Finally broke down and decided to give this current fad a try. For anyone that is experienced in working with reclaimed wood, do you have any tips for edge jointing and getting a decently flat top? I want to keep as much of the character in wood as possible but still have a good solid top.

Here's what I'm working from:

Starting Point

Looking to get to something in the neighborhood of this:


Note, 2nd picture is from Sons of Sawdust.

After searching the internet for tutorials, instructional material, it seems almost overwhelming with the amount of opinion out there. Just looking for a good place to start I guess with reclaimed joinery. I've done some panel glue ups before but always focused on planing to get dead flat faces and dead square (or complimentary edges). How does that change when working with reclaimed wood?

Also, any general advice on this project is appreciated.

  • 1
    You can throw proper joinery for the tabletop out of the window for a rough-hewn table if you like. The main field can be left as separate boards (and I'd argue should be left as separate boards, unless you're willing to plane them down to perfectly consistent thickness which will necessitate losing some or most of the original top surfaces from some, most or all of the boards). Each board can be nailed or screwed separately to battens on the underside to help keep the top flat and then they will move somewhat independently of the others.
    – Graphus
    Mar 9 '17 at 9:06
  • The "desired result" picture is pretty clearly not planed, as it has circular saw marks all over the face. If you plane the lumber, that goes away. But it looks like only one, maybe two of your starting boards even has that. The ones with white (or any color, really) paint on them should be checked for lead. If you plane the boards you're left with the rather subtle "tight grain old-growth" assuming they are that to start with and no other signs of age/prior use. Incidentally the resulting table is a bear to clean if not always covered with a tablecloth.
    – Ecnerwal
    Mar 9 '17 at 15:27
  • If I plane/sand off the paint from any covered with pain and use that as the underside of the table, I wouldn't have to worry about lead, right?
    – mattmar10
    Mar 9 '17 at 15:54
  • You are correct about the circular saw marks. I have two boards that have those marks - wish I had more. I suppose there aren't really good ways to distress those without the non-circular saw marks to make them more consistent with those that have them? Maybe I'm better off searching for more boards and holding off until I have more with a matching patina.
    – mattmar10
    Mar 9 '17 at 16:01
  • 1
    @Joshua if the end pieces cover a tongue and groove joint, it is easy enough to add wiggle room (i.e. extra length in the groove) to account for seasonal movement. If they are just tacked on (or similar), you are correct; bad things may occur!
    – ewm
    Mar 27 '17 at 18:56

This is a fast path which preserves the character of the for the top but sacrifices the bottom surface of the table (the side seen by the floor). Assuming you have a planer or are savvy with hand planes, this is approachable without too much pain. Find the thinnest board in the set you wish to use and plane the bottom surface flat.

For the sake of discussion, lets assume this is now 1" thick and flat on one side. Now plane the rest of the boards (on one side only), to the same 1" thickness. Now you have a set of 1" thick boards which have "character" on all faces except one. The can rest flush on your stretchers and still look interesting. You can stop here and build the table as you wish. If the fresh wood underneath seems to bright a color, a little stain will help greatly to bunt that. Note: it is worth trying the boards in different combinations, to see if one combination is more appealing than another.

If there is too much character and the gaps between the planks bothers you, you can plane the side surfaces, however, it is probable that fresh wood will be visible to folks sitting at the table. In a perfect world, it wouldn't but this kind of woodwork is far from perfect. If all the planks are planed on their edges as well this can be minimized. But a close inspection will still see fresh wood. A little dark stain goes a long way, so don't over do it. You are looking for a color just a bit darker than the surface. Some folks will 'distress' the edges as well to help blend the overall look. (This, too, is easy to overdo).

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