Chris Schwarz's Blog

Shop Tip For Working Round Tabletops

Preparing small tabletops or irregular-shaped tops for finishing can be difficult with handplanes. If the top has a lot of mass, you can usually count on friction to help hold the top in place. Or you can screw it down from the underside , assuming the underside is not a show surface.

But sometimes the best solution is to make some cauls to grip your work, which is what I did this morning in the shop to plane the top of some 18″-diameter tabletops for the next issue of Woodworking Magazine. The cauls are made from the scrap parts that fell off when I cut the tops to rough shape on the band saw.

Then I skipped the scrap pieces through my planer to reduce their thickness (I also could have used a jack plane). Then I bored 3/4″- diameter holes in the cauls so they would press-fit over my 3/4″- diameter round dogs in my benchtop. Finally, I pinched the top between the two cauls using my wagon vise (though any end vise can do the trick).

When I’ve done this on workbenches with square dogs, the solution is to cut the pointy end of the caul so it is flat. Then you brace the flat against your square dog.

No matter how you rig your cauls, pinching the work between two cauls has some advantages, as long as you don’t use too much pressure. With two cauls you can rotate the top to work cross-grain if necessary or move the top so it’s more convenient to plane.

This arrangement works great with belt sanders. It’s not necessary if you use a random-orbit sander to prepare your work. Then you can just place the work on a blanket and get to work.

– Christopher Schwarz

6 thoughts on “Shop Tip For Working Round Tabletops

  1. Michael Rogen

    Chris,
    Once again you have taken away my fear, guilt and other baggage out of the equation and left me with the simplicity of just enjoying the work. I will bet that you are a great dad.

    As always thanks for your help,

    Michael

  2. Christopher Schwarz

    You can buy the turned components in kit form. Shaker Workshops carries them (http://tinyurl.com/yq9922). A second option is to call the people at Matthew Burak (http://www.tablelegs.com) about turning that post.

    And here is a topic for another day: There is no shame in buying components or working with kit parts. Many highly skilled cabinetmakers sub out components. Not just today, but all the way back to the 18th century as well.

    Chris

  3. Michael Rogen

    Chris,
    With this very simple system of holding a round top to work on, I no longer have any fear of building a Shaker Tripod table that I’ve only thought about in the past. Now the only excuse I have is figuring out how to make those legs without a lathe. Any ideas?

    Thanks for another great tip,
    Michael

  4. Narayan

    A few other ideas:

    Vices with large jaws (such as twin-screws) often have multiple dog holes in the top of the outer jaw. If there are corresponding holes in the benchtop, three or four dogs will hold a round board very securely.

    Also, Festool’s MFT tables have dogs which make this sort of thing very easy.

  5. Christopher Schwarz

    Depends.

    Typically for round tops I’ll use a router compass (Robert Lang has built the simplest and coolest one ever for Issue 9) followed by a spokeshave or scraper.

    If the top is irregularly shaped (an ellipse perhaps) I’ll use a pattern bit in a router and a pattern. Then spokeshaves and scrapers.

    If it’s a funky top (think: amoeba), then I’ll use rasps, shaves and scrapers. Sometimes files.

    Chris

  6. The Village Carpenter

    Thanks for posting the tip, Chris. Always looking for ways to get more use out of my workbench. Now, what’s your tool of choice for cleaning up the band sawn edges — router? files? spokeshave?

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