Walnut Slab Dining Table
You don't need many tools to make a slab table like this. You could do it with just a sander, drill, jigsaw, and chisels!I use my circular saw, router, and bandsaw because I have them, but they can be substituted with the other tools.
This post contains affiliate links, for more information see my disclosures page.
Check out the tools I use.
Project parts (affiliate links):
Table levelers: http://amzn.to/2fwDS1E
Mylands Wood Finishing Oil: http://amzn.to/2vrbWQR
Super Blonde Shellac: http://amzn.to/2wyPB42
General Finishes High Performance: http://amzn.to/2vJL6pE
The first thing I did was start removing the bark using a draw knife. I’m trying to use a technique that I first saw by Matt Cremona where he just removed the outer bark and left the inner bark still on the slab. That way I still have bark-y kind of look, but nothing that’ll be tempting for my boys to try to break off the table.
This slab has an irregular shape from the two crotches that are in it, but I want something more rectangular while still being organic. So I used my straight edge to mark a straight line down the slab in an orientation that I thought looked good. Everything else will reference from this line.
I used a big framing square referenced from my line to mark lines for the ends. Then I measured and drew a line parallel to the first line to remove this projection. Then it’s just a matter of cutting along the lines. That will make the shape less awkward and feel more rectangular but leave a lot of natural curves.
Next I took my block plane and went around the table blending the edges. There was a particularly bad spot a chainsaw had left that needed to be evened out. Then I went to places I had used the circular saw and tried to transition that straight cut into the natural shape of the slab.
I started smoothing the top with my low angle jack. Unfortunately this slab is too thin and warped to be flattened, if I tried I’d probably end up with just a piece of paper left. But I figure so long as glasses don’t tip over then it is flat enough for a table. So I remove all the saw marks I can with the plane and then switch to my random orbit sander to get in the low spots.
After the initial smoothing of the top is done I move on to the legs. One leg is an off cut from the top slab, the other leg I have to cut out of this slab. I follow a similar procedure to before. I establish a straight line with my long straight edge and then use the framing square to establish a parallel top and bottom edge for the leg before cutting it off. Thankfully one of the attendees was nice enough to hold the off cut for my while I cut it. I’m cutting this long now and will cut both legs to length at the same time later.
Now I just repeat the draw knife, plane, and sander procedures on the legs and stretcher to get the bark in shape and the faces relatively smooth and flat…ish.
I smoothed the stretcher before cutting it to size. So then I do the same ole straight line and framing square sequence before cutting it to size. Then I decide the straight line I drew is actually in a good place to be the top of the tenons of this piece. So I grab a piece of scrap that’s the size I want the tenons to be and mark the bottom. It would have been wise to go ahead and cut the tenons now, but I waited.
To make the bowties I just sketched out the shape using a speed square and straight edge by drawing a rectangle and then laying out the bowtie shape. Then cut them out on the bandsaw. The bandsaw cut was pretty rough though, so I clamped it in the little vice on my bench and smooth them out with a chisel. I also went ahead and beveled the bottoms, but I should’ve done that after I scribed them onto the slab.
I didn’t realize it while I was scribing these, but these bowties are not perfectly symmetrical. So the fit was pretty rough, but they fit well enough. To cut the mortises I routed out the majority of the mortises in three passes, with the final pass being a little less than the full thickness of the bowtie. That way I can plane it down perfectly flat with the surface. Then I chiseled out the rest of the mortise. That’s why I like to use the marking knife. It gives a place to register the chisel in for the final cuts. But over marking the cut with a pencil gives visibility for the camera and power tool work.
Then it was just a matter of adding a bit of glue, spread it around and on the bowties, and tapping them in. To make the gaps less noticeable I rubbed some sawdust from the sander into the glue around the edges.
Establishing the centerlines to layout where the stretcher would go and how the top would line up with the base was a matter of trial and error. I started by finding the middle dimension on the top and bottom of the legs and then drawing a straight line. Thankfully this looked good on both legs. One of the legs I hadn’t squared yet. So I used my framing square off the end and cut it to length. That leg could be used to mark the other leg and cut it to length.
I started laying out the bottom of the table by marking how far I wanted the legs inset from the ends. Then I found the middle of each of those lines and laid out my straight edge. But this time, it looked really out of line. So I nudged and fiddled with it until I liked where it was located and it was square to leg lines. Then I stood the legs up on it with the help of some screw clamps to see how it looked. One leg balanced out pretty well, the other… not so much. So I moved it over some to where I thought it looked better and started scribing new lines. I needlessly transferred the old centerline onto the new location on the leg. But then I took the original center line from the leg and traced it onto the table top and then onto the other leg. This is the plane that the stretcher will go on.
