Table Top

Make sure you get a chance to read up on the entire construction process here:

This table has been quite the project.  I have loved building with my hands and I can’t help but feel a sense of pride knowing that I made this!  One thing I have learned though, is that projects like this one are not to be rushed.  I picked a very large object for my maiden voyage into carpentry and it is teaching me patience, which is something I have never had much of.  I’m sure I could have finished this in just a day or so if I had not been, you know, five months pregnant with four other kids at home.  And did I mention I homeschool?  So my kids are home with me all. The. Time.
Wilson kiddos don’t take too well to the humidity, so the tree climbing and bike riding only lasts 20 minutes or so (if we’re lucky) before they want to go into the air conditioned house.  So I do what I can in 20 minute intervals and during nap time and school breaks.
So here we have the base of the table fully constructed and the top layer of the top ready to go.  Up next is adding another inch to the top for strength and aesthetics.

Here I pulled out the circular saw that Matt got for free years ago.  I cut a piece of 3/4 inch plywood down so that when placed in the middle of the table top, I had two inches worth of space all around it to add trim.  I screwed it into place with 1 1/4 inch screws.

Oh yeah, and I broke the circular saw in the process!  It is by far the saw that scares me the most, but there was no other alternative for cutting the plywood down to size.  The process was made even more difficult since I didn’t have a straight edge long enough to brace the saw against length wise, so I just had to draw a line on the wood and eyeball it.  It was about two feet from being finished with my last cut when the saw overheated and would not turn back on.  I waited… nothing.  So I grabbed Matt’s hand saw and finished the last two feet sawing by hand.  After that I decided that circular saws weren’t so scary after all and we might need to just spring for a better one 🙂  I mentioned patience isn’t one of my virtues right?
Now came the fun part.  Adding the trim.  I rolled out Grandpa Wilson’s old table saw (which is not as easy as rolling out the miter saw) to cut the trim.  I wanted to use the miter saw, but the plank I was cutting off of was too wide.

First thing that I did was ripped a 1×3 in half length wise so that I had two 1 x 1 1/2 inch boards.  I mitered the ends at 45 degree angles and attached it to the bottom of the planks on the long sides of the table with glue and brads (tiny nails used in nail guns).  I put the trim flush up against the edge of the top planks rather than tight up against the plywood.  Since my eyeballing with the circular saw wasn’t stellar, there were gaps between the plywood and the trim.  The gaps wouldn’t take away from the strength of the table at all, and considering this is the underside of the table top, I didn’t really care.

For the rest, my trim was 10 inches wide, just like the top planks.  The plan was to just cut two inches worth of trim and attach it to the bottom of the planks, making it look like I had used 2×10 planks for the top instead of 1×10.  I adjusted the fence on the saw for two inch wide cuts and for good measure I also marked the wood for each cut I wanted to make.
Just as a side note, when you are going to be using a measuring tape, get one that works well for you.  Obviously Matt already had a good measuring tape, but either out of worry that I would loose/break his or out of a sense of wanting me to feel pride and ownership of the table, he wanted me to have my own.  Regardless of his motives, I am glad.  There are a lot of different measuring tapes to choose from and if you notice below, mine not only has each inch marked with a number, but also every eighth of an inch.  This comes in really handy for me.  Matt’s measuring tape looks more like what is on the top of mine.  A number on each inch, but just lines for the rest.  This is a lot easier for me to read and mark.

Once I had eight two inch wide pieces cut I took them to the table to fit them.  Some fit perfectly, others were too wide.  The long planks themselves had slight variations on the size (due to my sanding or whatever), so I had to shave some of the pieces of trim a bit to fit flush against the edge.  No big deal, I just put the fence of the saw as close as I could to the blade without touching it and trimmed off a little at a time until they fit.  I numbered them so that I knew which one went where.  On the corner pieces, I mitered 45 degree angles so that they would meet up perfectly with the side trim.

I only had one corner that I had to redo.  It looks like the side trim was just a little too short for that end plank, so I had to compensate with my edge trim.  Good thing I had a lot of extra board left over 🙂

I want to interrupt here for just a minute to tell you how grateful I am that Matt is handy.  I didn’t appreciate it at all the first few years we were married, after all I would rather have him hang out with me or help me with the kids on the weekend rather than work on the car, etc.  But over the years we have saved tens of thousands of dollars because he was willing to put in the time and effort to learn how to fix or make things on his own.  The cost of a tool here or there was always a tiny fraction of the cost of getting someone else to do it for us.  So over the years we have acquired quite the collection of tools.
Case and point, when we finished the attic in our house in Maine we used the carpet that we had ripped up from the living room (and replaced with wood) on the stairs that he had just built up to our newly finished living space.  We were weeks away from moving to New Mexico and trying to get the house ready to put on the market.  After pounding the first few carpet staples into the stairs by hand with his hammer I suggested that we see if Home Depot or Lowes had a good nail gun we could buy.  We had a lot of work to do and I (again being five months pregnant) could only do so much.  I needed his muscles elsewhere and speed was imperative.  We sprung a few hundred dollars for an air compressor and tool combo kit and it took more time driving to the store and back then it did for him to finish the stairs once he had the right tool.  Could he have finished without it?  Yes.  Would he have been able to finish in 10 minutes and without breaking his hand?  No.
When it came time for me to attach the trim to the planks, I looked no further then the air compressor that was sitting in the corner.  It took a bit to figure out how to attach the hoses to the nail gun, but once that was done I fired it up and zipped right through (FYI, use ear protection, air compressors are loud.)  Again, it’s the glue that is really holding it together, the brads hold it in place while the glue dried.  I could have used clamps, but didn’t have enough and didn’t want to wait for the glue to dry before I could move on to staining.

