Whether your hot beverage of choice is coffee, tea or a more exotic concoction, chances are you call the low table typically placed in front of a sofa a coffee table. The name tea table might be more historically accurate — the design originated in the teahouses of the Middle and Far East — but that term doesn't carry the same familiar connotations of traditional American interior design.
True to classic table-design principles, this plan consists of a top, four legs and four skirt boards (also commonly referred to as aprons). Whether you're building a coffee table, a dining room table or an end table, the basic components are the same; only the dimensions differ. So once you understand how to build this design, you can use the same techniques to build other types of tables.
To simplify construction, I used manufactured legs and corner brackets from Osborne Wood Products Inc. (see SOURCES ONLINE). The cost of the legs depends on the style and wood species you choose. The soft maple turned country-style legs that I chose cost about $15 each (not including shipping). Using manufactured components is a great way to incorporate design elements that you might not be able to make on your own and enables you to build a one-of-a-kind table for a fraction of what you'd spend to have a piece custom-built for your home.
Click here to download the Coffee Table Plan
Building your own table gives you the freedom to make it just the right size for your needs and to incorporate custom details such as the storage shelf that my design includes — an especially useful and convenient feature for a coffee table. I also made my table's top unique by using reclaimed lumber from an old beam made of hackberry, a lesser-known member of the elm family. The boards were riddled with nail-hole stains and signs of worm and insect damage — not enough to compromise the integrity of the wood, but just the right amount of rustic character to complement the country-style legs.
There are several ways to attach the skirt boards to the legs: Mortise-and-tenon joints, dowels, metal corner brackets and wood corner brackets are the most common. I chose to use metal brackets because they are easy to install, create a strong connection and are easy to take apart and reassemble. Osborne Wood Products' Web site provides detailed project instructions, including how to install both metal leg brackets and shop-made wood corner brackets.
Building the base
The metal corner brackets fit into slots that you cut in each skirt board and then fasten to a hanger bolt that is screwed into the corner of the leg. Hanger bolts feature two sets of threads: bolt threads in one half and screw threads in the other. The inside corner of the leg is chamfered to make room for the bracket and to provide a flat surface for connecting the hanger bolt.
The first step in construction is to determine the position of the bracket slots on the skirt boards and how deep to chamfer the inside corner of each leg. The position of the skirt boards is up to you. The closer the skirt boards are to the outside edge of the leg, the deeper the chamfer will need to be. Make a pattern of the leg and skirt board connections on paper to determine the position of the bracket and depth of the chamfer.
I made the skirt boards first. Using a table saw, I cut the slots for the corner brackets and tabletop fasteners. My next step was to cut the opening for the shelf, which is an optional feature. Eliminating the shelf from your design will simplify construction — you won't need the stretchers or shelf. If you include the shelf, use a scrap of flexible lumber such as a strip of 1/8-in. plywood to draw the arc for the shelf opening. I cut the opening with a band saw.
There are several ways to cut the stopped chamfer on the inside corner of each leg. I used a band saw. If the chamfer is not too deep, you can use a router with a piloted chamfer bit. A third option is to use a handsaw.
The hanger bolt must be centered across the chamfer. It also must be high enough on the leg so that the bracket is not exposed under the skirt board. The brackets I used are 4 in. tall. I drilled a 5/16-in.-dia. pilot hole 2-3/8 in. down from the top of each leg. Then I drove a hanger bolt into the hole until only the bolt threads were left exposed. The next step is to loosely assemble the legs and skirt boards and then slip the corner brackets over the hanger bolts and into the slots in the skirt boards. Fasten the corner brackets to the skirt boards; then attach the legs to the corner brackets.
It is a good idea to wait until the legs and skirt boards are assembled before cutting the stretchers to length. Measure the distance between the front and back skirt boards to find the exact length of the stretcher boards. Then cut the stretchers to length and bore three pocket-screw holes in each end.
I used a scrap of 3/4-in. plywood for the shelf. I cut the shelf to final size and attached heat-activated edge banding (available at most home centers and woodworking stores) to the front edge. Then I installed the stretchers and shelf.
I built a solid top for this table, but if you're not comfortable with the techniques required for this task, you have other options. For example, you can have a piece of hardwood-veneer plywood cut to size at most home centers and apply heat-activated edge banding to cover the cut edges. Or you can have a piece of natural stone cut to fit. You can also reuse a top from an old table or buy one at a furniture outlet.
My first step in making the top was to prepare the boards for gluing. I used four boards to make the 24-in.-wide top. The boards were rough-planed and flat when I got them, so I only needed to plane them down to the final thickness, square up the edges and cut them to size. Next, I cut biscuit slots in all of the mating edges and then applied the glue, inserted the biscuits and clamped the boards together.
Once the glue had cured, I added a chamfer detail to the bottom long edges of the top using a table saw. Chamfering this edge makes the top appear less heavy and makes access to the shelf easier.
Next, I cut radii in the ends to ease the corners while still leaving flat edges along the sides that people would normally sit next to. To locate the center points for the radii, measure 36 in. from each end and find the center between the sides. Cut the radii using a band saw or jigsaw.
Finishing and assembly
You can choose any furniture-grade finish for the top and base. Because the legs, skirts and top of my table are built from three different species of solid wood and the shelf is a piece of plywood, I had no intention of trying to match the wood tones. To play up the beauty of the reclaimed lumber, I applied clear satin polyurethane to the top and sprayed three coats of antique-white paint on the base.
After the finish cures, the last step is to fasten the top to the base with tabletop fastener clips.
Then grab a few books and magazines and a hot cup of something — just please remember to use a coaster.