Combing Red Oak Boards to Make a Counter Top

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Forum topic by phil178821 posted 01-02-2019 07:00 PM 1108 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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6 posts in 791 days

01-02-2019 07:00 PM

Hi, Everyone. I am completely new to any wood working, so please forgive me if this is the wrong forum, wrong board or if I use the wrong terminology!

I just finished re-purposing a custom bookcase from a home-office into a built-in for my family room. My last task is to create a counter top, which I plan to do by joining two boards of red-oak together (couldn’t reach target depth with just one board).

All dimensions I am giving will be approximate since I do not have them in front of me. I have two boards of red oak, both ~13’ long. One board is 12” deep, while the other is 3” deep. Both boards are 1/2” thick.

I plan to trim them down in length to ~12’ and join them together length wise to create a ~15” deep counter top. To do this, I have three 4’x3’ sheets of plywood to work as my base. I will place the plywood together, end to end, to create the 12” length I need. I will then glue the 3” deep board down onto the sheets of plywood. Then, after drying, I am going to clamp and glue down the second, 12” deep board on the plywood and wedged up against the 3” deep piece. This will result in a ~12’ long by 15” deep counter-top with plywood underneath acting as a support. I drew a schematic (not to scale) that probably isn’t all the helpful. In it, black boxes are sheets of plywood, while red boxes are the red oak. All joints will be clamped together tightly and glued with wood glue.

My questions:

1) the wood all has pretty clean cuts on the edges, as this came from a quality lumber yard. Is it still worth sending these board through the table saw? I would prefer to avoid feeding a 12 ft board down a table saw.

2) is gluing and clamping enough to keep these boards down and together? I was just planning on staining after all is dry. Or is it worth spending the money on a biscuit joiner?

3) is manual or palm sanding enough to give me a smooth finish between the boards?

Thanks for the help.

19 replies so far

View LittleShaver's profile


727 posts in 1631 days

#1 posted 01-02-2019 07:34 PM

Couple of things to consider.
The plywood doesn’t move with changes in humidity, but the solid wood will. I see problems face gluing the pieces together.
Don’t cut your boards to finished length until the glue up is done. Trying to get the ends perfectly aligned is an exercise in futility and frustration.
Glue and clamps are more than adequate IF the joint is tight. Any gaps you see during dry fit up should be close-able with moderate clamping pressure. Some gap in the middle of the joint is actually beneficial as squeezing the center closed tightens the ends.
I don’t own a biscuit joiner, but clamps and cauls keep joints aligned so your ROS can clean it up after its cured. I actually prefer a card scraper over a corded dust generator.

-- Sawdust Maker

View shampeon's profile


2167 posts in 3195 days

#2 posted 01-02-2019 07:49 PM

Oh man, this is a disaster waiting to happen. Let me break down the issues you’re going to face:

  • 12’ long, 1/2” thick red oak boards glued to plywood is not going to work. The oak will move as the humidity rises and falls, while the plywood will not move much at all.
  • Jointing two 12’ long, 1/2” thick boards together without a jointer will be difficult. Gluing the thinner board to the plywood first then butting the wider board against it is madness because…
  • Just because you got the wood from a good hardwood dealer doesn’t mean the boards are square and without bows or twists. Very long and thin boards are especially prone to moving out of square.
  • Getting the red oak uniformly flat will be difficult. Getting the plywood to sit flat won’t be easy either. What are you planning on assembling this on? And unevenness on the work surface is going to be transmitted to the counter.
  • In your schematic, it looks like the plywood base doesn’t cover the footprint of the red oak top? Like, there will be large sections that will overhang? That won’t work well with such a thin counter top.

A solid wood countertop needs to be much thicker than what you’re trying to do here. You could trim out a high quality plywood top with the red oak and have a lot better chance of succeeding. Look up “torsion boxes”.

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

View bondogaposis's profile


5953 posts in 3363 days

#3 posted 01-02-2019 07:58 PM

Your plan is ill-conceived and a total disaster. You can’t glue solid wood to plywood, wood moves with changes in humidity, plywood does not, it will warp, cup, split and pop off the plywood eventually. You need a better plan. Solid wood will work, 3/4” or greater thickness is needed. If it was mine I’d use 1” or 1 1/4”.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View phil178821's profile


6 posts in 791 days

#4 posted 01-02-2019 07:59 PM

Among the many, the plywood vs oak expansion/contraction was a pretty major oversight on my part.

The red oak overhang is 2-3” on front, left and right side. No overhang on the back.

Based on some of the feedback, it looks like this may be beyond my skillset. Question is what to do with this lumber now. Go for it and see how long this thing lasts/how it looks, hand the wood of to a pro, or just have a pro install a top.

