How To Build A Rustic Wood Table

How To Build A Rustic Wood Table

How To Build A Rustic Wood Table

Over the past 6 weeks, I’ve been working on a new kitchen table for my home.  We routinely have large groups (10+ people) over for dinner and our current 6 1/2 foot by 40″ table wasn’t working anymore.  Adding a folding table to the end of your dinner table with cold metal chairs from the garage was getting old.

A friend of ours was clearing out her garage and had a number of old oak boards (4-8′ foot and 4-4′ boards) that were once the base of a waterbed.  I offered to take them off her hands to turn them into a picnic table for our back yard.  Once I got them home my wife had the idea to make a new and much larger dining table.

I layed out the new wood with a piece of old maple butcher block that I ripped in half and ended up with this.

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Here you can see the raw wood planks before they were thickness planed

 The overall size was approximately 4′ x 9′ which we decided was plenty of table for our needs.  The idea was to build the table and a bench that will stow under the table when not in use.  In this configuration, when we have a larger group over we can pull out the bench and put the 4 chairs we have on the other side and up to 2 chairs on each end to seat as many as 14 people if needed although 10 would be very comfortable.  Here are the initial plans that I drew up based on the materials that I had to work with.

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Once the boss approved the plans, it was time to work on the boards.  Since this was my first table top I was going to need to use a number of tools that I had never used before:

– Dewalt Thickness Planer
– Delta Edge Jointer
– Black and Decker Biscuit Joiner

I wanted to use a thickness planer because the material had a number of dings and gouges as well as some stain and polyurethane on the surface that I didn’t want to have to sand off by hand. Also, the hardwood butcher block that I halved for the center strip was about 1/4″ thicker than the donor boards.

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I found the roller to be a huge help when working with the planer – I don’t suggest trying one without it.

I have to say that the planer was an intimidating tool for a first time user – it is loud and sounds like it could do some serious damage if used incorrectly.  I ran a few test pieces through it before I actually got started on the finals and quickly realized it wasn’t hard to use at all.  I would strongly recommend having 2 vacuums while using this tool though, one for the main vac attachment and another to clean up all the extra shavings that the main vac doesn’t pick up.  Here was my planer/jointer setup:ben_drolet_farmhouse_table (24) ben_drolet_farmhouse_table (23) ben_drolet_farmhouse_table (22) ben_drolet_farmhouse_table (21) ben_drolet_farmhouse_table (20) ben_drolet_farmhouse_table (17)

One thing i did notice with the planer was the harder woods needed a few passes with a shorter cut because the blades bogged down and stopped leaving a heavy line right across the center of your cut. I found the jointer to be a huge hassle to use until I extended the deck on each end, then it became much simpler.

Here is the end result after I brought all the material to the exact same thickness.

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You can see the center strip of hardwood that I incorporated into the table to add another 10″ to the top. I am not sure mixing woods like this is a good idea, but I did it anyway – you live and you learn.

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Dry test fit to make sure each of the boards would line up correctly with the others. Although most of the knots are on one side, the pieces fit together nice and tight in this configuration so I just went with it. After all, this is wood and I want it to look like wood, grooves, grain, knots and all.

Now that all the wood was planed, it was time to join them together.  The third tool that I used for the first time was a biscuit joiner.  This thing was fun to use and took no time at all to get the hang of.  The reason that I wanted to use it was to make sure that all of the boards lined up correctly to ensure a flat surface – I didn’t go through all that planing just to have an uneven table top.  I placed them about 12″ – 14″ apart which as it turned out was probably too close – ideally 18″ would have been better spacing.

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I love how this shot shows the biscuit joints lined up, each the exact same distance from the top of the board. Once the biscuits are in the slots and wet, they hold the whole piece together and inline. The joints straightened out the little ‘jog’ in the end of this board

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dry fitting the biscuits to make sure the boards line up correctly

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Once the pockets were cut, I put the boards together in groups of 2 and let them dry overnight.  First the right two, then the left two, then I attached the center strips (both of them) to the left side, and then the left/center joined the right – each time only doing one wet joint at a time.  Then I attached the two end caps.

