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Project: Massive Dining Table Build
By Derik VanVleet
Atlanta, GA

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

The Task

I had a client come to me with a simple, yet complex problem...if that is even possible. "I want a dining table that will seat 12 people." Yikes! That is a big table!

You see, this client has a lot of extended family and friends to which they often entertain. In their current setup, they would use two dining tables, but then that created two distinct groups and alienated one group from the other. They wanted to have one table, big enough for everyone to sit at.

The Design

Following my guiding design principles, and in collaboration with the client, we decided that a trestle style table is what would work best. This would allow a maximum number of people at the table without having to worry about leg room or the table legs being in the way.

I should point out that this is, obviously, a large room that previously held two dining tables, so the room had plenty of space.

Dining Table Size

After much collaboration and layout, we decided on a table that would be 11 feet long and 5 feet wide. That's a big table! The 11 foot length would easily allow 4 chairs to be placed on each side, with the option of adding another chair if needed. The 5 foot width makes it possible to put two people on each end. This configuration comfortably seats 12 people and can be expanded to accommodate 14 people if necessary.

Knock-Down Design

Because this table was going to be so large, I needed to come up with a design that would allow the table base to be taken apart, if needed. In my design, as you will see below, it is made up of six main components; the two main leg structures at each end, the main support stretcher between the legs, two supporting stretchers under the top and then the wedges that secure the main stretcher to the main base legs.

Easy enough right?

The Dining Table Build

When building such a large table, one of my main concerns was making the base strong enough to support the top. I failed to mention so far that this table was going to be made from solid red oak; heavy stuff!

The top is just over 1 inch thick and 11 feet by 5 feet in size, so it is substantially heavy. The base needed to not only be strong enough to support it, but visually large enough to not look disproportionate once the top is placed on it.

The first thing I did was I picked through the stacks of lumber below to find just the right boards.

Starting With the Base

For the base, the first order of business was to glue together two pieces of 8/4 lumber to get the desired thickness. The two main legs are 4 inches square. Hefty!

Once the legs were done drying, it was time for joinery layout. The legs have to carry a lot of weight so I wanted a joint that is going to be super strong and durable. I chose to go with a double mortise and tenon joint, with a supporting peg in the joint. Below is the layout for the tenons, which I cut first.

My tenons are 1.75" long, with another 1/2" haunch at one end. I went with the double tenon because I did not want to remove a ton of material on the mortise side, which I thought would weaken the joint. I think this will make more sense as we go. Below are pictures of me cutting the double tenons by hand, and using hand tools to remove the material in the middle...and making a big mess!

Once the tenons were cut, I could focus on the accompanying mortises. I like to use the tenons themselves as my guide for laying out the mortises. I number each mortise and tenon combination to ensure that they always match up and fit as well as possible. Once the mortises are laid out, it is just a matter of removing material, which my hollow chisel mortiser does an excellent job of!

Once all of that was done, I used some hand tools to fine tune each joint to ensure a nice tight fit. I then cut half-lap joints in the middle of each cross member to form an "X", then I was able to dry fit the whole leg assembly.

As you can see in the picture, the cross members are still bulky, those will get a profile before they are finally assembled. Better to do it before you glue it all together! The bottom part of the leg will get a bull-nose type round over while the upper cross member will have a much more shallow round over. This shallow round over, as you will see, will further keep the legs out of the way from someone banging their knee on it when sitting down.

With the legs dry fit and the round overs shaped, it was time to work on the main stretcher that will connect the two main leg structures. This stretcher provides lateral support to the table to keep it from racking and flopping over. To do this, I had to cut a tenon on each end of the stretcher and then cut a corresponding mortise into the legs where they cross each other.

Because this base is a knock-down base, these mortise and tenon joints are not glued, but held in place with a removable peg. To do this, I made a mortise on the outside part of the main stretcher tenon. Then I made a peg that was driven into the mortise to tighten up the base, but can also be removed if necessary.

Below is another shot of the whole table base dry assembled with the main stretcher. You can also see the peg detail in the mortise and tenon joints of the legs. These pegs are driven through the center of the tenon in the joint and provide even more strength to the joint, as well as a nice little design detail.

A Change In Plans

One of the things about woodworking is, even if you have a well thought out plan, you need to be adaptable to changes that may come up. All the way to this point in the build, one thing I was struggling with was how to attach the top to the base. Because I wanted the table base to be able to be taken apart, I could not glue stretchers into the base. What I ended up doing was I used sliding dovetail joints to join two secondary stretchers to the base.

This, after I did it, seemed like an obvious solution, but it took me a lot of pondering to get there. In the end, this really served two useful purposes. First, it gave me a method for attaching the top. I simply drilled oversized holes into the secondary stretchers and screwed the top in. Second, the dovetailed stretchers added even more strength and rigidity to the table base. They further prevent the top from racking back and forth and really lock the base in tight.

Top It Off

With the base done, I could focus my attention on the top. Remember, the finished dimensions of the project are 5 feet wide by 11 feet long. Because the top was going to be so big I had to use 12 foot lumber to create it. This meant wrangling some pretty long and heavy boards across the jointer and planer. Here you can see I used some infeed and outfeed rollers to help me out.

After many, many glue-ups, the final width of the table was done.

One other challenge faced with a table top this big was, how do you keep it flat? I solved this issue by using breadboard joinery on the ends of the table. This would ensure that the top would remain perfectly flat, but also allow for seasonal movement.

The main premise of a breadboard joint is you are simply creating a series of mortise and tenon joints in the top and another board that runs perpendicular to the top. This perpendicular board prevents the top from bowing or twisting. In this table I used 5 mortise and tenon joints in the top. The center mortise and tenon is the only joint that is put together with a snug fit and is glued. The other joints should have slightly oversized mortises and the peg holes should be elongated, laterally, to allow for seasonal expansion/contraction.

Here is a view of the whole table top after MUCH sanding. It's ready for the finish!

Finishing the Dining Table

After all the parts were finish sanded it was time to turn to the finish process. This client has a lot of red oak in their kitchen, which is open to where this table is going. We did not want the table to have the exact same finish as the rest of the cabinets and things in the room, we wanted it to be just a bit different to stand apart. We chose to use a Watco Light Walnut oil finish. I applied two coats of the oil to all of the parts, then let it dry completely.

To protect the top, I applied 5 coats of an oil based wipe-on polyurethane. It's really just a full strength polyurethane that is then thinned 50/50 with mineral spirits. This allows the thinned finish to get into the wood and build up micro layers of protection.

Once all the coats of polyurethane were applied and completely dried, I used 0000 steel wool and furniture wax to buff out the top. The really fine steel wool knocks down any dust nibs that you might get and the wax adds a final layer of protection. This was all then buffed with a soft cloth and added a really nice luster to the table and feels buttery smooth to the touch.

The Finished Dining Table


Due to the scale of this table, it was a very challenging build, but also very gratifying. I think designing the table where the base can be taken apart was very key to the success of this project and it also adds some design elements to the table. I believe that making the base as large as it is also works nicely in proportion to the top. It is super sturdy and does a great job of supporting the massive top. This table is rock solid!

The owners love the table, I think it looks great, and I know it will serve many people over the years and generations.

You can email Derik at dvanvleet@vanvleetwoodworking.com. You can also take a look around his website at www.VanVleetWoodworking.com.

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