Bubinga Conference Table

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Project by pmulry posted 07-29-2007 04:41 PM 6550 views 3 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Somehow I always manage to try to learn to swim by diving into the deep end. This table is a perfect example.

One of my poker buddies is in the process of opening a new law firm nearby and wanted a showpiece conference table made from solid wood. As we play on the poker tables that I build, he commissioned me to build a unique solid-wood table for him. I knew that building this table would be very different from the poker tables that I regularly build. Never mind learning on a reasonably-scaled table like for a kitchen; instead, we took on this 9-foot long, 46-inch wide behemoth.

The one detail that the customer was adamant about from the very start was that we build the top from solid wood. We wrangled over the details of the design for about a month, then created a full-scale mockup of the legs and base so that we could get the proportions of the fluting and ogee detail to work together correctly. We were originally going to build the table from jatoba, but then found a beautiful pair of boards online for the solid-wood top. We selected a large bookmatched set of boards from a lumberyard halfway across the country (thank you Internet!) and had them shipped. Since they were bubinga, we decided to build the rest of the table from bubinga too. Before cutting down to size, the boards for the top were 2 pieces that, each 25-27” wide and more than 15 feet long. Each weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 pounds! The boards were big enough that even after cutting them down for the table top we still have 2 large slabs, one of which will be the top to the matching credenza that I’ll be starting work on soon.

Building the legs, bases, and apron/frame were interesing, but they were nothing nearly as difficult as gluing up the solid top. Although there were only 2 halves to glue up, it was challenging because of the weight and size of the top and my desire to get the bookmatched halves match up as perfectly as possible. It was a real hustle to get all the clamps tightened up during the open time for the glue, but we just made it. After some sanding to level the top, dry assembly was a breeze.

The legs are mortised into the bases and the stretchers on the table frame. The stretchers and short aprons are mortised into the long aprons. The entire apron/frame assembly was then assembled with Titebond III and without any mechanical fasteners. The top is attached to the apron/frame with solid bubinga wooden buttons that we created from scrap generated from the rest of the table.

After sanding to 220, we finished the table with garnet shellac, then sanded back to 600 grit. Final finish was three coats of Target Coatings' Emtech 8000 Pre-Cat Conversion Varnish sprayed with an HVLP conversion gun. After 3 weeks to cure, we final polished with Briwax Antique Mahogany paste wax, which knocked down the gloss finish a bit and adds a bit more depth to the finish.

The key to the successful outcome of this project was about 80% in the planning and design stage, but the biggest single factor was that we started off with spectacular looking materials. One thing that I learned was that if you have great materials, keep the design simple and keep yourself out of the way and the beauty of the lumber will shine through. There are a couple of things I’d change about the milling & assembly process the next time that I tackle a table project this size, but it was a great learning project for a great customer and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

-- Pat Mulry, Dallas, Texas ||

18 comments so far

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4097 days

#1 posted 07-29-2007 04:45 PM

This is a masterpiece. Thanks for sharing.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Hawgnutz's profile


526 posts in 4076 days

#2 posted 07-29-2007 05:02 PM

WOW!! I love Bubinga.
I bet that was a real challenge to get the table top clamped and level. Beautiful table; built to last a lifetime!

God Bless,

-- Saving barnwood from the scrapyards

View pmulry's profile


21 posts in 3970 days

#3 posted 07-29-2007 05:15 PM

“A real challenge” doesn’t even come close :) Thanks for the compliments. I got some great advice from a guy at the local lumberyard that I buy from most of the time that I should pass along. They do a lot of millwork and glueups, and he’s been around the block a time or two. I was going to use titebond for the top glueup but he suggested that I strongly think about poly glue for the top because of the longer open time. I was reluctant at first because I don’t like the foaming of the poly glues, but I followed his advice and am very glad that I did so. I started a 15-minute timer right before I laid down the first bit of glue and used up about 14:50 of the time running around the table fixing the clamps and everything. I’ll try to get a photo in here of what it looked like in clamps.
Bubinga Conference Table in Clamps

-- Pat Mulry, Dallas, Texas ||

View gizmodyne's profile


1779 posts in 4089 days

#4 posted 07-29-2007 05:36 PM

That is just awesome. How much flattening before or after did you have to do? If any, how?

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View Drew1House's profile


425 posts in 4087 days

#5 posted 07-29-2007 05:40 PM

wow… I have always wanted to do a table like this… always been afraid of the wood moving too much and tearing everything apart… Beautiful work…


-- Drew, Pleasant Grove, Utah

View pmulry's profile


21 posts in 3970 days

#6 posted 07-29-2007 07:14 PM

Drew, I did a ton of research on that same topic before starting this table. There’s a lot of material out there about keeping solid wood tabletops flat and accomodating movement. Fine Woodworking alone has published probably a dozen articles on this in the last ten or 20 years. It’s not an impossible task to handle if you aren’t in too much of a rush to get the job done. This isn’t rocket science, after all.

