When my nephew Ryan and his wife Makayla bought their farmhouse in western Michigan, a maple tree over three feet in diameter was literally pressing against the back wall of their new home. Soon, they had the old tree felled and hired a crew to mill it into thick slabs and dry them in a kiln. I love wood with a good story, so when Ryan called to ask about helping them build a big farm table with the maple from the tree, I was honored and practically jumped at the opportunity to create another piece of heirloom furniture in my workshop.
Shortly after our conversation, Ryan arrived at the shop with a pickup truck loaded with thick, wide slabs of kiln dried maple. Due to the age and condition of the maple tree when it came down, it was soon apparent that we would have to be very strategic about how to best utilize this special wood.
Because their new old farmhouse had a spacious dining room that would easily accommodate a large table, the target size for our project was eight feet long and forty-two inches wide. With a few photos selected for design inspiration, we came up with a SketchUp model that everyone approved. Because of the sizes involved, this project was done in two phases, the nearly two inch thick table top and a sturdy table base to support it.
The following series of project photos will illustrate the steps take to bring this project to fruition … and to its final destination, about twenty feet from where the legacy maple tree had grown for at least over one hundred years!
Ryan and Makayla took down a large maple tree behind their farmhouse and had it milled up and kiln dried.
From across the state, thick maple slabs arrive at my shop in Chelsea.
The slabs were all over two inches thick, so multiple saws were needed to complete the initial cuts.
Twenty-three structurally solid four-, five and six-inch wide boards of varying lengths were cut, milled and glued up to form the table top.
Table top boards in process.
Jointing one surface of each table top board to make it clean and flat.
Several pieces of this legacy maple tree contained bits of metal, likely nails or some part of an old wire fence. These bits of metal would spell disaster for cutting edges and had to be located and removed before machining could continue.
Another bit of metal extracted with an array of hand tools.
Jointing and planing of the table top boards resulted in several barrels of maple shavings.
Each table top was planed, making the upper surface flat and parallel with the bottom surface that had been run across the jointer.
A good illustration of how the jointing and planing operations reveal beautiful maple grain hidden under the rough saw marks from the initial milling of the tree.
Some of the table top boards laid out to get a sense of what the final top will look like. Beautiful!
Pipe clamps with extensions, in preparation for gluing up the eight-foot long table top sections.
Table top boards planed and ready for jointing and planing the edges to make them consistent and true.
Running the table top boards through the planer on edge.
Building a dead flat four-foot by eight-foot platform to glue up the large farm table top on.
Assembly platform reinforced with straight 2x4s underneath.
Assembly platform ready for glue up operations to begin. This platform is destined to be a large workbench top for Ryan!
With years of experience laying high end hardwood flooring, Ryan’s keen eye helped to arrange the table top boards in their final pattern.
Squaring the ends of the table top boards was the last operation before glue up could begin.
Table top boards dry fit and clamped, with markings indicating their row-and-column locations.
Because of the large area involved, only one strip of boards was glued up at a time. With 24 hours of glue curing allowed, the glue up took place over several days.
Just the right amount of squeeze-out indicates a glue joint that will be very strong.
The progression of glue ups continues. Each strip of boards used the subsequent strip of boards without glue to insure that the joints would all be straight and line up properly.
The final table top glue up step, with a 2×4 used as the outside backer for the clamps.
The track saw and short guide were set up to trim off the ends of the glued up table top.
The “city skyline” offcut.
We ended up about 3/16″ shy of our target eight foot long table top.
Passed down from my dad, a sharp and true No. 7 Stanley hand plane and lots of elbow grease made the first flattening pass on the top of the table top slab.
A cabinet scraper, a card scraper and a lot of orbital sanding brought the table top to its final condition, almost ready for finish.
Supplemental maple for the table base was generously provided by Uncle Jeff and Aunt Deb!
A new belt sander and some very coarse grit belts helped to level the bottom of the table top slab.
Nearly covering the large assembly platform, the table top is complete and ready for pickup.
The old maple tree that grew less than twenty feet from where the Jess family will enjoy many meals on this table provided lots of character in the grain patterns, worm holes and spalting.
An area of spalted maple, indicating that the maple tree was stressed and nearing the end of its life cycle when it was harvested. Depending on the species, this maple tree could have been anywhere from 100 to 300 years old.
The finished table top, the assembly platform and several unused legacy maple boards loaded up in Ryan’s truck for the trip back home.
Ryan cutting some of the table base maple to length before glue up.
Plenty of glue and lots of clamps make for strong laminated table base members.
Ryan applying clamping pressure and looking for that right amount of glue squeeze out.
Several of the table base laminated components being glued up at the same time.
Machining one of the laminated table base stretchers to its final dimensions.
Planing table base component edges in preparation for the final glue up step.
Ripping thin maple strips to hide the exposed edges of the laminated table base components.
Using a supplementary platen on the planer, the thin maple strips are machined to their final 1/4″ thickness.
One edge of four leg blanks receiving the thin maple strips that will hide the laminations.
One of the long stretcher laminations receiving its thin maple strip, with other base components used as clamping backers.
Shoulder cuts on the 10 degree angled legs … and a mistake that took an extra day to fix. (Hint: the legs only had angled tenons on one end.)
Using the tenoning jig on the tablesaw to make cheek cuts, which also should have only been on one end of the leg blanks.
Close up showing the tenoning jig with one of the legs clamped at its 10 degree angle.
Each tenon takes two passes to cut both cheeks with the tenoning jig.
Thin strips being glued onto the legs to fill in the cheeks of the unneeded partial tenons.
This fix didn’t impact the structural integrity of the legs. The majority of area that will sit on the floor is still solid material throughout the component.
