Reclaimed Wood Table: The Story Behind Building BIG Berkeley

The Story Behind A BIG Reclaimed Wood Table, The BIG Berkeley 

With every table build, there is a story about how the table came about.  This table was a bit unusual since it was really BIG, 12' long actually. The client called on a Friday, we closed the deal Friday night and we had 7 days to get it done.  

Normally this would be impossible, but we happened to have a break in our schedule.  Not only did we have a table to build, but we also had to build 3 benches, 5 shelves and enough accent wall material to cover 150 sq ft.  Needless to say, I didn't see my kids much that week!

The Name-BIG Berkeley

I like to apply a name to my tables that represents something from the owners.  I mainly name the tables for customer reference when we are choosing a style or wood for a table.


For this one BIG was self explanatory, it measures 4' wide x 12' long, BIG!  Plus, I thought it was really cool it was going all the way to California and BIG Berkeley just stuck in my head from day one!

The Style

This table was going to be the center piece of a new mattress store opening up in Berkeley California called Urban Mattress.  The owner wanted something more modern, but still have a lot of character.  

He wanted those who saw the table to instantly recognize that the table was not from Pottery Barn or West Elm.  The picture below of the Bennett-Cargill table was the starting point.  He liked the style, but it was too finished. 


Because of the time line, I really only gave him 2 choices; either a traditional farmhouse table or a Parsons style table where the legs come through the top.  I had built both styles before, so I knew exactly what I needed to get it done in such a short time line. 

He chose the Parson's style table. 

The Wood

We didn't have a lot options here as we only had Swamp White Oak available that was both kiln dried and was more than 12' long.  The wood for the top came from a barn in Ann Arbor that was recently razed by the City of Ann Arbor. Here is a photo of the barn. 


The wood was originally floor beams for the 2nd floor in the barn.  There were only 7 of them so we had to be really careful to make sure we had enough material, delays were not an option here.  

We straight line edged all the sides of the board for glue up and then planed the material down to 2 3/8".  We could have gone further, but I figured a big table needed to look BIG!

The Glue Up

This glue up was much longer than usual, so we combined some techniques to insure a good bond.  It was so long we had to move all our clamps to the floor.  That was the easiest way to go.  This was a challenging glue up because 2 of the boards had nasty bows to them, so we really struggled to get the boards to line up straight.  


I decided to also use the HD Pocket hole screws from Kregg.  The portable HD Jig worked perfectly for the underside of the table.  Again because of the deadline, I wanted to speed things along wherever we could.  By utilizing the pocket hole screws, we were able to remove from the clamps with confidence that everything would stay together. 


We did the glue up in 3 phases, 3 boards glued together, then 4 boards, then the final to join them together.  It took us about 2 days to get the glue up completed. 

The Base

I had been wanting to try a combination where you leave the base a natural, oxidized gray and have the top look more finished by exposing the real wood.  I also wanted to select the legs for the table from Swamp White Oak mainly because with the legs coming through the top, so the grain would be exposed.  I thought it would look funny any other way.  

The material for the base came from a barn located in Blissfield, MI, the Uckele barn.  Here is a picture of it standing. 


I planed the 2 inside edges of each leg mainly to create a flat surface to mount the skirting, but I thought that it would also tie in the top with the legs.  


Since I wanted the base to stay the grey color, I did very light sanding with 220 grit just to remove any snags that might cause problems.  The Parson's style is very minimalist, so I use 3 1/2" rails all around the top.  

The Sanding

This is a big table so there was quite a bit of time sanding on the top for this one.  As I mentioned in describing the base, I only did a light sanding on the base to maintain the oxidized gray color.  

I had about 4 hours sanding on this table.  I went from 80 grit to 120, 120 to 150, 150 to 180, 180 to 220 for the final.  I used my Festool 6" Rotex sander.  

The Finish

For the finish, I used Varathane (made by Rust-Oleum) Matte Finish ( I have only found it at Menards, click here if you want to see the can).  I like to use the matte finish because you want a older look with the wood.  A shiny finish looks too new, I just don't like it, so we use the matte finish.  It is resistant to fingerprints and has excellent resistance to scratches.  

I sprayed on the finish with my Husky HVLP sprayer.  I put 3 coats of polyurethane on both the top and the base.  I sanded the top with 220 grit paper after the 1st coat, 600 grit after the 2nd coat.  

By using straight poly, I was able to cover the base and maintain the gray tones that I was looking for.  


It turned out beautiful.  I could not have completed this table in time if it weren't for the water based finished.  It dries very quickly and the dust doesn't get a chance to stick. 

The End Result

Side View

This thing is massive, you can tell even from the pictures.  Here you can see the contrast between grey and the natural color of the Swamp White Oak.  


Here is a shot from the end (little bit of sunshine on the end, not a defect).  You can see all the amazing variations in the wood.  It is all Swamp White Oak, but the contrasts are striking!


This shot gives you a good look across the top.  The finish has just a little shine, but smooth as silk, just the way we want it.  


Interested In Your Own Table With A Story?

As I mentioned in the opending paragraph, each table has a story to tell.  We try to document the origin of the material, but even without that, the back story on the building process can be very interesting.  

We hand build these tables from wood sourced from Michigan barns.  Many pieces are actually sawn from original barn beams.  The beauty of this old wood is un-matched.  If you are interested in a custom table with a story, please click the button below. 

Interested In Commissioning A Table? Click Here..

OR....if you just liked our story, please share with one of the buttons above. Thanks!!

Jimmy Hovey, MBA
Written by Jimmy Hovey, MBA

I started my first business when I was 14 years old and have been working in my own businesses or family businesses ever since the. My parents placed a high value on education and instilled a strong work ethic. We fixed and built our own stuff including homes while I was growing up. I love to write and author both this blog and a blog on energy efficient lighting. I have 4 kids and live in Michigan. You can contact me below.



Learn about barnwood, reclaimed wood
and see jaw-dropping works of art!
Not to brag (...ok, maybe a little!..)...
but, you will be truly amazed at
what we can do with old barnwood
We post often
(but not enough to annoy you..promise!) see our posts AND get special offers
that are ONLY available to our subscribers...

Subscribe to Email Updates

Got A Question? Text or Call  1-866-686-BARN or Call Locally 1-989-424-5547
Want To Build Your Own Table?  Click HERE to  Check Out Our DIY Table Kits.....
Hours? Monday-Friday 9 am-5 pm Saturday 9 am-12 pm  Can't Make It Then? Other Hours  By Appointment