Making the Top
Making the top was a straightforward job of planing, jointing, ripping, gluing and crosscutting. It is worth reflecting on milling roughsawn lumber, however. It is something of a Forrest Gump process, in that “you’re never sure what you’re going to get.” It’s easy to find quartersawn 6/4 stock at a decent lumberyard, and the figure is often dimly visible through the rough surface, but the final look will only be revealed in the milling process. Also possibly revealed will be knots, voids, cracks, splits, whorls and other impediments to clear lengths and widths that go into a top that will be the star attraction of a piece like this. So it’s important to get stock as wide as possible, consistent with the final dimensions of the top (I needed four 6″-wide by 40″-long boards) to allow for piecing the top together. By that I mean matching the grain harmoniously from board to board and working around defects. If one plank winds up narrower than ideal, it’s good to have another that’s wider to compensate. In this case, to make the grain match, I settled on two 6-1⁄2″ inner planks and two 5-1⁄2″ outers, and even so, there was only one way the boards went together into a pleasing composition.
I like to glue a big, thick piece like this into as close to final dimension as possible, since trimming it can be awkward … and wrestling a thick, 50-lb. plank over a table saw can be dangerous. It turned out that I glued it up to exact width and only about 1/4″ over length for squaring up. In my opinion, that is a job best done with a straight bit in a router run along a clamped straightedge.
Here’s a tip for screwing the top in place. The trestles are linked together only at the bottom by the stretchers and will likely move a bit at the top when driving the pocket-hole screws home because they go in at an angle, no matter how firmly you clamp the top to the stretchers. Use a couple of 36″ bar clamps bridging the top rails to keep them in alignment while driving the screws.
To finish the piece, I took a page from a previous Woodworker’s Journal and mimicked the traditional fumed Arts and Crafts finish with General Finishes wipeon gel stain in Antique Walnut, followed by a satin polyurethane topcoat. The self leveling wipe-on topcoat is especially convenient on a piece with this many surface planes, reveals and exposed tenons and wedges. I finished it off with dark Briwax and buffed it for a nice antique looking sheen.
The piece has been in service for about a month now, and my wife reports that not only is it a beautiful looking coffee table, but a solid footrest as well.