I sold the previous pine dining table that I made just before moving in to our current home. That made it one less thing to move and I figured I would just make a better one when the time came. We’ve been in our current home for just under two years with no dining table the entire time. Well….I moved our outdoor patio table inside this past winter for a temporary dining table but that doesn’t count. It’s ugly using it inside and it needs to go back outside since we are starting to have nice weather. I will miss those padded swivel chairs though.
This project has been delayed and delayed and delayed for several reasons. Mostly because I couldn’t decide on a table style. I went back and forth between mission style, trestle style, shaker style, and back to mission style. I did end up back at a mission style base but I’m not entirely sure on all the details at the moment. And secondly because my wife hasn’t given any input on the design as she just wants it done. That’s a very dangerous situation for a husband as no matter what decision I make it will most likely be the wrong one!
I knew what my requirements for the table top were so I went ahead with building the top. The dimensions I chose might be a little on the small side for most but they fit my needs/wants as I really don’t want or have room for a large dining table. I wanted a table that wasn’t too wide as we typically play board games at the table and want it to be relatively easy to reach the other side. Obviously enough width is needed for two people sit opposite each other and eat. And the length needed to be long enough to sit at least two side by side comfortably. The max seating at this table will be four people. I also decided to venture away from normal with the materials and chose hickory for this build.
The material I purchased was rough sawn but already skip planed. I chose the four flattest boards to start on the top. For symmetrical contrast I also picked out a very clear piece of white sapwood for each of the breadboard ends. All of these boards needed to be slightly planed to ensure they were all the exact same thickness.
After planing I jointed one edge flat and square to the wide faces. Since getting my jointer I think every piece of wood I’ve used in projects has passed over it. It really makes life easier in the shop.
With one jointed edge I could rip the boards to their final width at the table saw.
All of my top pieces are now flat and the exact same thickness. To prevent any of the boards from shifting during glue-up I used floating tenons. When gluing panels together using a biscuit joiner is a great way of ensuring little to no movement while in clamps. I don’t have a biscuit joiner so I used floating tenons in the same way biscuits would be used.
While using biscuits or floating tenons will prevent the boards from shifting at their joints you still need to make sure the entire panel stays flat. It’s very easy to use too much pressure from the clamps on one side and cause the panel to bow up or down. It’s also very easy to tell by eye if this is happening. After putting all of the clamps in place I used a straight edge to let me know if I was indeed bending the panel. Everything looked good so I let it sit overnight.
The next day gently scraped off any glue residue and started on the ends. First order of business was to square up each end. I used my circular saw track to make a nice straight cut with my circular saw. I really dislike using this method these days as I have no dust collection on that saw and it just sprays dust everywhere.
With a nice clean end cut the joinery can be laid out. For those who don’t know, the purpose of a breadboard end is to keep a wide panel flat over time. Because wood expands and contracts it is also necessary that the majority of this joint be floating and not glued in place. There are many ways to make breadboard ends but I chose to do something a little different. I wanted the middle 4” of the joint to be a wedged through mortise and tenon joint to lock the breadboard end in place. This is the only point where the joint will be permanently secured. The rest of the joint will be a hidden tongue and groove joint. This will allow the rest of the panel to expand and contract but still be forced to remain flat and not warp. I drew the joint on the panel so I could see the game plan.
I started the joinery by cutting the groove and through mortise in the end pieces. A plunge router and an edge guide attachment makes quick work of this process. To ensure the joints were perfectly centered I first centered the 1/4” spiral up-cut bit as best I could and then made all of the plunge passes from each side of each board.
And here’s what each board looked like. On the inside faces each board had a groove that was slightly more than 1/4” wide and 1/2” deep and on the outside faces the through mortise is exposed.
Next up is sizing the male end of the joints. First the router depth needs to be dialed in. To get a more accurate starting point I clamped the breadboard end to the end of the panel and used a marking knife to transfer the groove measurements to the panel.
