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Thread: Slab Dining Table Plans - Which hand tools needed?

  1. #1

    Slab Dining Table Plans - Which hand tools needed?

    Hello All:

    I am planning a dining table project which will probably start with a 10/4 slab, most likely walnut, about 105" x 52". I am still shopping for the wood, so I may eventually find that I prefer jointing two 26" wide book-matched pieces to get my 52" width.

    From that slab, I am hoping to smooth out both sides nicely and clean up the edges (removing the bark but leaving the natural contours of the tree). One of the mills I visited last week (he had some amazing slabs) actually told me there are mills within driving distance (I am near Philadelphia) which can run the entire 52" slab through a planer.

    Of course I can also choose to do the rough planing myself, but in either case there will be lots of manual work to be done. My question is this: What hand tools am I likely to need for this project? I have a well equiped shop for the smaller projects that I do, however, I am lacking good hand planes and other tools that this project will certainly demand.

    Thanks in advance for anyone's input!
    Last edited by Quesne Ouaques; 02-14-2008 at 7:59 PM. Reason: Corrected dimensions

  2. #2
    I don't want to discourage anyone, but if you have never surfaced even smaller panels or boards I would seriously caution against starting out with a slab of any type of expensive wood, especially walnut. It took me months before I felt comfortable hand-planing large surfaces. A surface of the size your talking about will be a major chore even for those that do it regularly such as myself. My main problem is my arthritis. Anyway, back to your question:

    If you want to do this by hand, here is what you are up against. There are many ways to do this but this is how I do it. If the wood surface is rough, you will typically start with a scrub plane. The scrub plane should be tuned with a 'camber' on the edge of the iron to help hog away a lot of material. You will use the scrub in diagonals across the width of the panel, first in one direction and then in the opposite direction. This removes all of the rough surface. Next, I go to a Stanley #5 jack plane and again, diagonally, work on bringing the surface to a level plane in all directions. You will constantly be checking with a good straight edge width-wise, length-wise and diagonally in each direction. When you get the surface down to flat, then I move to the smoother plane (like a Stanley #4). I begin working straight with the grain to smooth out the surface. Depending on how you're sharpened the smoother, you may have ridges left after each pass of the plane. It is a repetitive process to bring the surface closer and closer to true flat. Next, depending on the grain, you will more than likely need to switch to a scraper. For this I go to a Stanley #80 that is tuned properly. During all of these steps you are constantly checking flatness with a straight-edge. Myself I have to stop numeroud times because it is a very tiresome process but I love doing it. My suggestion since this will be obviously a very nice oiece of walnut, I would take it to a planer first. Then, I would work the surface with a scraper such as the 80 or with a scraper plane. Strongly consider this because when you're first learning to use planes, you will dig into a lot of surfaces just tuning your plane. Every time you do that on the surface of the slab you'll have to plane, sand or scrape down past that and it will feel like you're in a swamp with alligators.

  3. #3
    For my tables I use a Flexcut drawknife to remove the bark and smooth out the live edges. I use mortise and tenon joinery to attach the bases to the tops, for this I use 225mm and 240mm Dozuki and Ryoba saws. I rough out the mortises with a forstner bit. To plane the tops I use 48deg 60mm, 80mm Japanese planes without sub blade. For large slabs I use a 120mm plane. Not many tools are needed for this type of work.
    DJO Furniture Maker / Timberwerks Studio 木材場

  4. #4
    I think this is a situation where we have a project not designed for hand tool use. When hand tool only was the only option, panels of this size, while they did exist, were not very common. I would recommend having the top planed by machine if you can. This is a very large and heavy piece (bigger than most workbenches) that will be difficult to surface by hand. And given the price I would expect to pay for a single panel this size (well over $1000 I would expect), I would not chance messing it up if I were not experienced surfacing by hand.

    If you must do it by hand, I would like to offer a suggestion slightly different from that provided by Sam. I suggest staying away from the scrub and jack planes. While Sam is correct that they are a fine and typical first step for 99% of panel surfacing, they are simply to short for a surface this size. It would be like trying to start surfacing a typical board with a thumb plane...an exercise in futility. You'll likely only make a very wavy surface as the short soles of these planes follow the natural contours of the slab.

