The boards for the table top are clamped together

A wooden table

The last show for the calendar year at the Public Theatre is Mike Daisey‘s “The Last Cargo Cult”. We needed to construct a new table to match the design of the world. The design called for a solid, fairly sturdy-looking wooden table, which showed some character and a lot of age.

The boards for the table top are clamped together
The boards for the table top are clamped together

The table top was made of four planks of equal length. I connected them using a biscuit joiner. I was able to borrow the scene shop’s new Woodcraft bar clamps for this. You alternate whether the clamps go over top or underneath the surface to keep it from bowing. I also clamped a metal bar on either end as an additional way to keep the planks level with each other. You can ignore the random one by four in the photograph; I’m not sure why that was there.

Wax paper to catch excess glue
Wax paper to catch excess glue

I used wax paper to keep the glue from squeezing out and adhering the wood to the work table, or worse, dripping onto the clamps. If you wipe the excess glue away, you will smear it into the wood. It may look like it’s gone, but when you go to stain the piece, it will not accept the stain and you will be left with light-colored spots. Wait until the glue dries and then scrape it off. If you are painting the table, or the glue is in a hidden place, then by all means, wipe away while wet.

Finished table top
Finished table top

Here is the final table top. I used a belt sander, starting with a 50 grit belt, then skipping straight ahead to 12o grit, and finishing with 320 grit. I then hit it with a random orbital sander at 400 grit. Peter Ksander, the set designer, wanted to bring out the grain and accentuate the pattern. I wiped the surface with a wet rag. This causes the dark grain to raise up from the lighter grain; if you were aiming for a smooth surface, you can then sand the higher grain down, but in this case, I left it alone.

Taper jig on the bandsaw
Taper jig on the bandsaw

Karen Cahill, the properties manager at George Street Playhouse, was on hand for a bit to help out. She glued the boards together to make the blocks for the legs. I made a taper jig to quickly replicate a taper onto all four legs. I used the band saw as the table saw could not raise high enough to cut it in one pass.

Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
Kreg Pocket Hole Jig

Easily one of my favorite new tools of the year is the Kreg Pocket Hole Jig. You can see in the photograph above how it allows you to drill holes so the screws exit the center of the end grain. For prop carpentry, the speed and strength of the joints it creates have replaced many of the joints I use regularly. For tables, I use them to attach the apron to the legs, followed by the apron to the top. This allows me to keep the top of the table free from screw or nail holes.

Lining up apron and leg for attachment
Lining up apron and leg for attachment

You need to clamp the pieces well to keep them from drifting; the pocket hole jig creates a hole at a slight angle, so the screw will want to push the wood back as it drives in. Above, you can see the various pieces of wood we used to not only hold the apron in place while we attached it to the leg, but also to space it consistently on all the legs. Jay Duckworth was on hand for much of this part as well. He also routed the groove you see in the legs below and stained the table at the end of the day.

Final table before staining
Final table before staining

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