By Sam Gleisner, Founder Sam Gleisner Furniture
I am building a plywood furniture business in Wellington, NZ and I was stoked to get my first dining table commission in plywood. After doing smaller plywood pieces for several years, it was going to be an exciting challenge to attempt a dining table. The clients wanted a robust and durable family table. I developed three designs, all in 18mm oak veneer and birch core plywood from PlyMasters. I thought one of the designs was a winner, and being good clients they agreed. Following my usual process, I started with sketches and balsa models for developing the designs, then CNC-cut the pieces, and formed and finished the table in my garage workshop.
I aimed to create an aesthetically unusual and elegant design, which was functional and would age well. It also needed to be comfortable to the touch; the table top, table edges and legs all had to be smooth and curved. I wanted hands, knees and elbows to be met with smooth and rounded edges. With this in mind I made the table edge a continuous and uniform thickness all around.
The Construction process
Similar to my other plywood furniture pieces, this piece has three-dimensional forms using flat CNC-cut pieces. Each leg is three 18mm pieces thick, which I glued after they were cut, and the top is two sheets thick at the edge.
I positioned the direction of the grain of the legs at an angle to point away from the centre of the table, not the usual direction of the grain if the legs were made from solid timber. I also did this to contrast with the plywood layers that run from top to bottom of the legs. The angle of the legs as they extend out under the table also follows lines from the centre of the table.
I used a jigsaw and orbital sander to cut and sand the form of the legs. I wanted a hand finished look so there is slight variation between each of the legs.
The facetted corners of the table top followed a line carved from the legs. I also added the facetted corners to focus on the person seated at the head or foot of the table, by narrowing towards them.
Dealing with The Weight
This piece is slightly longer than an average rectangular dining table, large enough to seat eight comfortably and ten at a squeeze. For rigidity, bracing running the length of the table was required. I used aluminium to reduce weight, although steel would have been more effective. To reduce weight I also routed out some sections of the underside of the table top.
I wasn’t keen on sanding it after body surfing it down concrete steps
Initially I had wanted the legs to be detachable, however I also wanted a ‘thin’ profile for the table as it would be viewable from the living area where there are low sofas. Once construction was underway I wasn’t confident on using fixings that would allow for removable legs and retain the thin profile. As a result I decided on screwing and gluing the legs to the tabletop for strength.
Finishing The Plywood Dining Table
For the finish I used a wax finish on the legs. It gave them a nice matte finish and touch, and I wasn’t so concerned with water or UV damage. For the table top I considered using wax also, but ended up with a matte marine varnish.
By the end I was pleased with the result. During the process there were definitely moments where I thought I won’t take on a dining table again – but maybe next time I’ll aim for something slightly smaller and lighter.