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Thread: Dining table advice

  1. #1

    Dining table advice

    I am new to woodworking, about six months deep, and I am going to build a dining table for my family. I just finished this table for someone else as a practice exercise. It started as rough lumber from the local hardwood seller. Made from poplar, itís roughly 60x20x30. The joinery is just pocket holes as I feel to green to attempt mortise and tenon with my experience level and tools I own. The person I am giving it to is using itís a counter, if anything. Any advice or questions are appreciated. Thank you.


  2. #2
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    As long as they can't be seen, or are filled, there is nothing wrong with pocket screws.
    Poplar though is very soft and won't hold up well as a table. Neither is it terribly attractive.

    And make sure you account for seasonal wood movement.

  3. #3
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    Start with a good set of plans. There are subtleties to design, joinery and proportion that its best to follow an existing tested design than to wing it or modify. What I keep finding out, is when I start adjusting the plan, that there usually was a reason why it was designed that way in the first place.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wade Lippman View Post
    Poplar though is very soft and won't hold up well as a table. Neither is it terribly attractive.
    I'll offer that that is a very subjective view. While it's true that Tulip Poplar isn't as hard as many other hardwoods, it's not "soft", per se. There are tons of real antiques made from poplar from back in the early times of the US that live on today and look beautiful, even after hard use. Folks back then used what was available and in many areas...including my backyard...poplar is the dominate species. As to the look...it's got a very nice regular grain, a small pore structure, takes dye well and finishes up beautifully. I've made many pieces of furniture from it. Yes, when fresh cut, the heartwood has a greenish hue, but that browns out quickly with oxidation. Some boards have mineral staining and those obviously should be avoided for "show" components, but are perfectly useable for hidden structure and utility use.

    OP, for a dining table, you're really going to want a strong structure to support it because of the way folks use tables. They lean on them and move them and do all kinds of things that place stress on the joinery. So I'll recommend you use your project as a next step in the learning process. Pocket screws are a great (and fast) method for assembling many things. I've used them often for smaller pieces, such as end-tables, but for a dining table, you need and want something that interlocks the base together in a very strong way. Whether that's traditional mortise and tenon or the easier to do loose tenon method (route mortises on both sides and use a separate tenon to join the two sides), you'll probably be happier long term.

    I agree with Wade about wood movement. That's largely going to come into play with the method you use to mount the table surface to your base. The table surface will expand across the grain in a meaningful way, so you need to insure that it can move while still staying fastened to the base.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  5. #5
    Great choice for a project. You'll get to enjoy it with your family at every meal. Good idea to practice too! One of my first big projects was a dining room table. I made mine out of cherry. There is a lot of good resource out there on making tables. Check out Woodsmith Shop online. They have done several and they present the techniques very well - especially for a beginner. Another good place to look at is tablelegs.com (I bought my legs there before I had a lathe - might even be articles for downloading there?).

    One of the best tips is gluing up the top two boards at a time. Breadboard ends are nice, but they are a bit tricky. Someone already mentioned accounting for movement - very important for such a wide surface! One thing I have seen and wished I had done was to add drawers in the skirt. Nice wide ones for place mats, coloring books, etc. That would add some complication to the design though. Oh, regardless of how careful you are, the joints will need leveling to some degree. Might be a good time to learn about a hand plane. Thickness is important in a top. So, don't be afraid to leave some rough patches on the bottom. Especially when using long/wide boards, if you try to get them 'perfect' on both sides, you'll sacrifice a lot of thickness (unless you start with really thick boards, of course!). Study your grain patterns before you commit. You'll be looking at this big surface for years!

    If you stick with pocket holes, I would add some corner braces for stability.

    That's about all I got for now.

  6. #6
    Join Date
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    I just built a small ladder from poplar, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to work, and how solid the end result is. Much simpler than a table obviously, but it's a material I'll end up using again. I pretty much only work with exotics but I liked this stuff.

