I've built this table as well as quickly sanded and lightly stained the top. It works well for a platform to eat from but is mostly unsuitable for preparing food, particular dough kneading (and scraping) operations. Examine the 3 images and note that the dough scraper (black handle, silver scraper) is 6 inches in length. After looking at these images, continue reading the text following the last one.

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I'm not sure what kind of wood I used for this project. Note that there are small cracks throughout the tabletop and the small void spaces between each plank. Given all this info, what materials do I need to:

  1. seal the wood cracks/voids - thereby make it basically impermeable for things like flour and wet dough and
  2. toughen the surface so it can handle direct, heavy contact with tools like a dough scraper?
  • "seal the wood cracks/voids" Too late for that now. The proper time to do this is during construction, not as a post-build filling operation (basically the top should have been made into a panel, not installed as individual boards). "toughen the surface so it can handle direct,heavy contact with tools like a dough scraper" Not really possible. Note however that it's not really necessary to do this. I have a pine chopping board that is nearing its 40th birthday, and of course it is scratched and knife scarred but it's perfectly sanitary to use [contd]
    – Graphus
    Jul 22 '20 at 8:19
  • ...and has no finish on it (not that this is universal, but no finish is required on boards for them to A) hold up over time and B) to be safe to use from a hygiene point of view. None of the half-dozen or so wood and bamboo chooping boards that I own has any finish on it any more, although some were oiled by the manufacturer this has long been removed by regular washing in hot soapy water.
    – Graphus
    Jul 22 '20 at 8:21
  • 1
    I like your table. It's not the height of "fine craftsmanship", but it's real. Looks like something your great grandfather would have made and would have held up and been handed down through the generations. A couple of years of use and wear-and-tear and it'll be perfect! Just... maybe not for making bread. I hope that a couple of generations from now your grandchildren are enjoying sitting on stools helping grandpa prep and cook all sorts of meals. Looks like the kind of things cherished memories are made around.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 22 '20 at 10:33
  • Your table TOP is not suitable for dough work. Bakers use butcher block tops made of hard dense maple. They are not finished but occasionally lightly oiled. They are scraped regularly with the bench scraper to clean and resurface. (This is like using a wood plane on the top). The bench scraper should have an edge that is 90 degrees to the both sides, this gives it two sharp scraping surfaces. (It is not like a knife with one sharpened edge) This is accomplished by pushing the scraper on a file, the scraper must be perpendicular to the file.
    – Alaska Man
    Jul 22 '20 at 18:27

I'm not sure what kind of wood I used for this project.

It's pine, spruce, or fir. Those are used interchangeably in construction. These look like boards you might’ve purchased at a place like Home Depot.

  1. seal the wood cracks/voids - thereby make it basically impermeable for things like flour and wet dough and 2) toughen the surface

Surface: The wood you used is quite soft, which is why it’s easily scratched by the scraper. There’s not much you can do to change that. You could put a finish like polyurethane on it, but that won’t stand up to the mechanical abuse from the scraper either, and in the end it’ll probably look worse. You could use a very thick epoxy-like finish of the sort that’s used for bar tops, and that’d also fill the joints, but it would really change the nature of the table.

I think your best bet is to just get a better work surface that you can place on top of the table, and don’t try to turn the table itself into something that it’s not. Marble is a great surface for working with dough of all kinds — its easy to scrape clean with a bench scraper when you’re working with a sticky bread dough, and it doesn’t heat up quickly, so it’s great for rolling out pastry dough. Stop at your local stone and marble dealer and see if they’ve got any smallish offcuts. A piece about 30” square and 3/4” thick would be very good — large enough to work on, light enough to move when you’re not using it. Color doesn’t matter, just get whatever a) they have, that’s b) very smooth on both sides, and c) not too expensive. Broken corners and chipped edges also don’t matter. This will be a far better work surface than you could ever get from your table.

Gaps: Since this is the woodworking group, I'll point out that the way the boards in the table top are attached, with nails at the edges of the boards, makes the boards more likely to split or cup with seasonal changes in humidity. Also, it looks like the boards aren't glued together -- that'll help with the movement part, but it means that seasonal movement will result in the gaps that you're seeing. A good solution would be to pull the nails out, joint the edges (you can use a router for that if you don't have a jointer), and glue them edge to edge. Then, fill the nail holes and attach the top to the table from the bottom in a way that allows for movement, such as buttons or hardware meant for the same purpose.

  • 2
    Good Answer, but a couple of points. Perhaps it would be best to say SPF instead of pine to begin with. Re. the suggestion of marble. marble and other similar stones are great for pastry making (because they're cold, they help prevent the fats from melting) but less well suited to bread dough. Bare wood is perhaps the ideal breadmaking surface and is what is seen in countless old-school bakeries throughout the world, including France, Germany, Italy and Russia, which all have long breadmaking traditions.
    – Graphus
    Jul 22 '20 at 8:24
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    @Graphus There's no question that wood is great for kneading bread dough. In my experience, though, for home use, marble works just fine. Marble has the advantage of being heavy: you can lean into kneading a very stiff dough (bagel dough, say) and the slab won't move. A wooden breadboard can work too, but you might find that you want a "hook" on the front edge to grab the edge of the table and keep the board in place.
    – Caleb
    Jul 22 '20 at 14:05
  • If you opt to glue the top panels together, I would recommend cutting them into widths of 3 -4 " maximum and alternating the grain direction to reduce cupping problems. If you look at the end grain in the photo, The grain pattern almost guarantees that the boards will warp when one side gets wetter than the other.
    – Ashlar
    Jul 23 '20 at 17:16

Great answers but there was one point I didn't see mentioned so I thought I would chime in.

The work surface

That's either pine or fir. A very soft wood, so even without cracks it will dent and scratch easily. Nothing less than epoxy will chemically seal it for more than a few uses. The stuff used on bar finishes is extremely hard, but a dough scraper will be able to scrape it if you are not careful. What will most certainly happen is the finish will fade unevenly where it is used most, so go with a matte finish. It's also quite expensive and not food grade. If you do use it, you will need extra for the cracks.

Offcuts of other stones or creating a laminated hardwood surface would be a better option. Here are a couple options

Laminated hardwood: I've made working table tops out of 1"x2" maple which came out nicely and took a lot of abuse, but it will take a while to finish if you don't have a surface plane.

Soapstone: would be the best choice for a stone surface. It can be cut with a diamond blade; extremely dense; chemically inert; you can sand it as smooth as you want; extremely hard; heat, even large amounts of heat won't affect it (think hot baking stone). It can be scratched but scratched can be sanded out easily.

Marble: is soft and may be easier on your hands. Chemicals and residual water will stain it. It can be scratched fairly easily, I've never tried sanding it but I don't think it works. It also doesn't handle heat well.

Almost any other stone would probably need to be cut for you.

Stainless: Easy to clean, good stainless steel (ex 304) is resistant to many chemicals and won't rust at room temperatures with typical household chemicals. Just make sure it is a thick enough gauge to handle the compressions of the kneeding. I wouldn't consider something > 14ga

The support

I didn't see many photo's of the base but you may want to add diagonal cross members if you do not have them. On a residential kitchen counter, the plywood box helps counter lateral forces common in kneading dough. An open table with all vertical and horizontal members doesn't provide the same support.

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