The Fresh Loaf

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Kneading table - what type of wood surface?

AndyPanda's picture
AndyPanda

Kneading table - what type of wood surface?

I have a big, old, heavy, wooden table that I'm not using.  I was thinking it would be perfect for kneading bread EXCEPT it has decorative grooves cut into the top.  I have no idea what they were thinking - those grooves collect gunk and are really difficult to clean.  I've never tried to knead bread on it - I mean those grooves get full of gunk just using the table as an ordinary table (which is why it isn't being used).

So ... I'm thinking of putting a layer of wood on top and making it into a kneading table.  I have one of those unfinished wooden desk tops from Ikea (I think it is birch) and wondered if that would work for the top of a bread table.  Or if I need some other type of wood.     

I have always made yeast breads and just shaped them into loaf tins - so never needed (kneaded?) any special table.  But I'm just getting interested in sourdough and I see all these videos of shaping really wet doughs with a dough scraper.  And I want to learn how to do that.  And maybe I'm being silly here - I mean I have granite counters which work fine for my bread pan loafs (less hydration) ... but when I try any sort of high hydration dough, it's just a big sticky mess on the granite counter.   Or maybe once I get my dough scraper (I don't have one yet) it will work just fine on granite?  But the granite is always very cold and I thought wood might be a better surface. At least all the videos I watch are making beautiful loaves with the dough scraper and wooden surface and really wet dough.

I have a birch top I could try (it's not very hard wood - it's easy to make a dent in it) - or I could get bamboo, or maple, or oak?    Or should I just get the scraper and do it on my granite tops?

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

in my brain how I could attach a wood surface to granite or tile for a kneading surface.  A slip proof mat under the board is one idea or a wet towel but I don't like the board slipping around.  I was thinking more in the lines of drilling holes and setting in removable stainless steel pegs to match holes drilled in the corners of a wooden surface.  

Small flat pugs could be set into the holes when wooden board not in use.

I have never liked using granite to knead as the dough might pull up tiny bits of rock and it is indeed porous. My fear of biting into a rock outweighs my need to knead on it.  Be careful not to employ medicinal woods like birch or willow.   Short list:  http://www.woodmagazine.com/materials-guide/lumber/medicinal-trees/

Mini

law_and_loaf's picture
law_and_loaf

you want wood that is not too soft (more open grain traps bacteria) and not too hard (which is harder on your knives). there is a hardness scale called the "janka scale" that measures wood hardness, and for cutting boards, butcher blocks, wood counters, and other food oriented surfaces you want somewhere between 850-1600 on the Janka scale. you can look this up on the net if you like.

Short answer is Birch is fine (especially yellow birch). most common wood for this includes maple, cherry, and walnut.

@ Mini have you thought of a bench-hook like design to hold the board against the edge of your counter?

something like this: https://www.amazon.co.uk/BBTradesales-Cutting-Board-Bamboo-Counter/dp/B003CYWYP0

law_and_loaf's picture
law_and_loaf

I would stay away from bamboo (the above pic is just for reference).

AndyPanda's picture
AndyPanda

@ Mini ...  I think it would be difficult to get the plugs back out again unless you drilled the holes all the way through.  Here's a thought - Neodymium magnets. They are very strong.  If you drilled holes and glued magnets so they were flush and had matching holes on the wood.  You just need to get the magnets oriented in the right direction. I suspect they would grip so tightly you'd need to use a tool to pry the wood off when you are through.

I just looked at IKEA about the wooden table top (I'm using it as a desk currently but it is about the right size to fit my big old table).  The page says it is beech.

http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/50106773/

AndyPanda's picture
AndyPanda

This is a picture of the heavy table surface.  It was a yard sale find many years ago, I think I paid $10 for it and used it as a dining table for a while but these grooves really bothered me the way gunk would collect in there.  I sharpened the edge of a wooden chopstick to use to clean out the grooves but you could never really get them clean.  So I've been using it as a work table for projects.     I don't know what kind of wood it is - maybe I could resurface it to shave it down flat?    I can't imagine why they designed those grooves into the surface.  Maybe I could glue wood strips in and then sand it all down flat?

law_and_loaf's picture
law_and_loaf

that looks like some sort of sheet good (like plywood) with a laminated table top, I don't think sanding it down will help you at all. do you have a picture of the edge? it's difficult to tell for sure from this picture.

beechwood is fine for food, FYI, treat with mineral oil :)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

the table surface?   Use the underside?  Filling a few holes is easier than filling those grooves!

I agree those are nasty grooves. 

