Furniture that’s easy to make can tend to be visually clunky, and graceful furniture has a reputation for being too difficult for the home woodworker to build. With that in mind, our design team accepted the challenge to create a table that featured flowing lines but simple construction.
Starting with straight lines and pleasing proportions, we simply added a few curves and tapers to various pieces. The result is a table that requires only moderate skill to build, but everyone who sees it will think you’re a woodworking genius.
Downlaod this article: Click here to download this complete project plan.
Side table overview and planning pointers
Although we used mahogany for our table, other common species such as maple, oak and cherry are also good choices. Adjust the amount of material you purchase depending on the quality of the wood. Knots, splits and warps may require you to buy more stock. We’ve included a little extra in our recommendations for waste and test pieces.
We employed a Festool Domino to cut all of the table mortises. This mortising system is significantly faster (more than 75 percent faster, in my experience) than a router and uses manufactured floating tenons. The Domino has become a shop favorite among the editors and is a HANDY Innovation Award winner. However, this expensive tool isn’t required for this project; you can make the mortise-and-tenon joints with a router and use floating or fixed tenons. If you’d prefer simpler joinery methods, other good options are dowels, biscuits and pocket screws. (But the latter two are not suitable for joining the stretchers.)
Depending on the type of wood you use and its cost, you’ll spend about $200 to $400 for materials, hardware and finishing supplies. There’s nothing special about the hardware; most home centers will have what you need. Download full article pdf to view shopping list.
Preparing stock and parts
As with any furniture project, the best way to get the flat, consistent stock necessary to achieve the most precise joinery is to joint and plane rough stock. But if you don’t have a jointer and a planer, you can purchase milled stock at most home centers and lumberyards.
At 14-1/8 in., the top is a fairly wide piece, so you may need to edge-join two narrower pieces together. You should be able to make all of the remaining parts from single boards.
Once you’ve cut all of the parts to length and width, lay out the curves on the drop leaves and aprons and the tapers on the legs. You can cut these before or after cutting the mortises. Just be sure to mark the parts clearly to avoid mistakes, such as the position of the leg tapers.
Each leg has two tapered sides that are oriented toward the inside of the table. Using a band saw or a table saw (and tapering jig) to make the leg tapers (click here to learn more about cutting tapers with a table saw). Be sure to make the cuts in a sequence so the cut sides face up to prevent the workpiece from rocking on the tapering jig. The legs must be securely clamped or fastened to the jig. You could also use a band saw to cut the tapers and then sand or plane off the saw marks.
There’s nothing complicated about laying out the curves for the drop leaves. Bend a long 1/8 x 1-in. strip of wood to form a curve; then trace the curve onto the workpiece. Use a band saw or jigsaw to cut the curves just outside the pencil line. To save time, you can stack pieces, sticking them together with carpet tape, and cut them at once. You can also cut the leaf supports this way. After cutting, sand the edges smooth to the marked line. (An oscillating spindle sander is a great tool for this task.)
Rout the concave/convex drop-leaf joint (often called a rule joint) on the leaves and top with 1/2-in. roundover and cove bits. A router table will afford better control and smoother cuts than a handheld router.
Table Joinery Tips
Although we used Domino tenons to join our table, the procedure for laying out conventional mortise and tenons (or most other types of joints) is basically the same. Here are a few tips to set you on the right path.
Allow at least 1/2 in. from the top and bottom edges to the first joints on the legs and aprons. The tenons should be no more than one-third the thickness of the stock, so in this case, the tenons are 1/4 in. thick. Be sure the tenons that extend from the aprons into the legs aren’t too long so they don’t intersect with each other. Use two or three tenons rather than one long one – this will allow for seasonal wood movement. It’s always a good idea to cut the mortises a little deeper than the length of the tenons to accommodate excess glue that may be squeezed to the bottom of the joint.
If you opt for pocket screws or dowels, use three for each apron/leg joint and one for each stretcher joint. Biscuits are too large for the stretchers, but they’re a good choice for the apron/leg joints. Use either No. 10 or No. 20 biscuits.
Fit and finish
Once you’ve finished the joinery, dry-fit the table-base parts to check the fit. Then cut the grooves for the tabletop fasters (see drawing) using a table saw. Glue the base together in stages to keep the process from becoming too complicated and time-consuming and to ensure that the base is square.
Lay out the mortise positions for the drop-leaf hinges on the top and on the drop leaves. You can use a small router and a straight bit to cut the mortises, or you can cut them by hand with a chisel.
The hinge mortises in the leaf supports are best cut with a band saw. These parts are too small to safely cut on a table saw. Install the leaf hinges and the support hinges; then attach the top with the tabletop fasteners to check the fit. Disassemble the table and remove all of the hardware before final sanding.
Ease all sharp edges with a sanding block or a router and a small (1/8- or 1/4-in.) roundover bit. Sand the entire table with 220-grit paper before finishing. Check for any unwanted surface glue by wiping the table with mineral spirits. Areas contaminated with glue will appear lighter.
Of course, the finish you apply depends on your preference and skill and the type of wood used. An oil-base stain and wipe-on polyurethane is always a good low-hassle choice. For a truly smooth, lustrous finish, sand with 320-grit paper between coats; then buff the final coat with 0000 steel followed by a soft cotton cloth rubbed in the direction of the grain.