How long will it take me to build a table?

So you've decided to build a table, but you are not sure how long it's going to take. 

The answer is: it depends. Factors such as size, wood type, joinery techniques, your tools, expertise, and finishing options all factor into the time required to build your heirloom table. 

One option to reduce the build time is to buy some of the parts. This can save significant time, or get you some designs and features you cannot make with your set of tools, while still pulling most of the project together yourself. Try Wye Creek Woodworks for table legs.  

Alas, you'd like to get an idea of what's involved and the timing, maybe you think it's going to take a year, and you don't want to get into that kind of project. Or perhaps you think its a quick project, out the door in a week. Well the answer is somewhere in between. 

I have been building tables for years in my small shop, and it helps to think about your project in phases so that you can plan out your space and tool usage.

A table project can’t be done in one day. You may need to work on it, put it aside, then come back, so you should be thinking where your breakpoints should be to prevent multiple setups of the same tool.

Phase 1 - Preparation - 2–10 hours

Preparation involves planning the project, laying out the design, identifying your workpieces and how much lumber you need for the project, your hardware, glue, tools, coatings, and space you need to work on your project. Some people prefer to have everything written up for reference before the project, while others will wing it and modify their work on the go. If you are starting, find some plans on the internet for your project, it will save significant design and planning time.

Phase 2 - Milling - 2–6 hours

Once you’ve got your lumber, you will need to process it from its raw form to the dimensions you need for the project. General steps are:

  1. Jointer - to get lumber true and straight (make sure your wood is dry and acclimatized to your work area before milling)
  2. Planer- to get the thicknesses you need
  3. Table Saw/Track Saw/Circular saw - to break down the planed lumber into your workpieces
  4. BandSaw/Scroll Saw- for detailed work and curves
  5. Pre-drilling for hardware and joinery

Phase 3 - Joinery/Gluing - 4–8 hours

Joinery and gluing is the fun part. This is where you start to see your project come together. All the preparation done in the previous steps will ensure clean, gap-free, solid joints. Choosing what joints to use depends on your skill level, tools, and patience, but here is a guide.

For joints that require gluing, make sure you are working with clean edges that have good contact with glue spread over the entire surface of both parts of the wood that will be connected. Avoid end-grain glue-ups. Use waterproof glue for outdoor projects. Glue in room-temperature where possible.

Phase 4 - Sanding - 2–8 hours

Sanding can be the most tedious part of your woodworking project. However the time and effort here will show through in your finish, especially on stained projects as opposed to painting projects.

Work up through your grits, 80–120–180. Stop here for paint. Stain continue up through 200s-800s depending on your needs.

Phase 5 - Coating/Finishing - 2–8 hours (without drying time)

This phase, more than any other, needs special equipment and setup space. The key here is allowing the finish to dry in between coats. Although the total work time is 2–8 hours, the duration of your finishing time can be 2–7 days to allow your work to dry before re-coat before moving on to the next coat. You may notice that cleanup time takes longer than the coat time, especially if you are using a paint sprayer.

Your space should be clean and dust-free, ideally separate from your work area so that dust does not collect on you finish.

Phase 6 - Assembly and setup - 1-2 hrs

The finish of your project - exciting! You’ve probably already got a place in mind where your piece will live, so get set up in your area and start putting it together

Be gentle when assembling - use hand drivers instead of power drivers.

Total Time: 14 - 42 hours

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