AndyPanda's picture
AndyPanda

I'm pretty sure it is not veneer - but it's blocks/strips of wood glued together. The seams on the bottom match the seams on the top.    Here's the edge:

Underneath:

law_and_loaf's picture
law_and_loaf

OK I take it back that's solid wood, not veneer, those are better shots :). stripping the top down to a flat surface would be a lot of work. it might be doable to flip it over that seems like a lot of work too given how it appears to be attached underneath. oddly enough it would likely be easiest to fill in those grooves with wood filler and sand to a smooth surface but that would still require a lot of sanding and putting a new finish on as well. if you don't have a good sander then that's a ton of work too. It really depends on how much you like the table, and the wood filler would very likely look rather strange but it's probably the easiest solution if you want to make that a flat surface. and frankly I don't know how the wood filler would hold up if you used the table as a work surface for kneading bread and so forth, it's always best to use some sort of hardwood like the beech you pictured above.

OR get a new table top and just replace it. probably not the cheapest solution but I can't think of a better one.

best ideas I have ...

AndyPanda's picture
AndyPanda

Because of the grooves, I don't use it for anything food related - it's been great as a general work table and it's pretty sturdy.  I had thought about wood filler - but I don't think I'd want to do that since I want to be using dough scraper and I think it would cut into the filler.  Or maybe I'm just not familiar with modern wood fillers - the last time I used any, it smelled toxic and had a crumbly texture that I wouldn't trust for food prep but maybe modern fillers are much better?    

I had thought I'd just buy some hardwood strips and cut to thickness to fit the grooves and glue them in and then sand the surface (I'd want to get all that old lacquer off anyway).  I have a belt sander and orbital sander so it wouldn't be too bad. 

Or that beech table top from IKEA would probably be a lot easier and not too expensive.  I'm tall and work standing so I think the extra height of the new top over the old top would be an advantage. 

law_and_loaf's picture
law_and_loaf

so wood filler is like any woodworking product, once it cures it's safe but I completely agree, it would not hold up to the wear and tear of handling dough and besides, nobody wants little bits of anything - filler or otherwise in the bread.. you could fill with strips as you suggest but I would only do that if you plan to fix the surface and just keep it as it. Another option would be to put a laminate top on top of what you have (you can get hardwood laminate - which is just cut very thin, maybe 1/4 inch or so, which would be fine to just glue on top). or you can do as you suggest, glue the beech table top on top of what you have. If you do the last, then I would definitely recommend still using wood filler to fill in the grooves just to give a smooth glue surface. You also want to sand it down to strip off any finish that's on the table, then just glue the beech onto the top. it would be very heavy but ... also very sturdy.

 

good luck in any case, I love projects that intersect woodworking and baking :D

AndyPanda's picture
AndyPanda

I normally finish wood with tung oil.   But for a food prep wood, don't you simply use mineral oil like for a butcher block?  or after I sand the finish off down to wood, should I give it a few coats of tung oil to soak in and seal the grain?  Or something else?   

Remember, I will be scraping over the surface with steel dough scraper so I don't want a finish that sits on top of the wood that could scrape off into the dough.  If any finish at all, it needs to be one that soaks down into the grain.

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Andy,  I actually have a fair amount of experience with wood finishes.  Most of the marketing we read is really just hype, and most finishes sold as  tung oil, are not really tung oil,  just a thinned varnish.  https://www.popularwoodworking.com/techniques/finishing/oil-finishes-their-history-and-use

 

Your best bet is mineral oil, or mineral oil with a little bit of wax.  Easy to reapply.  

 

BTW, to the original poster, and to Andy,  I have a butcher block baking cabinet, but put a large piece of marble on it for use for kneading and shaping pizza -  it cleans much easier than wood, and doesn't require any maintenance.  

law_and_loaf's picture
law_and_loaf

Tung oil is rarely actual tung oil, and I'm not sure I'd use it on a surface meant for handling dough. You could use some food safe varnish finishes like salad bowl finish, again making sure it's fully cured, but the more I have thought about it, the more I am concerned with any knife work on such surfaces and think good ole mineral oil or butcher block oil is the way to go. it does need more frequent maintenance but IMO worth it.

I too have a marble slab, by the way, and I love it for a lot of food handling including even higher hydration dough, but I just have this strong affinity for wood.  each to our own I suppose :) but for me, part of the project is, well, the project part.  

AndyPanda's picture
AndyPanda

Yes, I'm aware that Formby's etc. is just wiping varnish.  I was talking about 100% tung oil (you dilute it with citrus solvent if you want it thin to soak in more), it takes a very long time to dry.  But sounds like it's still not needed.  

I keep beeswax around for lots of uses - it's really handy.  I've seen some wood finished with just beeswax that was very nice.  Beeswax and mineral oil then?   

I have a really large, unused room that opens into the kitchen and near windows with a nice breeze etc.  And I just have this idea that having a very large surface just for bread whenever I want (right now I have to clear off the marble counters to make room when I want to fool around with bread).  And the table fits the vision once I get it smooth. 

