Have you ever looked at something and thought, “I can make that”? This dining table build came about with just such a thought.
I had some extra birch plywood laying around that I’ve wanted to put to use for a long time. My wife and daughters refinished a dining table for their YouTube Channel, White Lab House, and I was looking it over when I had that thought. In the video below, I’ll show you how I took that thought and ran with it. Starting with the top.
- 3/4 inch Birch plywood
- Mine was previously ripped to 24 inches wide, leftover from another project)
- 2 – 8 foot 1×6 Pine boards
- I cut a side and an end from each one
- Table saw with dado stack or a router with a straight bit
- Router with 1/8 inch round-over bit
- Hand plane
- I only have a block plane and it worked fine
- Random Orbital Sander
I had a 3/4 inch sheet of birch plywood ripped to 24 inches wide left over from a simple desk build I did a few years ago. I decided to use my jigsaw with the clean cut blade to cut it to length because my circular saw blade would have shredded the plywood. I ended up regretting this decision, but we’ll get to that part later.
In the process, I learned that it helps to make sure your piece is facing the correct direction to get the benefit of the “clean” cut. The side you want to be clean (the top, in this case) should be facing down so that the blade cuts cleanly into it and any blowout happens on the opposite side. Thankfully, I’m a quick study. I learned that lesson within a few inches.
My plywood was 2 feet wide, which wasn’t wide enough for a table. So I talked to my woodworker father-in-law and came up with a plan to securely attach 1x6s with half-lap joints for the perimeter. This will widen the surface and provide solid wood edging to boot.
I installed a 3/4 inch dado stack and started cutting rabbits about an inch wide along the plywood. I used a dado stack on my table saw, but this could also be done with a straight bit and a router.
The plan was to cut the rabbit in the plywood to about half the plywood thickness, then cut the rabbit in the 1x6s to slightly less than half the 1×6 thickness. This would leave slight more than half the thickness for the joint, leaving the 1x6s sitting slightly proud of the plywood. Then I would hand plane and sand the solid wood down to be flush with the plywood. This is key because the veneer on the plywood is too thin to allow for much sanding before you sand through it.
TIP: I cut the rabbits into the plywood on all four sides, but ended up having to come back and recut the ends once the solid wood sides were glued on. Save yourself the step and just cut the rabbits for the sides to start with.
After the plywood was ready, I cut the side 1x6s to rough length with my miter saw, then started sneaking up on the rabbit cut depth.
I glued the sides onto the plywood, doing my best to clamp and weight down the joints to ensure adhesion. After letting the glue cure, the joint proved to be very strong.
I had deliberately left the solid wood sides long so that I could come back and trim them up. I pulled out my jigsaw again and cut both ends clean.
I then had to recut the rabbits in the ends to account for the solid wood and the slight trimming I had just done. I also cut rabbits in the 1×6 end pieces.
And here is where I realized why using the jigsaw was a less than optimal solution. While I had used a straight edge to keep the saw on track, the blade itself has more flexibility than I had realized. So my actual cut wandered slightly, causing a gap in the joint of the breadboard ends.
To solve this, I threw a Hail Mary to my router and tried a technique I had seen used to joint two pieces nicely together. I positioned the plywood and solid wood parallel and just far enough apart that the straight bit on my router would trim material from both of them at the widest point. I then set up another straight edge for my router and set the depth to match the rabbit depth on the solid wood.
I took a deep breath and dove in. I figured the worst case scenario would be cutting off the ends with my circular saw and a shiny new clean cut blade.
As it turned out, this worked perfectly. Both sides of the connection fit together exactly. Every slight variation with the router had a matching variation on either piece. I will definitely be utilizing this technique in the future!
I glued it up and it fit like a glove. And since I’m a glutton for punishment, I used my jigsaw to cut the overhanging ends. I figured that any variation brought from the blade wandering would be minimal.
After gluing the sides and ends on, the solid wood was sitting plenty proud of the plywood. So I had to put a bunch of elbow grease into planing it down flush. An artifact of my dado stack setup was also that there was a slight crown to the rabbit cuts, causing the solid wood to taper upward once glued on. The lesson I learned here is make sure your rabbits are clean and flat. Had I spent more time cleaning up the rabbit cuts, I would have saved a bunch of time doing hand planing.
After planing it down reasonably close, I moved on to everybody’s favorite part of the project: the sanding.
While sanding, I noticed a few places in the joints that could use some cover-up. So I tried another technique I had seen for just such an occurrence. I ran a bead of glue over the joint, then pressed in a bunch of fine sawdust.
I let it sit overnight, then anxiously sanded it to see how it worked. I’d say it worked ok, but my sawdust wasn’t fine enough. Next time I’ll make sure to use super fine sawdust, that’s really more of a powder.
I sanded the rest of the top to 220 grit, being very careful to not spend too much time eroding the plywood veneer.
One last thing that was bugging me was the slight gaps on the underside of the half lap joints for the breadboard ends. So I cut some strips to glue in there and planed and sanded the joint smooth. Next time I’ll take more care to make sure the rabbit joints have matching depth on both pieces.
As the finishing touch, I added an 1/8th inch round-over to both the top side and bottom side of the table top. One thing I learned on a previous project is to wait until the sanding is done to do this, or you lose some of the round-over to the sander.
The table top was ready to go. I had waited to build the frame until I new what the final dimensions of the top were going to be, and I’m glad I did. Since I had made some adjustments to the sizing using that router jointing trick, my frame would have needed to be adjusted too.
In the next installment, I’ll show you how I built the frame with mortise and tenon joints.