    If I were to try this by hand (I wouldn't ) I would start with a long wooden trying plane, maybe 22-24" long and set it up as a fore plane, with a cambered iron (though a little less camber than a typical fore plane or it may be hard to push) and a fairly thick cut (though again, a little finer than a typical fore plane or it may be hard to push). When you have it roughly flat, switch to a looooong try plane, like 30", to finish flattening. Once it's flat, you can switch to the smoother of your choice to take real light smoothing cuts.

    This is the type of surface that calls for long wooden planes, like old traditional woodies or (cheaper and easier for a new user) long transitionals. Stay away from short planes for everything but smoothing of this top. And check the surface often to make sure you're not making it worse (though the long plane will prevent this to some degree).

    However, my main concern would be reaching across this beast. 52" is awful wide and it is likely to be a challenge to plane the entire surface unless you are kneeling on top of it.
    Bob

    "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right."

  5. #5
    Robert's right about using a larger plane. I use typically what I have on hand. The last time I did a large surface, I didn't have a large wooden plane. I've got a 24" wooden plane now and I agree that would be the better way to go. I had the same picture in my mind of having to use knee pads and kneeling on top to reach the board effectively. Not only will it be hard on your back no matter which plane you use, but a long plane (like my 24") is fairly heavy and will wear you out very quickly. I stick with my suggestion like Bob's to take it to a planer.

    Along the lines of cost, I saw a bubinga board the other day at Rocklers that was 24" wide maybe, 2" thick, but I can't remember the length. It was taller than me but what stuck in my mind was the price of almost $1000. Even with my skills using hand planes, I would seriously consider a planer if it were available to me.

  6. #6
    I can see running the slab through a planer to dimension it but I would still use a plane for the final finish. To me it would be a great disrespect to a large beautiful slab not to.
    DJO Furniture Maker / Timberwerks Studio 木材場

  7. #7
    Good point. I wasn't thinking of the final work like scraping, etc. which you would still need to do. I'm just talking about getting a piece of wood that size dimensioned by hand.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Quesne Ouaques View Post
    Hello All:

    I am planning a dining table project which will probably start with a 10/4 slab, most likely walnut, about 105" x 52".
    Flattening it is the least of your potential problems.

    Nakashima and others who build with thick flitches don't start with the slab, they start with the tree. If the slab isn't the first board deck adjacent to the pith, it'll warp significantly according to its growth ring orientation shown in this USDA graphic below. A 52"-wide board from near the pith will also warp in drying as shown, but it will flatten and remain relatively flat with normal household moisture swings compared to its neighbors.



    Moisture content will also be critical. Your wide top won't remain flat if its not stable. Stabilizing wood that thick takes over two years if it happens to be at 10% MC and the existing furniture in the space you plan to put it is at 7%. Measure it first, and use a pin meter that reaches the center. And don't flatten it until its stable at your target MC. This would be a project I'd take to a kiln. Kilned wood isn't as pretty as airdried but it's the best way to insure the wood is dry all the way through the center.

    Also note that flitches this wide tend to crack anyway. Soft mounting and your skills at inlaying butterfly keys will be critical.
    Last edited by Bob Smalser; 02-18-2008 at 10:59 AM.
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  9. #9
    Join Date
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    Bob
    Excellent points all around.

    Quesne

    It seems as if there a few "big slab tables" in the near future for creekers.
    Planning for and designing around wood movement is a critical component of the project.

    If I could hijack your thread for a question, apologies upfront, I'd like to ask Bob, or anyone else, a question concerning wood movement. Hopefully it will be of benefit to you also.

    There was an article published awhile back, and in this article it detailed the predicted movement of material after planing. It also went on to explain that planing the material from one side of a flatsawn board would help stabilize it, and removing from the other side would cause the material to cup more.

    My question is planing from which side of a flatsawn board has which effect?

    I also have a large table project I'm getting ready to start. The finished top will be 84"x42"x1 1/2" thick Paduak. The particular padauk board I am starting with is 30"x84"X1 1/2" thick, and is more flatsawn than not, and currently has a cup of approximately 1/4" across it's width.
    Being that I need to already do a glueup to get the final dimension, any insight would be appreciated.

