Building a table is one of the most deceptively simple woodworking projects going. What could be easier than gluing up a few boards and applying a finish, right? But reality is often surprising, because building a top for that table can go wrong in ways you might not realize until it’s too late.  Here are my favourite tabletop construction tips, plus advice on how to avoid trouble.
If you want your table top -- any table top -- to actually ast without bowing/cupping/twisting, you MUST attach it in a manner that allows for seasonal wood movement. Wood is an organic product, and it naturally expands and contracts with changes in temperature and humidity. I'll post link below to a couple of options that you can cheaply buy which will allow you to securely attach a tabletop while still giving the wood the flexibility to move with the seasons. When you buy decently-made furniture at a store, they all accommodate for this one way or another. Don't just screw the top down to the legs or the skirt...you'll regret it later on.

Some moisture meters have pins that penetrate the surface of the wood. This can leave tiny holes that mar the surface and require filling. Others are pin-less. They have sensing plates that scan the wood beneath. However, not all pinless moisture meters are the same – look for one that uses technology that is not affected by the surface moisture in the wood, such as Wagner Meters IntelliSense™ Technology Moisture Meters.


A layout square, or combination square, comes in 6” and 12” sizes. Most woodworkers use the 6” model, simply because it’s easiest to carry around. Also, most of the stock you’ll use will be no bigger than 6” wide, so 12” is overkill. The layout square is a triangle that you can use to mark square cuts on stock. Once you measure the length of the cut, you line up the layout square with the edge of the board. The short side will give you a straight, square cut across the end grain. You can also measure off angles with the layout square. This helps when you’re trying to measure for a bevel on a table saw, or marking a cut for a miter saw. You can even use your layout square to determine an existing angle. Just be sure to buy one made of metal. The plastic ones are not only fragile, but they also can warp, making them pretty useless.
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Clean wooden gutters of any loose debris and cut to a manageable length. Miter down to form an approximately 40" x 94" rectangle. Coat the corners with wood glue and fasten together with 15-gauge finish nails. If miters are tight 45-degree cuts, box should be square. Double check diagonal measurements before fastening completely. The two diagonal measurements should be as close to equal as possible.
Now that you have the final dimensions for the table top, you need to choose which boards you want to use.  Because we don't have a table saw and we wanted to keep this project simple and not cut any boards lengthwise, we {and by we, I mean my husband} plugged and chugged different board sizes into his calculator to find the perfect equation. We ended up using seven 1x6 boards for the width and on the two end caps we used 1x8's. Remember, a 1x6 is not six inches wide, it's five and a half, and a 1x8 is seven and a quarter inches wide. When you are doing your math to figure out what boards you need, remember that the nominal size {1x4, 1x6, 1x8, etc} is not the actual measured dimension of the board.
This continuous absorption and releasing of moisture causes the wood to swell and shrink. This swelling and shrinking causes the wood to move and this movement causes issues. When it’s more humid, the moisture in the air is absorbed and the wood swells. The swelling actually has enough force to push and pull joints apart. Worse yet, if the wood is joined incorrectly it can cause the wood to crack and split.
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Now that you have the final dimensions for the table top, you need to choose which boards you want to use.  Because we don't have a table saw and we wanted to keep this project simple and not cut any boards lengthwise, we {and by we, I mean my husband} plugged and chugged different board sizes into his calculator to find the perfect equation. We ended up using seven 1x6 boards for the width and on the two end caps we used 1x8's. Remember, a 1x6 is not six inches wide, it's five and a half, and a 1x8 is seven and a quarter inches wide. When you are doing your math to figure out what boards you need, remember that the nominal size {1x4, 1x6, 1x8, etc} is not the actual measured dimension of the board.
If planks are slightly cupped or twisted, have them planed at a local millwork shop or borrow a tabletop planer and tackle the job yourself. If planing yourself, first check planks for and remove nails and excess dirt*. Run planks though the planer, stripping a small amount of wood from each side as you plane. While the board is going through the planer, manually adjust the depth of the cut to compensate for irregular thickness (or twist) over the board’s length. You can hurt yourself or damage the board or planer if you do not manually adjust as you go. Keep running boards through the planer until the blade has lightly stripped each surface. Next, rip boards on a table saw to create straight edges; planks do not have to be identical in width.
Even a small tabletop presents a challenge if the boards you glued together  have stepped-shaped misalignments where they meet because of warping. Yes, you can sand these off, but the more topographical sanding you need to do, the less flat and regular your finished tabletop will be. The flatter and better aligned your boards are when they’re in the clamps, the happier you’ll be later. This is where end clamps and gluing cauls can help.
Building a table is one of the most deceptively simple woodworking projects going. What could be easier than gluing up a few boards and applying a finish, right? But reality is often surprising, because building a top for that table can go wrong in ways you might not realize until it’s too late.  Here are my favourite tabletop construction tips, plus advice on how to avoid trouble.
Okay, let’s stain this beast. I should explain that we used Rustoleum’s Dark Walnut Ultimate Wood Stain, but we did it wrong. We failed to mix it well before applying it, resulting in a color we really liked–but not the color this stain is designed to create. When we came back to do a second coat, we stirred it well, resulting in a coat that looked like purple paint. I had to sand it off and start over. So, don’t follow my lead here–follow the can’s directions and TEST before staining all of your new masterpiece!
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