Hot Topics: Dealing With an Unlevel Table Top

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If you're thinking about starting a DIY table-making project, it's important that you know the right tricks for making sure your table top is level. If you've already started one and ended up with an uneven surface, take the advice of these avid DIYers and forum contributors to make sure your hard work doesn't go to waste.

Original Post: How to Join Table Top Correctly With Glue and Pocket Hole Screws

q0987 Member

Hello all,I just made an end table, and the results are not as good as I expecte

Hello all,

I just made an end table, and the results are not as good as I expected.

The major problem is that the table top is NOT flat.

When I joined the board, I first put glue on the sides, then used pocket hole screws to fasten the boards together. After the screws were driven in, the joining of the boards was NOT flat anymore. I don't have face clamps, and I don't plan to buy those expensive clamps any time soon.

Question 1> Should I glue the counter top first, then apply pocket hole screws later?

Question 2> What is right way to do the counter top if I don't have face clamps?

Thank you

Highlights from the Thread

ray2047 Group Moderator

The boards need to be run through a jointer first to get the edges square and flat.

Short of doing that, I would not try to pocket screw the edges. I'd just fasten each board individually to the frame. It is not going to be great but the best you can do without using a jointer to remove the radius and square the edges.

marksr Forum Topic Moderator

If the top is already assembled you might use a belt sander to level it out, maybe even a planer over the really high spots.

guy48065 Member

Q1: Answer depends on what kind and how many clamps you have. If you have several long pipe clamps to draw the boards together, then I wouldn't fuss with the pocket screws till the glue is dry. You can use the screws INSTEAD of clamps to draw the joints together--but they'll never apply the kind of pressure that clamps can.

Q2: Along with long pipe clamps you would sandwich the assembly with "clamping cauls." Cauls are pairs of boards that span across the glue joints and force the assembly flat. A proper caul is made by cutting each as long as the top is wide, then using a plane you shave the ends down a bit until the caul has a *slight* curve. You then apply the cauls (waxed so they don't stick to the glue squeeze-out) after the top is clamped and when the caul clamps are tightened the slight opposing bows forces the entire assembly flat. Google "clamping cauls" for more detail.

The exact technique used doesn't matter nearly as much as proper stock preparation. "2-by" construction material does not have a straight and clean enough edge for glue to bond correctly.

bmgreene Member

guy and stickshift are dead on.

It's possible to use a planer in place of the jointer if you do the edges of two boards which will be glued directly together; clamp the boards together so that either the two "top" faces or the two "bottom" faces are together, then plane the two edges together (you could also do a thin rip on a table saw to take of the radius corners first to speed up the work a bit). Then once the mating edges are flat, lay the boards into pipe clamps, which aren't super expensive and are the best for this kind of job although you do also need to have or buy some pipe as well.

Laying the boards on the pipes before clamping should start them out pretty flat, and to keep things level during clamping you can lay some weight on top once the clamps are snug (stacks of books on top of waxed paper would work), then tighten the clamps down while the glue dries.

For a solid plank table top like that, attaching to the base should use slots in the cross-members of the brace (aligned across the grain direction in the top) or use "figure 8" connectors like these (Desk Top Fasteners, 8 Pack - Rockler Woodworking Tools) to allow for the expansion/contraction of the table top.

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