I have this silly idea to fill in the grooves that won't cost but $10 or so if it doesn't work out - I was thinking of grabbing a pack of birch coffee stirring sticks (they come in packs of 1000) - you can get them with square ends.  So I could just lay them in the grooves and a sharp chisel to take them down level with the table and then go to work with the sander.  haha I know it's goofy, but I think it'll work with a minimum of effort and expense and get me a smooth wood surface on a sturdy old table. 

 

Cfraenkel's picture
Cfraenkel

do you know anyone with a planer? Or could you rent one?  seems like the easiest solution.  Plane down the top and apply oil. It is certainly thick enough.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

in the table lined up that you could use a grouter tool and widen the  groves to make a dove tail?  If so you could then place corresponding dove tail strips of wood through the ends and not need any glue to hold them tightly in place.   Stripes of wood would then be sanded with the table top to even.  Think about using lightly or dramatically contrasting coloured wood and perhaps add a few more lines to turn it into art as well.  Make yourself a surface to inspire, a  joy to work on.  

Another idea would be to fill the grooves with a two component epoxy or urethane.  Cleaning out any varnish or old dirt before applying (my electric toothbrush comes to mind.)  Sanding after the fill has set up and hardened.  This can lend itself to a natural finish nicely.

I had a wonderful table of high grade plywood (one side only) surfaced with a two component clear polyester.  I brushed on the first coat the poured on the second, spreading and allowing for a glass like surface.  It had the look of wet wood and was a lot of fun to work on.  

Since you already have a wood base, resurfacing or covering up an existing wood base with a thick sheet of wood only makes the table very heavy and hard to move around.  Think thin.  Raising the table is easier done with the height of locking wheels and makes for more leg room under the table.  

I think the planer and sanding the entire table down to flatness would be a very long and painful process to get flat, even when some kind of jig to prevent the planer from gouging too deep were used.  May still have seams (and gaps) of one kind or another. 

Mini  

AndyPanda's picture
AndyPanda

Hey Mini,    Several comments earlier in this thread you mentioned you were thinking of drilling holes and using pins to hold a wood top on your granite and then when you take the wood off you would plug the holes.  Not sure if you saw my suggestion - it might have been buried in a longer comment.   

What I was thinking was if you made those pilot holes in the wood and the counter like you planned, but instead of stainless pins, you'd epoxy in Neodymium magnets so they are flush on the counter (no need to plug the hole) and as long as you get the magnets installed in the right direction the board would be held pretty securely. 

Clever idea you had there about dovetail so I wouldn't need to glue.  :)   

I will probably just do it really simple and inexpensive.  Years ago I had filled all those grooves with beeswax (I love beeswax - haha - it's great stuff).   And that worked pretty well for my needs at the time (just keeping those grooves from filling up with lint and dirt and gunk) - but wouldn't work for this.  Epoxy or other filler would probably be simplest and work fine - but I'm still stuck on the idea of using coffee stirring sticks to fill the grooves.  

For me to use a planer ... well first of all I don't have one or know anyone with one I could use ... but I would need to pull apart all sorts of stuff underneath the table.  There is edging all the way around on the bottom and braces.  

Well ... I'll be sure to take pictures of whatever I end up doing and posting them here :)  thanks for all the suggestions.

 

 

 

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

suggestion.  Clever.  Sounds good except my work surface would have magnets attracting knives and tools when exposed. I can just see me trying to lift a pot off the counter and jerking food into my face.   I have magnets holding secret cupboard doors shut.  Works like a charm and a good idea.  I also have one of those ikea cutting/kitchen boards but use it for cutting paper and other dry crafts.  I don't like the way it slides around.  In Austria I insisted on my favourite counter top to be a white stone looking Formica.  Love it.  The rest is granite.  

In Laos I'm stuck with the tile.  Hubby surfaced it on my last holiday and I've been frustrated ever since.  Not only did I not want it, but it was used to instruct the work crew "how to do it right."  Well, the corner plastic trim (more reserved for bathrooms) is poorly placed around the edges.  It traps crumbs and dirt and hard to wipe.  I did manage to teach the crew how to use and lay tile more properly but still having trouble correcting their bad grouting habits.  Oh well.  

I just moved in before flying so I haven't had much time to correct my counter top problem.  There was also a basic problem with the workmanship of the grout (nobody read the directions)  and when the grout started thickening from slow work (it has a 30 min. working time)  they added water to thin it.  The result is a grout that continues to dust off and crumble.  So I also have the fun of removing a good portion of it.  More about that later.  I have to let hubby work in the kitchen by himself and with his neatness discover the problems.  Then he hopefully won't object to my corrections.  I just hope he doesn't correct and try to surprise me.  

