gluing up table top

john_alApril 15, 2007

I'm working (starting) a coffee table (app. 24"x48") using antique pine that was originally countertops in my grandfather's store. The boards are 14-15" wide, and 1 1/4" thick. I've ripped what I need for the top into 3 1/2" pieces, a couple of inches longer than needed. I'm almost ready to start the gluing process. I'm planning on using wood dowels in the joints, and yellow wood glue.

Two questions, and ANY suggestions would be appreciated:

One, will any other mechanical bond in addition to the dowels be necessary?

Two, should I wipe the excess glue off as it squeezes out, (potentially causing areas hard to stain) or wait and scrape it off when it dries?



ps: I'll probably be back in later stages for more help.

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I always wipe the squeeze out off with a damp cloth. Lots easier then getting the dried stuff off, IMO.
Dowels and glue should be fine. Use plenty of clamps.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 11:30AM
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The only reason to use dowels is to align the pieces during glueup; they don't strengthen the joint.

Don't try to glue all the joints at once; do this in stages.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 12:09PM
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That's what I originally thought about the glue, Dave. I guess you just need to be careful to remove all traces of it.

Jon, I was under the impression that the dowels strengthen the joint. What about biscuits? They surely couldn't strengthen if dowels can't. Thanks for the tip about doing it in stages. It would be much easier to keep it all lined up, right?


    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 1:40PM
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A well-executed edge grain joint will be stronger than the surrounding wood. So any "reinforcement" will be moot.

Another way to look at dowels is to replace strong edge-grain to edge-grain joints with one that is largely short-grain to end-grain.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 3:49PM
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As kmealy is saying, you don't need to strengthen the joint. The mating edges should be machined so that they come together cleanly. That, some glue, some clamps and some method to keep the pieces lined up while applying the clamping pressure is all that's required. Dowels are a fine way to align things, but keep them as small as possible; large ones actually make the joint more prone to fail over the long run.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 4:09PM
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Oh, and don't bottom the dowels out in their holes; leave a little breathing room (more important in harder woods than pine).

    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 4:11PM
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Thanks to all.

I have enough clamps to keep everything lined up, so I guess I'll go without the dowels in the top. Since it's fairly small, I think the pipe clamps will provide a flat suface to hold it while applying pressure horizontally as well. I can always clamp some 2x4's temporarily to hold everything in place.

Due to a changes in plans (wife's-it's a long story), I'm planning on making a breadboard style top. Will I need to allow somehow for expansion, since the wood is all the same moisture content, and will be sealed on all six surfaces?


    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 8:03PM
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Pooh Bear

You have to allow for the wood to expand and contract.
Sealer will only slow down the process.
Make sure you apply coats evenly to both sides.

Do you have a jointer to make perfect glue joints?

Do not over tighten the clamps.
This squeezes all the glue out and creates a glue starved joint.
Just slightly snug or a bit more is fine.
I have used rubber bands as clamps on small pieces.

Watch out how you orient the end grain to keep warping to a minimum.

Glue two pieces together and let sit for a couple of hours.
Then add a piece and let sit for a couple of hours.
Keep going until you get the width you need
then let it all sit for a couple of days.
Takes longer to do it this way but the results are excellent.

When you wipe the excess glue off use a slightly damp cloth,
not a wet one. You don't want water soaking into the glue in
the joint and weakening it.

Sounds like you are off to a good start. Good advice from others.

Pooh Bear

    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 11:19PM
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"Do you have a jointer to make perfect glue joints?"

A power jointer is pretty far from a great glue surface. It leaves shallow scallops in the surface no matter how fine a cut you take since it uses a rotating blade.

A jointer plane (the manual variety) is much better.
You should avoid sanding edges to be glued also.
The surface left by a sharp hand plane is about the best thing for gluing up.
And no electricity is even required.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 2:15PM
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To do breadboard ends on your top, you need to make the tenons undersize to the mortises, doing the layout from the center out to both edges. The middle mortise&tenon should be close-fit. By the end, you need at least a quarter inch of freedom to prevent splits. Run a plow 1/4" deep down the batten piece and leave a corresponding tongue on the board so one can't see through the gaps where there's no tenon. I'd use tenons about 2", then a 2" gap, etc.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 5:56PM
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Pooh Bear

A jointer plane (the manual variety) is much better.

You haven't seen how bad I am with a plane.
The results of me using a jointer plane would be insanely laughable.
I could get just as good of results with a drawknife or a broad ax.

I'll stick with my electric jointer.
I haven't had a glue joint fail yet.