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The line shows my biscuit joiner lines and how tight the two boards fit together once the glue dried. Very little sanding was necessary on the top of the final table top because of the way the biscuits lined the wood up.

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Here is the first set of boards clamped. After this set I did the two on the other side, then attached the two center pieces to one of the finished sides. Then I attache left/center piece and the right piece together followed by the end caps on the top and bottom.

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The almost complete table top sans the bottom edge.

Now that I had a complete table top I started worrying about strength.  I tend to over engineer things to the point of absurdity, but in this case I think it was worth the extra thought to make it just right – after all, I plan on keeping this table for… well… ever! I decided that the end caps were not going to be strong enough on their own to handle someone sitting on the end of the table or maybe 2 people leaning against it, the biscuits & glue just weren’t enough strength and pocket screws wouldn’t fix the problem either.  I decided to increase the 2″ thickness to 3.5″ by adding a redwood strip to the bottom edge.  This would add strength and support to the entire table, plus it makes the top look and feel much thicker and more solid from the side.  I used a hand saw and a metal file to cut and round these pieces.  I attached them with clamps and glue, no screws or nails.

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The problem with not using screws is that sometimes your clamps slip overnight and your material dries in a different position than you expected in the morning. This was the case with this edge which I had to even out.

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The problem with not using screws is that sometimes your clamps slip overnight and your material dries in a different position than you expected in the morning. This was the case with this edge which I had to even out.

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No screws = lots of clamps.

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Love these old fashioned clamps that I got from harbor freight for about 5 bucks each!

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 Now that I gave everything a full day to dry, I was ready to prep the edges and corners for the router.  I have several children and sharp corners on tables kind of freak me out, so I went with a 1/2″ round bull nose for all the edges and sides.  To get this I first needed to hand round the vertical edges so the router bearing could use the smooth round as a template for the top edge when it was cutting.  I also had to sand down the area that the flat surface of the router would be sliding on to reduce the chance of snags or bumps.  The completed routed edge looks like this:

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You can see the router left a fine line when it was done. This was quickly sanded smooth by hand and viola!

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Nice rounded corner = no bloody head wounds on kids!

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A nice shot on how the redwood supports and the tabletop mated on the sides. Its clear they are two different types of wood, but I kind of like the quaintness of mixing 4 total types of wood together into one table – it feels like something you would find at an old farmhouse.

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So, now is the part where I get picky and start to really over engineer.  The table top as it is now weighs about 120lbs, so it has a nice heft to it.  The problem is that when you pound or knock on the top, it has a ‘hollow’ or ’empty’ sound which makes it feel cheap to me.  This is a result of using a softer wood for the majority of the top.  I decided that the only material that is dense enough and cheap enough to fix this problem is MDF.  I decided to affix a 3/4″ sheet of MDF to the bottom of the table because its density, weight and sound deadening qualities are unparallelled in woodworking for the price.  SO… off to Home depot to add another 98 lbs to the bottom of the table. I had them rip about 3″ off the side, then half the two pieces so I could carry them around more easily.  The MDF was attached with high performance glue and drywall screws.  I pre-drilled and counter sunk everything.

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Here’s the top and bottom pieces of MDF attached without the center strips in place yet

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Here is the counter sink and the 1/4″ gap around the entire outside edge

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I had a spare piece of white MDF from a shelving project that fit perfectly in the 1.25″ gap left over

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The final dried MDF reinforcement on the underside of the table. With this attached, the table top is EXTREMELY strong and weighs over 200 lbs. The MDF also completely removed the ‘hollow’ sound when you knock on the top – it feels really solid.

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Another shot of the gap between the edges and the MDF core.

