Walnut Slab Table Questions

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Forum topic by Marshall posted 11-30-2014 04:48 PM 1404 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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151 posts in 1479 days

11-30-2014 04:48 PM

Topic tags/keywords: walnut slab table

Hi All,

I just picked up a really nice bookmatched crotch walnut slab that I’m going to turn into a kitchen table. I havent worked much with walnut or slabs so I have a few questions:

1. There are a few cracks that I’m planning to use butterflies to stabilize. Should I also fill them with epoxy? If so, any advice? Do most tables use tinted epoxy or just clear? Should I also fill knots to stabilize? They seem pretty stable as is. Note that I don’t want to hide the defects just stabilize.

2. Finish advice? I was planning a few coats of oil (i.e. maloof formula) to pop the grain followed by a couple coats of Arm R Seal for more protection. Then I started reading… Is there a problem using oil over any epoxy fill? I also read somewhere about walnut fading over time under poly? Seems waterlox is popular on walnut. I’ve never used it. Would it give enough protection for a kitchen table that will see abuse?

3. Finally, I’m debating a wood base vs a metal base. I like the simply powder coated steel bases that you see on a lot of these slab tables, but I havent found very many sources for them. Any suggestions? Otherwise, I might just make a wood trestle base and darken it to provide some contrast from the top.

Any other suggestions are appreciated as well.


-- Marshall -

17 replies so far

View LyallAndSons's profile


66 posts in 2021 days

#1 posted 11-30-2014 05:19 PM

A kitchen table will see lots of use and abuse, not to mention spills and heat. We use a two part conversion varnish because it seems to hold up better than single part polys from the box stores.

The thing with butterflies is the slab MUST be dry and stable before you use them. If not, the slab could shrink around the patch and make the cracks worse. We do use epoxy to fill some of the larger checks and stabilize the knots but each slab will be different. Post a pic or two and I’m sure someone can help steer you in the right direction

As far as walnut fading, it will tend to get lighter over time. I’m not sure of any way of preventing that. It will fade from a dark, almost purple hue straight of the planner to a warm chocolate color over time.

-- Lyall & Sons Woodsmiths...Custom handcrafted woodwork since 1989

View Marshall's profile


151 posts in 1479 days

#2 posted 11-30-2014 06:07 PM

Thanks for the reply.

The slab was kiln dried and has been seasoning in a dry basement for about a year. I don’t have a moisture meter, but I think its pretty stable.

Pictures below.

Thanks for the help!

-- Marshall -

View Marshall's profile


151 posts in 1479 days

#3 posted 12-02-2014 11:49 PM

bump :)

-- Marshall -

View FellingStudio's profile


93 posts in 1106 days

#4 posted 12-03-2014 05:08 PM

My 2 cents for ya Marshall …

That looks like a beautiful bookmatch that you have there. Treat it gently and simply from a design perspective for the best results. (What I mean by that statement is that the cuts, layout, butterflies all the decisions here look obvious.) So, without further ado, my not so humble opinion …

- Bookmatch as you have the laid out in the first picture.
- The top (crotch) end stays as is. The only cut you should make is to clean up the edge if necessary.
- The live edges stay as is.
- Small holes and cracks (photo 3 and 4) get filled with black epoxy.

Now for some decisions …

- It looks like you have a bark inclusion on the outside edge of at least one of your pieces. Is that length necessary for the table? Can that defect be fixed by filling with black epoxy? If so, then you need to butterfly that crack. If not, just cut the crack off square with the table.
- How do you want to join the two boards? It would be perfectly reasonable to leave a small crack the whole length of the table and join them with butterflies (and of course, the support structure.) Those boards might be pretty stable, but I would put a batten on the underside just to ensure that you don’t get any cupping. Use the batten even if you end up jointing and glueing the boards together.
- Regarding the support structure, keep it simple. The star of this table is the top. For a metal base, find somebody near you to make it for you. Of course, a simple wood trestle would be the Nakashima way.

Last but not least, I’m hardly an expert on finishing, but I would skip the oil. That crotch figure will stand out as a matter of course with whatever finish you choose, but if you are concerned about making it pop, you can throw a coat or two of shellac on it. Definitely follow with a poly or conversion varnish.

-- Jesse Felling -

View PoohBaah's profile


41 posts in 964 days

#5 posted 12-03-2014 05:30 PM

Marshal, thanks for starting this thread bc I have two bookmatched slabs of black walnut that I plan on doing the same too and have been thinking about the same questions.

