I've got an order for a walnut dining table. This is the way I go about milling and laying out the 6/4 top.
First I select the lumber. Table tops get my best boards, wide and knot free. Before I cut them up, I'll handplane a little off the rough surface to better evaluate colour.
I don't get too worried about variation, as long as it's reasonable. I don't mix different cuts, like quarter and plain sawn, or figured and non figured lumber, though.
I start milling by cutting to rough length. This lumber is just long enough for two pieces each. First I'll trim a little off the best end. This removes checks and any paint (sealer) that may have travelled up the end grain.
Next I cut the first piece 1" longer (46") than my finished table width (45"),
then the second piece, removing the heavily checked end.
I keep track of the lumber by marking the end grain. I also estimate the width of the finished board, and keep a running tally.
I continue until I have enough for the table and leaves.
If I use the letter "H" I skip the letter "I". My labeling isn't always this clear.
Next I joint one face.
I don't clean up the entire face, just enough to register against the bed of the planer, which comes next.
Again, I don't clean up the whole face, just enough to register against the jointer fence when I edge joint. Some will joint the edge when they joint the face. Doing this means you joint the face and edge at the same time, and you move between machines less. However, planing in between gives you two flat parallel faces to choose from to register against the jointer fence. You can always edge joint with the grain this way.
I joint the edge, removing only enough to register against the tablesaw fence.
Then I measure both ends of the stock, set my tablesaw fence to the smaller measurement, and saw the other edge of the board straight and parallel to the first.
Next, I'll pair the lumber up with it's mate, stand them on their edge, and select the widest pair. These will be my centre pair, I feel these are the most important boards in the top. I use wide lumber to draw the eye to the centre of the table. If the boards are all very close to the same width, I choose the darkest lumber.
I put the best face up, then flip them around until the grain pattern flows from one board to the other.
Then I pick the second widest, and try to make the grain flow between these and the previous two. Usually between the eight different combinations I can, but if it doesn't work I'll go to the third widest pair. I don't bother alternating growth rings, I always put the best face up. I also don't worry about grain direction, I use a widebelt sander to flatten my tables. If I used a handplane I would try to orientate the grain in one direction, to minimize tearout between boards.
The finished table will be arced on all four edges, with this in mind I complete the layout, finishing with boards that will follow the arc. The table leaves are made up of the leftovers. I label the order with numbers and letters, and the leaves with words.
The parts are way over size. I want it to go into the clamps an inch over finished width. I trim off the sapwood and thin edges to get to this measurement. I then mark the edges for jointing. I use the method of compensating error, I joint one edge with the top to the fence, the next away. It doesn't matter if my jointer fence isn't exactly perpendicular to the table this way, I still get joints that allow my boards to lay flat after glue up. I use the grain direction to determine which board goes in which direction.
My clients often like to have a hand in the process, so now I'll sticker the top and wait for them to come in and have a look.
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