Make a Dining Room Table by Thanksgiving

by A Manly Guest Contributor on October 27, 2011 · 113 comments

in Manly Skills, Projects

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Tuck Oden.

If you’re like me, every time you wander through a big-box furniture store, you feel a little insulted. Here you are, a man, staring at relatively simple furniture, being asked to lay down large sums of money for a bookshelf, dining set, or desk. And if you know enough about wood to spot laminate and fiberboard, you’ll quickly see these expensive pieces of furniture have a shelf life (no pun intended) of about two years.

Today I want to show you a project that’s within your reach if you have a few tools, a couple weekends, and the courage to take on something new. If you’re completely new to woodworking, this may be a little ambitious, but if you’ve got a little experience, you shouldn’t encounter too much trouble. Keep in mind that I’m an amateur. I took shop class in high school and have done a few little projects here and there, but I’m certainly no pro.

My two primary pieces of machinery: 10" Craftsman Table Saw and 10" Craftsman Radial Arm Saw

The result of this project is what your wife or girlfriend would call a “Rustic,” “Barn,” or “Ranch Style” dining room table. I call it a man table, because it’s made from inexpensive wood, can take a beating, and one day your grandchildren will be serving their kids Thanksgiving dinner on it. Being the man that built that table is, well, manly. I’ve found a few similar tables on Craigslist and furniture sites, starting at around $1200. That’s absurd. I built mine for less than $200, including the chairs I bought for it.

I started by doing some searches around the ol’ internet to find other folks who’ve built their own tables. Using the images and information I found, I started drawing up plans. My table is approximately 6′x44″x31″ (LxWxH). You may find different dimensions work better for you (31″ is pretty tall)–so make your plans however you like. I also built leaves that make the table 8.5’ long.

Leaves and All for Fall

What You’ll Need

Shall we get started? This is going to look far more expensive and complicated than it really is. Have no fear. This took two weeks from start to finish (while working full-time). Here’s what you’ll need:

Tools:

  • *Table Saw – for ripping to width and cutting the notches for the legs and leaves.
  • *Radial Arm Saw – for cutting to length (or, if you plan well, you can get the fellas at Lowes or Home Depot to cut your pieces to length and forgo the radial arm saw).
  • Chisel – for chipping out the notches. A flathead screwdriver would also work.
  • Hand-held Belt Sander – you’ll end up using this all over the place.
  • Drill/Rechargeable Screwdriver – I used my heavy drill for drilling holes and a rechargeable screwdriver to drive screws.
  • Pocket-Hole Jig – this is indispensable. Nearly every joint on this table uses pocket holes.

*You may be able to use a circular saw instead. I don’t have any experience working with these though.

Misc:

  • Stuff to ‘distress’ the table–we used chains, hammers, screws, sparklers, matches–anything that can leave a mark.
  • Stain, brushes, and paint thinner–we used Rustoleum Ultimate Wood Stain, Dark Walnut. But we did it wrong. More on that later…
  • Polyurethane (to protect your finish).
  • Black Spray Paint for the lag screws and washers.

Lumber:

We used cheap construction grade (douglas fir) lumber. Your amounts may differ, but keep in mind these usually come in lengths starting at 8′:

  • 4″x4″x8′s – 3
  • 2″x8″x8′s – 3
  • 2″x12″x12′s – 2
  • 2″x4″x8′s – 4

Hardware:

  • 3/8″ x 6″ Lag Screws (spray-painted black) – 8
  • 3/8″ x 3″ Lag Screws (spray-painted black) – 8
  • 3/8″ Washers (spray-painted black) – 16
  • 2 ½” Pocket-Hole Screws – approx 100
  • 1 ½” Pocket-Hole Screws – approx 100
  • Brackets – 10

Draw Up Your Plans

The first step is to draw up your plans. I should mention that lumber sizes are a lie. They’re typically about ½” less in every dimension than what they’re called, so a 2″x4″x8′ is actually 1 ½” x 3 ½” x 8’ 11 ½”.  Remember this when you’re drawing up your plans.

