TABLE TOPS Boards, Book matched or Slab
When purchasing a new timber table it’s handy to know there are a few different methods used when creating the tabletop.
Board joined together
Most tabletops are constructed using a number of boards joined together. The preference for most customers is a bit similar to choosing timber floorboards – the wider the board the better. This increases the value of the table due to the difficulty in obtaining wide boards. The majority of timber obtained by Christian Cole Furniture has derived from old buildings or structures. Recycling timber floor joists are perfect because they are wide (usually 8 x 2” or 10 x 2”) and hanging beams retrieved from demolished houses (8 x 1½”). Often this timber is over 100 years old making it perfect for use in timber furniture because it is seasoned i.e., perfectly dry. Unseasoned timber will crack and warp because during periods of high humidity timber will absorb moisture from the air causing it to swell or increase in size. Conversely during drier seasons when humidity’s are low timber will shrink in size.
At Christian Cole Furniture our table boards are carefully selected from the same timber pack. Christian hand disperses the pack of timber on the factory floor grouping the boards according to the amount of feature “timber characteristics” and colour tones etc. Some customers are very specific about how they envisage their tabletop. Some love a huge amount of timber feature whilst others request it to be plain. Timber boards can often vary in colour. Whilst they may be the same species or from the same dead tree, their colour hues will often vary according to where the timber species, where it was derived or how it was dried. Colour matching can be tricky because individual boards can respond differently in colour when finished with lacquer or oil leaving colour variation in your tabletop. Experienced craftsman can detect this early when selecting timber boards.
Another benefit of wider boards is the additional strength and stability of the tabletop. A reduction in timber joins diminishes the amount of seasonal movement a table might perform. Each board is joined to the next with glue possessing adhesive properties that will not break down over time and will actually move with the timber boards as required during temperature changes in your home. For additional strength, every 600mm each board is connected to it’s adjoining board using a Tenon. This technique greatly reduces cupping or joints splitting.
Two pieces of wood are matched together so that the two adjoining tops mirror each other… thus giving the impression of an open book. The adjoining surfaces are derived from the same piece of wood. Ultimately the tabletop looks like it’s a single piece of wood. The effect is stunning particularly when the timber possesses a great deal of feature. Being only 2 pieces it’s structurally very strong however in this instance the timber must be perfectly seasoned because a great deal of movement can occur if its’ moisture content levels are not optimal for furniture making (9 – 12 %). Again the timber is joined using Expoxy Resin Glue and Tenons providing optimal strength.
This is often seen as being more prestigious because of the difficulty in finding two wide pieces of timber originating from the same log. This timber is retrieved from dead logs salvaged from farms or rescued from being cut into firewood. A strenuous and lengthy process is involved in acquiring this timber thus making it more expensive to purchase.
Single piece “Slab”
The tabletop is constructed from one single piece of timber. This is incredibly unique and the finished product is a visually stunning tabletop. The life of the tree is laid out in front of those around it. The different colours, lines and shapes each represent an event in the trees life. Evidence of fire, flood, drought, bug infestation and abundant growth can be seen simply by following the grain of the timber.
Sourcing and preparing these pieces is a passion of both Christian and myself. The integrity of the tree, how and where it came from is an extremely important component to our business philosophy. Each tree has a story of its own!
Each piece is unique!
The process involved in obtaining these pieces is arduous and lengthy.
It’s crucial that the moisture content in the slab is optimal for construction into a tabletop. The degree of moisture required varies slightly between species and obviously the climate it is to be housed. At Christian Cole Furniture every slab is carefully moisture testing using a moisture testing gauge ensuring the top will not cup, twist or warp.
Extra joinery precautions must be taken when constructing the base for these tabletops because the slabs of timber will need to “float” on the base. It must be enabled to move seasonally whilst being kept flat and straight.
To many of our customers this is the ultimate purchase because they will often look at a large slab and feel a connection, identifying with the tree’s endurance. I often think there is a greater connection with the table.
So you can see that the process of selecting timber for a tabletop can be tricky and quite time consuming depending on the timber available. Christian actually really enjoys this component of timber table making, as it is a crucial part of our service.
My tabletop is wide boards of recycled Black Butt retrieved from a demolished Battery Hen farm in Gippsland. What type of timber tabletop would you prefer?