With a line for the stretcher on both legs I measured from the top of each leg to mark out the mortises for the stretcher. I used the same block I used earlier to mark the tenons to mark the mortises. Then I used the stretcher itself to finish marking out the mortise.
Then I decided it probably wasn’t wise to go cutting and chopping joinery into these legs before I finished stabilizing them. Which I really should’ve done before I started laying every out. So I taped off the back side of the cracks and mixed up some epoxy and… my camera died right before I started the pour. Sorry about that, to make up for it I’ll keep the sanding shots short.
Now that I’m confident that a bad mallet blow won’t snap these in half, I start mortising. I place a cut off under the leg to prevent chip out on the backside and use a close sized forstner bit in my drill to remove most of the waste from the mortise. Then it’s time for chisel work. I start with just knocking off the points then start edging up on the final size and squaring out the corners.
Now I need some tenons to stick in there. I take the stretcher to bandsaw to cut these out. I can do all of the rip cuts on the bandsaw but due to the length of the stretcher I can only do the crosscut in two of the four places. So I go back to the vise and use my Izzy Swan straddle square to transfer the line to the other side of the stretcher. That would’ve been really challenging to do accurately without that tool. While it’s in the vice I figure I may as well get some hand saw practice in instead of going back to the bandsaw.
Finally, the first test fit. Not surprisingly the shoulders of my tenon weren't square and so it was off a fair bit. So I can back to the vise to do some fine tuning. It doesn’t take too much back and forth to get a satisfactory fit.
With the legs scribed I decide to rough them out on the bandsaw and then get fairly close on the oscillating sander. This doesn’t quite do it, do I mark the high spots and use my random orbit sander to get it satisfactory.
I can now cut out the mortise.. rabbet? I don’t know, for the top stretcher. I use the board itself to lay them out, and then hog out the spot for the stretcher with the router.
Now to add the cut offs back to the stretcher. I put them on the stretcher backwards to mark the material I need to remove and then chop off the excess at the miter saw.
I use my ice pick to make marks on the bottom of the table top where the center line is, and then it’s lots and lots of sanding. I use a rag with denatured alcohol to wipe off the dust and also highlight any bad spots that need more attention, like this tear out I missed. I also wet sand the epoxy up to 1200 grit to get it more clear.
The last step before gluing it all together is putting on the feet. I did not want to put an arch on the bottom of the legs, so if the floor this is on is not dead flat, the table will rock. Having adjustable feet fixes that problem. I just epoxy in some t-nuts and use some Rockler chair levelers.
Now I can finally glue this thing up. One thing I really like to do is pre-set all of my clamps before I start spreading glue. That takes a lot of stress out of the glue up. With it all set I use my tape to make sure everything is square. Then I start mopping up some of the excess glue with a wet paper towel. For the final support I pre-drill, glue and screw the top stretcher into place. For the finishing touch I glue the off cuts back onto the ends of the stretcher.
Another tip I’ve picked up is reserve some fine sanding dust from the project. I mix it with wood glue to make a perfectly tinted wood filler to help patch gaps. It’s not a perfect fix, but it’s way less obvious than those gaps would be.
The last last thing to do before finish is cut in some slots with my biscuit joiner for the table top clips to go into. And now, the most exciting part, that first coat of oil. This isn’t sponsored, but Mylands was kind enough to give some of their wood finishing oil to try on this and I think it looks great. I did an overly complicated finish on this just to experiment with different techniques. I did a flood coat on the top, and rubbed in a coat on the base. There wasn’t a big difference, but I did favor the look of the rubbed on coat. After drying, I scuffed everything, dusted it, and then rubbed a second coat of oil on. After giving that a few days to cure I mixed up some super blonde shellac and brushed on two coats, and then rubbed a third coat on, sanding between every coat. I much preferred rubbing on the shellac to brushing it. I wanted the top to have extra protection though, so I used polyurethane on both sides of the top. I did three coats of General Finishes High Performance in gloss, and then topcoated with a satin to bring the sheen down. Building up with the gloss first helps get a clearer finish.
With the finish dry all that was left was attaching the top to the base with the table top clips and then taking glamour shots!