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How to Join Wood Planks for a Tabletop

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This post shares all about joining wood planks for a tabletop! If you’re wondering how to join wood planks to make different projects for your home, it’s easier than it might sound. And it’s a skill that can help you make beautiful custom furniture.

Joining Wood Planks 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 (sometimes I am impulsive when I get an idea in my craw), I didn’t use reclaimed wood or any other sort of recycled material (a no-no for some of you…sorry!).

I headed over to my 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 about my 7 tips for joining wood planks for a tabletop.

joining wood planks for a tabletop

Since 900 million edge gluing tutorials already exist on the Internet, I’m not going to share a step-by-step tutorial. If you need one, I suggest heading over to YouTube and searching “how to glue wood boards together.” I think that the process is a bit easier to understand with video, and there are some good ones. Instead, I’m going to share some tips that I’ve learned!

joining wood planks for a tabletop

And here are my tips for joining wood planks for a table top

(Safety first! Remember to wear a mask and eye protection while cutting and sanding wood. Do not use any tools without proper training, precautions, and/or supervision. Read my full terms of use here.)

Step 1: Measure and cut pieces, drill pocket holes

So at first my plan was to do two storage levels: one for a little containers that we’re beginning to collect stickers in, and one for a fabric storage cube to match the desk. Once I got this together with clamps to eyeball it, I decided to run with it. So I drilled pocket holes (placement in a bit) and assembled everything.

However, once I got it assembled and brought it upstairs, I realized that it would be too high for Ramona’s current height. I measured, but I kind of suck at visualizing things and understanding how everything is going to go together. Alas, I wasn’t about to lose this project, so I decided to run with just one storage spot. Let’s pick up there.

1. Running your wood planks through a planer first is helpful. 

A planer will make all of your boards 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 glue and 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. Don’t use 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 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 the 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, my slatted outdoor dining table, my chunky modern dining table, and my modern kids table.

A few FAQs about joining wood planks for a tabletop…

Is wood glue strong enough for tabletop?

Yes! This table is now 5 years old, and the boards haven’t budged a bit. Even with heavy daily use and a toddler 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 this exact same method 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

How do you join wood without nails?

If you don’t want to rely solely on wood glue and bar clamps, you can join your boards together using another joinery method. Pocket hole joinery is very common, sturdy, and easy to learn. Biscuit joints are also popular for joining wood planks together without nails.

Check out my post all about pocket hole joinery and how to use the KregJig K4 if you want to read more about pocket hole joinery. I have used it on a ton of projects in my home. But as far as tabletops go, I have used it on only a few. Ramona’s little outdoor table build and a chunky outdoor table, here are a few pics:

kids DIY table and chairs
DIY outdoor dining table build plans

Share my post about joining wood planks for a tabletop!

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

Thursday 16th of June 2016

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

Thursday 16th of June 2016

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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