The Making of The Table

Several of you have asked me to share more information about how Bryan made our new dining room table. So he kindly wrote a post detailing the process for me to share with all of you. If you have any questions, feel free to drop us a line!

Herewith Bryan's post... Enjoy!

left: George Nakashima, right: Camp Bosworth's gorgesous dining room table

Joslyn and I have always loved the work of George Nakashima, and this table is nothing more than a riff on the kind of thing he pioneered. However, with prices for large custom slab tables going for $10 – 20,000 in the Design District, we never thought owning one was a real possibility. The direct inspiration for it, though, came on a visit to our friend Camp Bosworth, an amazing wood artist out of Marfa, TX. Camp is a prolific woodworker who has created a number of slab-based pieces out of local Texas hardwoods (namely, Mesquite and Pecan). His magnificent mesquite dining table along with his encouragement and advice got me over the hump.

clockwise from top: the table at the sawmill in upstate NY, the unfinished wood, the finished product, in progress...

For the top, we chose eastern Black Walnut, as no furniture wood is more iconic (cherry, mahogany and teak are probably right there with it). Nakashima was famous for his walnut slab pieces, and almost all of his most noteworthy works were made from it. Joslyn also wanted something dark, but without the reddish hues of many suitable woods, and walnut fits the bill. It also gets large enough as a tree for a table of the size we wanted. To seat 10 – 12 people comfortably, we needed something big, and this thing is big; the slab I got is 96” long, and runs from 36 inches at its narrowest to 52 inches at its widest. It was over 3 inches thick to start with! When I got it, it weighed nearly 500 lbs. But I needed something that thick so I could level it and still have a 2 inch thick slab (more on that later). Finally, from a woodworking perspective, walnut is wonderful to work with in every way.

As for the base, we have a lot of wood in our house, and for our version Joslyn thought that an all-wood table (top and base) would be overkill. So she asked for a modern, metal base of some kind to contrast with the very organic top. While I’m a serious amateur woodworker, my metalworking skills are pretty rudimentary (I did some welding for fun in college, but nothing more than small items). In the end, though, I kept the design simple and it wasn’t terribly difficult.

In all, the project cost about $2000 and took about 100 hours to complete.( That doesn’t include the investment in tools that I already had.) That was about 6 months of spare-time work - there isn’t much spare time with 2 working parents and 2 small kids!

The Process in a nutshell

Sourcing the wood:
There are basically 3 ways to get slabs like this: a local sawmill (if you’re lucky enough to have one near you that deals with the wood you want), a local hardwood dealer that can get large slabs, or mail order. While some black walnut grows in Texas, it doesn’t get very big here. (It’s also pretty uncommon to find anyone chopping it down for lumber locally.) So a local sawmill was out, but I was lucky enough to have a good local dealer who sourced it for me. One of their sawmills in upstate NY had some slabs that fit the specs, and they sent me some pictures. I chose what I wanted, and the sawyer got it to the hardwood shop. I then rented a truck from Home Depot and got it home with the help of 3 neighbors. Total cost, $1500. (There’s a lot more to it than this, so if you’re reading this to see if you might want to try this yourself, as I said above drop us a line and we’ll send you all the messy details).

Surfacing the wood:
A piece of wood this big won’t fit into a typical home-shop machine to flatten it (called a planer). So I had to use hand and power tools to do it. I used a hand-held power planer to do the bulk removal of material, but to get it flat and even, handplanes are really needed for the detail work. I have a nice collection of handplanes and quite a bit of experience using them, so this wasn’t a problem for me, but it’s one area that many do-it-yourselfers may have some trouble with. (Again, drop us a line for more details and other options.)

Finishing the wood:
Normally, I would use an oil-based varnish for a table-top for maximum durability, but we didn’t want for the finish to yellow the wood and bring out red tones, and oil based finishes inevitably go on yellow. Water based polyurethane was an option, but I’m not a fan of what poly does to the appearance of wood. In the end, I used a product called Fuhr 355 Waterborne Acrylic Varnish, which I’d read about in Fine Woodworking, with an undercoat of de-waxed shellac as a sealer. I sanded the final finish out to a very, very fine grit with a power sander. Finally, I used bowling alley wax on top and buffed it out with a power buffer. I didn’t stain or dye the wood. All finishing products I used were as clear as possible.

