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Harvest Table (Part 1)

Recently, my wife and I decided that a new kitchen table would be one of my next shop project priorities. Over the Christmas holidays and into the new year I worked towards this goal.
Fortunately, and coincidentally, I had a perfectly good set of solid hardwood legs already available and sitting in my shop. I had salvaged these from a table that I'd picked up on trash day back in the spring.

The tabletop from that salvage had already been used a few months ago to build a Media Stand in our TV room.

The legs were an ideal match, as a classic rectangular harvest-style table (some people might also call it a Farm table or similar) was what I wanted to build.

It could not be a large table -- our smallish kitchen meant that it could only be about 60" long. But I would make up for that by making it a bit extra wide, at 42". I already had a bunch of ash in my garage just waiting for the right project.

In Sketchup I quickly drew up the legs that I had, added in some long and short aprons, and very quickly had a basic design from which to work from.

My shop is in my basement, and it is of a modest size. So any extra lumber I have is kept up in the (attached) garage. Sometime over a year ago, a friend of mine had taken me out on a lumber hunting mission, and I had picked up a bunch of ash lumber from a nearby Amish lumberyard.

In the video I referred to it as green. In truth, I'm not sure how fresh-sawn it was. However, I do know that it was NOT kiln dried, which is why I call it green. Air drying takes roughly one year per inch of thickness, so this had been a long-term investment. The boards had sat up in my garage ever since.

I brought the boards inside to my shop and tested them for moisture content I checked in three different boards, in different spots on the boards, and they were an average of 9% moisture content. That is really quite good. The garage is unheated, but it is attached, and has an insulated room above it.

I left the boards stacked and stickered in my shop to acclimatize. (stickered means there is a small air gap between each board -- the small boards used to provide the gap are called stickers.)

After two weeks in my shop, I came back to these boards and tested them again for moisture. I tested them again in several places. As well I used a drill to make some shallow holes so that I could get the pins deeper into the wood to ensure I was getting a good reading. Now the boards were registering between 7-8% moisture content, which is good enough for me to proceed.

At this point I skip-planed the boards (which is to say I planed them lightly, but not to final thickness) and edge-jointed them and did a preliminary layout of the boards.

And in the interests of full honesty, I discovered that I did not have quite enough of my air-dried lumber, so I had to run out to a local lumber dealer and picked up a few more kiln-dried boards of 5/4 ash.

I then proceeded to plane to final thickness and rip to final width
Lots of sorting and flipping and rearranging as I settled on a final layout for the boards that were going to be used in the table top.

This is procedure discussed a lot more in a recent web page + video: Design and Building of a Craft Table Top

Once satisfied, I mark the boards so that I can preserve the layout. The drywall square on the right is for marking where I want the edge of the table top to fall -- at this point the boards are all still comfortably longer than needed.
I have a miter saw, but it is not really "furniture quality" in it's cuts, so I macgyvered up this extended stop on my crosscut sled to help me with crosscutting all the boards to the same length as accurately as I could.

(To sum up -- quite good, but not perfect. See the section at the bottom with the router.)

Dowels are not necessary for edge jointing, nor are biscuits or other reinforcements. But I do like to use them when doing a LARGE glue-up like this tabletop, as they ensure that the boards are perfectly aligned to the one face. In this way, I can ensure that the top of the table top is almost perfectly smooth and in one plane.
Proceeding through the glue-up.

I would NOT recommend trying to glue it all up at once. I glue two or three boards together, clamp them up and set them aside, and then glue another two or three together, and so on. (The dowels slow you down. I you were just using glue, and maybe some cauls, then that would be a different situation.)

For the final step in gluing up the top I had two large panels, so it was just one joint that I had to worry about.
As an aside, if you're making yourself a table like this you should take a look at how many clamps you have that are large. This table, at 42" wide, was quite wide. I was almost in trouble...
Using my old Stanley #80 scraper to take care of any minor glue squeeze out along the seams of the top.
It was somewhere around this point in the process that we made a major change in direction.

The tabletop itself was basically built, and I was looking ahead to working on the leg and apron assembly. After discussing things with my wife, and looking at the different tables in our house, we realized that we had a problem. As you can see in this drawing, my design had 25-1/4" of legroom under the apron. This is pretty standard for tables like this. General table building guidelines agree that you need at least 25" clearance.

However, we are a pretty tall family. As well, we are used to a sort of pedestal table, which had closer to 28" of clearance along the edges. This gives plenty of room to cross your legs and enjoy your time at the table.

This design was not going to work.

Here is a look a the new leg-and-apron design that we settled upon.

The basic idea involved taking the long aprons -- the ones along the long side of the table -- and pushing them in by about 5". This would give us 10" of open space along the long side of the table. Lots of leg room. It also gives the table top a bit of a "floating" appearance.

The end apron would need to be a bit taller, and thicker, to handle the load, since the long apron now connects to the short apron, rather than to the leg. A shallow arch in the apron adds a pleasing curve, and helps lighten the look of that heavier board.

(A big thanks to Dave Richards, Sketchup guru who writes for among other things, who consulted with me as I considered various redesigns. He proposed the basic idea here, which I refined into something that we liked.)

OK, where was I?

The final step in building the top was to clamp a straight edge near the sides and use a flush cutting bit in my router to trim the ends flush. The top was nearly perfect, but by using a flushcutting bit you can make sure it totally flat and a nice clean single edge.

(The word "final" there is not quite correct. There still is a lot of sanding ahead, and later in the table-building process I will be rounding over the edges of the table with a roundover bit in the router.)

That is all for Part #1 of this process. Here is a sneak peak at what is coming ahead in Part #2, where I will be building the apron + leg structure, and then moving on to finishing the table.


Thanks for reading!



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See Also:

Double Decker Nightstand

Shaker Style Bed

Shaker-style Stepstool

Easy Build Mission Side Table