So this is a pretty long and involved build, just a heads up.
While visiting one weekend, one of my sisters saw the live edge oak coffee table I had previously built (https://www.instructables.com/id/Live-Edge-Oak-Coffee-Table/) and asked if I could make her a dining room table.
I thought it might be a great learning experience for me so I figured why not.
Here we go...
Step 1: Materials
So quite a few tools were used for this build but you can definitely get away with less. I once heard an old woodworker say "Don't buy tools just to have them, only buy something when you actually need it. When you do buy it, make sure it is a good quality one". I think this is pretty good advice and have tried to follow it.
Several 10 ft cherry beams
10' x 30" x 3" black walnut slab
3/8" & 1/4" walnut dowels
Router with Plunge base
Lots of Sandpaper
Japanese Pull Saw
Speed Square & Angle Finders
Various router bits
Lots of clamps
some type of epoxy
Step 2: The Design
My sister has a kind of refined sense of style, she likes strong, elegant pieces. Not super rustic but not super modern or overly complex.
We sat down and listed out her requirements:
- It needed to seat 6-8 people comfortably.
- It should be a centerpiece kind of table, one that would be the focus of the room.
- Strong yet functional, she wanted it to last for the next 20-30 years. Almost like a heirloom piece that could get passed on.
We batted some ideas and sketches around until we settled on a design. I really like some of the pieces that came out of the English Arts and Crafts movement (not what we did in primary school, it was a style of furniture and design that flourished in the 1880s-1920s, look it up.) One piece I loved was the Hayrake Table. There are a number of variations on this but essentially the base incorporates themes of a hayrake, a farming instrument. It is a strong, beautiful design but not so simple as to be basic and boring.
We next discussed the wood. She really wanted some type of live edge on it. Live edge is super trendy right now, I don't think it works for everything but it is definitely cool when done right. Classically, I don't think this table would be made with a live edge top but it was her call.
The guy I buy rough lumber from had some really nice black walnut slabs that I could get a deal on. After showing her what black walnut looks like when finished she was sold on it.
Step 3: The Top: Rough Cutting and Dimensioning
I managed to pick up a black walnut slab that was 3 in thick, ~30 inches wide, and 10 ft long for a pretty decent price. The slab had a through crack running approximately half its length almost directly down the center. For this reason I was able to get a good deal on it. If I wanted a slab that didn't have a crack, the price was going to easily double.
So I managed to bring the slab back to my place, my poor Jeep Comanche was struggling haha. This thing was an absolute monster, easily several hundred pounds. The crack was to far gone for me to consider gluing and pulling it back together so I decided to finish the crack right down the center and try to square up those edges and then glue it back together. So I chalked a line down the slab trying to keep it in the center as best I could and then used my circular saw to rip it down. This gave me two much more manageable pieces to work with.
Cutting to Length:
I decided to first cut the two pieces to the rough length now as they will be much easier to move about. We were looking for a table about 6 feet 4 inches long so I cut it down to 6 feet 5 inches (little wiggle room never hurt).
NOTE: Keep track of the orientation and grain, I wanted to make sure things matched later.
Squaring up Inside Edge:
So now I have these two slabs that are 6'5" long and 12-15 inches wide each. The inside edges needed to get squared up so they would fit nicely together. I scratched my head for awhile at this point. One of the slabs tapered an inch or two and kind of threw things off. I didnt want the entire table to taper a ton or look significantly out of square. A little "movement" to the shape is ok as I think it would give it character but to much would make it look like this was poorly done. I solved this by marking a reference line along each live edge and then marking a straight line off of that along each split edge. I used my circular saw to rip down these lines. There was still a tiny bit of taper to one of the slabs but I think it looked good. Each piece was now about 12 inches wide, give or take.
Step 4: Table Top: Adding a Center Leaf
At this point I had my sister check in to make sure we were on track for what she wanted. She was super happy with the walnut and how it was looking; however, since we had to trim and square things we had lost some width and were down to a hair over 2 feet. She really wanted to get to at least 32 or 33 inches if not 3 feet. So we decided to add a center section in between the two slabs that would get us to the width we wanted. I debated making it black walnut to match the color but the grains wouldn't match and it would be noticeable. Since people are going to notice it, lets go the other direction and make it pop a little. I decided to make the center section out of cherry since its quite a bit brighter and would contrast nicely. Also, I was planning to make the hayrake base out of cherry so it would match that and tie things together nicely.