Safety tip: This is a nail gun.  It is called a nail gun for a reason.  Just like with your other power tools, make sure you are taking the appropriate safety measures.  Point it in a safe direction (i.e., not towards a person or your face or any body parts) keep your hands and fingers away from where the nails shoot out and if you step away from it or it is not in use disconnect the gun from the hose that is connecting it to the air compressor (while pointing it in a safe direction).  This does not plug in and work off of electricity like other power tools.  It works off of highly compressed air, so even if the air compressor is unplugged there may still be compressed air in the compressor, the gun will still fire when you pull the trigger.  Just like all sorts of things we use on a daily basis (stoves, ovens, curling irons) it can be very dangerous for children (and yourself) if you are not using your brain.

Ok, now that the obligatory safety tip is out of the way I can get on with my story.
Once my table top was constructed I gave the underside one coat of stain.  I didn’t need to to be perfect or beautiful, but it did need to be dark like the rest of the table.  Once the stain was dry I flipped it over (with help from my neighbor since this is a very heavy table top) to start on the top.  I gave it a good sanding with 220 grit sandpaper, wiped it off with a damp rag and got to work!
P.S. No judging my mess.  A clean garage is the last of my priorities at the moment 😉

Remember way back when I told you to make sure you wipe up any wood glue that gets onto your piece because it’s a bear to scrape off later?  This is what happens when you don’t:

It took me a while to figure out why parts of the table weren’t staining correctly.  Most of the issues were in between the boards, so I was able to figure it out in the end.  By the way, this glue claims to be stainable.  Soooo… don’t believe them when they say the glue is stainable.  I had to scrape and sand and sand and scrap and while I got the vast majority off of the table top, the result is a much more “distressed” finished then I had been hoping for.
As I mentioned to Matt, I shouldn’t be upset because it would only be a matter of a week or two before it would get dents anyway (pine is a soft wood after all) but I wanted it to at least be perfect for a little bit.  While I generally like distressed finishes in painted pieces (kid scratches give it more character rather than making it look like you ruined it) I have never cared for it when people take chains and forks to a beautiful piece of wood to give it “character”.  I think Bangs and bumps and dents should be made in the natural course of the life of the piece of furniture, not before it even makes it into your home.
So there is my distressing rant.  OK with paint, not with the wood itself.
Anyway, after realizing I couldn’t sand it down to perfection I noticed that the imperfections of the surface did a pretty good job in camouflaging the imperfections of the stain (since I couldn’t get all of the glue off).  Besides, it would only be a week or so before it’s good and dented anyway right?
For the stain I used Minwax Jacobean oil bases stain. I chose this stain because I wanted it nice and dark but not red like a mahogany would give me.  Jacobean is about as dark as you can get without being black.  I added a second coat of stain to the top and then started on the top coat.
I started using a polycrylic in a satin finish because I didn’t want it to be shiny.  I wanted to protect the wood, but I did not want a glossy finish like my current table has.  Unfortunately, even though I brushed on as thin of a coat as I could parts of the table started to look “milky” like I had read could happen with dark stains.  Once it dried I sanded down the milky part and tried a paste wax instead.  While I was waiting for it to dry I put the first coat of stain on the base of the table.

The wax is giving it a really nice finish.  I rub the wax in with a cloth, then buff it off with a clean one.  The first coat I put it on a little too thick and it took a while to buff out.

Now that I’ve gotten the hang of it I’m really pleased with the wax finish and I’m finding that it is really bringing out some of the beauty of the wood.   I’ll keep adding more coats as the days go by and hopefully by the time I am finished refinishing the chairs it will be ready.

Honesty moment: I had read so many good things about wax finishes.  It’s water resistant, cleans up easily with a wet rag and is extremely durable once it cures.  Give it another coat every six months or so and your piece will look gorgeous forever.  I got caught up in the fervor and should have thought it through more or discussed with Matt before I bought the wax. After a little more research, I found that the people who use it the most are people who are very concerned about having low VOC’s so they can be “green”.  While I’m happy with the finish of the wax I don’t think I’ll be doing it again.  It’s taken a lot of work, time, elbow grease and I’m not nearly so concerned as having a low VOC table.  I have also since found out that (duh) polyurethane comes in satin finish as well, so I can get the protection for the wood without having a shiny finish.  I’ll be using polyurethane on the base of the table once it is ready and saving my polycrylic (since I bought a gallon) for the chairs and my other painted pieces.

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