How to build a table top (with old wood)

Looking for a solid wood dining table instead of the lower-quality veneer stuff? I’ll give you valuable tips on how to build it yourself, using reclaimed wood and the right tools! 

I believe every home project should begin with something old. 

Of course, there are a few exceptions, like this faux wood beam. It started as a plain piece of wood from the local hardware store, and I turned it into a lovely architectural feature in our home.

Also got some frustration out with a bag of nails and the back of a hammer when I tried to make new wood look old

But here’s a perfect example: 

We bought this IKEA kitchen table before we had kids. Over the years, we gave it several upgrades to extend its life while keeping most of its structure and essence. 

It’s not easy to discard such a central piece of furniture. This one supported us through many hectic family meals and was our main homework table before we built this floating desk in our basement.

But after we moved it out of our cramped kitchen and renovated the entire area during our small kitchen remodel, we suddenly had more space.

Now, everyone in our growing family could fit easily around the table, and we could even host larger gatherings. 

Then, I had the opportunity to gather some reclaimed wood from a place that was very special to me. And the creative sparks started flying!

Here’s my experience with how to build a table top with reclaimed wood to serve as a gorgeous, long-lasting, and low-maintenance dining table.

homemade tabletop from reclaimed wod

BEFORE YOU GET STARTED

This is actually the first table that I have ever built. 

And because it’s my first time, this isn’t a typical how-to tutorial. 

I want to show you how I made this table, plus my mistakes and what I would do differently next time.


MATERIALS:

TOOLS:

You can print the material list and instructions below.

With this build, I decided to try new building methods to create a table. 

In the past, I would have used pocket holes to assemble the table, but instead, I used different joints to secure the wood together.

The wood I used for the tabletop was some pine floor joists that came from a really old house that was being torn down.

reclaimed wood before and after planed

This house was sentimental to me, so I wanted to reuse this wood in something that I would see and use every day.

When I build a tabletop again, I will not use pine because it is a soft wood. I recommend using harder wood to avoid dents in the wood after it’s finished. 

FLATTEN THE BOARDS

These boards were very beaten up, so we used a planer to give it a smooth finish. 

But here is the first mistake: we didn’t mill the planks properly to give us a flat board. Unfortunately, the tutorial I found wasn’t correct. 

The quickest way to flatten a board is with a jointer. Most people don’t have the money or space to purchase one of these but you can use a planer to give you a flat board. 

There are two videos below that show you how to correctly mill a board using a planer. 

One is by 3×3 Custom, and the other is by Third Coast Craftsman.

We did it by running the board through the planer on one side, then flipping it over to the other side and running that side through. We repeated this process until the board was the size we wanted. But this process didn’t give us flat boards – they still had slight bows in them.

SQUARE THE EDGES

A jointer is a great tool for squaring the edges of the board, but you can also use a table saw with a type of jig or sled to give you a square edge. 

I didn’t use one, which was another mistake. 

There are two videos I would recommend for this, the first one is the 3×3 custom video about milling, and the second is by Walkers Woodworks on creating a jointer sled. 

ATTACH THE BOARDS TOGETHER

Next, we attached the boards together to form the tabletop using a biscuit joiner. 

I started by laying the boards out in the order we wanted them.

layout wood for tabletop

Something I didn’t pay too much attention to when I created my tabletop was the grain arc on the end of the boards. 

You want the grain arc to alternate, and the Woodworker Journal has a great tutorial explaining this. 

Then, we marked the boards for where the biscuit would be placed. 

I did have one issue while I was using my biscuit joiner. For some reason, instead of the biscuit being 90 degrees to the board, it switched to 45 degrees. 

biscuit tool

This doesn’t work well when you are putting two boards together. Make sure you check that the biscuit is being created at a 90-degree angle to save you some headaches later. 

Once we added a biscuit joint to all the boards, it was time to glue up the boards. Eternal Harvest has a fantastic tutorial on how she glues up her table tops. 

marking wood for biscuits

Finally, we clamped them all together and them to dry. 

clamped boards for tabletop

ADD BREADBOARDS (OPTIONAL)

You could leave them as they are, but my husband wanted breadboard ends on the table. 

I agreed – it would look great and help strengthen the tabletop. 

I used my router and table saw to create the tongue and groove joint.

Megan using compact router

I routed both ends of the tabletop to allow the breadboard to be connected. 

This was a learning curve, but by the end, I did figure out the best method for me. I recommend practicing on a scrap board first because some of my ends were very rough.

routered end of tabletop

I then used dowels to hold the end into place after gluing.

dowels in table top breadboard ends

Once everything is dry, I cut away the dowels with a flush trim saw, then sanded the tabletop. 

FINISHING THE TABLE TOP

I decided to fill in all the gaps and knots with epoxy to make sure the top was smooth and easy to clean. 

I mixed the epoxy according to the instructions. It’s important to mix the ratios correctly and slowly to help reduce the number of bubbles in the mix. 

I started on the back side of the tabletop, and I am glad I did! 

After finishing that side, I realized that the epoxy was bleeding into the wood because I am using soft wood. This would make the wood discolored when I added my finish. 

To solve my problem on the front side of the tabletop, I first applied a coat of my finish, General Finishes Arm R Seal, because it can be wiped on. This would seal the pores of the soft wood. 

I taped around the areas where I would apply the epoxy with painter’s tape.

apply epoxy to table top

Then, I applied the epoxy to those taped areas.

I used a heat gun to remove the bubbles to give it a clean finish. 

Once everything was dry, I removed the tape by lightly heating the areas with the heat gun.

knot in tabletop filled with epoxy

After, I used a card scraper to scrape the epoxy to be flush with the tabletop. 

But I also found that my orbital sander did a great job at making everything level.

wood knot filled with epoxy

I then wiped the top with a dry cloth to remove the dust and applied the recommended coats of finish onto the top.

I used table top fasteners to attach the tabletop to the apron and legs of the table.

under table z fastener

And here is what the tabletop looks like in my new dining room.

build a reclaimed tabletop
DIY reclaimed table top

The FULL PROJECT VIDEO:

Are you someone that does better with visuals? Check out the full project video below, and don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube, so you don’t miss out on future projects!

image of YouTube video for reclaimed tabletop


Even though this reclaimed wood was not easy to work with, I took a few extra steps to make sure it would look the way I wanted and last a long time.  

The result is a stunning table top that’s incredibly functional and easy to clean. I do still think about my IKEA table once in a while, but I’m looking forward to the next project already!

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