- So I got some cherry beams about 3 inches thick and 6 inches wide and cut these to length.
- Then I ran them down my jointer (I had just picked up a nice powermatic jointer and it worked wonderfully!!)
- The beams had a touch of bowing in them so I next ran them through my planer and took a little off them.
- Finally I glued the two cherry pieces together. I did my best to match the grain on them but it wasn't perfect. Put a nice film of glue down and then clamp those bad boys together.
- Go get a cup of coffee.
NOTE: Planers and jointers are nice but not necessary. If you can find a good deal (check craigslist) and have the space then go for it. However, there are numerous guides and instructables on how to use other more common tools to achieve the same results.
Step 5: Gluing Up the Table Top
Allright making progress.
Next we need to glue up the entire table top. First we need to make sure we have nice edges to glue together.
I knew the cherry leaf edges were good since I had ran them through my jointer; however, the walnut slabs I had cut with a circular saw.
Even cut down these slabs were to large for my to run through my jointer, just to heavy to safely try it.
So.....break out the hand planes!!!
If you have an electric hand jointer this would probably be the time to use it; however, I spent all my money on the jointer and planer so no electric hand jointer for me.
I clamped the slabs so they were standing up in the air and then started going after them with the hand plane. I am pretty terrible at hand planning and more experienced woodworkers are probably cringing at this point but it worked out ok. I checked the sides with a square and they seemed good.
Time to Glue!!
First I drilled a few dowel holes in each of the faces, mainly to help with alignment when gluing together. I used 1/2" black walnut dowels about 3 in long, 2 dowels in each face.
I glued up one slab at a time just to make sure things went according to plan.
- Spread a thin film of glue on each face and then slowly draw together using those dowels to make sure you are aligned correctly.
- Clamping up something this big is hard, I suggest getting the adjustable clamps that you put on a piece of 1/2" steel pipe. You can make a 6 foot clamp for 15 dollars and be able to adjust it to all different lengths instead of dropping $50 on one single giant clamp that doesn't adjust.
- I had 7 or 8 of these type of clamps so I just pulled it together and clamped it real tight. I used a few smaller ones to clamp vertically over the seam making sure that stayed flat.
- A day later repeat this entire process for the other slab.
NOTE: The resulting table top is gonna be super heavy and awkward. Plan accordingly where you are doing this. You have been warned...
Step 6: Flattening the Table Top
Now we should have something resembling a giant table top.
Two observations at this point.
- There was still a bit of a bow in the cherry leaf, enough to where I would need to flatten things some more
- One of my seams had a tiny gap, maybe 1/32, but enough to where I wanted to take care of it.
The Gap in the Seam:
- I used some epoxy from Systems West and mixed it with some graphite powder to make it dark gray.
- Taped up the end and bottom of the slab
- Poured over the seam and any other hairline spots I thought might need it.
Epoxy work is tricky, go slow and carefully.
For small pours like this, use a lighter or propane torch and run it gently above the epoxy, this will bring the air bubbles to the surface and help you to get a nice uniform epoxy.
Flattening out the Top:
So there is only so much you could do here. If you have a belt sander you could try to take things down a bit but you have to be careful. Belt sanders are pretty aggressive and can beat a piece up quickly.
I don't have one so my decision was made for me....more hand planes please!
Start planing and don't stop until your happy with how flat it is. This took a long time and a significant amount of effort. Try using a winding stick or just a stick you know is perfectly flat on one side to check the flattness of the top.
Once you are done, flip the entire thing over and flatten the other side.
I guess you could use a router sled and surfacing bit instead but that would also be a ton of work. I think hand planing is more fulfilling and straightforward.
Step 7: The Hayrake Base
With the top mostly there, we turn our attention to the base. Lots of different designs and ideas out there about hayrake tables. I looked at a few different ones to get my idea of what I wanted to do.
