I enjoy building small tables. They don’t require a lot of wood, they don’t take much time to build, and they provide a nice canvas for exploring design options.
The wood for this table came from project leftovers. Makore for the top panel, apron trim and feet, Garry oak for the panel frame and apron, and ash for the legs. Makore (also called African cherry) is one of my favourite woods, (forloversofwood.com). It’s straight grained with a fine texture, and very dimensionally stable. It machines well, is easy to work with hand tools and takes a finish beautifully. In veneer form you can also get it mottled, blistered, curly, and fiddleback. The lighter Garry oak complements the makore, while the ash lightens the overall appearance of the table.
From the Ground Up
The rough stock I had on hand was 1 ¾” x 2 ⅞” x 46″, which effectively determined the dimensions of the table legs. Cutting the board in half lengthways gave me 23″ legs, somewhat too short for what I had in mind. Gluing 4″ blocks of makore onto the ends of the legs resolved the issue. I often use feet on table legs, sometimes joining foot to leg with dowels – other times I simply epoxy them together. After more than a decade, I’ve not had any come apart. On this table I simply epoxied them together.
Once the epoxy cured, I milled the stock just slightly over-sized, and then bandsawed a slight curve on the two inside faces of each leg. I began the curve about 5″ from the top of the leg. The exact point at which to start isn’t crucial as long as the curve is pleasing to your eye. You can bandsaw the curve freehand or use a template (see “Patterns, Templates & Jigs”, Oct/Nov ‘07, Issue #50). A hand plane, spokeshave or sandpaper makes quick work of removing the marks left by the bandsaw.
Legs to Aprons
I usually join aprons to legs using mortise and tenon joinery. For a table that won’t be subject to heavy loads, you don’t need massive tenons; these are ¼” thick and ½” long. It’s worth cutting shoulders on the tenons, as they serve to hide the edges of the mortises. If you cut a slight bevel on the inside of the shoulder, and ensure that the tenons don’t bottom out in the mortises (cut them 1⁄16″ shorter than the mortise depth), most, if not all of the glue will remain in the mortise, where it belongs. Assuming of course that you glue sparingly – I aim for a thin, even coat on mating surfaces.
You know the drill – dry assemble before final glue up. No matter how long you’ve been woodworking, it’s still a good rule to follow. After I dry assembled the frame and legs, I felt that the table looked bottom heavy. Bevelling the front of each leg lightened the look of the table giving it a more elegant appearance. Again, I simply bandsawed the legs and smoothed them with a small block plane. Just before gluing the aprons to the legs I sanded everything with 220 grit paper – just enough to remove any pencil marks, residue from blue painter’s tape and oil or perspiration from my hands. All of these can contaminate your finish. After gluing the aprons and legs together I glued the trim to the underside of the aprons. On this table the trim is flush with the outside of the aprons. I’ve also run a bead along the bottom of the apron, either routing it on the apron, or adding a piece of rounded over trim and letting it extend about ⅛” or so past the apron face. I don’t like straight lines all that much, and often curve the bottom of the aprons. However, on this table I felt that curved aprons would distract the eye from the graceful curve of the legs.
Topping It Off
The top consists of a simple frame and inset panel that sits about 3⁄16″ above the frame. I make the panel first, leaving it about ⅛” oversized, and cut the rabbet under the top edge of the panel after the panel frame is assembled. Because the panel is so small I’m not worried about seasonal wood movement. Certainly, on a panel wider than about 12″ I would have re-sawn the makore and laminated it to a Baltic birch core (and veneered the bottom side as well).
After cutting the panel frame pieces to final dimension I mitered the ends. I do this on the miter saw, using a stop block to ensure that each piece is exactly the same length. I then cut a ¼” spline slot on the inside end of each apron. These help align the pieces during assembly. For the splines I used ¼” Baltic birch, and cut the slots on the router table with an Onsrund spiral bit. On the top inside face of each apron I cut a ⅛” by ½” rabbet that will seat the panel. All that’s left is to cut a rabbet on the bottom of the panel (that will mate with the rabbet on the top of the aprons) and then round over the top edge of the panel. Once I’m assured that everything fits together nicely, I glue the frame together. There is no need to glue the panel to the frame. Place the frame (with the panel removed) on the aprons, and use a pocket hole jig from kregtool.com or workshopsupply.com, to secure them together. Two pocket holes per apron are sufficient. Sharp corners on tables invite confrontations with legs or other body parts, so it’s a good idea to round them off. On this table I decided to simply cut off about ⅝” of the corners. I think it provides a nice facetted edge to the top and compliments the outside bevel on the legs.
A table like this is likely going to be placed somewhere in a room and left to its lonesome. So it doesn’t need the same kind of finish that a dining room table requires. For display furniture I usually apply a shellac from woodessence.com or leevalley.com, followed by several coats of a thinned varnish or polyurethane (Varathane ‘Wipe-On Poly’, rustoleum.com, is the commercial version) on the top. While shellac has superior vapour resistance, which is what helps alleviate the effects of changes in moisture content on wood, it isn’t overly water resistant, as is varnish.