What do you consider an acceptable "flatness" tolerance for a solid wood table top?

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Forum topic by barringerfurniture posted 03-30-2014 05:11 PM 1992 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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223 posts in 1130 days

03-30-2014 05:11 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question table tops planing flat

Are your table tops ever perfectly flat or do you accept a certain level of warpage or cupping in solid wood tops?

If your tops are perfectly flat, how do you achieve that?

Any tips concerning selection of lumber or moisture content in assuring a perfectly flat top?

What about different expectations from planing by hand, versus drum sanding or a power planer?

Thanks as always for any responses.

-- Scott Barringer, Sacramento, CA

7 replies so far

View alohafromberkeley's profile


257 posts in 1822 days

#1 posted 03-30-2014 06:37 PM

Think flatness depended on the situation. When I lived in the Humboldt mountains, any flat board would be fine- as long as what I placed on it would stay upright. Sometimes I had to move the object around to find a place that it wouldn’t tip over. This was de rigueur in all my friends cabins too. This doesn’t answer your questions but it reminded me of my rural living days and gave me a chuckle. Haven’t made a table since then….....Wes

-- "After a year of doing general farmwork, it was quite clear to me that chickens and I were not compatible"-George Nakashima

View Jimbo4's profile


1420 posts in 2181 days

#2 posted 03-30-2014 09:11 PM

Unless it’s made out of “fake” lumber, i.e., MDF, particle board, melamine, etc, it will not be flat, no matter what. All you can do is make it flat as you can during the building stage, because it will move with the climate. Just about 99.9% of woodworkers, and those who purchase hand made wood items, understand this. Those who do not will buy the “fake” stuff, believing the stamped/decal design of perfection on the wood is the real thing.

-- BOVILEXIA: The urge to moo at cows from a moving vehicle.

View Loren's profile


8158 posts in 3066 days

#3 posted 03-30-2014 10:01 PM

Table aprons serve to anchor a top. That’s one way to

In terms of slab type tables where you don’t want to
use an apron, I think you need to let your fingers
and eyes tell you what is flat enough. If you have
some spots of interlocked grain try to identify them
early on and work them with scrapers and fillers if
necessary. Hand planes sharpened for regular smoothing
can really make a mess of interlocked grain. It’s not
just the surface, it’s the mess of deeper tearout you’ll
have to go through or find a way to fill without it
looking like filler.

I’ve messed this up a lot. I’m getting wiser. I dislike
sanding and I like hand planing so I’m often tempted
to push my planes to take on risky surfaces they
aren’t set up for. I have a 55 degree Knight toolworks
smoother but it’s a wooden plane and kind of a pain
to adjust so I usually get myself in trouble before
I get it out.

I have a stroke sander now. Marvelous machine.

View AandCstyle's profile


2535 posts in 1675 days

#4 posted 03-30-2014 11:57 PM

I have never checked a top for flatness. I sand them and check for any defects by applying naphtha and looking at them at an angle with a back light. If no defects show up, I am happy and proceed to the finishing phase. HTH

-- Art

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2535 posts in 1675 days

#5 posted 03-31-2014 12:24 AM


-- Art

View AandCstyle's profile


2535 posts in 1675 days

#6 posted 04-01-2014 12:52 AM

I should have mentioned that naphtha is somewhat nasty so use a respirator when you are using it.

-- Art

View Rick M.'s profile

Rick M.

7681 posts in 1798 days

#7 posted 04-01-2014 03:48 AM

I’ve built 5 tables, all flattened by hand and if you showed them to 10 people I believe all ten would agree they are flat. I didn’t straightedge any of them.


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