This is 12 Helpful Tips for Joining Planks for a Table Top, your guide to joining several different pieces of wood together to look like one awesome table top. All of these tips are super helpful, and they will make you look like a pro. Enjoy.
Making a Table Top
A fun and exciting project in woodworking is joining planks to make a table top. It’s nearly impossible to find wood that is large enough to make a one piece table top. When you do, you might have to take out a second mortgage to buy it.
Most table tops nowadays are made out of plywood. If you want to avoid plywood, you can use several different planks of solid wood and join them together creatively to make a really attractive looking table top for your kitchen.
The beauty in this technique is that you can buy any width of material pretty much that is the most economical for you. In certain species, there will be a price difference between narrower and wider material. This is most common at a home improvement store.
Once you know the tricks that are coming up for joining these planks together and making them look almost like one solid board, you can really take advantage of the savings. Here’s what you do.
See Also: A Beginners Guide to Woodworking
Pick the Best Table Planks
The way that you start this process out on the right foot is to pick the best table planks right out of the gate. Your success and failure starts with how well you pick out these planks, but thankfully it’s easy to do.
The biggest thing that you need to bring with you to the home-improvement store or the wood store is your patience. It’s not a quick process to pick out the very best pieces of wood, but it is absolutely worth your time and effort.
When you start from such an advantage, it makes the entire rest of the process that much easier. Your planks will all look good, be structurally sound, and be able to make you the absolute best table top that they possibly can.
So what makes them the best? That’s coming up.
See Also: Woodworking Tips Cards – Gluing Wood
Check for Warps, Bows and Defects
The best table top planks are free of defects, perfectly flat, and don’t have any bows or twists along the length of the material. These are the types of boards that are harder to find in the bundle, but well worth the time.
Starting out with flat material is a must. It’s already going to be a little bit of an exercise joining all of these planks together. Don’t add an additional layer by using wood that is bent or warped during this part of the building process.
Also, unless this is part of the look you’re going for, don’t buy pieces that have cracks, or are heavily loaded with knots. You may have to go through 10 boards to find one good piece, but your efforts will be rewarded with a lot of time savings later on in the process.
See Also: 15 Great Places to Get Woodworking Wood
Align the Grain to Hide the Joints
One last thing to look for when you’re in the wood store is the grain pattern. Some pieces of wood will have a very intense grain pattern, and some will have very little. Others will be somewhere down the middle, which is the most common.
When you’re picking out those awesome planks, take a look at them together and re-select on any of them that are way too plain or way too elaborate. It’s going to take a little time to join all these planks together, and part of the process is matching the look.
If you have planks that are super grainy, next to ones that are really light, it can throw off the look. That being said, once you get your pieces home you want to arrange them at least once so that way you can flip them around and get the closest match next to each other.
When you match the grain and color patterns, the board start to look like one. This is where your glue joints will nearly disappear, and your project will start to look amazing.
Number the pieces on the ends so that way you can put them back in the same order later in the process.
See Also: How to Make Several Boards Look Like One
Mill All the Piece to the Same Thickness
If you bought your pieces from a wood store, or even a home-improvement store, they are more than likely already the same thickness. Thickness is super important because it will make the joining process a lot easier.
If you have pieces of different thickness, now is your opportunity to mill them down to be the same size. Again, later on in the process you’ll be really happy that you did because it will help everything go together much more smoothly.
The easiest way to complete this part of the process is with a thickness planer. You can pick one up for a couple hundred bucks, or if you don’t want to spend the money just ask the wood store to mill the pieces for you. There will be a charge, but it’s usually small.
Check Your Grain Alignment Again
Once you have all of your pieces milled to the same thickness, joint all of the edges to make them smooth and flat, and then arrange the pieces again. This is where you check your final alignment and your final look.
Any pieces that need additional work, pull from the stack and run through the jointer again to get them perfect. The better the joints while dry, the better they will be when there is glue.
Use the numbers that you wrote on the ends of the board as a reference, and if you make any changes make sure to change the number on the end of the board as well. Once you’re happy with the look, you can head on to the next step.
Decide on a Joining Method
Now it’s time to decide on a joinery method. There are a million different ways to put two pieces of wood together when it comes to woodworking joints. This means you can be as elaborate or as simple as you want.
One of the easiest things you could do is just align the pieces on the edges, and apply glue in between them. Wood glue joints are still very strong, and you won’t have to buy any additional tools in order to complete the process.
If you don’t mind investing in a dowel jig or a biscuit joiner, you can use dowels and biscuits to reinforce your joints. This is a simple process of creating openings for the extra pieces of wood, dowels or biscuits, and inserting them with glue as you edge glue your pieces.
Another thing you can do is run battens across the bottom side of your table top. These are perpendicular pieces of wood that hold the other pieces together if there is any movement in the future. Four of these across the bottom, placed evenly will help hold your structure together really well.