View phil178821's profile


6 posts in 791 days

#5 posted 01-03-2019 03:28 PM

I did make a mistake in my earlier posts; the red oak boards I have are 3/4” thick (actual). I originally was putting the 1/2” plywood down because the unfinished top of the built in has a 1/2” inset, and the plywood was there to fill it. I thought gluing the red-oak down to the plywood would help keep them down and the joint tight (an obvious mistake I see now).

Is there a way you would recommend joining these boards and fastening them down to the top or should I still scrap this plan entirely? As much as I would love for it to, I understand this thing won’t look like a million bucks, however, I really don’t want to proceed if its doomed entirely and will look like junk.

View Aj2's profile


3682 posts in 2810 days

#6 posted 01-03-2019 03:44 PM

Why not give it a go Phil it’s not that wide so maybe with that and beginners luck your project will do fine.

Something to learn from every project right or wrong

-- Aj

View Robert's profile


4450 posts in 2493 days

#7 posted 01-03-2019 03:57 PM

The only way to join the boards it glue them together. This required “jointing” the edges, which is done on either a jointer or with a hand plane.

The top can be fastened to the plywood using using slotted holes.

That said, if you don’t have the tools to properly joint or clamp the boards, your best bet is to buy a piece of oak plywood and edge band it.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View rcs47's profile (online now)


225 posts in 4141 days

#8 posted 01-03-2019 04:30 PM

Since your boards are 3/4”, why do you need the ply?

Lay the two boards side by side like you want to glue them up and put a clamp on them. How does the joint look? Do you see see it? Are there any splinters off an edge? If there are, turn a board and check again until you’ve determined you cannot pull the joint tight or there is square edges.

If you have a bad edge, you can run it through the table saw or if the boards sight straight, use a router?

If you have square edges and you can pull the joint tight, then you can glue it up without any ply. Now you to make cauls (I use blue painters tape to stop them from sticking to the glue). You could get buy with a few sets and move them down as you tighten clamps:

- glue pieces together/finger tighten clamps
- set clamp on end joints
- starting on one end put on cauls
- as you tighten the joint clamps past cauls you should be able to remove a caul and move it down. You will need more than two sets. Check the joints where you moved a caul to make sure it didn’t change.

For a point of reference – I have 8 sets and the longest I’ve made is 6’

You don’t need the ply.

Good luck

-- Doug - As my Dad taught me, you're not a cabinet maker until you can hide your mistakes.

View jerkylips's profile


495 posts in 3582 days

#9 posted 01-03-2019 05:08 PM

The only way to join the boards it glue them together. This required “jointing” the edges, which is done on either a jointer or with a hand plane.

The top can be fastened to the plywood using using slotted holes.

That said, if you don t have the tools to properly joint or clamp the boards, your best bet is to buy a piece of oak plywood and edge band it.

- rwe2156

I think this would be a good solution. Slotted holes in the plywood underlayment would allow for wood movement. Edge glue the two pieces of oak to each other, but NOT to the plywood. Screw it through the slots from the bottom. You could also rip sections of red oak to go under the overhang section and glue those, to give the appearance of a thicker board.

To the OP, just wanted to say – it seems like a couple of the earlier replies were a bit harsh with the “disaster written all over it” comments, etc. I’ve been a member here for years & one thing I love is that it’s supportive, civil not all of the crap you see online. So hopefully those people read my comment too & take it down a notch..

View Snipes's profile


459 posts in 3257 days

#10 posted 01-03-2019 05:16 PM

I agree with doug, you do not need the plywood.

-- if it is to be it is up to me

View jerkylips's profile


495 posts in 3582 days

#11 posted 01-03-2019 05:27 PM

I agree with doug, you do not need the plywood.

- Snipes

a 12 foot span with no underlayment would probably require some additional support/bracing, don’t you think? It could be another way to go, but I would think you’d want to make sure it’s fully supported.

View phil178821's profile


6 posts in 791 days

#12 posted 01-03-2019 05:54 PM

Thanks for the feedback. As for the earlier posts; its no worry, I was ready for some some flack being a novice ;-).

The top of the built-in has a raised boarder so the plywood is there to fill in and create a flat surface for the finished top to sit on. I also planned to have it give support to the joined oak, but I have since seen that light that that is a bad idea.

Based on feedback, I think I am going to take a crack at this (probably won’t be for another week or so). I am sure it won’t be the highest quality workmanship but in the least, it should be a great learning experience.