The two short cheek cuts will be done by hand, to form an angled tenon at the top of the legs. This allows right angle mortises to be drilled and chiseled in the adjoining components.
A Dozuki, or Japanese dovetail pull saw, is used to cut the short cheeks which for angled tenons.
Waste from the handsawn cheek cuts.
Side view showing the angled tenon on top of one of the table legs.
Overview of the setup for handsawing and truing up the angled tenons.
In process components for the two leg subassemblies, ready for some mortising.
To accurately lay out matching mortises, the location was first transferred from the tenon component, then digital calipers were used to center the mortise layout lines.
After careful planning and layout, drilling most of the waste material out of the mortises was done using a Forstner bit on the drill press.
How do you make a bunch of round holes into a rectangular mortise? With really sharp chisels, a soft blow mallet and plenty of patience!
Close up of the mortise layout after drilling.
Chiseling the sides of the mortise (with the grain) went fairly quickly. Chiseling the ends of the mortise (across the tough maple grain) took a lot more time. Squaring up the corners of the mortise (grain in both directions) took the longest amount of time.
Once the initial tenon and mortise cuts were completed, lots of test fitting and fine tuning with chisels and my new shoulder plane were needed to achieve the final fit of each joint.
My new Veritas shoulder plane’s blade reaches to the sides of the plane’s narrow body, so it can cut clean 90 degree corners.
Success occurs when the mortise and tenon slip together smoothly and both components are perfectly centered on one another.
Back drilling through the mortise for the long timber screw that will reinforce the glued up joint.
Using the back drilled hole through the mortise, the pilot hole is extended into the end of the adjoining tenon.
Overview of the clamping setup for drilling the leg subassemblies.
A six inch HeadLOK timber screw is used to reinforce each joint of the leg stretchers. The tenon extends one inch into the leg, so there is about two inches of thread engagement for plenty of strength.
Carefully transferring the tenon locations of the leg subassemblies to the cross piece that will get two mortises in precisely the right locations.
More mortise roughing on the drill press.
Two cross pieces with all four mortises drilled out and ready for hammer and chisel time.
Two leg subassemblies dry fit with all joinery completed … well almost. The two leg stretchers still need mortises to receive the long lower stretcher.
Squaring off the long lower stretcher and cutting it to final length, taking the two one inch long tenons that will be formed next into consideration.
Precision joinery requires square and true stock.
Clamped mockup of center stretcher subassembly with the two leg subassemblies.
Sliding panel jig and outrigger setup for making the shoulder cuts on the long lower stretcher.
Big clamps kept the stretcher tight against the panel jig fence so the shoulder cuts would be consistent. A stop block clamped (lower right) on the fence provided registration for each of the four required shoulder cuts in each end of the stretcher.
Precision machinist’s squares were used to lay out the cheek cuts on the long lower stretcher, which were also made by hand with the Dozuki saw … while standing on a ladder for proper body position!
Completed cheek cuts for the offset tenon, with the workbench and wood vise “far below.”
Shoulder plane smoothing and fine tuning the tenon cheek cuts.
Transferring the long lower stretcher tenon locations to the centerlines of the leg stretchers.
Completed mortise in one of the leg stretchers.
Dry fit assembly of the two leg subassemblies and the long lower stretcher.
Notches on the long upper stretcher were finished on the bandsaw, with the help of an outrigger roller stand.
Dry fit assembly of the two leg subassemblies and the long upper and lower stretchers.
The two angled center supports in the table base are from the legacy maple tree the table top is made from. Fifteen degree angled tenons were formed on each end of these special components.
The Dozuki was used to make the short cheek and shoulder cuts of the angled tenons on each end of the base center support components.
Close up of the fine Dozuki saw teeth. The body of this Japanese saw is only 0.012″ thick, so it cuts a very thin kerf.
The shoulder plane smoothing and finetuning its namesake tenon shoulders.
After carefully transferring the location of all four center support tenons, the corresponding mortises were drilled and ready for chiseling.
Two center support mortise and tenon joints completed, and two to go.
Dry fit assembled table base, complete!
The table base was fully disassembled and a 1/4″ roundover bit in the palm router eased sharp corners and helped hide the glue lines between the laminated edges and thin maple strips.
Close up of the 1/4″ roundover bit with sharp carbide inserts.
Close up of a 1/4″ rounded over corner, making the glue line of the 1/4″ thick maple strip practically disappear.
Special off center mounting screw holes were designed to allow for some expansion and contraction of the table top.
Overview of the palm router rounding over operations.
After rounding over the sharp edges and sanding each individual component, the table base was final assembled with glued up mortise and tenon joints reinforced with timber screws.
Because of some rain in the forecast on table base delivery day, my buddy Jess lent me his enclosed trailer to protect the just completed base assembly en route.
Securely strapped down and ready to ride across the state!
The whole rig, ready to go.
Arrival at the Jess farmhouse, where the table top awaited its base for final, final assembly.
The big table top was a welcome sight, as I hadn’t seen it in person for a few months!
Upside down and centered, seven timber screws fixed the base to the top.
Ready to be flipped upright for the first time ever!
Woodworking complete, the new farm table was ready for finishing, which Ryan and Makayla had agreed to take on.
Ryan giving his brand new farm table a bit of a wipedown.
Little Nova approved of the new addition to the large dining room.
The new dining room chairs, bought to complement the large farm table, looked fantastic arranged around it!
Ryan and Makayla did the hard work of putting this gorgeous custom-tinted finish and clear coat on their new farm table, in plenty of time for the first of many Thanksgiving and other family dinners to come!