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Making a coffee table top

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  • Making a coffee table top

    Hi Guys,

    I was intending to make a coffee table like this:

    I was wondering what is the best way to make the table top? On the Ryobi board, people suggested using narrower planks, and joining them side-by-side, instead of purchasing a larger single piece that would serve as the table-top. They said the larger board is more likely going to warp than the narrow boards joined side-by-side with dowels. Is this correct?

  • #2
    I have a table that is over 40 years old made up of 6" boards glued up. There is zero warp. If it is done correctly and not exposed to extreme changes in weather(don't leave it in the rain) then it should be fine. Popular woodworking magazine had a good, short and simple article on glue-ups about a month or so ago that I would recommend. I've done glue-ups with 8" boards and have not had any problems. It is true that you will less likely have warp with smaller widths but that is also that much more work to glue up.


    • #3
      Would the wood naturally warp over time if it's left inside, and is about an inch thick though? I'm thinking of a piece about 2 ft by 4 ft for the tabletop.

      Also for glue-ups, i'd need to make dowel holes, correct? And use a hand planer to smooth any difference in height between the pieces?


      • #4
        OK---fellow Bay Areaer'

        The design looks cool. One small comment---if you feel comfortable trying it, that drawer, in a true Mission/Craftsman piece wouldn't overlap the frame piece---it would be flush.

        I wouldn't worry about humidity warping your top--not in Dublin.

        Gluing up the top----you could use dowels, but the trick is that center opening---you need it aligned perfectly---what you could do is to leave the boards at a longer length than needed, so after gluing up, you can square up the ends to the final length---this give you less trouble than if you cut everything to length at once.----But to glue up the piece, you could use biscuits or for that fact, nothing at all.

        Attaching the top to the frame is the key to avoid warping. You could either use figure 8 rings (sold at good woodworking stores) or, pocket screws are also good---the only difference would be that you'd put in the screw and then back them out maybe a 1/2 to full turn to allow the top to move---remember--it moves across the grain. In any event, you want no glue between the top and frame and if it warps, the bow would be in the short direction, so the drawer where it's located is fine---if it was on the ends of the table, you'd have less holding power, because of thinner wood.


        • #5
          It depends on the environment whether or not it warps. I have a coffee table thats been in my garage for about 7 years and it hasn't warped.
          Dowels or biscuits are used more for aligning the boards together. They will not prevent warping. A hand planer or scraper can be used to smooth out the top after glue up. BUT, start out with flat boards with parallel top and bottom surfaces and you will minimize any smoothing out that needs to be done. If you do everything well then a little hand sanding is all that might be necessary after glue up.


          • #6

            I am not an expert on this but I have done it once or twice and have seen Norm do it and recommend it as a way to minimize warp.

            He alternates the grain as shown;

            usually cuts his board width 6" or less, and joins them edge to edge with biscuits.


            [ 01-07-2005, 09:44 PM: Message edited by: steelewoodworker ]
            It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.


            • #7
              Jerry---good illustration! While the alternating grain is good, even Norm has let it take second place to matching the "look" for the money side of the glue-up.


              • #8
                Man, so you guys wouldn't suggest using a large piece of wood for the top then? I kinda have to use maybe 6" boards and join them? What would be wrong with using a large board and cutting it down to the size I need, and then making a plunge cut to cut out the middle? Thanks for the advice so far too!


                • #9
                  Originally posted by daveferg:

                  But to glue up the piece, you could use biscuits or for that fact, nothing at all.
                  You mean no biscuits or dowels are needed for the glue-up? Is it because I'd be making a frame on the bottom to reinforce it all?


                  • #10
                    Axio---First---just where do you expect to find this single board????? What----20-24" wide??? Unless you're talking about plywood (which I don't particularly like for surfaces receiving a lot of hard use (like coffee table tops)---unless you lived maybe 150 years ago, you won't find that size board unless you go to one of these places that specialize in antique lumber and that would be very expensive.

                    Secondly, with a single board you have a much greater chance of warping, splitting, etc. Heck, I'm not even very fond of using 12" boards, without good backing to prevent warping.

                    If you need some help, I'd suggest you take your plans with you to a good hardwood dealer---they should be a help. Hear there's a good one in Berkeley--can't remember the name but a yellow pages or Goggle search should find it.


                    • #11
                      Thanks Dave. I always just figured they sell wood that size, but apparantly not. I've only browsed through the Home Depot's lumber area once or twice, and i guess the big boards are like you said -- plywood, or fiberboard. I suppose I'll be practicing making holes for dowels so I don't need to spend money on a biscuit joiner


                      • #12
                        One more question -- when gluing boards together with the dowels in between, how should I run it along the rectangular coffee table? Should it be so that there's say... four long boards, or 10 short boards turned the other way?


                        • #13
                          I've made two mision style coffee tables, one cherry and the other oak. In both cases I used hardwood plywood (cherry and oak)and used the appropriate banding around the exposed edge. I used several coats of polyurethane to provide a durable finish that should hold up well and I doubt that the plywood tops are ever going to warp.


                          • #14
                            Traditionally, the grain runs with the long dimension of the table top---it would actually be more unstable the other way.

                            Get yourself a doweling jig----Believe General Tool sells them in larger stores or check on line. Lay out all your boards and carefully mark for dowels on the surface at each edge joint maybe every 8"----the jig should have a mark to match the hole.

                            BTW---you asked about getting the top even later----either a hand scraper or careful use of a belt sander.


                            • #15
                              Axio, I'm guessing you might be new to the field. For what its worth, I've seen table top glue ups at HD. I think only in pine and poplar but you don't say what wood you are interested in. Poplar wouldn't be too bad for the whole project since you could get the rest of it at HD if that's more convenient.

                              If you want to use more exotic woods as some of the serious woodworkers here suggest, another option is buying your wood from a mill already glued-up and sanded. I used to do that myself until I bought a jointer, planer, and precision router lift (reversible glue joint bit).