I have been able to get a pretty clean line just pushing the two boards up against each-other so I probably won’t run it through the table-saw. So Step wise:

1) glue and clamp oak boards together along their long edge.
2) Put slotted holes in the ply and fasten them onto the underside of the joined oak. Probably would be good to leave small gaps between each ply sheet to allow for oak movement?
3) With ply attached so that it sits nicely down into the inset edges of the builtin, I can just screw up from the underside of the built in to grab and hold the ply tightly. This should allow for easy removal if this thing turns to crap once the humid summer comes.
4) I did get some extra oak to thicken the edge but that I will play be ear.
5) finishing the surface… lets not even go their yet.

Let me know if this plan sounds crazy: I think its incorporating the advice given.

Some final questions;
-How much give should I have in the slots? The boards are red oak and if it matters, I am in southern New England where summers can be humid and winters can be dry. This might be extremely stupid but are these true slots or is a pilot hole marginally larger than the screw thread enough?
-How frequent should I be putting the slots?

View Snipes's profile


459 posts in 3257 days

#13 posted 01-03-2019 08:36 PM

jerky; i guess when he said countertop i guessed he would be setting this on some type of cabinets..?
-for slotted holes on this I would use 3/8” pilot from top and come down half way and 3/16(depending on screw from bottom).
-when I do something like this on 24” base I screw down 3 rows of 1×4 to cabinets
-then I pre drill wherever I want to fasten
-enlarge holes from top (bigger the top bigger hole)
-set my top on and fasten. if I have backsplash i fasten front solid and allow back to move under back splash/if not I do vice versa
-also I would thicken edge as jerky recommended.. if you don’t you have to hide 1xs or plywood

-- if it is to be it is up to me

View phil178821's profile


6 posts in 791 days

#14 posted 05-23-2019 08:12 PM

I figured its worth circling back to this thread. I finally had some time (and cooperating weather) to tackle the counter top last weekend.

As simple as it is, it was still pretty daunting being my first woodworking project. It definitely isn’t perfect, but I am pretty happy with how it turned out. I do kind of wish I didn’t choose a 13’ project as my first…

So here is a run down of my approach; feel free to tell me if something was stupid or if there is a better way (I don’t have access to a planar or jointer).

To square up the edges, I fed my 3” wide plank through a table saw and then used it as a guide to square the edge of the 12” wide plank with a circular saw. I was too afraid to feed the larger plank through the table saw. This may not have been the best approach but it seemed to work.

When it came to gluing, looking back, I should have had a helper with me. The glue seemed to set much quicker than I was expecting, leading to a couple of spots setting with one board slightly higher than the other before I got cauls in place. I probably had more time than I thought but was a little anxious to loosen clamps and adjust. This ended up sanding down nicely, but definitely a good learning moment for the next project.

I learned I am pretty awful at sanding. I worked from 80, 100, 120 to 180. I didn’t look carefully enough and found some left over scratches from my lower grit passes. With the lighting in the room and the positioning of the counter-top, I don’t think they will be noticeable so I am tempted to just leave them for now since I already stained it.

For the underside, I screwed the plywood into the bottom of the wood top with flat top wood screws. Three screws were placed across the depth of the board about every foot along the 12’ length of the board. Maybe too many screws? The plywood was slotted to give about a 1/8” of an inch of travel for the screws (hopefully this is enough… I am in New England where humidity does range greatly across the year). I might go back this weekend and expand the slots perpendicular to the grain using a router.

Here are some pictures and a final summary… For this project, I took a custom built-in bookshelf from a homeoffice. Trimmed it down and built a frame to raise it. I painted it, added a wainscot inlay, and finished it with a red oak top. The top still needs the polycoat; I am trying to decide if I want to sand out those scratches and restain before the poly.

Thanks to everyone for the feed back. I definitely welcome more if you notice any flaws in my approach above and certainly will take recommendations so the next project goes better!

View bilyo's profile


1307 posts in 2115 days

#15 posted 05-23-2019 10:38 PM

That looks nice. Good job. My only comment would be regarding the screws. Yes. You probably have about twice as many as you need. However, no harm done. The idea of the slotted holes is to allow the red oak to expand and contract. This means that the screws need to be able to slide in the holes as they move with the wood. If you used flat head screws, the conical underside of the heads have likely countersunk themselves into the plywood as you torqued them down. This is not good as it defeats the purpose of the slotted holes. Replace the screws with round headed ones. These have a flat underside. Then use flat washers to distribute the pressure (or, you can just use flat washers under the flat head screws). Then, tighten them to be just snug. Don’t over tighten. Again, you want them to slide. If your holes allow about 1/8” of movement each way, you are good. The total amount of expansion/contraction for the 12” width of the top will likely not be more than that.
Thanks for the follow-up and photos.

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