Checked and updated on March 9, 2021 by Aaron Barnett
A table built straight from a tree is the coolest piece of furniture to center your home’s living space around. If you make a table straight from a tree, like a bar bench, kitchen bench, or any type of table this makes a home more comfortable and centers your social and eating area.
Solid tree bar tables are normally found in mountain villages when you go skiing or snowboarding when you go out to eat or have a drink at the local bar. There is something about them that I think lingers on every DIY’er mind if they haven’t yet built one.
Building your own solid timber table, bar or kitchen can be a very rewarding DIY project that you can benefit from every night when you eat.
Not to mention the most particle type of furniture. Most modern benches made by joiners, or sourced from a factory have not much character or comfort and a reasonably extensive. Yes, they have a lot of perfectly opening and shutting draws and cabinets. But under a plastic coating is a cardboard-like timber.
A solid tree table made the DIY way, can’t be beaten.
Why building straight from a tree is best
Building an awesome-looking timber slab, tree-style bench, or table is actually very simple and could be a lot cheaper than buying a joinery unit. If you build one yourself you can end up getting something quite unique and awesome, that can be passed down the generations and will last forever. If you put a bit of time aside to craft a table right for you, you will be happy at the end.
Most modern-day tables are made exactly square, rectangle, or circle. Built from average cheap man-made materials and only thin bits of wood.
A solid tree table-top is all about keeping the natural shape of the tree, and the natural strength that a 2-3 inch thick piece of hardwood has. A table built straight from a tree-like this is primitive and simple but looks and feels the best.
As a builder, I have worked on some huge expensive houses, that look and feel like a factory, not a home. One time a designer instructed the removal of native timber door’s to be replaced with lightweight aluminum doors?
A home does not feel comfortable or like a natural living space with-out natural timber, you can smell feel, and see. And a table is the most interactive piece of furniture you have because you “eat” on it.
Find the right tree for your furniture!
Turning a tree into furniture can potentially be free if you are already a keen DIY’er with the tools, all you need are a few timber slabs.
If you can get some timber straight from a tree yourself, like how I built my table, It is free. I went into the bush, found a stump, and cut 3 slabs of timber ruffly with a chain saw to then tidy up later, using an electric hand plane. Money doesn’t grow on trees but logs do!
Of course, if you are after a particular type of wood or a very large piece, and you don’t have access to land that has a tree you can take, don’t let that stop you.
A natural slab of wood won’t be easy to find on the shelf from a big store’s but it can definitely be found, search around and find your local listings. And you should be able to pick up a slab of wood for a few hundred. Get a nice-sized bit of timber that has a really nice character, grain, and shape.
Think about the size table you want, and remember wood can be glue two or three pieces of timber can go together to make a table wider. Tweak these joints using a hand planer and a square to make them unnoticeable.
Tips for buying or cutting a timber slab
The size is the first thing to plan, aim for a nice thick finished slab thickness of around 2 and a half inches thick, or greater. To get a slab finished thickness like this you want to get something much bigger as a starting piece of wood to work with. For example, a timber slab you cut yourself or that you have found for sale might have a curve, twist, and variation in the cut.
For this reason, you want to make sure to get a slab at least 2 inches thicker, than what you want as a finished slab thickness. Unless however, you know the timber slab you are buying has close to a flat surface. Check this by putting a level or straight edge on it from corner to corner.
If you cut the tree and it is what’s called “green,” this means the timber is wet still, it takes a year for it to dry, but don’t be put off building straight away. I built my table straight for a green timber slab I just waited a year before I put polyurethane on it.
I gave the tabletop one last belt sand before I did as well, to make sure the top was nice and flat as it did shrink and move a tiny amount, This will change with your timber choice, so research the timber you are using before you start.
When timber is green expect it to shrink a bit for the next 6 months to a year. If you are patient or you think ahead of time you can cut some timber a year in advance. This is, however, the benefit of buying a timber slab rather than sourcing it yourself, as you can buy a dry slab of wood.
Log table design ideas
As talked about above I recommend a thick slab of 2 1/2 Inches +. Getting thicker and you are going to have a lot of weight. Any less you will lose the look, strength, and feel that a nice thick timber slab has. You should work out the best height for your bench or table, depending on your body height.
If you are making a kitchen bench take things like an oven or fridge going under into consideration. If building a dining room table, or a coffee table you should choose your leg height to suit.
Start by making the legs longer than whats actually need, you can then turn the table upside down and cut them to the right height at the end.
I will always remember a naturally built tree table I saw in a mountain village with an open fire in the middle of this huge timber slab, 10 people could sit around the table and cook on the hot plate. Of course, this would make an easy DIY project more complicated, as you would need to get a professional to set in a fire like that with a building consent, just an idea.
You could opt for a smaller easier DIY idea than an open fire, that is to install a gas or an electric-powered hot plate in the middle of the table, this is popular in Japan. It’s best to find an area of your home with a low ceiling so that you can put an extractor on the ceiling being it will not be too far from cooking smoke.
You could also consider installing a Japanese takoyaki hotplate in your table that would be an awesome table add-on, one of my future DIY projects, I have been thinking about for a while.
Should you build or buy chairs?
You want to consider your chair choice, buying Some nice leather chairs is the best way to compliment your DIY table, you can also make your own chairs, but making chairs is time consuming and a hard DIY project to get looking good while also being comfortable, but the hard part is if you build a table out of hardwood, and you get the chairs to match the same wood they will be very heavy.
It might be better to build the table yourself and buy a pair of comfortable leather chairs or bar stools to suit the tabletop.
For me, I made 1 chair for my table, and I ran out of timber to make a second, yea I could of just cut some more timber, but the chair was too heavy to move around to be comfortable. So I scrapped it for a yoga ball or I use my leather couch against my table.
Tips for building a table from a tree
When you have your timber slabs use an electric Makita planer to take the timber back ruffly for a straight and square edge.
When you have glued 2 or 3 slabs of wood together to make a decent-sized top, make sure to use some wooden dowels or a biscuit joiner with glue on the joins for extra strength. And get 2 or 3 very strong clamps to hold it tightly together while the glue drys so you cant see the timber joins.
Don’t go cheap or shy on the glue either. Before you glue 2 or 3 slabs together you want to test with a clamp and make sure the timber joints are joining perfectly with no noticeable gap on the line.
Use a hand planner rather than an electric planner to tidy up this edge of the join’s checking, right the way along the join with a square.
Keep the natural timber shape on the outside of your table but use a belt sander to sand the top, don’t waste your time with an orbital sander, for a job like this it would take forever. You want a belt sander that can sand back large amounts of wood and fast.
If you have a nice thick table or benchtop, it makes it easy to mount the legs using just a rebate. Do this using your set of marpel chisels or by using both wood chisels and your best wood router. You can then glue the legs inside the rebate with expandable glue.
If you are building your table green (Wood still has high moister content) don’t apply any surface finishes or sealers to the timber until the timber has dried for a year. And I recommend using a marine-based polyurethane to stop watermarks as a kitchen bench or table will get water stains on it with a standard polyurethane.
If you are serious about cutting multiple timber slices out of a tree log for carpentry work, search for an Alaskan mill you can cut a timber slab free hand as I have but if you want to make lots of slices from a log, an Alaskan mill is an awesome tool that does the job of cutting timber straight from a log perfectly, letting you do multiple cuts from one log with minimal wastage.
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My name is Aaron, and welcome to Bangingtoolbox.
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