Learn this homesteader's secrets for building a beautiful hardwood tree table from scratch.
Build Your Own Hardwood Tree Table
It you've ever tried to fabricate one of those tables made
from a massive slab of log you know there's more than meets
the eye to the project. That is: A thick and imposing slice
of wood cut diagonally from most tree trunks may look as
solid as granite the day it's buzzed out . . . but there's
almost a 100% chance that it'll warp, crack — even
"explode" — as its fibers dry and shrink.
Ah, but there's a very simple "trade secret" known to the
folks — such as Rey Sheldon of Marlboro, Vermont — who make this kind of furniture for a living. A secret guaranteed to keep those beauteous, burly cross-sections of timber from cracking after you've worked
The secret? Cut your slabs only from old hardwood logs that
have lain out in the woods so long that mushrooms have
started to grow on them. No one really quite knows why, but
mushrooms growing on a dead and downed tree trunk seems to
be a near-infallible indication that the log has already
naturally cured wall past the warping and cracking stage.
Another point: Once a tree has been down long enough for
ground fungi to grow on it, the splintered end of its trunk
will probably have rotted so much that you can poke a
finger right through that part of the wood. Don't lot the
fact discourage you. Chances are good that this is only
another sign that the main body of the log is just starting
to really cure well. Use a crosscut or chain saw to slice
out the lengthwise slab or oval that you want. If the wood
is solid — not rotted or punky — all the way through
where you make your cut, it doesn't really matter what the
log looks like on its end.
Take your slab of wood home and — just to make sure — let it
age in a dry place at room temperature for an additional
two months. If it hasn't cracked by that time, it probably
ain't ever gonna. That's your signal to get down to work.
Pry the bark off the slice of timber and dig out whatever
rot may have started around its edges. It there are any
minor checks or small breaks in the wood's surface that
won't show on the finished piece of furniture, you can fill
them with epoxy that has been tinted with brown shoe polish
or some other coloring. It the checks will show, save some
of the finest sanding dust from the project, strain and
sift it, and then mix the dust with clear Krylon. Apply
this filler in thin layers and let it dry for a full day
Test the filled breaks with a fingernail and, when they're
hard enough, begin working the surfaces of your slab of
hardwood with a sander. (Start with an old disk, beft, or
pad of rather coarse paper and — as they wear out and
clog up — work your way down to a very fine grade of
Seal the sanded wood with any good commercial wood sealer.
If it raises the grain, sand the wood again with a fine
paper and apply another coat of the sealer. Continue this
alternating operation until your tabletop is "as slick as a
duck's beef" . . . then wax its surface with a true paste
wax. Let the wood soak up the paste for a few days, then
wax it again. The glossy-smooth finish should now be
Slab tables and stools look best when their legs are put on
at splayed out" angles . . . and the bigger the table, the
more those legs should splay. Experiment a little. Try
different logs and different angles before you make a final
decision. Although you'll probably wind up slanting the
legs about four to five degrees . . . you'll never know
exactly what suits you best until you try a variety of
Most lumberyards and a good many hardware stores stock
ready-made birch, maple, and cherry logs for just this kind
of project. Or you can carve, whittle, or turn your own
logs on a lathe if you prefer . . . depending on the tools
and hardwood you have at your disposal.
Try legs 17 inches long for a cocktail table and 22-inchers
for an end table. The best way to mount 'am is by simply
drilling holes into the underside of the slab top that the
upper ends of the supports will just fit into snugly . . .
and then hammer 'em in, That way there's no messy glue or
screws that can get lost to tool with and the legs can be
removed for moving and storage.