There may be a flexible grout on the market now, worth looking into to fill your groves.  

Stir sticks eh? Are the grooves that shallow?  I sense a creative need here.  But coffee sticks are cheap wood, they are not meant to last long and deform easily.  What about rye paste?  Sticks very well and all natural!   Squish it in with the bench scraper.   Sponge the edges clean with a wrung out smooth firm sponge and let dry.  Might want to toss in some white glue for flexibility.   

My husband would simply have some clear or dark tinted glass cut and run a bead of silicone around the edge to hold it in place.  Plexiglass might also be a solution if you are into slapping the dough hard onto the work surface.  

Looks like your wood is teak. The underside is beautiful but full of holes from the edging.  Sad, no flipping.  If going with glass or wood or a stone slab,  I would make the top bigger than the table top to have a nice extended edge.  It could even be two layers of glass.  Check into the prices.  

Of what I can see of the table, it looks like it was possibly inspired from expensive teak wall panels. Could even be tongue and groove construction.  I would sand the edging material in place and not try to remove it, the table may fall apart.  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

large pieces out of the rye flour.  Try to get it as fine as you can.  :)

AndyPanda's picture
AndyPanda

Interesting idea!  I am just now learning about sourdough and I read that they used to seal up the gaps in log cabins with the extra starter (and that people have scraped out that ancient starter and revived it).

The coffee stir sticks I was thinking of are thin but they are made of hardwood (you can get various quality - yes I've seen flimsy ones but I've seen some that were a reasonably hardwood).

I'm not sure how to describe it words (and I tried to draw a picture and failed miserably) -- I was thinking of lining up the sticks on their side rather than lying flat and staggering them.  I figure three sticks sideways will be wide enough and much taller than the groove - then when the glue dries I'll shave them down with a freshly sharpened chisel.  And by staggering them (so the ends of the three side by side sticks don't all line up - like how you lay bricks alternating) it should be stronger with less chance of catching the edge.   Anyway ... that's the idea that is calling to me at the moment :)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

what you mean.  

AndyPanda's picture
AndyPanda

I'm surprised by how light the wood is underneath the finish, but I'm pleased with how the birch-wood coffee stirring sticks worked.

AndyPanda's picture
AndyPanda

AndyPanda's picture
AndyPanda

I'm done with sanding off the finish - now it's a two tone table with amber legs and a light top.  I don't think I'm up to the task of trying to sand the legs and braces - I don't mind the two tone at all though.  This is all about function and not about looks.   I could stain the top again to match the rest - but not sure I want to stain the wood since the whole point was to get a nice wood surface for making bread and pizza etc.     

It's like having a giant breadboard :)

MontBaybaker's picture
MontBaybaker

Andy, great work.  Wish I had the space for it!  Somewhere is a Sunset magazine pic of my dream kitchen with a long dropped wood kneading surface that sits under the regular counter (can't recall if counter slides out or flips to one side).  Some day.  Currently have low and standard counters now which work well as hubby is 6' 1" and I'm 5' 3".  I do most work on the lower.

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

Oh, well done. That looks quite lovely, and do let us know how it works. I suspect those ones that you see in the Youtube videos by professionals are well-seasoned with just a bit of flour always on them, kind of the same way my proofing baskets need very little flour and don't stick at all anymore just because there's flour permanently embedded in them.

I've started using a wooden cutting board for some shaping and like it. I'll be interested to hear how you get on with your wonderful new table!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Light tends to darken the surface too over time but it looks Great!

Before being completely done with sanding, give it a good wet wiping with water and let it dry well.  The water will cause a slight swelling and when dry bring out any rough edges in the grain.  The follow up is to go over with very fine sandpaper block working with the grain not across it.  Then you're set for oiling or waxing the surface to prevent stains and such and a long life.   Nice job!  

law_and_loaf's picture
law_and_loaf

nicely done Andy!  if it were me I'd just give it a good mineral oil finish, especially if you're planning on using it as a prep-table of sorts. that wood looks much nicer than the stain it had before... 

MontBaybaker's picture
MontBaybaker

I've only had an 18 x 18 marble slab for baking; counters in all houses have been tile/grout - not my choice.  Recently decided I need a larger work surface,  My kitchen is small so the marble is always out (heavy for me to lift with hand OA).  Figured a larger slab of something underneath would work (could slide the marble over).  I was looking for a marble or granite counter remnant, but will now switch to wood based on your comments.  The marble is great to chill, but difficult to work dough flour-free.  I already have food-grade mineral oil for my many Speculaas molds. 

You guys are psychic.  As always, TFLers had posted many answers before I asked the question.  Happy Baking.