Drawing plans is a good way to make sure you understand everything you’re getting into. Draw them from every conceivable angle and think through how you’re going to make each cut and joint.

Top

End view and top view of the rail-to-leg butt joint. Don’t giggle. That’s what it’s called.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Allow about 23″-30″ in width per place setting.
  • Allow 12″ depth for each place setting, plus 6″-20″ for the center of the table.
  • Keep your dining room’s size in mind–you need at least 32″ between the back of each chair and the nearest wall or piece of furniture.

Side view

Get Your Lumber

Now that you’ve got your plans worked out, you need to determine how much lumber you need and go pick it up. You do have a pickup, right? RIGHT? Check every board for bows by looking down the length of it. Bowed wood is going to give you a lot of trouble, so get the straightest boards you can find.

It seems like a lot of wood, but all of the lumber needed for our table was less than $100.

Cut Your Wood

Your next step is to either get the guys at the hardware store to cut your wood for you, or do it yourself. Mark your lengths and go to town!

Ready to attack a 2x12 with the radial arm saw.

Be sure to label each piece as you go so you don’t get confused later.

Here’s an old woodworking adage I enjoy ignoring: “measure twice, cut once.” Honestly, I measure nonce and cut thrice. I often eyeball it. I use pieces I’ve already cut to measure what I need to cut. It’s not a great habit, but I prefer it to measuring everything. And the results usually aren’t that different. At least that’s what I tell myself. I ended up having to sand down the ends of the 2×12’s running the length of the table (where they meet the aprons) because they weren’t exactly the same length.

Pieces cut to length. From bottom to top this is aprons/leaves, tabletop length pieces, legs/crossbeams and rails.

Design the Table Top

Now that you’ve cut everything to length, it’s time to decide how you want to arrange the pieces for the top. Lay out the pieces and figure out which arrangement you like. Then flip it all over, so you’re looking at the exact bottom of your soon-to-be top.

Deciding on the arrangement.

Do this on a FLAT SURFACE–your tabletop will only be as flat as the surface you do this on. Drill your pocket holes and drive the screws in to secure all the pieces together. I recommend clamping it all together while you do this. Repeat the process with the pieces for your leaves.

Pocket-holes drilled. Use the 2 ½" pocket-hole screws for every joint.

Guess what? Your top is almost done. You might want to use a belt sander to get rid of any horrible incongruities or lumber print marks. Remember that rough spots, knots, etc. are going to look awesome with some stain–so don’t worry about sanding those out; however, you want the natural curves on the side of your table to extend along the aprons.

Build the Frame

Now let’s focus on the frame. Start by marking the notches for the legs. These should be just a tad bigger than your crossbeams. I put mine 3 ½” above the ground, to match the thickness of the crossbeam.

This is just illustrating where you’d mark the wood. You’d rotate it once (“x” facing down) before cutting. Make sure your miter gauge is sturdy enough.

Once you have each piece marked, it’s time to start cutting. Basically what you want to do is raise your table saw’s blade to a little less tall than half the thickness of the leg (about 1 5/8′). This will let the wood over-reach the wood it’s joined to by about ¼” on every side, giving you a nice, rustic look.

Set the rip fence to keep you from going too far up the leg. Cut one slice through at either end of the notch. Then cut out pieces every ¼” or so between those cuts. It’s not as complicated as it sounds–I promise. Look:

Slices trimmed out with the table saw. From here, you stick the chisel in and pull back. The chips pop right out. It’s a great feeling!

Repeat this on each of your legs and then use your chisel to knock out the slices. You’ll have rough notches at this point. Take each piece back to the saw and run it back and forth and left to right over the running blade (CAREFULLY!) to smooth out the notch.

See the roughness in the notches? That’s what you’ll eliminate using the table saw.

Repeat the same process with the crossbeams–notch out the ends and the space for the footrest that goes across the middle.

