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What do I look for in a dining room table?

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  • What do I look for in a dining room table?

    Hey guys,

    My wife and I are in the market for a dining room table. We want something with a pedestal base so people can sit all around it without legs at the corners being in the way.

    We'd like something that's not too big when closed (around 70") but extends to over 100" with leaves added. We've found one that seems great at 66" with three leaves bringing it to 102".

    I've seen different tables with different methods of extending. Some are completely made of wood, with dovetailed sliders in them and some with steel mechanisms with gears and stuff.

    My question for you guys is this...

    What should I look for in a quality table that will last a lifetime? Is it ok if the mechanism is all made of wood sliding against one another, or has modern technology given us something better?

    The most interesting one I saw was the metal with the gears as it incorporated the leaf right into the table, folding in two and hiding underneath. The "problem" is that it was a composite material with a veneer making up the surface and we think we want solid wood. We figure solid wood will last a lifetime and can be refinished easier if ever it's scratched up or damaged.

    What's your take on this?

  • #2
    Re: What do I look for in a dining room table?

    Also... we saw a table made of solid maple, and another of solid birch. Is one better than the other?

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    • #3
      Re: What do I look for in a dining room table?

      Solid wood will always last longer than a veneer. Although a veneer won't crack from expansion and contraction, since usually the substrate it's glued to is a plywood or MDF core. Veneer will tend to delaminate if your environment is too dry.

      With a sliding mechanism, I've seen wooden tables a hundred years old that have dovetail sliders, and are still working. Every once in a while, it's a good idea to use some wax lubricant on the sliders. Other than that, the wooden sliders are generally very reliable. The use of metal gears is relatively new but they're probably just as sturdy. The only problem would probably be getting the gears out of alignment from time to time. I image it'd be simple to re-align the gearing if that happens.

      If you're going to go with a long set of expanders, be careful about using a center design. Cantilevering all that wood off the ends can sometimes lead to droop in the wings. Make sure you carefully examine how the leaves are held in place when attached. They have to be solidly connected, with enough material to keep them from drooping at the ends. Here again, a solid surface will be more reliable than a veneer since it's more rigid.

      As far as maple vs. birch...it's really up to you. Personally, I prefer maple if it's a good hard maple. I like the look of maple, and I think it's a harder wood than birch. That makes it more resilient to dings and scratches. Mostly I see birch as a material to attach a veneer to, but that's just me.
      I put it all back together better than before. There\'s lots of leftover parts.

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      • #4
        Re: What do I look for in a dining room table?

        Excellent post Sandy.

        The only thing I could add is this:

        You are going to spend alot of money to get what you want. Don't get something that will be out of style in 20 years. I was stuck with my wife's hand-me-down dining room set for 15 years. It was the most garish thing you ever saw.

        If you can find one that has self storing leaves the better off you will be. I was so sick of moving those things around in the closest everytime I wanted to get to the suitcases. The leaves that were stored 360 days out of the year got more scratches than the table top.

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        • #5
          Re: What do I look for in a dining room table?

          The one we're leaning towards has room in it to store 2 of the 3 leaves. We figure we'll just leave the 3rd in place.

          Thanks for the advice, everyone! Looks like the all wood mechanism is no problem and maple is the way to go, which is what we were leaning toward anyway.

          It's expensive... but we figure it'll be the last table we ever buy. Just want to ensure it lasts long enough to be that, and from the sounds of it, it should.

          The design is fairly simple. Nothing too ornate or anything. Just a simple bedestal base with a rock solid looking top on it.

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          • #6
            Re: What do I look for in a dining room table?

            Hey Wild Weasel,

            Wooden sliding mechanisms are really the best for expandable tables. You have to keep metal mechanisms greased and they tend to get sticky and gooped up with dirt, attracted by the grease, and they stick and squeak if you don't grease them. I've even seen some get rusty over time. Wooden dovetail sliders, on the other-hand, are easy to care for. Twice a year take some paraffin wax and rub the rails with it. This helps protect the wood and makes it easier to open and close the table.

            There are some really nice Amish made Oak dining tables. You can get them finished or unfinished. The construction of Amish made tables are heirloom quality and will last for generations.

            The one thing to be wary of is the fact that hot pots, pans, dishes, etc. will leave burn marks, and glasses that condensate will leave water marks. I had a piece of glass cut to fit the diameter of my table (when it's closed,) and I simply set it aside at times when I open the table for the holidays, family parties, etc.

            Happy table hunting!
            Dimensional Carpentry & Custom Woodworking
            Historic Renovations, Restoration, & Custom Log Homes


            I Beat The Competition Hammersdown!

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            • #7
              Re: What do I look for in a dining room table?

              I got a oak table set with 6 chairs. Pedastal legs..self storing leafs metal gears that i have had to do nothing with for grease on them. The table is now 4 years old and im gonna resand an poly the surface finally. I am totaly pleased with the oak. It is 60 to 120 in bout 30 secs. The wife loves that it fits 10 people for the holidays I love not haveing to be cramped at the holidays But i would look for stability especially with pedastill legs. Self storing leaves, and get a hard wood. I hate vaneer tops. The ageing of the wood looks really nice over the years.

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              • #8
                Re: What do I look for in a dining room table?

                Yeah, we're definitely going with a solid wood table. No veneer.

                Sadly, the one we want can't be made and delivered by xmas.

                Now I'm seriously considering getting a great big piece of sanded plywood... routering the edges... putting on a table cloth, and just screwing it down into a table we already have. heh. Instant big table.

                Just to get us through the holidays until we can get the new one delivered.

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                • #9
                  Re: What do I look for in a dining room table?

                  Originally posted by Wild Weasel View Post
                  ..."What do I look for in a dining room table?"...
                  Usually food!

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