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Slab Table

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Project by gnachman posted 10-03-2012 01:22 PM 1750 views 7 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch

In September of 2010, I bought a walnut slab from a local place, thinking I would have a large but manageable project. It was my first time doing anything with really wide boards, much less slabs. The slab weighed in around 250lb and was 102” long (image #2). I got the bark off and cut it to size and then realized that the ShopBot was too small to surface it.

This was a problem.

I sent an email to the mailing list of woodworkers at my office asking if anyone had an idea. Soon, I got a response from a guy who owns a sawmill. He let me use his amazing Lucas mill to surface my piece. You can see it in the fourth pic (it’s hard to see my slab, which is set on top of his half-a-log working surface). The Lucas mill is an amazing thing. It’s two long rails that you can raise and lower with cranks. On that rides a carriage with a gasoline engine. The engine drives a ring of carbide blades. You can pass the blades over the surface and take off something like 1/8” per pass. This worked great—I got the back side surfaced and flipped it over to do the front. Then the engine backfired and wouldn’t start again.

This was a problem.

Eventually, I found a shop with a large enough wide-belt sander and that finally got the thing surfaced. I used an Epilog laser to make templates for routing the butterflies and mortises for the butterflies. They go almost the whole thickness of the slab—just under 2”. There was a ton of insect damage, which I filled with epoxy. It left really interesting patterns around the edges; the insect damage is actually my favorite part of the table now.

For finishing, I used Target HSF5100 grain filler. I learned the hard way to seal the surface with shellac before using a WB grain filler, because the first time it dissolved some of the wood pigmentation and made it look blotchy. After (many) more tries I got the grain totally filled and sanded completely flat. Patience and a deft touch are the only way to do this that I’ve found. Next, I brushed on polyurethane, and every piece of dust and every bug in the world took up residence in the drying finish.

This was a problem.

So I built a clean room in my garage (picture 3). This was fun because I got to use a framing nailer. Everyone should run out and use one. It makes you feel very powerful (as long as you mange not to kill yourself with it). With the clean room in place, I could brush on my poly without getting too much crap in it—but still some. The problem was getting the brush marks out without sanding all the way through the finish, while getting it to a mirror finish. I just kept sanding through. Finally, I changed to using an airless paint sprayer to apply water-based poly. It put on a just-thick-enough coat that was perfectly flat. I sanded it using acrylic steel wool on a random orbit sander (yes, really!). This worked BRILLIANTLY! I got a finish just shy of mirror but there are no visible sanding lines. The synthetic steel wool doesn’t clog up like sandpaper, either. This is the only way I’ll ever rub out a finish from now on.

Finally, I routed out mortises on the bottom of the table to accept the legs. I had 1/4” stainless brackets made by Short Run Pro. I drove threaded inserts into the legs and attached the brackets to the tabletop with lag screws.

It came out looking good and is our new kitchen table. It seats six with dimensions of 85” by 32-36”. It took two friggin’ years to get this thing done and I can hardly believe it’s over.





13 comments so far

View joewilliams's profile

joewilliams

88 posts in 776 days


#1 posted 10-03-2012 01:32 PM

What a cool project….that’s a serious mill!

-- Joe - - - something witty should go here - - -

View robert triplett's profile

robert triplett

1481 posts in 1756 days


#2 posted 10-03-2012 01:54 PM

Great looking project. It also looks like a once in a lifetime project. Sounds like it was for you too.

-- Robert, so much inspiration here, and so little time!

View Doss's profile

Doss

779 posts in 916 days


#3 posted 10-03-2012 02:49 PM

That Lucas is pretty slick. If you do this again, build a router sled flattening jig to get the surface flat. It is similar in design to the Lucas but I put a 2” cleaning bit on my router and pass it side to side over the slab. You’ll have to finish with an RO sander, but it’s still do-able at home or in a small shop.

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View IsaacH's profile

IsaacH

128 posts in 748 days


#4 posted 10-03-2012 03:59 PM

Ive been wanting to do something like this for years.

Seriously jealous!!

-- Isaac- Decatur, GA - "Your woodworking....NOT machining parts for NASA!!!"

View OregonWoodRat's profile

OregonWoodRat

115 posts in 939 days


#5 posted 10-03-2012 04:30 PM

That is great. thank you for sharing. I have a bunch of lumber I cut and it is good to learn how others flatten large pieces of wood.

-- Peter, A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.

View FrankLad's profile

FrankLad

270 posts in 1961 days


#6 posted 10-03-2012 08:50 PM

Wow! Very nice table, sir!

-- Frank, Mississippi, Handcrafted wooden rings - http://www.bentwoodrings.com

View nwbusa's profile

nwbusa

1017 posts in 938 days


#7 posted 10-03-2012 09:29 PM

Incredibly well done, that is an heirloom piece for sure.

-- John, BC, Canada

View Kevin's profile

Kevin

539 posts in 951 days


#8 posted 10-04-2012 01:24 AM

Lots of work, great job. I’m also a little jealous, in part because it is such an amazing table that you built and in part because of getting the chance to use the lucus mill.

-- Measure twice, cut once, then rout a whole bunch

View AMF64's profile

AMF64

6 posts in 728 days


#9 posted 10-04-2012 02:26 AM

Sweet !

View woodchic's profile

woodchic

831 posts in 2009 days


#10 posted 10-04-2012 04:10 AM

Very Nice!!

AKA…........Woodchic

-- Robin Renee'

View StephenSchaad's profile

StephenSchaad

201 posts in 830 days


#11 posted 10-04-2012 04:24 AM

Two years and it’s not even worth it…. JUST KIDDING.. haha

That’s incredible.. I never thought about how much work it must be to surface those huge slabs like that. Great work…

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth taking your time to do it right!

View HalDougherty's profile

HalDougherty

1820 posts in 1889 days


#12 posted 10-04-2012 01:57 PM

You’ve have created a fantastic dinner table for your home. I love slab tables and benches and I’ve got several in progress myself. I need to get with the program and finish some of them! Thanks for the inspiration.

-- Hal, Tennessee http://www.first285.com

View HorizontalMike's profile

HorizontalMike

6938 posts in 1565 days


#13 posted 12-03-2012 01:54 PM

Wow! It is hard for me to imagine how hard it has to be to work something this massive. What a great lifetime piece!

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

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