Collaborating on an Arts and Crafts Coffee Table - Gluing Up the Top with Breadbord Ends
Arranging and finishing a quarter-sawn white oak top offers a set of unique challenges. Unless you have a large inventory of stock to draw from, you will likely be flipping and switching the boards around in a way to take advantage of the signature ray fleck pattern. Once it works for you visually, chances are that the grain will be running in both directions along the top. This table was no exception.
What this means, of course, is that you won't be pulling out a plane to level the individual boards or create a final finish -- it will be scraped and sanded into submission. This is not too onerous if you take special care during the glue up.
I spring the joints on this 2'x4' glue up and use only enough pressure to get a uniform bit of squeeze out from the two middle clamps. If I am wrestling and wrenching it, something has gone wrong in the preparation and this should have shown itself during the rehearsal. The outer clamps need very little pressure. If all goes well the greatest variation across the top will be less than 1mm.
After drying overnight, it took less than an hour to scrape and sand the top flat to 180 grit. Still over sized, it was time to create and install the breadboard ends.
This top is +/- 1" thick so the tongue and groove will be cut at 3/8". This is driven as much by my tooling (I have a 3/8" spiral router bit and a 3/8" pig sticker mortise chisel) as by convention. I cut the blind groove first, dropping it down on the router bit in a series of passes (I hate this move) until I get the desired 5/8" depth. After marking, I mortise the breadboard "tails" by hand.
The extended length or "horns" on the end help while you are test fitting, and my goal is to have it just snug enough to slide into place with a few well-placed blows with the side of my fist.
The last step is to plane the final thickness of the ends. This is a judgement call, but I like to have them just proud of the top, ensuring that all end grain is covered, but not so high as they might get caught and chipped during normal use. I slide the end out about 1/2" and protect the top with masking tape. From this point it is just a matter of test fitting until you are happy.
I build bespoke furniture in the English and American Arts and Crafts tradition. I refer to my work as "vernacular" -- working furniture that is to be enjoyed and passed down to the next generation. I accept commissions for original designs as well as historically accurate mission, Shaker, prairie, and Cotswold pieces.