Now that the top was mostly done, it is time to address the base.  Since the top was over 200 lbs, I decided that the base needs to be even stronger than what I originally designed, and heavier as well.  With the new design, the 4″x6″ lumber I’m using for the base with the cross member weighs about 190 lbs which is perfect to anchor down the heavy top.  Plus, it is overbuilt but doesn’t look too bulky.  Here are some of the designs I worked out:

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Ultimately, I decided to use #4 for the base which is heavy duty, but still allows lots of light to permeate through the room.

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The scrap pile – aka ‘whats left over for the bench(es)’

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Here are the tools I used to build the base. The chop saw was about 1/4″ short of cutting all the way through the lumber so I used a small hand saw to finish those cuts.

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I moved the planers out of the way now that they aren’t going to be used for a while

For the base, I wanted to hide all the hardware that was actually holding things together and put the focus on the distressed wrought iron strapping that I was going to add later, so I did a lot of notching and gluing on the base.

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by the way, the harbor freight aluminum pole clamps suck… soooo cheap – i would not recommend them to anyone for any reason, stick with bar clamps for this type of work

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Making sure everything is true and level before moving forward.

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Making sure everything is true and level before moving forward.

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This is how I glued one of the legs together – in place on top of the three base boards. There are 4 small deck screws holding the upper joints in place from the outside. Once dried, I filled in all the gaps and screw holes with a wood filler that I made from sawdust and wood glue. One the final stained base, they are nearly invisible.

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Once i had the base to this point, I realized that there was a lot of lateral play in the structure (if I leaned on one of the legs it would lean in) This is a serious issue because of the weight of the table top. If someone leans against it, you can’t have the entire thing topple over like dominoes and dump the top on someones legs. I decided to add a notched cross member on the top and lag it into place. These screws will be hidden by the table top anyway.

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Here I’m checking level before notching out the planks. Be sure to check you floor for level before you check your project 🙂

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As you can see, I’m not a precision woodworker, I’m an amateur… It took quite a bit of home made wood filler to sure up these notches, but once they dried, they were rock solid.

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Here, I notched the base by making multiple passes (about 1/4″ apart) with the skill saw, then chipping out the pieces with a hammer and chisel. I used a hand rasp to smooth out the final surface for mating with the cross member.

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Here’s another view of the final cross member notch – I LOVE the smell of freshly hand cut lumber! Its funny how much pride I took in the little details of this build! I must have spent 3 hours on these notches and enjoyed every minute!

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The final fitting for the cross member. The top of the plank had a slight bow to it, so I flattened it out with a few passes with the hand planer and the hand rasp.

Now that the base was put together, it’s time for some test fitting with the table top!  This is the first time I saw it all put together.  I put some chairs around it and tested each spot to make sure there was enough leg/foot room and that the height was good (exactly 30″)!

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I was very happy with the test fit – rock solid and level.

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I was very happy with the test fit – rock solid and level.

 

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It was really hard to go in and distress the top after sanding it down so smooth.  You really need to be committed to distress a project at this point.  I didn’t want to over do it, but I needed it to look well used and worn at the same time.  I think I got just the right amount though…

Now that the base passed the test fit, it was time to put on the wrought iron accents.  I am no iron worker nor do I have the time/energy to go dumpster diving, so I bought some galvanized steel brackets from home depot ranging from $3 to $9 and distressed them myself with a mini-sledge on the garage floor.

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Once they were beat up enough, I sprayed on two coats of Rustoleum oil rubbed bronze metallic paint. This is the same stuff I used on my driveway gate hardware and I love the finish. I sprayed all the lag bolts and bracket screws as well.

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the end product of the mini-sledge beating on the straps.

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I don’t care if they bend up from the distressing, they aren’t really for structure and the lag bolts will pin them flat once installed.

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Here’s a before and after. I don’t care if they bend up from the distressing, they aren’t really for structure and the lag bolts will pin them flat once installed.