  10. #10
    IMHO, if you have a flat-sawn board that you are going to plane on one side or the other, I think it might react as follows. Assuming that the board is at equilibrium, and there is no reaction wood or internal stress present, and there is not much difference or delta in the relative humidity in the environment around the board, I wouldn't expect to see much movement. If however, there is a delta between the moisture content of the wood that gets exposed relative to the environment around it, I would expect to see something happen. On a flat-sawn board, the center of the tree will be more towards one face or the other such that if you looked at the end grain, you would see the rings all curving towards one face or the other. If you planed the side towards the center of the tree, and if there was enough delta in moisture between the exposed wood and the environment it's in, such that the environment has a greater amount of moisture than the exposed wood, I would expect to see the wood cup away in the opposite direction of the curvature of the growth rings as it absorbs moisture from its environment, and vice versa if you planed and exposed fresh wood from the other side. Conversely, if the environment has LESS moisture than the newly-exposed wood does, I would expect to see movement just the opposite.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Midwest
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    1,632
    Do you already own a router? If so, you could use a router with a frame to flatten the top/bottom surfaces.

    Start by using double-stick foam tape to mount the board to your workbench. Then build a frame around the board using lumber slightly taller than your piece is thick. Next mount your router to a few 2x pieces of straight lumber. Make successive passes with the router skating across the top of the frame while extending the router bit lower as needed. Before you know it 95% of the work will be done. All that will be left is smoothing with a plane.

    I used this technique to plane flat a 25" wide walnut crotch and it worked quite well.

  12. #12
    This photo will show where this slab was cut in realation to the pith. I completed this table about two years ago from kiln dried Cherry. I let the Cherry acclimate for 3 months before I started work on the table, it 25" across and is still flat to this day.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    DJO Furniture Maker / Timberwerks Studio 木材場

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Dale Osowski View Post
    This photo will show where this slab was cut in realation to the pith. I completed this table about two years ago from kiln dried Cherry. I let the Cherry acclimate for 3 months before I started work on the table, it 25" across and is still flat to this day.
    Nice work. It's the first board deck adjacent to the pith, which is optimum.

    Out here in the timber industry we call yours a "live-edge flitch", as a "slab" includes the whole lower section of round including the sapwood.
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Central Indiana
    Posts
    437
    This thread about a bubinga slab table by Todd Burch was my first exposure to Sawmill Creek. He tells about how he went from rough plank to table in the thread. I think you will find it helpful.

    I know we have the Link Police who will clean up the length and turn it into a "tiny URL", but I don't do this enough to remember all the code I have to type around the URL to make it smaller. http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthre...a+table&page=3

    Best of luck!


    Quote Originally Posted by Quesne Ouaques View Post
    Hello All:

    I am planning a dining table project which will probably start with a 10/4 slab, most likely walnut, about 105" x 52". I am still shopping for the wood, so I may eventually find that I prefer jointing two 26" wide book-matched pieces to get my 52" width.

    From that slab, I am hoping to smooth out both sides nicely and clean up the edges (removing the bark but leaving the natural contours of the tree). One of the mills I visited last week (he had some amazing slabs) actually told me there are mills within driving distance (I am near Philadelphia) which can run the entire 52" slab through a planer.

    Of course I can also choose to do the rough planing myself, but in either case there will be lots of manual work to be done. My question is this: What hand tools am I likely to need for this project? I have a well equiped shop for the smaller projects that I do, however, I am lacking good hand planes and other tools that this project will certainly demand.

    Thanks in advance for anyone's input!

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Smalser View Post
    Nice work. It's the first board deck adjacent to the pith, which is optimum.

    Out here in the timber industry we call yours a "live-edge flitch", as a "slab" includes the whole lower section of round including the sapwood.
    Thanks Bob

    I'm lucky to have a great mill near by that is skilled in milling and drying. I have a few live edge Walnut flitches here as well, they also are very flat. I really enjoy building these Nakashima inspired tables. Soon I hope to get to a book matched Walnut set I have. It will be pretty close to the size table that is the start of the topic. I'll leave the live edge in the center of this top as well as the outside edges.
    DJO Furniture Maker / Timberwerks Studio 木材場

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