You could also glue everything down to a couple pieces of plywood as a base. Your planks will hide the plywood and the table top will be very thick and heavy, high quality feeling.
Join a Couple Pieces at a Time
No matter which way you decide to join your planks, it’s so much easier to do them two or three at a time then to try to do the whole mess at once. If you are really good at woodworking, and you have done this process before, then you may want to try more.
However, for most of us it’s much easier to glue together two or three pieces at a time, which is far less wood to have to worry about. You are you going to have to deal with some sliding and some movement, so you might as will not make it even harder by having to deal with 20 pieces.
Also, this will give you much more opportunity to get each piece lined up perfectly. This is the secret to making your top look seamless, and lining up the grain. Your tops will look a lot more uniform, though it may take a little longer to do.
See Also: Drying Time for Wood Glue
Clamp the Pieces Evenly and Keep the Pieces Even
Something to pay attention to when you’re clamping your planks together and joining them is the alignment, and the height. Wooden planks like to move around. You need to make sure that they don’t move anywhere that you don’t want them to.
One of the easiest ways to do this is with secondary clamps that are used on the joints between the boards. These will prevent the ends from sliding up and down. The main clamps will hold the pieces together, and the secondary clamps will keep them even.
Another thing as important is using very even clamping pressure. You don’t want to have one set of clamps that’s exerting much more force than the next. This also helps prevent sliding, and a weak joint.
Wipe off Glue Squeeze Out Right Away
Once all your clamps are in place, it’s important to wipe out any areas where glue has dripped into, and any excess on the piece. The more glue you can remove at this stage of the process the better, because it’s much easier to remove wet than dry.
For this process, a wet rag is the best solution. Get a wet rag and wipe away as much glue as you can before the rag gets a little sticky. At that point, rinse it out really well, squeeze it dry, and then wipe off more.
You need to go over the surface a lot of times with this rag. It’ll almost feel like you’re getting the wood too wet sometimes, but it will dry just fine.
The problem with diluted glue is it can absorb into the surface and leave a film.
It’s much better to get the wood a little wet but remove all of this film then to have to be stuck sanding it out later on in the process. Trust me, the more you remove now the better.
See Also: Glue Covered Problems Are Harder to Fix
Inspect the Joint
After the pieces have dried, inspect the joint. This is where you get to marvel at your handiwork, or notice something that you wish you probably noticed yesterday when you were putting all of the pieces together and hoping for the best.
Either way, this is a point in the process where you get to check to make sure everything went exactly as you had intended. It most likely has, and the 2 to 3 pieces are glued together really well.
Also, make sure when you’re doing this inspection that you’re looking for any defects, warps, or things that may popped up along the way. Address anything you find, and then you can move onto the next step.
See Also: 50 Awesome Reasons to be a Woodworker
Add the Next Couple Pieces
To this point, you’re ready to add more pieces to your existing blank. There are a couple of different ways to do this, and depending on how many clamps you have and the way you like to do your woodworking, one of them will work out perfectly.
Your two options are either adding more planks to your existing piece that you’ve already glued, or gluing up a few more at the same time that you can eventually glue into a large table top.
The second option is a little bit more attractive if you have more clamps to use. Basically you can glue together 2 to 3 boards at a time until you have maybe four or five different groups. At that point, glue two or three of them together, and then maybe glue the last two pieces.
What’s nice about this is that you can work in smaller sections, and get them perfect before gluing them together into something larger. It also allows you to use smaller thicknessing tools like a planer or sander that can’t take large table tops.
If you have pieces that are less than a foot wide though, you can pass them through just about any player or thickness sander, and let the machine do the work of creating a smooth surface before you make your final table top.
Sand the Entire Surface
Once your tabletop is finished, it’s time to do some sanding. Sanding is one of the least enjoyed activities at all of working, but I promise if you take the time to sand this table right, you will be very happy that you did.
Most of the time, even if you did really well at the joining process, there are going to be some areas that are a little higher or lower than others. Address these with the belt sander, or even a cabinet scraper to make them all even.
Once your table top is nice and smooth, switch to 220 grit and sand to remove any scratches left by your leveling grits. Make your last few passes with the grain, which will knock down any random scratches that you may still see.
See Also: 17 Important Tips on How to Sand Wood
Your Action Assignment
Now that you know so many different awesome ways to make a tabletop by joining wooden planks, it’s time to get out into the shop and take some action. Think of a project that you can use wooden planks to make, and start planning.
Wooden planks are a fun way of creating larger panels, and they are also a much more economical way of getting larger pieces of wood to work with. If you follow these tips, and you have some patience, you can even make several pieces of wood look like one.
If you have any questions for me, or need a little bit a help joining your planks, please post a question and I’ll be glad to answer them. Happy building.
- More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
- 7 Woodworking Books Available on Amazon
- Over 1 Million Words Published About Woodworking
- Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University
I receive Commissions for Purchases Made Through the Links in This Post.