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Here’s a before and after. I don’t care if they bend up from the distressing, they aren’t really for structure and the lag bolts will pin them flat once installed.

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Here’s a before and after. I don’t care if they bend up from the distressing, they aren’t really for structure and the lag bolts will pin them flat once installed.

And here they are sprayed and installed.  The 8 ‘L’ brackets on the inside are there for looks, but they are also adding a degree of strength against lateral movement.  Once I put them in, I had NO movement whatsoever – even when pushed really hard.

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Even though the three base timbers were cut to the same length, I decided to stagger them slightly so the imperfection would stand out. After all I want it to look like it was handmade.

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Even though the three base timbers were cut to the same length, I decided to stagger them slightly so the imperfection would stand out. After all I want it to look like it was handmade.

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I love this view of the table.

Now that the finishing touches are done, it is time to sand sand sand.  I spent more than 10 hours overall sanding on this project.  I used a random orbital sander hooked up to my vacuum with 60 grit pads for most of the shaping of the tabletop.  I wasn’t going for perfectly level, but I wanted smooth.  I moved up to finish at a 240 grit. I stopped at 12 for the base, no particular reason, I just felt that it should be a bit rougher.  Once the sanding is done I move on to the stain.

 

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I applied the stain in three even light coats with a rag – nothing special, just wipe it on and wipe off any dark spots or streaks.

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After a few coats, this is where I decided to stop.

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Now I used a much darker walnut stain for the base.  I wanted the base to sort of disappear and the tabletop to be the center of attention.

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I stained right over the straps. Did the whole thing in one coat and I’m very pleased with the grain placement (all just luck)

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Here’s the top and the base side by side for comparison.

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I brushed the poly on the base rather than use the rag.  I wanted thick coats and brush marks don’t bother me on the base.

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I brushed the poly on the base rather than use the rag. I wanted thick coats and brush marks don’t bother me on the base.

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I brushed the poly on the base rather than use the rag. I wanted thick coats and brush marks don’t bother me on the base.

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I brushed the poly on the base rather than use the rag. I wanted thick coats and brush marks don’t bother me on the base.

And finally, the polyurethane.  I applied it to the top using a microfiber towel rolled up and very thin coats. I have never applied poly like this before, I usually use a brush, but I saw a video on youtube by the wood whisperer and decided to give it a try.  It worked beautifully – im happy to say it saved a ton of material and time as well.  I did about 6 thin coats, letting each one dry for a full 8 hours before lightly sanding with a 320 grit block. After sanding I wiped the surface down with a damp cloth to get rid of the sanding paste.

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Microfiber towel worked like a charm.

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Microfiber towel worked like a charm.

And a few shots of the coats in progress.

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The poly really brought out the richness of the material.

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And now the table in its final resting place in our kitchen.  I haven’t attached the top to the base yet, this is moments after we brought it in (thanks Chris Menser for your help on this one).  I am so happy with the overall finished product and most importantly, my wife loves it!  We can seat as many as 14 around this table and we plan on doing it as often as possible.

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Some people ask me why I don’t just go to crate and barrel and buy a $3000 table and call it a day, I can’t answer that question for them – either you get it or you don’t.  My father helped me do some of the stain and polyurethane on this project and he told me that my ancestors on his side were ship builders, maybe I have wood chips in my blood! I can tell you that for the past few days, every time I walk through the kitchen, I run my hand across the top of the table and smile!

  1. JamesJames04-15-2013

    Ben,

    Long time no see! I emailed you separately but thought id post anyway! Its funny to see you working in wood – you used to hang out with us wood guys in school when you were drawing all your girls now you’re working with wood too. Love the table, really nice work. It would look good in our gallery in the Adirondacks if you want to sell it off.

    your friend
    James

  2. AnonymousAnonymous06-04-2013

    Hello , you are awsome writer, i love bendrolet.com

  3. AnonymousAnonymous09-06-2013

    i wish i could do stuff like this

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