I sketched up as detailed a design as I could and made a cut list.
I had a long cherry beam I was going to use for this, I jointed one side of it and then planed it a hair. Finally I marked out all my different cuts and used my chop saw on them.
The hayrake design has a long stretcher running down the center and a "rake" at each end that connects to the legs. The legs are octagon shaped.
- I tilted the table on my bandsaw and zipped off the corners of each leg to create the octagon shape. (You could also do this with a table saw and appropriate jig).
- I then used a chisel and hammer to cut tenons into the top of the leg. These tenons will fit into matching spots in the bottom of the table.
Step 8: The "Rake"
This is kind of tricky and requires going slowly and having alot of patience. Measure several times before you cut anything.
- I laminated two thinner pieces of cherry together to make the center stretcher - The ends of this stretcher were cut into 1" x 1" tenons that will mount into the rake (see the pictures if this isn't clear ha ha).
Each end of the base has a "rake" that connects the stretcher into the table legs. Two angled pieces attach to the center stretcher and the table leg.
-The ends of these angled pieces were cut into rectangular tenons that mount into mortises cut into the table leg.
- There is a cross piece running between the angled pieces that also mounts onto the long stretcher. A through mortise is cut into the center for the tenon on the long stretcher to fit into.
- Some people cut additional mortise and tenons to mount this cross piece to the angled pieces; however I just glued it to them.
- The angled pieces have tenons cut into the end that mount into the sides of the long center stretcher. This is a tricky step. You have to cut a mortise into the stretcher at an angle. I cut a piece of wood at the appropriate angle and used it as a guide for my chisel.
I understand if this wasn't super clear. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.
Step 9: Joining the Base Together
I chose to use a combination of dowels and glues to join it all together.
For where the angled pieces mount into the center stretcher and table legs I used black walnut dowels.
I first drilled a hole through just the stretcher or leg.
Then I test fit the angled piece and marked the hole location on it.
Then I drilled the appropriate holes in the angled piece; HOWEVER, I offset them a hair towards the base of the tenon.
The point of this was that when I hammer the dowel in, it will naturally pull the two pieces together making for a very tight joint.
For some additional security, I put glue inside these joints as well. This should make for a very strong joint.
I glued up each angled piece in stages, the clamping is tricky because of the angles involved. It may help to make a temporary jig or frame you can use to help clamp.
Joining to the Vertical Legs:
With the stretchers all glued up, it is time to join it to the legs. You have to be careful here as you want to make sure your legs end up perfectly vertical.
I drilled a 3/8" hole through the center of the legs that was in the middle of the mortise. I then put a layer of glue on one of the stretcher tenons and gently hammered the leg onto it.
Once it was seated as deeply as it would go, I took my drill and stuck the bit into the hole I had already drilled and now drilled out a matching hole in the tenon. After this I took a dowel I had cut to about the right length and hammered it into the hole.
Pro Tip: Don't worry about cutting the dowel perfectly to length, better to cut it long and leave a little poking out at each end. You can always go back and saw it off and sand things down a touch.
Once all of the legs were attached to the stretchers, I used some ratchet straps to pull the legs tight until the glue cured. I checked several times to make sure that everything was nice and square.
Step 10: Joining to the Table Top
So unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of this step.
I wanted to make this top easy to take on or off in case you are moving or something. So I cut two tenons into the tops of the table legs. I then cut matching mortises into the bottom of the table. They were about 1" deep.
This allowed the table top to drop nicely down on the legs. It was quite sturdy.
Step 11: Finishing
Everyones favorite part!!!
So I sanded everything progressively using 60 grit -> 80 grit -> 150 grit -> 320 grit using my orbital sander.
I then sanded the surface by hand using 600 grit paper.
After this I ran over the surface with a horsehair brush (I read online somewhere that it is a nice additional finishing step). I didn't really notice anything but it did clean the dust from sanding off so that was nice.
I finished everything using just a lint free rag and danish oil. The pictures above are with just a few quick coats of danish oil. I am planning to go back and do some wet standing with the oil and 600 grit paper.
Now go have a fancy dinner party and show off how refined you are!!