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Wood to build a dining table

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Greeny12m

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Hi All,

I'm planning to build a dining table and would like your input about the wood choice.
I've found a tree surgeon who has some lovely looking black walnut that was felled ~18 months ago and has been in his yard since then, he has recently milled it into ~9cm thick slabs.

I think that a slab table would be a bit heavy for the room so am considering turning it into planks and making a nice straight edged table. I am thinking about asking him to halve the thickness (to about 4cm to lighten the feel of the table but am worried that the wood would warp and split once we started using it.

What are best practices for this situation? Would it be just to glue the planks together and attach the legs? or should cross bracing be screwed to the underside to prevent warpage?

Any help/advice would be gratefully appreciated
 

MikeG.

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Blimey, that's a risky and unusual approach for a table. I wouldn't countenance it myself.

Timber should be seasoned "slabbed" or "planked" (ie cut into boards and stacked for at least a year for each inch of thickeness). Leaving it as a butt and then cutting into it, and then cutting those boards again, is in my view a really risky way of proceeding. I wouldn't even contemplate making a dining table from such timber until it had seasoned at approximately the final thickness for the requisite number of years. It's way, way too early to start talking about the details of the table construction. My best guess is that you'll end up making coffee tables etc from this wood.

ETA........Just noticed your join date. Welcome to the forum!
 

Greeny12m

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Thanks for the advice and the warm welcome.

So seasoning only starts once the timber is at it's final thickness (not when it is felled) - this is what I was unsure of.
I think I would like to buy the wood now and then keep it in the shed for a couple of years. That should give me time to potentially buy some cheaper wood and experiment with designs and techniques.
Would you say it is a good idea to ask for the slab to be cut down the middle or should I look for another source for the wood? He does have other bits of the same tree that are yet to be milled so this might be a better way to go.
Lastly, if I were to take the slab and season it myself is it imperative that it is flat or can it be stored on its edge?
 

MikeG.

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Greeny12m":3cznzb1l said:
So seasoning only starts once the timber is at it's final thickness (not when it is felled) - this is what I was unsure of.
No, it's even worse than that. Seasoning starts (immediately) from the outside and works in, so the ends of the log (unless they were properly sealed at the time of felling), and the outside of the log, will have started to dry out. In slicing it up initially to 90mm thickness there will be parts of each slab that are dry, and parts that are soaking wet. That will mean differential drying, and that will mean all sorts of movement and splitting.

I think I would like to buy the wood now and then keep it in the shed for a couple of years. That should give me time to potentially buy some cheaper wood and experiment with designs and techniques.
That's a gamble, but if the tree is cheap enough, it might be worth taking. Don't "experiment with techniques", though. Woodworkers throughout the centuries have done this for you. There are established ways of making a table which work, so you should be learning, not experimenting.

Would you say it is a good idea to ask for the slab to be cut down the middle or should I look for another source for the wood?
As I say, it depends on the price.

If you do gamble, there is no point having it at 90mm thick if you aren't going to be making something say 75mm thick with it in the end. It will shrink as it seasons, and then there will be wastage as you flatten and finish the boards. Most furniture is made of timber between 20 and 50mm thick, so mill it to finish with roughly those dimensions.

He does have other bits of the same tree that are yet to be milled so this might be a better way to go.
Same problem.

Lastly, if I were to take the slab and season it myself is it imperative that it is flat or can it be stored on its edge?
It must be flat. The weight of the rest of the boards helps holds the boards flat as they dry, resisting the tendency to cup or twist. If you put them on their sides you'll get bananas, propellers, and gutters.
 

NickM

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There's something inherently attractive in the idea of making stuff with really local wood, so I can see why you want to do this.

I've had similar thoughts/daydreams myself (e.g. I keep meaning to tell the local farmer - who's a friend - to let me know if he takes any trees down so I can buy some logs off him if they're worthwhile) but even a little research shows it's a very complex subject, and you also need a way to cut the slabs (I've had a look at some chainsaw jigs but I think I'd also need a longer bar on my saw).

It would be awesome to get some wood stacked and drying for the future, safe in the knowledge that if it all goes wrong I can enjoy its warmth in the fireplace!

The nearest I've got was giving my dad some cherry from a tree we had to take down in our garden. He turned a nice bowl for us which is a lovely thing to have.

I really hope you can pull this off somehow!
 

thetyreman

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in terms of design, breadboard ends is what I'd do on it, but as mike has pointed out well seasoned wood is important.
 

dzj

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Greeny12m":3lvoel4l said:
Hi All,

I'm planning to build a dining table and would like your input about the wood choice.
I've found a tree surgeon who has some lovely looking black walnut that was felled ~18 months ago and has been in his yard since then, he has recently milled it into ~9cm thick slabs.
Who knows, it might work out for a slab table, but ~18 months is a bit too long for a log to be lying around waiting to be milled.
 

Chris152

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Greeny12m":1khnurjv said:
I've found a tree surgeon who has some lovely looking black walnut that was felled ~18 months ago and has been in his yard since then, he has recently milled it into ~9cm thick slabs.
How recently was it milled? If very recently, could it be worth trying to reduce the boards again to about 40mm, stacking and weighing down to limit movement as normal? No idea about black walnut, but this fella has some results milling years old logs:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yujbs4HfCqw
(not so much the maple he starts with, but other species). Whatever, it's an enjoyable video - and that's a cracking bandsaw he's built.
 

woodbloke66

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MikeG.":3dzjyng9 said:
Blimey, that's a risky and unusual approach for a table. I wouldn't countenance it myself.

