Building a table top
Q: How wide can boards be for building a table top? Some say wide wood is fine, others tell me that all wood should be sawn four inches wide to boost stability, then glued together to make wider panels.
A: Sometimes wide boards are okay and sometimes they’re not. It all comes down to the orientation of growth rings in the boards, the moisture content of the wood, and where the finished furniture will be used. The advice you’ve been given about sawing and re-gluing wide boards into smaller strips is certainly safe, but it’s also boring.
There’s something precious about a 14-inch wide plank in the middle of a dining table. You never see this in production furniture, and the first step to making reliable use of wide wood is to make sure it’s fully dry before building. This means storing what seems like dry wood in a heated, indoor space for at least three or four weeks before construction, all during the winter heating season.
You should also choose wide boards with growth rings nearly perpendicular to the face of the board. This growth ring orientation is called quartersawn or vertical grain, and it minimizes the kind of seasonal wood movement that might cause trouble for you. In the case of your tabletop, secure the wood to the underlying frame with metal clips designed for this job.
Typically called Z clips, they fit into grooves that hold the table top firm, while also allowing it to get wider and narrower. I buy mine from Lee Valley Tools (www.leevalley.com)
Repairing foundation cracks
Q: How should I fix a crack in the foundation of the house I just bought?
A: Foundation cracks look alarming, but they’re not always significant. If the crack remains the same size over time, then you can fix it with confidence. That said, if the crack keeps getting wider or longer, or changes in size seasonally, then things are grim. Mark a spot with masking tape, then record regular measurement of crack width so you can see if and how things are changing. If the crack changes over time, then you need to call a foundation specialist for an opinion.
On the bright side, unstable foundation cracks are rare. Yours can probably be filled and sealed without trouble, and there are two ways to do it. If the crack is narrower than 2 mm to 6 mm, then you should opt for an epoxy injection repair. These are specially designed for foundation cracks and they do a good job. You can hire a service to come in and do the work for you, or you’ll find do-it-yourself kits.
For cracks wider than 6 mm, I’d use polyurethane caulking instead. This is extremely durable and made by several different companies. It sticks well and remains flexible for years.
Sizing a new furnace
Q: How big should the new furnace be for my century-old home? None of the furnace installers I’ve talked to give me anything more than a guess.
A: This first step is to complete a heat loss calculation on your house. As you’ve discovered, this rarely happens. Laziness is usually the reason why. Heat loss calculations use computer modelling to determine heat requirements for a structure based on size, floor plan, insulation levels and window design. Furnaces need to be sized to meet maximum expected heat loads on the coldest days, but not a whole lot larger. In your case, a proper calculation is especially important because of the age of your place. Heating requirements will vary a lot from the average numbers that installers run into with newer homes.