Pooh Bear

    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 9:25PM
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It's true that you can get results with a hand plane better than a powered jointer, but it requires that the tool be very well sharpened and tuned up, and that one know how to use the thing. It's a level of skill that takes time and training to develop, wheras one can get decent results from an electric jointer with minimal instruction, at least until the thing gets dull or goes out of adjustment. In years of browsing hand planes in flea markets, I never saw one that was in ready-to-work condition. I love my handplanes, but suggesting they are definitively better is a gross oversimplification.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 7:51AM
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If you go buy a jointer and take it out of the crate, it probably isn't "ready to use", either. It needs to be assembled, setup, electrified, and fine-tuned. Hella more work than tuning up a hand plane, at least the first time. And setting up 4 blades so they are all the same height requires a certain knack...
And last time I looked, a jointer was a wee bit more expensive than a hand plane.
Helical planer and jointer heads leave no texture on the surfaces. They are the way of the future, and require no height setting, either.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 6:06PM
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When you're gluing, make sure to alternate clamps both over and under the workpiece to avoid bowing of the piece. I like to use a straightedge to make sure everything is flat while clamping.

You may find it easier to let the glue firm up slightly (wait about 10-15 minutes for yellow glue) and then scrape off with a chisel and wipe up the reside with a damp cloth. Sometimes if you get a lot squeeze-out, wiping up immediately with a cloth spreads the glue all over.

Also, be careful about attaching the breadboard end. There's various ways to secure it to allow wood movement, but not allowing for movement will cause problems.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 6:42PM
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I guess I overstated the ease of setting up a jointer. I bought mine used, so I don't have a clear sense of what they're typically like out of the crate. The larger new ones all seem to have Tersa or similar heads; I wasn't thinking about big-box grade equipment.

I've read about the helical blade cutterheads, but hadn't seen the claim that they leave no tooling marks - that doesn't make sense to me. I have read that they're quieter, and less prone to tear out.

Anyhow, I certainly agree that hand planes are great tools, but I've met so few people, even tradesmen that have done woodworking for decades, that know how to use them... a casual recommendation to someone without a local coach seems like a prescription for frustration.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 6:58PM
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Attached is a link of table top glue-ups that may be of some help:

Here is a link that might be useful: Table top glue ups

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 8:46PM
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Thanks for all the replies. The breadboard thing may be out, anyway, but the gluing tips are still relevant and very useful.

Actually, I guess I owe everyone an explanation. My wife wanted a square table originally, 41"x41". So she left(shopping, she came back) and I cut the boards to 43" and ripped them. Then she decided a 24"x48" rectangle would take up less room and give the grandkids more room to play. Since the boards were cut too short, I came up with the idea of a breadboard top. All of the expansion problems caused me to rethink that. I found one more piece of the original, giving me just enough to dispense with the breadboard.

Pooh, I don't have a joiner, but have a planer blade for the table saw that I was planning to prepare glue surfaces with. A friend is going to plane the pieces prior.

"Watch out how you orient the end grain to keep warping to a minimum."

Would you put one piece bark side up, the next bark side down?


    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 8:56PM
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Pooh Bear

Would you put one piece bark side up, the next bark side down?

Depends on how the table top is mounted to the supporting frame.
A large flat piece glued up with no re inforcement to prevent
warpage would be growth ring up/growth ring down/up/down/etc.
If the table top will be attached to an apron then it really
doesn't matter so much. I would orient the material to get
the best surface pattern for the table top.
If in doubt it mite be better to just use the up/down/up/down method.

Ideally, you could use rift sawn lumber and
not have to worry about warpage in the stock.
Rift sawn lumber is a lot more expensive than flat sawn.
I have never seen rift sawn stock commercially available.
Only way I know how to get it is to make it yourself.

I bought my jointer 20 years ago from Big Lots.
Same jointer you now get from Harbor Freight.
All I had to do was put the stand together and square the fence.
I haven't had to sharpen the blades yet, so I don't know how
hard it will be to reset them. I do have a magna-set tool.

For narrow lumber I run it thru the planer on edge to joint it.
I don't recommend doing this to stock wider than 2 inches.

I can glue up 12 inch wide pieces then plane them to thickness.
Then glue the 12 inch wide pieces together to get wide boards.

but have a planer blade for the table saw that
I was planning to prepare glue surfaces with.

You can set up a router table to use as a jointer.

I have cut glue joints with a planer blade in a table saw
but blade flexing can be a problem on the lower end saws.
Larger diameter blades flex more than the smaller ones.
And it can be hard to find small diameter planer blades.
The shop I used to work in had to have them specially made.
We ran 6.75inch blades in a 10inch PowerMatic table saw
cutting 15/16 hard maple 8 hours per day using a power feeder.
Had to have the blades specially made to get that size.
But the smaller size cut better and the saw didn't have to work as hard.

Pooh Bear

    Bookmark   April 18, 2007 at 1:25AM
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Thanks, Pooh. I appreciate it. I'll probably be back with more questions later. I'm not new to woodworking, it's just my first attempt at "fine furniture".


    Bookmark   April 18, 2007 at 9:01PM
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