Test-fit your crossbeams to the legs. Everything look okay? Good.

Dry fit test. Nothing is screwed or glued together here--just sitting in their notches.

Now use a 3/8″ drill bit to drill some pilot holes through your crossbeams into the legs.

Use a little masking tape to mark the bit so you don’t go too deep!

Once you get all the pilot holes drilled, go ahead and ratchet in your lag screws (be careful if you use a drill to screw these in–they’re STRONG and the drill will try to break your wrist).

Look at that! You got nice legs!

Now you’re going to sort-of repeat this process to cut some notches in the top rails for your leaves to slide into. Mark the thickness of your 2×2 rails (just a 2×4 cut in half lengthwise) however far in from the edges you want them, and use the same process as before to cut out the notches.

Notches cut in the top end-rails for the leaves to slide into.

Use pocket-hole screws to attach these to your legs. Go ahead and screw on your 2×4 footrest as well.

Now it’s time for one of the trickiest parts–attaching the side rails to the legs. I did this part on top of the tabletop, because it was the flattest surface I could find. We got the rail perfectly straight and I had my wife stand on it to keep it steady as I drilled the pilot hole through the leg and into the rail. Then we screwed in the 6″ lag screws. And I just about broke my arm trying to use a power drill with a socket to do this.

Here you can see my wife's nice legs, the table's nice legs, one connected rail (top right) and one yet to be connected (bottom right). The frame is upside down.

Now the frame is right-side up, sitting on the tabletop.

Now you have a complete top, leaves, and frame. You’re almost there!

One of the leaves – use a square to make sure they’re straight.

Distress, Stain, and Finish the Table

It’s gotten too tricky lately, so I think it’s time for some catharsis. Let’s beat the crap out of this tabletop. Smack it with chains. Hit it with a pipe wrench. Drop saw blades on it. Burn it with sparklers. Just generally abuse it. Don’t worry–it’ll look great.

Tools of distress-ion.

You also need to leave another mark on this--your own signature. We used a soldering iron to do a very amateur and very permanent woodburn with our names and date.

Okay, let’s stain this beast. I should explain that we used Rustoleum’s Dark Walnut Ultimate Wood Stain, but we did it wrong. We failed to mix it well before applying it, resulting in a color we really liked–but not the color this stain is designed to create. When we came back to do a second coat, we stirred it well, resulting in a coat that looked like purple paint. I had to sand it off and start over. So, don’t follow my lead here–follow the can’s directions and TEST before staining all of your new masterpiece!

We did two coats, but that’s optional. What’s not optional is a protective finish. Polyurethane does the trick just fine!

First coat of stain. Don’t judge my garage’s cleanliness.

Your monster of a table is going to be HEAVY, so I strongly recommend moving it to its final destination in two pieces–lay a blanket down in your dining room, put the top on it upside down, then the frame upside down on top of that. Attach a couple 2×4 supports across the frame for good measure, then begin the frustrating process of centering the frame on the top. Once you have the top centered, attach your brackets–I did two on each end and three on each side.

Attaching brackets with 1 ¼" pocket-hole screws.

You got that done? Guess what? You have a brand-new, homemade, beast of a man table. Your only problem is its upside down. Flip that puppy over, find some chairs, let your wife put some girly decorative stuff on it, and get ready to be the next to host Thanksgiving!

{ 113 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Phil August 3, 2013 at 7:02 am

Hey…. How are the leaves supported? Photo makes me think that the slots are the only way. Worried that they could pull out and spill the turkey in GMAS lap. Thanks

102 Jeremy August 10, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Hi Tuck,

I built your table late last year and have been meaning to comment. Thanks so for much for putting your plans together. Made for a great introductory wood project. I have had several people stop by and ask me where I bought my very novel kitchen table – they are always surprised when I tell them I built it in my garage…

A few of those commenting have pointed out that fur bends and cracks. But I was surprised how much it just shrunk. The end pieces now stick out nearly half an inch further than the center boards of the table. I live along the coast so may have something to do with high humidity. Not a big deal to me, I figured I’d wait a full year until it stop moving around and then just take the table top apart and cut off any extra and straighten out any warped lines. I intentionally didn’t glue the top together for this reason – and so I could disassemble when moving.

