Need help sizing boards for coffee table

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Forum topic by Bradb7888 posted 04-26-2017 03:25 AM 619 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Bradb7888's profile


13 posts in 1138 days

04-26-2017 03:25 AM

Topic tags/keywords: walnut planer joiner table

I’m looking for advice for a farm style coffee table and end tables I plan on building. I’m not necessarily new to woodworking, but I’m not too educated on buying good quality lumber. I recently bought a planer and made some butcher blocks and realized I paid way too much for preplaned lumber. I’ve found a sawmill that offers rough cut walnut that’s half the price of what I paid previously, but I don’t know what size boards to get. I know I need around 5 boards, 8-9’ by 6” wide to build my tables and this will give me plenty of excess to shave off when planing and joining. My question is, how thick should I get the boards and is this enough wood to accomplish my goal?

My current coffee table is 45” x 27”, and I will use the scraps to make two matching end tables which are currently 24” x 21”. The new tables don’t have to match exactly in size, and I’m thinking I am buying enough to roughly match the same size I have now with enough extra to plane/join off.

I’m hoping you guys can tell me if I am gauging this correctly and I won’t end up needing more wood, and also, what thickness should I get considering I have to plane them down? I don’t want it to look thin and wimpy.

Since I am sort of new, any advice would be appreciated. The table tops are all I’m interested in, as the sides and legs will be Home Depot whitewood because they will be painted.

Last question, do I need a biscuit jointer or can I just glue them and use pipe clamps like I did with my cutting boards?
Thanks in advance, this forum has always been helpful to me.

6 replies so far

View HerbC's profile


1801 posts in 3469 days

#1 posted 04-26-2017 03:46 AM

Last question first…

No, you don’t need to use biscuits when joining the boards that will make the top of the table(s). Just glue, a good joint with no gaps and clamps. I’d recommend you glue up just two boards at a time to minimize the problems aligning the joints during the glue up. If you don’t already know about them, do a search for information on “cauls” which can be used to help get a well aligned joint.

The amount of lumber to purchase will depend on the design and also on the quality of the lumber. I normally would recommend you purchase 15 – 25 percent more lumber than you calculate you will need. This allows for problems with the lumber that make some of the wood unusable.

Thickness of the lumber really depends on your design (and of course what is available at the sawmill).

Good Luck!

Be Careful!


-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1663 posts in 2340 days

#2 posted 04-26-2017 04:17 AM

Brad, get another board which will give you 6 boards in case you have to trim off extra material. Also, if it turns out to be an extra board, you are ahead on the next project. My calculations tell me that to get the same size top as your current table, you’ll need 5 pieces at 5.40” (7/16) wide x 48” long. What are you planning for an apron?
Use the rest for the other 2 tables.
I have a horizontal borer and 10 gallons of 3/8” dowels I use for all my joinery on tops and such items, but it’s not necessary. I do it cuz I can….... Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View jerryminer's profile


960 posts in 2051 days

#3 posted 04-26-2017 05:42 AM

Good advice above. No need for biscuits unless you them for help with alignment (I don’t use them in a table-top glue-up.)

For thickness, you can generally figure that you will lose about 1/4” from rough to finish milling, so 4/4 will yield about 3/4”, 5/4 will yield about 1”, etc.

-- Jerry, making sawdust professionally since 1976

View LittleShaver's profile


609 posts in 1229 days

#4 posted 04-26-2017 06:13 PM

The world opens up tremendously once you get to milling your own lumber. I’m typically able to get about 7/8” thickness from 4/4 boards from my local supplier. It is amazing how that extra 1/8 thickness changes the look of a finished top from wimpy to beefy.
My supplier lets me pick through the stacks to get exactly to “right” boards. That being said, I always over buy materials. Reason one, you never know how a specific board will react once you start cutting or planning it. Reason two, stuff happens. Reason three, We’re already here and there is still room on the truck for a few extra boards. Besides, how else will I keep my wood rack stocked for those little projects around the house?

-- Sawdust Maker

View JBrow's profile


1368 posts in 1530 days

#5 posted 04-27-2017 12:46 AM


I agree with the foregoing suggestions. Therefore I will only comment regarding your plan to set the table tops on construction grade lumber bases.

Typically construction lumber (softwood) is dried to a moisture content as high as 19%, where moisture content of kiln dried softwoods can range from 10% to 20%. As the construction lumber continues to dry, it can twist, cup, bow, and shrink. The result could be table bases that look nice when brought into the house but in a few short months the tables may rock on the floor and otherwise not look so good. Therefore, if construction lumber is used, allowing it to fully acclimate in the workshop before building the bases could save some aggravation.

Although 8/4 poplar in my area costs about $2.35 per board foot (about 4 times the cost of the Home Depot construction grade lumber, by my reckoning) the kiln dried poplar would offer fewer challenges and be ready to work sooner than kiln dried construction grade lumber. Kiln dried hardwoods are typically dried to a moisture content of 6% to 8%, which is suitable for furniture building.

CHAPTER 13, “Drying and Control of Moisture Content and Dimensional Changes” from the USDA’s Wood Handbook provides more information than most would probably ever want to know about moisture and wood, but it is both informative and authoritative.

Chapter 13…

Wood Handbook (all Chapters)...

View Bradb7888's profile


13 posts in 1138 days

#6 posted 04-27-2017 03:27 AM

Wow, this forum never ceases to impress me. Thank you all for your input and wisdom. I tried googling some of these questions but I get so much more information when I have experienced people guiding me and offering advice on top of answering my questions.
I just got married so I think I’ll use a little bit of the extra wedding cash to get more than I need and get some better wood for the base (..if the spending gets approved!) Thanks again guys.

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