In the lower right you can see the waste area that I used to dial in the router depth. The only downside of using this area to dial in the router was flipping the panel over each time to route from both sides. It only took a few adjustments though. With it dialed in I used a straight edge and my marking knife to sever the fibers where the router bit would cut. This will prevent tearout at the joint.
The router and edge guide make quick work of the tongue as well as the through tenon.
As you can see I left the extra waste material as it helps support the router when making the through tenon. I used a hand saw to establish the width of the tenon.
Then the bulk of the waste can be removed. I used a jigsaw for the first one then realized I should have used my battery circular saw as the cut would have been a little cleaner.
To make sure the tongue and groove joint is hidden from the ends I chopped off the corner of the tongue. Then pared back to the shoulder to clean everything up.
I made sure to cut the tongue and tenon just a smidgen thick so I could take the thickness down more accurately by hand. I wanted a perfect fit and finally got a chance to use my new router plane that I received as a gift from Nick Ferry. It’s a perfect tool for this task. It really made quick work of fitting the joint.
With a test fit confirmed on the breadboard end I can focus on making the tapered mortise. This is an easy process. Simply strike a line 1/8” or so to the outside of the established mortise and chisel the mortise to those lines angling the chisel in by 5 degrees or so. The new angled face of the mortise should taper in to the approximate start point of the tenon.
The mortise is tapered because the tenon will eventually be wedged out to form a dovetail shape. This process starts by drilling two small relief holes near the base of the tenon. Then two saw kerfs are cut about 3/16” in from each side. These kerfs are where the wedges will be driven forcing the ends of the tenon to splay out and lock into the tapered mortise.
For a bit of contrast I made the wedges out of a small scrap strip of walnut. First sizing its thickness with a hand plane. Sometimes I wonder why in the world do I keep these small scrap pieces. Now I know :)
Then a rough wedge shape can be cut at the bandsaw. See those off cuts from the previous two wedges? I should have tossed them in the trash. I’ll tell you why in a bit.
One way to keep the breadboard joint tight over time is to make the joint a sprung joint. To do so a little bit of material is removed with a hand plane from the inside face of the breadboard end only in the middle. This creates a concave surface at the joint. When the board is driven into place the outer edges of the joint contact the panel first. Then the joint is clamped closed in the middle which results in a nice tight joint with constant pressure along the outside edges and a joint that will remain tight over time. My boards already had a slight hollow in the middle so I didn’t have to use a hand plane to establish the spring.
With everything looking good I started the assembly of the joint. First a bit of glue is added to the tenon only.
Then the breadboard end is installed and driven home. Because I didn’t have any clamps long enough I used my workbench end vise and dog holes to close the joint.
Finally the wedges could be driven home.
After allowing the joint to dry for a bit I chopped off the extra length of the breadboard ends with a hand saw.
And finally planed the breadboard ends and through tenons flush with a hand plane. I had to stand the table top on its end and clamp it to the workbench for this.
Here’s a picture of the good joint. Everything is symmetrical and there are no gaps.
And here’s the bad joint. There are no gaps but the symmetry isn’t perfect. On this one I made an error and grabbed the off cut from one of the wedges and used it instead of the actual wedge. It ended up not being long enough as once I had it fully seated into the saw kerf the outer portion of the tenon hadn’t bottomed out with the tapered mortise yet. It was fully seated so I couldn’t remove it either. I panicked for a second and decided to cut a quick taper wedge and use it to fill in the void and complete the joint. Structurally it’s good but if you look close at this joint you can see the mistake on the right side. It’s not a huge deal as you have to get really close to notice it….but it’s there. I’m not beating myself up over it though. Lesson learned. I’ll never make that mistake again.
Here’s the final table top before finish. I gently scraped away all of the pencil marks but I still have to do one final surface prep once the base is completed. Then I will apply a clear finish to the entire table. I really like the direction of this project so far. The top turned out better than I had anticipated and I really love the grain selection.