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So my gf has a really sweet antique baker's table top. It has what I believe is a porcelain but may be ceramic finish. I've never tried lifting it (it was here before I was) but she tells me it weighs a ton, or more precisely: "You'll need another man or my sister to move it. I can't possibly lift it," which I estimate means it weighs at least 75 - 100 lbs (my gf is small and not the strongest, but she can carry a 30 - 40 pound box if she needs to, so I know it must be pretty heavy if she can't even co-carry it).

The table supporting it is not so impressive. While the craftsmanship of the corner beams is impressive (by my low standards), this table has clearly seen better days and wasn't built to last. All points of contact are separated and there is clear stress marks all over.

So, we're not up to building a new table from scratch (I've never done it and I don't want to be to blame if her table gets scratched if the new one collapses), so we're going to post an ad for a carpenter to come out and build us one. But I want to get a really nice wood that might hold up better than the last one. The tabletop is the real prize here, but I think it deserves a better resting place than whatever lumber is on sale at Home Depot.

Having said all that, I know that oak would be a bit much (both price and need), but even if I were to consider something that high-end, she's determined to paint the table some nifty color, and I know that it's just rude to paint oak.

So what wood meets the requirements:

  • Sturdy, hard, strong enough to hold up a 100lb+ slab

  • Not so expensive that I'll feel silly but not so cheap that I won't trust it to last more than a few years

  • Industrial enough in the sense that it's not offensive/de-valuing to the wood to paint it turquoise (or whatever she goes with).

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You might want to have the table appraised first, since rebuilding might make it worthless (if you care about that). Inspect the table for a furniture makers "mark", this will help you date the table and determine who made it. If you find some pictures of what the table originally looked like, a carpenter might be able to return it to it's former glory. –  Tester101 Jun 1 '12 at 12:09
    
Are you suggesting we restore it? I'm not sure if my question is clear we want to replace, not rebuild the base table. She seems to think the table is not the original, just an old table the antique dealer set it on. Will check for markers, but any advice on where and what to look for would be great. –  Anthony Jun 1 '12 at 12:16
    
marks are usually either a small metal plate, or a brand burned into the wood. On a table I would suspect it would likely be on the underside of the top, but it could be anywhere. –  Tester101 Jun 1 '12 at 12:51
    
@ri swamp yankee - Based on feedback thus far, is there someone in the phonebook qualified to both appraise the table and quote an estimate for restoration? ... That makes housecalls? –  Anthony Jun 1 '12 at 12:54
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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Why not Maple or Poplar? Poplar is very cheap but pretty soft; Maple is harder and pricier but still not terribly expensive. Both take paint well because they have tight grain that doesn't need to be filled to get an even, unblemished surface. You could even go super cheap and use something like Pine, as long as you fill the pores with a wood filler and sand it flush before painting. None of these stain as well as more expensive woods like Oak, but it seems staining is out of the question for you.

As Rl Swamp Yankee said, wood is wood (at least in that the vast majority of it will support your top if the base is built correctly). Any furniture grade lumber can support quite a bit of weight, so go with a grain that will fit your needs. To reassure you, Poplar is used frequently as a secondary and support wood in furniture projects, and Maple is often used to build 300+ lb work benches.

Here's an interesting overview describing wood's ability to carry loads:

http://www.ehow.com/info_12003543_load-bearing-properties-common-woods.html

And a link for calculating the load-bearing capacity of a column of wood (although this looks like it's only for typical construction-grade lumber rather than hardwoods):

https://courses.cit.cornell.edu/arch264/calculators/example7.1/index.html

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Wood is wood. So long as it's furniture grade lumber, and adequately designed to support the weight of the tabletop, it doesn't much matter if it's pine or mahogany. What I'd do is to select the wood based on how easy it is to work with and how you want it finished - dark or light; painted or stained or natural; oiled, shellacked or varnished; with lots of obvious wood grain and/or knots, or a tight, even grain, etc. More interesting and aesthetically pleasing wood tends to be more expensive.

Also, you probably want to hire a cabinet maker rather than a carpenter. You don't necessarily need the skills of a furniture maker for this project, but you will need a different set of skills than a typical carpenter has. A good cabinet maker will work with you to match the wood with your design goals.

Finally, maybe take the table as it is to a furniture restorer. It could be the table is substantial enough, it just needs some long-overdue maintenance to tighten the joins and refinish the wood - this will be less expensive than rebuilding it from scratch, and can preserve any value the table has as vintage furniture.

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Wow, thanks. So what is a good wood for a heavy slab that's going to be painted (using whatever paint appropriate for painting wood a solid color, not stained). –  Anthony Jun 1 '12 at 12:49
    
If you want hardwood rather than pine, here is a good guide to inexpensive options: finewoodworking.com/Materials/MaterialsArticle.aspx?id=33136 –  RI Swamp Yankee Jun 1 '12 at 13:23
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As an extension to what RI Swamp Yankee has said, there are some reasons to choose one wood over another. For example, pine can be a pretty soft wood. In fact, some types of pine can dent pretty easily, while others are actually pretty dense. There are other issues with pine. For example, pine will often get stains bleeding through paint. (You might want to avoid knotty pine for this reason.)

Other woods can have their own issues. Oak for example, has large pores and prominent figure that will show through paint unless a filler is used to fill those pores. However, oak is a quite dense, hard wood that will take a lot of abuse, and it is not terribly expensive. (Virtually any commonly used wood will be strong enough to support the weight you mention.)

As far as expense of wood goes, it may well be that the wood itself is less expensive than paying a cabinetmaker to make the frame. Time does not come cheaply. You may be surprised at the cost, and reconsider how relatively inexpensive it might be to have repairs done to the existing structure.

Finally a good woodworker will know the locally obtainable woods, since locally obtainable means the wood will be less expensive. They may also suggest an alternative to wood as being less expensive - perhaps MDF.

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