Construction Details for a Super-Sized Rustic Table

The "rustic" label may add a "character" forgiveness factor, but there's still some head-scratching involved in building a table eight feet wide. October 28, 2014

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
So, I've built tables before, but nothing quite this size. It will be 7'-9" wide, and 16' long. I'll be building it out of reclaimed oak. The top will be 1 3/4" x 9 5/16" planks (yep, we will need several Samoans to lift it into place), and to make it worse, I think I will use iron channel to stabilize and strengthen the top. It will be rustic, and I will build the base in three sections and assemble onsite. I've got some ideas of how to attack this, but am posting this simply to solicit thoughts, suggestions, ideas, and comments.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor H:
Are you planning to join those giant planks or leave little gaps?

From the original questioner:
Yes, I will join them and glue them up. The wood is very old, and pretty stable. I am constantly checking RH and MC, so I am not really concerned with that. If they have gathered moisture from somewhere, I'll throw them in the kiln for a few days. I am in Utah, and the table will be staying in Utah, so pretty dry.

From Contributor O:
Is this a conference table or a dining table? If this is for a dining table they might want to rethink the almost eight foot width as the only way to pass the salt across the table would be to throw it. A table that wide would also tend to stifle dinner conversation.

From contributor H:
You're doing the right thing joining them, however I find it very hard to successfully join planks that big with the equipment I have. Hopefully you're better equipped.

From the original questioner:
We did a mock up in place at their castle, and did check the reach across the table. We decided that we will also build a couple large removable lazy susans. The table had started out at 8-6x17, and they decided to shrink it some. I guess there are some family members who they don't mind not having conversation with, so they didn't want to shrink it too much! We also joked about having a shuffle board stick to push food back and forth. I don't know how well my shop is set up for this either, since this is the largest I have built, but thank goodness it's rustic - that will hide a few sins anyway….

From contributor R:
I always cringe when I read about strengthening wood with steel. I don't know anything about your weather, but won't there be swings in humidity some time of the year? Maybe you are planning on slots to let the wood move. Isn't that over 800 pounds of wood, just in the top? I can't imagine trying to start a 90 pound board on the jointer, with 13' hanging off the bed. Sure hope that stock is straight line ripped.

From Contributor D:
It seems like move the tools to the wood instead of move the wood to the tools! I am thinking straight edge (aluminum angle works good, no harm if router nicks it), then clean edges, then drill and add dowels, then drill and use threaded rod, but some die springs made for tool and die jobs. This will be the expansion contraction "give", plug the edges where the threaded rod is? Then hand and power plane/sand?

From the original questioner:
Wow! Awesome contributions, thanks! So now to more details. This wood is over 60 years old, and is actually pretty dang straight. I will need to join them, just to clean up the edges a little, and have built a long jig for the joiner that was used for building large box beam material. I was going to use steel channel and let it in with a plunge saw into the bottom of the planks, after using a Festool domino to join the edges of the planks. The channel would be screwed to the planks from underneath.

I would build the table in two halves lengthwise (3-5 3/8 x 16'-leaving one plank out, as my wide belt is only 43"wide), run the two halves and the plank through the wide belt sander, then join the two halves and the extra plank together and hand plane and hand sand the center seams to finish. The skirting would be pocket screwed to the underside of the table, and the legs are difficult to describe without a sketch, but they will be double decoratively bandsawn square legs on a single wide food with stretchers in between them. The foot on the bottom and a board on the top that will be screwed to the underside of the top. I will do three of the leg/foot components on near each end, and one in the center. The stretchers connecting the feet will be mortised and tenoned into the feet. I had planned on two steel channels in between the three leg/'foot components for extra stability. So that's the plan, but I'm not too proud to change plans based on good contribution.

From contributor H:
The problem I have encountered with the kind of thing you're doing, in addition to the awesome task of schlepping huge planks, etc., is that "pretty dang straight" isn't straight enough to make a consistently seamless glue joint and if 85% of the top is seamlessly glued and the remaining 15% doesn't quite join it looks like a mistake. Hopefully your jig will enable you to join it perfectly. I know firsthand there is a market for these monsters.

From the original questioner:
Point taken. Do you think I'd be better off straightening and cleaning up the edges with the Festool tracksaw? I have enough track to reach the length. The one "out" that bounces around in the back of my mind is that it is rustic and many of the mistakes can be disguised as such. That's what we've done hundreds of times on lots of different projects. We don't use it as an excuse for inferior workmanship, but sometimes we are dealt character inherent to the old wood, and add to that character with our methods. Maybe that sounds like a lame explanation, but things have really turned out very cool in the past. I suppose we could invest thousands of dollars to improve the shop to the point that all was perfect. I don’t know it seems like we'd lose some of the charm and start to creep into things being obviously machine made. In the past we've been able to achieve the balance without it looking crappy. I'm kind of hoping we can achieve the same results even on a massive table.

From contributor H:
I know what you're saying, Ron. We do the same thing.

From contributor R:
You have checked on the size of the front door of the house haven't you? Getting an 8' wide table carried by carts and eight people will surely be a project.

From the original questioner:
It’s actually a drawbridge.

From contributor J:
You take what the wood gives you is exactly right.Any imperfections can be explained as character. Sounds like it will be very nice.

From contributor E:

I have built large oak tables, but I used quartersawn white oak. I edge glued the boards, built a French country style base and after a decade the joints are still tight. I allowed for expansion and contraction of the top. Wood is plenty strong - I see no need for metal to be included in the top.

From contributor A:
I made a large conference table 4ftx13 ft. To make the glue joints I used the Festool saw on the track and then 10mm dominoes about every eight inches apart. To keep the table straight and from cupping I mounted iron bars under the table. They are V-shaped with a horizon tall extension at the top on each side of the V that have longitude slots for the wide flathead screws (for expansion or contraction).

From contributor M:
If you haven't glued up already, think about a small chamfer of each plank at the glue line. Do it with a spokeshave or block plane so it won’t be router perfect. It will add to the rustic and disguise any cracks.