-- Pat Mulry, Dallas, Texas ||

View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 4161 days

#7 posted 07-29-2007 07:25 PM

Wow, a great table Pat. And to think you moved from lawyer to woodworker in a short time. This table came out spectacular.

How hard was it to level the top? I guess you used a hand plane?

-- Bill, Turlock California,

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4160 days

#8 posted 07-29-2007 07:51 PM

yah… it’s a “wow”
the timer is a good idea.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View pmulry's profile


21 posts in 3970 days

#9 posted 07-29-2007 08:40 PM

Oh, sorry, forgot to reply to that part. The lumber for the top as it came from the yard was varied thickness from about 2 3/16” or so down to just about 1 7/8” at its thinnest and we really wanted the top as thick as possible. After rough-cutting the 15’ boards down to about 9’6” or so for the top (I did those cuts primarily with my plunge router and a 1/2” upcut spiral bit from Whiteside, about 10 plunges/cut to keep from burning anything out because the bubinga is so dense and sometimes you can hit a pitch pocket), I took the 4 boards (two 9’ and the two 5’+ remnants) to the local lumberyard/mill where I buy my lumber most of the time. They used their 40” planer/sander to flatten the boards to a consistent 1 3/4”. They also ran the boards through their straight-line rip saw to get the center line as close to jointed as we could get it. There are other methods for “jointing” this size board, but I didn’t want to use up any more of the center and risk blowing the chance to match the grain on either side of the joint.

After I got the boards back to the shop I used a random orbital palm sander to clean up some of the machining marks before glueup, which ended up being a waste of time :) After glueup the joint was only off a bit (I doweled the joint to help on this part) so I sanded and hand planed it flat.

And advice for anyone planning to plane bubinga: use very sharp irons and very very shallow passes. The wood is extremely interlocked—hence its beauty—but hence it will tear out something awful if you’re not very careful. I learned this early in the project and afterward my planes were all set to something less than 1/64”. Which meant more work but it eliminated the tear-out problem.

Oh, one more tip that I learned from this project. The center joint did not line up absolutely perfectly flush even after it was clamped, glued, planed, and sanded. There was about a 3/128” (it was less than a 32nd but more than a 64th) gap right in the middle of the table. The solution for filling it was an epiphany. I mixed together some Japan color, mostly raw sienna but some burnt sienna and a little burnt umber to get a close match to the base wood color. I painted a little of that mixture into the gap, then I added some CA glue to the mixture and painted that on top—fast! Once it dried it was a perfect color match and it sanded back perfectly smooth, filling the gap completely. Ruined the brush, but it was worth it. I used CA glue instead of epoxy because I needed something really thin and epoxy is anything but thin, but for a bigger gap I would have used epoxy.

-- Pat Mulry, Dallas, Texas ||

View Dano's profile


222 posts in 4031 days

#10 posted 07-30-2007 03:42 AM

Stunning! You are correct, the wood says it all. Truly great work!

-- Dan in Central Oklahoma, Able to turn good wood into saw dust in the blink of an eye!

View Karson's profile


35121 posts in 4400 days

#11 posted 07-30-2007 03:53 AM

Great – Great looking table. But if you screwed up you could always buy another couple of pieces of Bubinga. Right.

I hope you didn’t have to deliver it. —Up a flight of stairs.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 3996 days

#12 posted 07-30-2007 08:46 AM

Great table! – Bob Babcock posted a link to this slab of Bubinga at Berkshire Products, Inc. (which you may want to check out!) in his forum topic post:

You may also be interested this topic I posted a couple weeks ago

Thanks for posting your table!!!

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View pmulry's profile


21 posts in 3970 days

#13 posted 07-30-2007 03:18 PM

Wow! That’s one heck of a slab! Fortunately ours wasn’t quite that big. You could build a great table with that as your top (and legs and apron and credenza and bookcase and…) but unfortunately I think you would have to build the building around it!

We got ours from Gilmer Wood in Portland, OR. They were great to deal with and built a crate and shipped it down here to Texas without batting an eye. But seeing this slab makes me want to start another table. Now if only I had a buyer for it. Hmm.

-- Pat Mulry, Dallas, Texas ||

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 4310 days

#14 posted 07-30-2007 03:41 PM

Super table and great information, too. Thanks for posting.

-- Jesus is Lord!

View PanamaJack's profile


4483 posts in 4077 days

#15 posted 07-30-2007 03:45 PM

Fantastic table. Thanks for sharing!

-- Carpe Lignum; Tornare Lignum (Seize the wood, to Turn the wood)

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