I am thinking of a metal base that will have metal battens as cross members that will secure to the slabs.

View Marshall's profile


151 posts in 1479 days

#6 posted 12-03-2014 05:36 PM

Thanks very much for the reply Jesse,
I agree with everything you said regarding the table design.

Bark Inclusion:

I’m assuming the bark inclusion you’re referring to is the left most crack in photo #2? If so, its on both sides. I’m planning to butterfly them as well as the large crack to the right of it. The larger crack is only on the one piece. I do want the length…


I prefer to joint the edge and glue. Any use even trying on my 6” short bed jointer? Or should I use a straight edge and table saw? Other thoughts?

I like the look of the butterflies along the joint, but my concern would be making it look too busy if i put them down the middle in addition to the cracks. I’ll cut some out and see how they look.

Definitely will use a batten in addition to the base.

The Base:

I started looking at Nakashima designs last night. That might be the way to go. I really like this design (from a FWW post):

My only concern is that my table will be only about 56” long. Will the base look too heavy with a short table like that? Also, my wife really wants this to be a counter height table, will it make it look awkward if i stretch the height of this base?

Thanks again! Cant wait to get started.

-- Marshall -

View bigblockyeti's profile


3587 posts in 1144 days

#7 posted 12-03-2014 05:46 PM

I would use butterflies as mentioned. I would also use epoxy to seal and stabilize the cracks, knots and bark inclusions (you don’t want food rotting inside your table). The epoxy can be tinted a darker contrasting color with ink or mixed with sawdust to make a more fluid look and somewhat hide the character of the wood without making it completely disappear. As for the finish, the oil then poly idea sounds pretty durable, but the furniture I make will likely never see the abuse that a kitchen table can.

View DrDirt's profile


4143 posts in 3166 days

#8 posted 12-03-2014 06:51 PM

For the “clunky look” issue.

I think the solution will be to build a 1/4 scale model from walnut scraps.

e.g. your 36 inch high table would be 9 inches.
Just glue it together with hot-melt glue then stand back and look at it from all sides. You can simulate the cracks and inclusions with a fine sharpie to make shadow lines etc.

-- 'Political correctness is fascism pretending to be manners' ~George Carlin

View Marshall's profile


151 posts in 1479 days

#9 posted 12-03-2014 07:06 PM

For the “clunky look” issue.

I think the solution will be to build a 1/4 scale model from walnut scraps.

e.g. your 36 inch high table would be 9 inches.
Just glue it together with hot-melt glue then stand back and look at it from all sides. You can simulate the cracks and inclusions with a fine sharpie to make shadow lines etc.

- DrDirt

Good Idea. I’ll give that a shot.

-- Marshall -

View Marshall's profile


151 posts in 1479 days

#10 posted 12-03-2014 08:44 PM

Hey guys, I put together a quick sketchup model. What do you think of the proportions of this?
Planning on all the stock for the base being 1.75” thick.

-- Marshall -

View bannerpond1's profile


397 posts in 1322 days

#11 posted 12-03-2014 09:56 PM

I don’t think the 26.5 inches is enough length. If someone puts his elbows on the table, it looks as though he might tip it toward him. Just my opinion.

-- --Dale Page

View bobro's profile


308 posts in 734 days

#12 posted 12-03-2014 10:12 PM

27 and 13/16ths would be the golden cut of 45”, wider and usually a safe bet as far as visual proportion.

-- Lao Ma: You are so full of anger and hatred. Xena: Everybody's gotta be full of something.

View Marshall's profile


151 posts in 1479 days

#13 posted 12-04-2014 02:55 AM

Thanks for the suggestion… Updated model using 28” for the bottom based on golden ratio… do you think this is enough or should it be longer for stability?

-- Marshall -

View Manitario's profile


2393 posts in 2307 days

#14 posted 12-04-2014 04:39 AM

I did a large elm slab kitchen table about a year ago; I chose to fill the cracks with epoxy, not for structural reasons (ie. the wood and cracks will move whether they are fill with epoxy or not…) but b/c as a kitchen table I didn’t want to be faced with having to clean crumbs/spills etc out of the cracks.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View JKMDETAIL's profile


164 posts in 1079 days

#15 posted 01-20-2015 06:40 PM

Love the slabs. I am about to cut some red oak slabs from a fallen tree. It is 54” at the base. Plan on making 3 tables and selling the rest. This is some great information.

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