itself!

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    davedevValentinJ2

    Reply 2 months ago

    I can vouch for that. I was disassembling a 3/4" plywood structure once and the plywood broke and not long, glued joint.

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    woodchipwilbur

    2 months ago

    Nice table. Did you think about using end-grain timber for the ends of the table? It just seems that, as the timber dries , it will shrink more across the grain than it does along the length. Introducing a cross-piece as you have not only spoiled the "solid-wood" effect slightly but you have also opened up the possibility of cracks appeaing in the top becuse those end pieces are glued solidly across the end grain. US conditions and materials vary from ours in the UK but if I were to make this in the air-dried English oak that I have, then cracks would soon be there.

    1 reply
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    ValentinJ2woodchipwilbur

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely correct, it would be safer to use end grain on the short sides, and it would probably look better. I did not think of that when I built it. Thanks for the advice

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    TheoF11

    2 months ago

    Like the look of the top. But think you could have done a whole lot better on the legs.

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    Gusgonnet

    2 months ago

    beautiful result!!! Congratulations