Oak tabletop - solid lumber or plywood?

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Blog entry by Tom O'Brien posted 01-22-2009 10:07 PM 35265 reads 0 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My daughter and I are building a table for her breakfast room. We would like to build the round oak table that’s featured in a recent American Woodworker magazine. But that one’s made with a lot of solid oak, requiring major amounts of rough-lumber processing.

I would like to make the 46 inch diameter top from 3/4 inch oak plywood, because (1) it will be more stable than built-up solid wood, (2) I can make leaves with matching grain, and (3) total building time will be less (we have 8 evenings to get this done at the local high school woodshop).

The apron of this tabletop is laminated from thin slices of oak, bent to a radius of 20 inches or so. I don’t think that part will be a problem (though it will be a challenge).

Here’s the sticky part (no pun intended):

If I make the top from plywood, I have to come up with some kind of edge treatment.

Ideas so far:

add a one-inch band of oak, bent and laminated just as the apron is (this seems scary to me).

Build up the edge with segments of oak, doweled together at ends, cut to radius (very complex, lots of miters)

-- Every project is a learning opportunity, every error a design opportunity

20 comments so far

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 5769 days

#1 posted 01-22-2009 10:10 PM

I kinda like the solid oak idea….

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5554 days

#2 posted 01-22-2009 10:12 PM

I’m with Dennis.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Darell's profile


448 posts in 5049 days

#3 posted 01-22-2009 10:33 PM

I agree. Go solid oak. The veneer is so thin on plywood these days that you’ll sand through it in no time, particularly around the edges if you’re not very careful. Happened to me yesterday on a shelf I’m making. I went clean through the veneer in the middle of the shelf after just 4 passes with a 120 grit disk on my random orbital sander. Not even applying pressure.

-- Darell, Norman, Ok.

View mmh's profile


3701 posts in 5177 days

#4 posted 01-22-2009 10:50 PM

Solid wood is my preferrence. Plywood is good for cabinet sides that won’t show. The solid wood table will be worthy of keeping for many generations.

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View jim1953's profile


2744 posts in 5296 days

#5 posted 01-22-2009 10:52 PM

I Like Solid Oak The Best

-- Jim, Kentucky

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 5417 days

#6 posted 01-22-2009 11:56 PM


-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View pommy's profile


1697 posts in 5146 days

#7 posted 01-23-2009 12:03 AM

well i think you have your answer friend i’m with everyone else


-- cut it saw it scrap it SKPE: ANDREW.CARTER69

View bayouman's profile


94 posts in 5120 days

#8 posted 01-23-2009 12:04 AM

Gotta go with others – solid oak.

View Randy Sharp's profile

Randy Sharp

363 posts in 5127 days

#9 posted 01-23-2009 12:40 AM

Tom, for your reasons stated, I would go with plywood for this particular project. Time is limited. I agree with the heirloom factor mentioned, but a quality finish will allow for many years of use.

Who knows? You could use this as a prototype for a solid project in the future, when time allows.

-- Randy, Tupelo, MS ~ A man who honors his wife will have children who honor their father.

View mtnwild's profile


4861 posts in 4982 days

#10 posted 01-23-2009 03:27 AM

I was just at a friends house where they have an old solid oak table. They love it and use it a lot. So at the most used areas the finish and wood quality is showing wear. Easily repaired with solid wood. Good as new. Veneer plywood would have been a problem for a favorite piece of furniture. Just a thought.

-- mtnwild (Jack), It's not what you see, it's how you see it.

View matter's profile


210 posts in 5224 days

#11 posted 01-23-2009 03:41 AM

Solid- for sure

We have a solid white oak table from when I was a kid, still has 4 plate marks in it. My Mom refinished it in 1978 or 79, and aside from the generation of plate marks, it looks as good as new.

BTW- my own son will be working in MY old plate mark soon….

-- The only easy wood project is a fire

View dsb1829's profile


367 posts in 5082 days

#12 posted 01-23-2009 04:13 PM

I haven’t seen the table in question, but I can give some feedback on plywood for a table surface. I was in a rush to get my dining table up in time for Thanksgiving. In the end I just ran out of time, so I grabbed a sheet of ply from the home center, stained it, sealed it, and put a layer of poly on it. It doesl work and so far none of our guests have had anything but positive comments on it. I just rounded over the edges, so the plys do show. For me this is a temporary solution until I can get back to laminating up a solid wood tabletop.

Since you are in a time crunch this method of doing ply now and then a solid top later may appeal. One concern that I have about the round table is the unsupported edge. I have seen this handled various ways. The easiest seems to be to cut the ply into an octagon (or other flat sided geometric shape) then laminate on solid wood. After that cut the rounds. Add a plywood apron with edge banding, it is easier to kerf and bend than solid.

Just some thoughts. Again pictures would make it easier to see what you are up to. I am guessing it is a traditional pedestal table with extension slides to go from round to oval-ish.

-- Doug, woodworking in Alabama

View Moron's profile


5048 posts in 5348 days

#13 posted 01-23-2009 04:21 PM

In the end, a solid wood top is faster to make and again, in the end, it will last longer.

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View amir's profile


53 posts in 4911 days

#14 posted 01-23-2009 08:46 PM

Go solid, forget the crisis

View Tom Landon's profile

Tom Landon

69 posts in 5207 days

#15 posted 01-23-2009 09:23 PM

I would think any homecenter or lumber yard that would stock the oak plywood would also have 3/4 F4S Oak as standard stock .

If you have to work with rough sawn wood, the jointing and surfacing shouldn’t take but a few hours at the most and as a bonus you could get the top a little thicker by at least a sixteenth or an eighth.

Go with the solid wood and the table will be something your daughter could pass on to your future grandchildren.

-- Tom Landon, Lakeland, Fl. When you're through learning, you're through.

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