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Making Tabletops (Part One)


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Building a table can be easier than you think if you master a few basic techniques. The suggestions offered here concern making and cutting tabletops.

Most tabletops consist of several boards fastened together in some manner as to form a flat surface. Large planks can be joined either with dowels or with threaded rods plus glue. Long expanding clamps are needed for doweling. If you don't have such clamps, and prefer not to rent them, the planks can be drilled, glued, and tightened together with threaded rods.

Before joining planks, cut them 1/2 to 1 inch longer than finished length to allow for final squaring and trimming. Lay planks side by side with grain of all planks running in the same direction. Check the end grain of each plank and alternate direction of annual rings to minimize warping.

With planks arranged, number them and mark “face" on upper surface of each. Edges should fit closely.

To join planks with dowels, begin by clamping the first two planks together face to face with edges flush. Mark or drill holes, allowing six inches between dowels except at the ends, where dowels should be set about three inches from the trim lines.

Don't attempt drilling using a hand held drill unless you have a doweling-jig (or at least a square) to guide straight holes - if the holes are not matched exactly, the planks will not fit evenly.

Cut each dowel a fraction shorter than the combined depth of the two holes. Brush edges of planks with glue, allowing some to run into holes. Dip one end of dowel in glue and drive in. Apply glue to other half of the dowel and drive opposing plank onto the doweled plank with light hammer blows. Place a strip or block of wood on the plank edge to prevent marring.

Clamp all planks together, alternating clamps above and below. Wipe away surplus glue and let stand until dry. (Note: When attaching supporting rails to a finished tabletop, remember that is may shrink across the grain as much as 3/8-inch. Use special tabletop fasteners that allow movement.

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