I had such a good time with the table I decided to build chairs for the ends and benches for the sides.

You should think about putting together an area where people can put throw up photos of the tables they build based on your plans. Or maybe just a comment area with a WYSIWYG rich text editor.

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks and encourage all who were thinking about building based off your plans to go for it. I had a blast and people love my manly table!

103 Edem August 11, 2013 at 7:23 am

Have been thinking of building a manly table but was afraid of being labelled “stingy”. your article has given me encouragement.
One manly table (and maybe chairs) will sprawl up in our room soon.
thanks

104 Russell August 24, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Thanks for these plans. I have ordered the wood from the local Home Depot in Alberta here. I can’t wait to build this table. I will post pictures and let you know how it turns out.

105 Jack November 13, 2013 at 8:05 pm

For those that are asking about the leaves, the 2x2s slide in thru the slots and are held in place by the table top.

106 Matt November 24, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Hey! I just wanted to post and say how great I thought this post was. I just built a table using this tutorial and slightly altered plans for our Thanksgiving dinner this year. My wife posted pictures and a blog post of ours at http://wp.me/p3gRMd-7F if anybody would like to see them. Thanks again for the amazing article!

107 max December 7, 2013 at 8:01 am

Table saw and rotary arm saw? Who has those and is doing a project like this? You can get a functional circular saw for $30. You can do everything you need for this project with that and likely be safer. It may take a bit longer. Good thing the people in the comments know more than the author! Some of the sites linked mention a circular saw and have real directions. Hopefully you check them out before trying this project. I see why AoM does not take unsolicited guest posts anymore. I was sad at first because it seems like the site had lost something this year, but it also lost bad info too, so I guess it it’s an even trade.

108 Aris Tuazon December 7, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Hi i have a restobar in NYC and wondering if you can build 15 24×24 tables like this no needfor a stand just te tops thanks and looking forward to it… 3476415001

109 Alan T. December 14, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Gents, Aspiring Woodworkers,

If you don’t have power tools, don’t let this post think you can’t built a table without them. I’ve done woodworking all through my life, and at 29, I still don’t own a circular saw, by choice. I have a trusty cross-cut saw, chisels, squares and planes that I’ve used to build two different beds for my wife and I — an adjustable Easel for her artwork, and now a desk is in the works.

You *don’t* need power tools for this, although they can speed things up. If you have access to them, then great – but don’t cross this off the list if you don’t – and hand-tools are much easier to come by(ubiquitous, and less expensive). I just finished a fancy queen-size bed (http://ana-white.com/2011/02/plans/mom’s-fancy-farmhouse-bed) for my wife and I that I built using nothing but hand-tools, on the balcony of our 735 sq. ft. apartment.

This isn’t Tony Stark v. Pile of Scraps — and the pride of workmanship will outlast the table. It’s incredibly satisfying to be able to show your handiwork to someone else, and say “I built that.”

110 Ken McBroom February 1, 2014 at 12:10 am

Great project. I was looking at one of these the other day and thought it would not be that hard to build. Thanks for the info I will definitely build one myself.

111 Dale D February 21, 2014 at 12:35 am

49 years old and pretty new to woodworking. I understand everything about building this very nice table. One step you didn’t include were the lower cross beams. I understand how to measure the placements of 3 and a 1/2 inches up from the floor but don’t seem where to notch out the cross beams. On Matt’s site he cuts them out to the edge. My question is: Do you do the same?

112 bob March 2, 2014 at 2:07 am

where are the black bolts in the final photo?

113 Nicoleta Gan March 25, 2014 at 7:18 am

Thank you for this guide. This will be my first DIY dining table.

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