Woodworkers build tabletops using different approaches. Building may sound easy in theory, but it can be a case of easier said than done. If you don’t employ the correct steps, your hard work will amount to zero results and more damages. 

Thankfully, our experts will share the steps on how to build a table top successfully.

How to Build a Table Top

Building a tabletop may not turn out well, especially if you are doing it for the first time. Mistakes can occur if not properly educated on how to proceed from one step to another. 

Below are the steps to follow to make this woodwork project turn out great.

table top with plants and delicacies

Determine Dimensions

The first step to building a tabletop is to determine the size and shape of your tabletop. Do you want the top to be shorter, longer, narrower, or wider?

To help with your dimension, cut a ½” plywood and use it for practice. Saw the board to the size you want. If satisfied with the size, then move to the next step.

Choose Preferred Board

Choose lumbers with tight joints. If they are longer than five feet, it’s a big plus, as the fitting will be better. 

Use a jointer to align the lumbers’ joints tightly if available. Typically, some edges fit more tightly than others. So you may not be needing a jointer after all.

However, if the lumber joints aren’t as tight as you want them, try sanding off the edges. You must ensure that you sand them lightly to prevent a flatter tabletop. 

brown wooden surface

If the boards aren’t aligned, gluing them will be challenging, even if the boards are small. That is why you need to ensure the edges of the boards fit perfectly.

With all the boards aligned at the edges, it’s time for some gluing. Put the boards under the pipe clamps, and attach small clamps around the edges and board ends. 

Apply hardwood cauls along the lengths of the boards inwardly to glue up each board. Adjust each clamp to draw the boards’ ends together. For final glue-up, adjust the pipe clamp holding the boards at the center to draw all the boards together. 

wood glue dispenser with yorker and blade

Remove all the clamps. You should have a well-aligned tabletop by now.

Sand the Board (Optional)

It’s not impossible to see some misalignments even after doing a perfect glue-up job. This is where sanding comes in.

You could leave the tabletop as it is, but that won’t be satisfactory. Naturally, you would want to make the job look perfect and finished.

Miady 120 to 3000 Assorted Grit Sandpaper

Our team of experts recommends using 80-grit coarse sandpaper in a belt sander for the first stage. Work across the table top’s grain and then parallel side to the grain. This process removes wood faster, thereby creating a more even and smoother surface.

Sand further using 120-grit sandpaper for a more flatter surface.

For the final stage, sand by hand using 180-grit and then 220-grit sandpapers. Sand across the wood grain. Avoid using sanders, especially orbit sanders, as they leave behind streaks.

Refine Edges and Smooth Out Cracks

Once you’re done sanding, refine the edges. Clamp a guide strip on one edge and trim using a hand-held circular saw. Apply the same process on other edges, until all the edges are refined. 

sanding the wood

Once the process is complete, sand the edges carefully using a belt sander. It removes all the marks and smoothens the edges.

Add Pocket Holes

When making pocket holes or joints, it’s essential that the boards are cut precisely and squarely to prevent gaps between the boards. 

Drill pocket holes on the edges of the board with a pocket hole jig like Kreg K5 or K4. Then, screw into the hole at a 15-degree angle to join the second piece. 

Pocket holes jig makes drilling more straightforward, faster, and quicker. Also, it drills holes at perfect angles compared to other drilling tools.

drilling

Adding pocket holes will hold the joint together. The screws and the glue will prevent gaps from forming on the wood, as it shrinks and expands.

Stain Board

Choosing a finish is probably the most interesting part of building a tabletop. There are two main ways to get around this — you can stain the wood with urethane or apply an oil finish [1] . Each process has its pros and cons.

Staining the board with urethane will create a smooth and cleanable surface. However, stain wears quickly, and there’s no simpler way of re-staining the board unless you sand it to the bare wood.

craftsman varnish

Contrarily, oil finishes take time to apply — more than staining. However, they can easily be repaired when they wear out. 

For frequent applications, they are the best to use. You don’t need to sand the tabletop to its bare wood before application.

FAQ

What kind of wood should I use for a tabletop?

You should use woods like walnut, birch, oak, pine, mahogany, and maple for a tabletop. These woods are hard, strong, and durable.

How do you glue boards to a tabletop?

To glue boards to a tabletop, firstly, you should lay the board on the tabletop. Ensure that you align and pinch them together properly. Then, put some glue on one of the boards. Use clamps to attach the board to the tabletop and hold them together. Put a third clamp above to reduce pressure and squeeze out excess glue. Wipe extra glue and leave the board and the tabletop clamped for approximately six to eight hours.

Conclusion

Building a tabletop doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s a fun project in woodwork that most would love to undertake. Although several stages are involved, our experts have simplified the steps for ease of understanding. 

Like most woodworking projects, following and completing each step is a prerequisite to achieving success. With the various steps on how to build a table top explained, you’ll have no issue completing this woodwork project successfully.

Robert