Making an Antiqued Round Solid Wood Slab Table Top

How to make a heavy solid wood table top and give it that "old and busted" look. July 24, 2006

I have a customer that has a lot of custom cabinets she wants me to build. She wants to have me build a 60" diameter slab a minimum of 2" thick top for a iron table base that she is to have custom built. I told her that I don’t do this kind of work that custom cabinetry is what I do the best. She wont take no for a answer and wants the top done first.

To get the rest of the work that I need to fill out my winter jobs (can get kind of slow in MN in the winter) I have to build this top. She wants solid lumber as wide as possible and has not settled on the type of wood she wants to us. Is this a problem – warp, cup, split and etc? She wants it to be rustic next to the wood finish. Any help on proper construction and finishing? Or should one farm out the?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor D:
If I read your post right, she wants to use this table for an ironing board surface? Or is it a table to support a separate ironing board that will sit on top of the table?

From the original questioner:
This is a kitchen table round 60" in diameter. The base or legs is iron that the slab top will sit on. The base I have not looked at but she said that she had that worked out and wants a thick 2"+ slab top for this base. She wants the top to look old well worn as if it was an antique.

From contributor D:
Sorry I misread your post. I'm glad she wasn't going to use it for that. Well for starters, you will need to get 10/4 boards to be able to end up with an exact 2" thick top. That will limit you to what type of species of wood that is available in that thickness. As far as cupping and splitting, the 2' thick wood will be more stable than a piece of 3/4". But it all depends on how well you finish it and what you use. Just remember that it will expand and contract across the grain in width so be sure that when you mount this to the iron legs. You will need some type of elongated hole in the iron so there can be some movement.

From contributor E:
You should probably farm this out. It's not a difficult job, just takes a little time and experience with distressing wood. This is how I would build the top. Depends on how rustic she wants it, buy unsurfaced 10/4 or 8/4 stock, do a hit and miss planing on the face leaving some sawmilling marks, if she wants it really rustic. Then joint the edges and before gluing up rasp the edges in a few places.

This should give you a fairly rugged top. After you glue up rasp the outside edges in various spots, use an Awl to make worm holes on the top as well as simulate cracks and scratches. I also use a chain made from various items to fine tune the distress marks. Remember old pieces do not have sharp edges, everything is softened from age. Sand after distressing - not too finely.

When you finish you may have to apply a glaze after stain and sealer to bring out more of the defects and character. I would not distress the underside of the top but make sure you finish with same finish schedule as the top. Attach allowing for movement.

From contributor M:
Do you have a signed contract for the cabinets she wants you to build? I hope so as it sounds like a bait and not get deal to me. That said, almost all wood types are available to make a 2" top you just have to look for it. I do these rustic tables all the time.

Here are some tips: when picking out the materials watch the end grains. Avoid the ones that you know will cup. You should find what you seek at a local mill. They can help you find the wide stuff. When you go to assemble I would use a tung and grove to join the slabs. Use the top and bottom clamp method. Let it sit for 3 days. Set up your bandsaw to cut the circle.

Because the top is so rough all you have to do is belt sand it down until just the top rough is gone. This leaves the pits and gouges from the mill. At this point most of the time all I do is give the beast three coats of really hot wax. Use brown wax for the first 2 coats (sometimes the 1st coat is just right for the color, if the color is what you are looking for then go to the next step.)

Now finish with bowling alley clear for the top coat/s. Sit at the table put your arms on it like you were eating dinner. Take a spoke plain and slice out just a little bit where your arms hit the top. Do this all the way around. Take the brown wax (hot) and add some black color to it and rub it into the bare spots, just a little - not too much. Follow it with clear. Mount to the base and you’re done.

From contributor J:
I would suggest getting some recycled wormy chestnut. The boards won't be all that wide but no roughing up needed. A few coats of oil and your top will look a hundred years old because it is.

From contributor H:
Here are a few ideas on how to add distress marks are for finish. I would probably use an "antique" type finish comprising dye, sealer, glaze and then a topcoat. I think on a slab top like this it’s especially important to seal the wood thoroughly (equally on both sides) to reduce changes in moisture content and minimize movement of the top. You could wax after the top coat, but just wax itself wouldn't seal the wood sufficiently (in my opinion) - leaving more risk of movement warping the top.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor P:
The tricky part is finding someone who slow cures slabbed logs who is willing to part with the wood, unless you do it yourself. The circular shape is a little peculiar. If you bandsaw it, that eliminates the natural edges. You could glue-up eight or ten (or more) pie shape slabs, cut alternately from a monolithic slab, leaving the outside edges natural. You'll need to use some cleverness to blend the joints, which being natural, won't match, and of course it would only be a circle within a tolerance of a few inches.

One way to ease matching is to glue alternate pies together, so there is only the saw kerf missing from the original natural edge. Of course there will be two spots that don't match at all: the transitions from pies taken from one edge of the original slab and pies taken from the other edge. This type of work is easy and has a good margin, because the tables appeal to 'high end' customers.