Timber should be seasoned "slabbed" or "planked" (ie cut into boards and stacked for at least a year for each inch of thickeness). Leaving it as a butt and then cutting into it, and then cutting those boards again, is in my view a really risky way of proceeding. I wouldn't even contemplate making a dining table from such timber until it had seasoned at approximately the final thickness for the requisite number of years. It's way, way too early to start talking about the details of the table construction. My best guess is that you'll end up making coffee tables etc from this wood.

ETA........Just noticed your join date. Welcome to the forum!
Wot Mike said - Rob
 

Chris152

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woodbloke66":uc06dgct said:
MikeG.":uc06dgct said:
Blimey, that's a risky and unusual approach for a table. I wouldn't countenance it myself.

Timber should be seasoned "slabbed" or "planked" (ie cut into boards and stacked for at least a year for each inch of thickeness). Leaving it as a butt and then cutting into it, and then cutting those boards again, is in my view a really risky way of proceeding. I wouldn't even contemplate making a dining table from such timber until it had seasoned at approximately the final thickness for the requisite number of years. It's way, way too early to start talking about the details of the table construction. My best guess is that you'll end up making coffee tables etc from this wood.

ETA........Just noticed your join date. Welcome to the forum!
Wot Mike said - Rob
Not trying to pick an argument with people who clearly know more than me, and clearly what Mike describes is the normal scenario - but that's not where Greeny is starting from. I read this in FineWoodworking:

Unlike red oak, black walnut trees that are dead on the stump may remain in near perfect condition for years and often gain a rich reddish-brown color. A friend of mine who built a house on his family’s farm in Maryland told me about a walnut tree that he sawed for paneling in his den. It had been standing dead in the middle of a field for at least 10 years before finally falling over. His father dragged it to the edge of the woods with a tractor and left it in the shade where it lay for another 15 years before being sawed into boards. The bark and sapwood had completely rotted away, but the heartwood was as good as the day the tree had fallen.
https://www.finewoodworking.com/1997/07 ... -to-lumber

But if all else fails, I reckon 90mm black walnut would look fine turned into bowls. :)
 

custard

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phil.p":28kkgra0 said:
I wonder if it's black walnut or English. How likely is it to be black?
It's not particularly likely, but it's certainly possible. There are a few Back Walnuts planted in the UK as ornamental trees, and I've heard that in France Black Walnut has been grown commercially although only on a small scale.
 

Hornbeam

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As Mike said if you cut it down the middle it is very likely to warp.
If its cheap you might be able to cut a 15 to 20mm slice off each side so the central portion is treated the same on both sides.
The thin portions will almost certainly warp but then you could do everything to limit this and then use them in short lengths for small projects
Dont forget that you will also require some thicker sections for legs
No guarantees and still risky but if its cheap enough
 

custard

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I've made getting on for a hundred tables and desks from slabs.
Bubinga-Desk.jpg


Leadwood-Desk-001.jpg


It sounds like a straightforward route to a unique and fashionable piece of furniture. But if you're a beginner or you're working on your own then there are a lot of potential snags you need to be aware of.

The weight of a large slab will make it unrealistic for most people, most temperate zone hardwoods come in at about 50 lbs per cubic foot. A typical table top, say 3' wide, 8', long and 1 1/4" thick is 2.5 cubic foot, so 125lbs. Just about manageable by a guy in his shed. But make that a 3" thick slab and it's 300lbs, which is totally impractical.

Then how do you dimension something this size when it's far too wide for any machinery that you're likely to have access too? You could set up a router levelling jig, but that's a fair investment in time and materials. Generally I surface them with a hand plane, and I can assure you it's a very bracing work-out! If you're not used to hand planing it's probably too big of a challenge.

If a big piece of timber like that starts to move or warp there's very little you can do to stop it, so you have to be confident it's fully dry before you start work. That means you need a really trustworthy supplier or somewhere you can store your slabs for several years.

Furthermore, decent slabs are becoming very expensive. With so much competition a lot of real rubbish is being offered for sale, make sure you're not the mug that ends up buying the slab that all the professionals have rejected.
 

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Greeny12m

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phil.p":3tmub6md said:
I wonder if it's black walnut or English. How likely is it to be black?
- I only have his word for this but it did look fairly dark and he said that he had only every seen one other tree like it in his 18 yrs as a tree surgeon (somthing I guess you would say if you wanted to sell the wood).

MikeG.":3tmub6md said:
As I say, it depends on the price.
£250 for the slab. Given what I've learned here I think I would be better off finding a reputable lumber merchant where I can buy some decent planks that are already seasoned (suggestions of merchants and wood type welcomed). I do not have the space to store it flat with enough weight to stop any warping so that is not really an option.

Thanks again for all the help. I'll be sure to come back when I next have a question! (homer)
 

custard

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Greeny12m":2779cjxx said:
I think I would be better off finding a reputable lumber merchant where I can buy some decent planks that are already seasoned (suggestions of merchants and wood type welcomed).
Given your location you've got some great options.

Surrey Timbers near Guildford

Moss & Co in Perivale, West London

Tylers near Newbury

English Woodland Timbers near Midhurst in Sussex.

Surrey Timbers and English Woodlands both have a wide bodied thicknesses and will machine slabs flat.
 
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