Making the base:
I used 2 ½ inch square tubing made of mild steel for the base. (I looked into stainless, but it was 3 or 4 times more expensive than non-stainless.) In all, the metal cost just under $300. I sourced it from a local metal supply that I found online. I welded the base using a MIG welder and grinded the excess of with an angle grinder. I finished it with a metal lacquer and coated it with some of the same finish used on the table top for extra protection.

Attaching the top to the base:
Finally, I drilled holes in the top of the base and used a template made from a big roll of butcher paper to transfer the locations of the holes on the base to the slab top. Then I used brass inserts in the wood that could accommodate the machine bolts I wanted to use to hold the top on the base (moving this thing requires that the top be separated from the base, and using machine bolts is a more durable option than wood screws for something like this).

The finished table was moved into the house in 2 pieces – the base was light enough to be brought in by 2 people, but the top still weighs about 250 – 300 lbs. So with the help of 3 fine, strapping neighbors, we carried it in on its long end to get through the door. Final assembly was done in the living room, and was as simple as lining up the holes and tightening the bolts. The neighbors earned their beers on this one.

That’s the high level overview. If it sounds simple, well, then it’s because I’ve left a lot out! There is quite a bit more to it, so again, if you want to try your hand (or someone else’s) at it, drop us a mail and we’ll send you the gory stuff. That way, you can go into it with eyes wide open.

And thanks much for all the very nice comments on the table!



nicole said...

amazing...what a treasure of family heirloom quality. Think of the stories that table will hear.

Jane Flanagan said...

My dream dining table is a slab (I love BDDW's especially). You did such an amazing job with this. I'm gobsmacked and inspired.

Thanks for sharing all the nitty gritty!

Meghan said...

The table is so very gorgeous. Thank you for answering my request for process details.

Alicia said...

Amazing - what a beautiful table for your family to enjoy many years of meals around! Very impressed with the construction - that's taking DIY to a whole new lever ;-)

Lucia said...

Bryan, Pete and I found ourselves in a conversation about George Nakishima the other night and your table came up. We all are so impressed. It is quite remarkable. I just keep wondering when you all are going to go into business?....

TX Girl said...

Gorgeous. It sounds like quite the undertaking, but the payout is really amazing.

Peter said...

[Standing, clapping]

Brittany C. said...

Wow,stunning!Definitely something to pass down to the generations.

style-for-style said...

this table is amazing!!!
My husband and I just made a table, but this blows ours out of the water.

Engracia said...

Absolutely stunning and what love went into it. My dad (a welder), before he passed away, made me a few things such as the beautiful wrought iron bed I sleep in. I love it so much because it was made by him. Like your gorgeous table it will be a loved heirloom.

PS We're getting a friend to make us a table in Tasmanian Oak slab (we live in Australia), I can't wait to see it.

Alice Q. Foodie said...

Bryan, you are a hero! Joslyn, you are a lucky woman! So glad it turned out beautifully. It's an heirloom to treasure for sure.

SimplyGrove said...

Wow, so gorgeous!!!!

Kelly @ turned UP to ELEVEN! said...

This is so amazing. Thank you for sharing the process. That is the most beautiful dining table.

Unknown said...

Love Nakashima tables and have priced them out around here, they start at $10,000. This is just amazing!


Taylor said...


one more time...


thanks for the details!

Giovanna said...

simply amazing table. it's really refreshing to know that people still appreciate handcrafted things. beautiful.

chris said...

How wonderful! Thanks for sharing these notes. It's inspiring to think about what you really can do yourself if you're willing to invest the time. (Now I'm gonna go yell at my husband to at least finish cleaning out the basement! :)

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julietk said...

What a fantastic table, well done to you and your hubby. I love wood too and have a slab in my bedroom just for the pleasure of seeing it daily and stroking it :-D You can see it here if you would like to http://julietkbears.blogspot.com/2010/04/felt-heart-banner.html
I would make it into a coffee table but my hubby has a habit of stubbing his toes a lot :-D