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How can I turn a large western cedar tree round into a low table?

I now have a large western cedar tree round. It's from a 100-ish year old cedar tree that a neighbor cut down. My wife would like me to turn this into a table for a covered outdoor area.

I don't need a fancy finish on this. It is something that will sit outdoors in a covered area under a deck between two chairs in the shade next to our garden. Think iced tea or cold beer.

It's big, hard to move and freshly cut. Roughly 4' in diameter and around a foot thick. I hesitate to call this woodworking, it is more in the direction of creating long lasting, workable for a lumber-jack, outdoor furniture. western cedar tree round

How should I deal with this? What are the steps and the products that I will need?

1) I don't want it to check. Can I prevent this? I don't need to keep the bark. How long must it sit and dry before I finish the top?

2) I will clean it up and make the top surface flat and less rough. I would like to preserve the cedar color, instead of letting it go gray on top. What can I use for this?

3) It has some center rot which I currently imagine I can drill out, inserting a butterfly or other shaped plug made from another smaller log from the same tree. What should I do with the center rot?

4) I could finish the top with something and think that I will want to seal the butterfly plug in the drilled out rot area with something. What would work well here?

I am planning on using 7" or 8" diameter tree rounds to make stubby little legs for this. I don't imagine that I will attach the legs. They will each stand on their own and I will just use the tabletop's weight to keep them in place. I might gouge out an indentation for each leg on the underside of the table.

Help me make my wife proud!

  • It would seem one of your points is being covered here: woodworking.stackexchange.com/questions/2108/… – Matt Jul 28 '15 at 15:57
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    I think you have several good questions here; please break each of your points out into a separate question. As Matt mentioned, #2 is already covered by another recent question. It sounds like it was recently cut, but it would be helpful to clarify that point or mention how long it has been sitting already. – rob Jul 28 '15 at 16:15
  • @DavidC thanks for splitting out the center rot and drying/checking questions. Is there anything else you'd like to salvage from this question? If so, please feel free to edit this question. – rob Jul 28 '15 at 18:26
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Interesting project. This is a rather involved set of questions, but I'll attempt to answer them.

1.) You will likely not be able to prevent checking and cracking of this piece as it dries. You have different rates of shrinkage depending on the direction of the grain, and with the cut being kept essentially in it's original configuration (i.e., a section cut from the whole tree), it will want to crack and check like every piece of non-split firewood you've ever seen. However, once the piece has had time to dry and season, you can stabilize the cracks with butterfly keys or epoxy, to name a couple options.

2.) You will not be able to keep the cedar color for long, I'm afraid. Please see this related Question.

3.) I would remove the center rot in its entirety to keep it from spreading to the rest of the piece. For filling that space, that really depends on what you have available. Jamming another piece to fill in while the piece is drying will only exacerbate your cracking problems, so I'd advise cutting out the rot now and letting the piece dry with the center missing.

4.) Finishing the top will best be accomplished with an exterior varnish or epoxy. If you want a truly long-lasting finish, marine epoxy is the way to go. However, beware that this type of epoxy is quite expensive.

I would suggest connecting the top to the legs with lag screws at the very least to keep it laterally stable.

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