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How to Join Wood Planks for a Tabletop

Learn all about joining wood planks for a tabletop! It’s easier than it might sound, and it’s a skill that can help you make beautiful furniture.

How to join wood planks together for a tabletop

I’m working on building a new coffee table for my living room right now. We’ve been using a painted trunk for years, but we no longer need the extra storage space, and having a coffee table that is a bit more functional (read: something that I can sit on the floor and eat Chinese food at while watching TV) was appealing.

I also liked the idea of having something that was a bit less intrusively boxy in the center of the room; I’d hoped something with legs would help open things up a bit. I decided to edge glue up some wood boards to make a coffee table.

Since I got the bright idea on a Sunday afternoon and decided that I absolutely had to get started immediately, I didn’t use reclaimed wood or any other sort of recycled material. Instead, I headed over to Home Depot and picked up 6 2in x 2in x 8ft pieces of select pine.

I had them cut each piece in half, which left me with 12 4ft pieces just begging me to get gluing. So let’s chat through my 7 tips for joining wood planks for a tabletop.

joining wood planks for a tabletop
joining wood planks for a tabletop

My tips for joining wood planks for a table top

Always take the proper precautions and safety measures before working with any tools or materials. Wear safety equipment and work with a professional to complete projects when necessary. Read my full terms of use and disclosure for more. Happy making and stay safe!

1. Run your wood planks through a planer first

A planer will make all of your boards exactly the same size, which will make gluing them together much easier. I didn’t do this for the coffee table, and it made the clamping process more difficult (but not impossible!). I waited to plane my pieces until after I had already glued some sets together.

If you don’t have access to a planer, you can use a hand planer, but I don’t have any experience with those. If you don’t want to do any planing, you could do some heavy sanding or at least line your boards up and examine the edges for bends or other deformities. You might be able to make some matches that will make clamping easier.

pieces of pine on a table

2. Glue and clamp on a big, flat area

This will help when you’re lining up your boards. It will also be helpful when you’re twisting your clamps; you’ll need to move the boards around—clamps and all—to be able to get a good grip when twisting shut each seam. For the coffee table, my dad had the great idea to work on a piece of drywall flipped upside down:

joining wood planks for a tabletop

3. Don’t clamp too many boards together at once

For my coffee table, I had a total of 12 boards to glue. I decided to start off by gluing a group of 4—this was too many for me. Really, I found that gluing 3 together was the easiest for me to manage without getting really frustrated trying to keep them all perfectly lined up.

I glued sections together in stages since I didn’t have unlimited clamps. I added 1 or 2 boards each stage. After a lot of gluing, I was left with 1 piece of 7 boards and 1 piece of 5 boards. Gluing those together wasn’t too difficult.

Joining Wood Planks for a Tabletop

4. Avoid using too much glue when joining wood planks

When joining wood planks for a tabletop, you don’t want to go overboard on the glue. But you also don’t want to use too little. The right amount of glue also depends on the size of the surfaces you’re clamping. If you’re clamping the boards and there are mounds of glue spilling out everywhere, you’ve probably used too much.

Have rags on hand to wipe off excess glue; this will save time after the glue dries and needs to be scraped off while sanding! Check out the right set of boards below (the one with clamps on it). Some of the seams on that set of boards had way too much glue.

large pieces of wood in a work shop

5. Make gluing and clamping a two-person job

This can definitely be a one-person job, but I found it really helpful to have my dad’s extra set of hands to help apply pressure while clamping. I did the first few pieces on my own, but once my pieces got bigger, he held the boards down and in place while I cranked the bar clamps (or vice versa, since my weakling hands struggled on some of the trickier clamps).

6. Have a variety of clamp sizes on hand

We used a variety of bigger bar clamps (affiliate link) down the body of the wood, but we used much smaller clamps, including c-clamps, on the ends. The boards kept popping up on the ends when we put pressure on the middle clamps; it was like a see-saw. So the smaller end clamps helped keep the boards lined up by applying pressure from above and below.

clamping boards together

7. Use paint stirrers to prevent clamps from denting the wood

We cut paint stirrers up into smaller pieces and slid them between the wood boards and the clamps. If you don’t protect the wood but need to get a really tight clamp, you’ll end up puncturing or denting the wood because of all the pressure.

By using paint stirrers, you’re putting the pressure on something else. The left photo below shows what can happen when you don’t project the wood. The right photo shows how to use pieces of paint stirrers for protection.

joining wood planks for a tabletop

Like tables? Check out my outdoor concrete paver coffee table!

FAQs about joining wood planks for a tabletop

1. Is wood glue strong enough for tabletop?

Yes! This table is now 7 years old, and the boards haven’t budged a bit. Even with heavy daily use and a kid beating on it! Although it has endured a few dents and scratches, the wood glue and clamp method has definitely been strong enough for our coffee tabletop.

coffee table in a living room

How do you hide wooden seams?

I used the exact method described in this article to create a butcher-block style top for my daughter’s desk. If you get an even enough glue up, you can easily hide wooden seams. To ensure I hid the wooden seams on my coffee table and Ramona’s desk, we ran the tabletop through a planer to ensure it was completely even.

Then I sanded the entire top using 150-grit sandpaper, working my way up to a finer grit to polish it. I believe for the desk I ended with 220-grit. To help further hide the seams, I gave both tabletops several coats of urethane. Look how good it looks!

running wood planks through a planer

What kind of wood should I use for a table top?

There are many different kinds of wood you can use for a table top. It is mostly up to preference, but it’s also up to cost. Pine is what we used for out coffee table, and it’s worked out very well. Pine is readily available and is pretty cheap. However, I love the color of poplar, so I chose that for Ramona’s desk.

Walnut, oak, maple, mahogany, and birch are also great options. I tend to go with things that are easier to get your hands on—and a bit cheaper. What can I say. 🙂

small child's desk

Share my tips for joining wood planks for a tabletop!

collage that says how to join wood boards for DIY projects with pictures of the process

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  1. Keith says:

    To get the ends to line up, take an old tshirt or rags and place them beneath the end of the edges you are trying to line up, then put a flat board perpendicular to the boards at the end (even with the edge) with the rags inbetween. Then put another flat board above the boards on the edge like the board below, then clamp all 4 layers together with a few clamps lightly until the boards become flush to each other on the top side. The soft tshirt will compress allowing the bottom sides to not align while the board on the top will not compress and this will bring all the boards to the same height on the good side even if they are different thicknesses. Use parchment paper in between the wood that has glue oozing out and the board/tshirts to prevent sticking.

    • Brittany Merth says:

      Thanks, Keith! Great tips. In the future, I want to make a bigger coffee table top and re-use these legs. I’ll have to remember this!

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