Making a solid timber table

Assembling woodwork, especially glueing and cramping it together, is like most other carpentry techniques: once you’ve mastered it, it opens up all sorts of possibilities.

For example, once you know how to glue an edging securely and neatly onto a piece of plywood, blockboard or chipboard (edge-lipping cramps are ideal tools here), you’re freed from always having to think about concealing the edges when you design an item of furniture.

Another excellent example lies in the technique of cramping lengths of wood edge-to-edge. With a bit of creative spirit, this can become far more than a handy way of making wide boards from narrow pieces (which is all it was for the early furniture makers). It’s no longer needed for that purpose anyway as man-made boards tend to do this job better.

What it can provide instead is a new way of getting exciting decorative effects from natural wood. Several lengths of timber with the grain running side-by-side can give a richness that you wouldn’t get from a single piece of timber or veneer.

You needn’t stick to common softwoods: you can look at hardwoods instead. And you might well think about alternating lengths of wood in different shades – such as beech and walnut – for a really eye-catching effect. This of course demands some care and expense in selecting your timber; a simpler and equally striking alternative might be ordinary deal with coloured wood-stains. These should be applied before – not after -assembly, to obtain crisp edges.

Making good edge joints

Dowels and tongued-and-grooved arrangements are often used to join boards edge-to-edge, but it’s possible to make a solid assembly without them.

First of all, make sure your timber’s properly seasoned. Leave it for a few days in the place where the furniture will end up (eg the dining-room) so that, if it’s going to warp, it will do so before you start work.

Secondly, look at the endgrain; if the ring markings curve along instead of across it, arrange the pieces with the curves alternately up and down. This will counteract any tendency to warping.

Thirdly, check that the edges fit absolutely flat against each other. If not, plane them with the longest plane you have.

Then make sure you’re working on a flat surface, get your cramps ready, spread plenty of PVA or urea-formaldehyde adhesive on the edges, put the pieces together and tighten the cramps. To prevent the whole thing curving, it’s best to put cramps both underneath and on top.

When it’s set, you’ll need a power sander to get rid of any surface unevenness: it’s most unlikely that you’ll get all the pieces perfectly aligned while glueing.

Putting together the rest of the table is simplicity itself. The rails are 19mm (3/4in) thick pieces, mitred at the corners; each leg is fitted inside a corner and fixed with two dowels through each of the rails.

The top is best fixed to the inside of the rails with metal brackets, or special table-top fixing plates which allow for expansion and shrinkage in the timber. Position the screws in the correct slots – ie, so that they’re free to slide with the sideways movement of the timber. Otherwise the table-top may split.

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