    IMG_0138.jpg

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Wade Lippman View Post
    As long as they can't be seen, or are filled, there is nothing wrong with pocket screws.
    Poplar though is very soft and won't hold up well as a table. Neither is it terribly attractive.
    Zac,

    Sorry but I have to disagree with both these statements. By themselves pocket screws are probably the weakest table construction joinery, specifically leg attachment. You need to add glue blocks and a diagonal brace with a lag screw. The issue with table legs of all kinds is the leg getting hit by a vaccuum cleaner, or Uncle Buck's size 13 ;-).

    I think one of the simplest, best ways for a beginner is to use dowels. They don't have to be hidden, there is nothing wrong with exposed dowels in a table leg if done with symmetry and carefully.

    As far as poplar, like Jim said, it depends on what type poplar you're dealing with. I've seen clear (unstained) poplar dyed that you would be hard pressed to tell wasn't either cherry or walnut. I think it was Charles Neil.

    I would recommend experimenting with a dye stain and see what you come up with!!

    And make sure you account for seasonal wood movement.
    .

    Absolutely. You cannot fasten a board across the grain of the top because it doesn't allow for wood movement. Use any of the various methods for this (figure 8's, clips, slots and blocks, etc.) - But DO NOT use pocket screws.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post

    OP, for a dining table, you're really going to want a strong structure to support it because of the way folks use tables. They lean on them and move them and do all kinds of things that place stress on the joinery.
    This is a great point. Someone told me once that sooner or later a table will be stood on, or sat on, by one or more people, and needs to be stronger than just for its intended pur

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Zac wingert View Post
    ...The joinery is just pocket holes...
    Avoid using pocket holes (ugh!) if you ever hope to learn fine woodworking.
    "Anything seems possible when you don't know what you're doing."

  10. #10
    Join Date
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    I'm just learning to really use pocket holes. They are fine. Convenient, fast, reliable. The only thing that matters is how the end product looks and functions. Worrying about what's inside it when it has no effect on the end result is crazy.

  11. #11
    Dowels are nearly as easy as pocket screws and should be way stronger

  12. #12
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    bridle joints are very useful for table bases, they’re easy to cut with basic tools and they’re strong.

    I made some early projects with pocket screws and pocket dowels, but they’re not strong by comparison to traditional joinery. I don’t consider them reliable for something like a dining table, but it depends on the engineering as much as the joinery.
    Bumbling forward into the unknown.

  13. #13
    There are many comments here on the fastening techniques that Zac might have considered, but I haven't seen the table design. If I were dedicated to using pocket screws, I can come up with different designs that pocket screws would work very well on (dodecahedron anyone?), but a table top plus four legs without an apron could be very unstable if there weren't a better base like a trestle (have to laugh, because I considered a top + 4 legs decades ago when I first started). By the way, I have a piece of imported furniture where the carved top is made of several planks fastened together with pocket screws (hand-cut holes) that has held up well. The rest of the construction is crap otherwise. Might be better if Zac presented the rest of his plan and then the participants can give him advice on how to make the best choices.

  14. #14

  15. #15
    Thank you everyone for the help.

    I have have no intention of using poplar for the dining table. It was for practice. I live in Hawaii and got enough curly mango to for the project.

    I guess I was basically asking about joinery. I realize pocket holes are not the choice here, it is what I am comfortable with and am looking for suggestions for the next best step. I like the doweling suggestion. Iíd like to use M&T. I have a DeWalt 7480 that wonít take a dado, and only have a compact router, no table. I saw a video of M&T with the mortise cut with a forstner bit and chisel and the tenon with handsaw. Any thoughts?

    Iím probably gonna stick with shaker style. I built a good tapering jig and am comfortable with it. But not dead set. Built a couple small shaker tables out of koa and pine. The poplar and koa are in the pics above.

    Thank you everyone for the help. Iím new to this. And this is my first post.

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