We recently purchased a house. Which is a great thing, and also meant that there were a ton of projects I needed to finish to make the house complete. One of those projects was making a dining room table to fit a very specific nook in our kitchen, something that I really wanted to make myself instead of just buying from [insert your favorite housewares store here].
The house we purchased was recently renovated by a pair of flippers. They did a number of improvements, from replacing the flooring and blowing out a kitchen wall to installing an amazing shower in the master bedroom. The improvement that we were the most concerned about was the addition of a built-in dining nook in the island in the middle of the kitchen. We weren’t sure that it was something we would use (spoiler alert: we use it every day and it’s awesome), and the specific size and shape required a pretty non-standard size table. Once the paperwork cleared on the house I started thinking about how to make something to fit that space.
My first thought was to do a very simple wooden table using a handful of planks. I could lay four longer wood planks together, attach them to two perpendicular pieces, make a couple legs and then apply a generous helping of lacquer to waterproof the table and make it easier to clean. This plan, however, was roundly rejected — the wife adamantly wanted a live edge table.
The problem with live edge slats is that finding one that is the exactly perfect dimensions for this specific position is extremely expensive. Straight live edge slabs are rare, and ones which are wide enough for a three foot wide location are especially rare. So rather than trying to search in vain for the perfect slab I decided to instead try and find two smaller foot and a half wide slabs that could work together.
Living in Austin, Texas means that there are a ton of small shops selling very specific and crafty things. In this case I found a one-man shop that specializes in raw live edge wood pieces, and at remarkably reasonably prices. When I visited his shop (which was also his garage at his house) he showed me two absolutely perfect pieces — two slabs cut sequentially from the same tree, with one very straight edge each.
What makes this a great find is the fact that these pieces were cut sequentially from the same tree. The markings on one were picked up on the following piece, but in a mirror image. This opened up the possibility to do something called a “book match” — aligning the two pieces in a way that it looks like you opened up the tree like a book (see what I did there?) and laid it flat before you. If done right it should be a visually stunning symmetrical presentation.
The next step was to get these two wood slabs into my car, which was a struggle in and of itself, and to the local woodworking shop for two critical operations.
First I needed to have these two slabs planed to the same thickness. When you pick up a couple pieces of wood from Home Depot you’re pretty sure to get something that’s uniformly thick and even, but that’s not guaranteed when you get rough hewn live edge slabs. In this case the thickness of these slabs varied wildly from one end to the other, and definitely were not flat. What I needed was a large belt sander to even out the two pieces and make them exactly the same thickness which isn’t something that I was set up to handle in my home shop. Thankfully a wood shop a few minutes down the road had a computer controlled sanding machine that they rent out by the hour.
And, while I was there, I also had them cut the pieces to length and to size. It was quicker than using my tools and could be done with much better precision.
With the two slabs cut and sanded to match the next step was to attach them together.
My first thought was to break out the router, cut a couple notches into the edge, and insert a couple biscuits with some glue to hold it all together. The live edge slabs are heavy in and of themselves, and combined with the stress of untold numbers of dinner parties I didn’t think that just gluing the edge and slapping them together would be strong enough.
Oh, wood glue. How I underestimated you.
After doing a good bit of reading (thanks Forestry Forum!) it turns out that the preferred method of joining live edge slabs in this manner really is just gluing the two slabs together with plain old Titebond Original wood glue.
In my case I set up the two slabs on my saw horses, ran a bead of wood glue between the two of them, and then applied some pressure overnight by running a pair of ratchet straps around the whole mess. PRO TIP: use some towels you don’t care about on the edge, as the pressure from the ratchet straps can deform the very pretty live edge.
With the table level and together, the next step was to fill in the voids. In my specific case there was a very interesting knot in the center of the slab that went all the way through the board. It was visually appealing, but would be a massively annoying issue for trying to use this thing as an actual dining room table.
The best way I could find to fill that void was to use epoxy, wait for it to dry, and then take the belt sander to smooth out the surface. In preparation I figured out which side of the table would be the “top” of the table, placed it top side up on the saw horses, and attached a couple paper bags underneath the voids to make sure that the epoxy would actually harden in place instead of leaking out the bottom.
Once the epoxy was hardened and the table was once more sanded smooth the next step was to finish the surface. In preparation I took some time to make sure that there was no remaining bark or dirt that would perturb the surface finish.
My choice for surface finish was Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane, specifically the clear satin version. I used an old pair of socks to soak up the polyurethane and apply it evenly to the table one pass at a time. After two coats on the bottom I turned the table over and started applying it in the same manner to the top of the table and the sides as well waiting an hour between coats for the last coat to dry. Six coats (and two days) later the table was complete — except for one last detail.
I went on Amazon and got a pair of table height table legs. They arrived the next day, and with the help of a handful of wood screws they were securely attached to the table.
Since I finished the table we’ve used it just about every day. The polyurethane finish is durable and easy to clean, and the wood glue is doing a fine job holding the table together with nary a wobble.
Total cost: about $500.