Build a Coffee table…Just the Way You Like ItComments (0)
This article is from Issue 79 of Woodcraft Magazine.
Personalize your project by selecting the design details that suit your size and style requirements.
The coffee table needs a new name. Every home has at least one of these low tables, and they do so much more than provide a parking space for caffeinated beverages. The basic design of this coffee table leaves plenty of room for customization. It’s easy to adjust the table’s size, finish details, and other features to suit your needs (see sidebar at right).
A buddy of mine turned the legs for this table. You’ll recognize them in the duplicate turning article that begins on p. 55. You can use the same profile or come up with your own. Another alternative is to order a set of legs from an online source like TableLegs.com.
Have it your way
It’s easy to customize your coffee table. Here are just a few options:
- Table size. Build a bigger table by lengthening the aprons.
- Finish. Use a different finish for the base, or a different wood for the top. See p. 60 to create a faux soapstone top (photo at right).
- Dining table option. Install spring-actuated hardware that enables you to elevate the table top. See p. 28 for installation details.
Turned legs, deep aprons, sturdy joinery, and a stable top
Coffee tables are typically about 16" high, but the footprint can vary. The dimensions of this table represent the smallest size that can accommodate the top-raising hardware shown on p. 28. This simple design has no lower shelf or stretchers to stiffen the table frame, so structural integrity needs to come from strong leg-to-apron joints. A solid wood top will be more resistant to warping if it has breadboard ends, as featured here. Many fine tables of all sizes have this traditional detail. NOTE: If you don’t want to use the top-raising hardware, the plywood inner panel isn’t necessary, and you can attach the top to the base with steel Z-clips or Figure 8 fasteners (see onlineEXTRAS).
Order of Work
- Make the legs (see p. 55).
- Cut the aprons to finished size.
- Mortise the legs, then make the apron tenons to match the mortises.
- Mill the decorative profile along the bottom edges of the aprons.
- Assemble the legs and aprons.
- Make the top.
- Finish the base and the top separately.
- Attach the top.
Mortise the legs, make the tenons, detail the aprons, then glue everything together
The turned legs I’m using have a short, square top section that will look best with aprons centered on the leg profile. I rout the mortises first, then cut the tenons to fit. The mortising jig I use to hold the legs is especially useful in this project. I also rely on it to rout the breadboard ends (p. 26) and to clamp each apron as I rout a decorative bead along its bottom edge. The jig’s vertical face has horizontal and vertical channels routed with a 14° dovetail bit. Special clamps slide in the channels to hold workpieces of different sizes (see Buyer’s Guide, p. 64).
Keep it square. An upside-down glue-up on a flat work board allows me to focus on keeping the assembly square as I clamp the base together.
Make the top attractive and stable with breadboard ends
Any wide wood panel can benefit from breadboard ends—not just for stability, but for appearance, too. Although there are variations, most breadboard ends join the main wood panel by means of a continuous short tongue interrupted by deeper tenons (see drawing, below). Dowels or square wood pegs extend through the tenons to keep the end in place. By elongating the outer peg holes and mortises, the wood panel can go through its normal cycle of expanding and contracting while still remaining solidly connected to the end piece. Drawboring the pegs as explained in steps 7, 8, and 9 is an effective way to pull the ends fast against the panel and keep the connection tight over time.
Layout and assembly details
- Lay out the center and outermost tenons first, then locate remaining tenons between them.
- Cut the center mortise in breadboard end to match the center tenon’s dimensions. Cut other mortises 3⁄8" to 1⁄2" longer to allow for wood movement.
- Elongate all dowel holes in tenons as shown, except for the hole in the center tenon.
- To assemble the joint, glue the center tenon in its mortise. For all remaining tenons, apply glue to dowel only so that tenons can move in their mortises.
Make smaller tenons, with tongues in between. To create the joint’s tenon-and-tongue arrangement, I cut out waste pieces with a multitool. A jigsaw or coping saw will also do the job.
Find centers for dowel holes. After marking the centerline of each tenon on the panel edge, fit the breadboard end in place on the panel and mark where to drill through the end. Mark hole centers 1⁄2" from the edge of the breadboard end. Remove the end from the panel and drill through the end at each dowel location, using a 1⁄4"-dia. brad-point bit.
Install the ends. Install each breadboard end after sanding small chamfers as indicated in the photo. Cut dowel pegs about 1½" long and whittle slight points on pegs to help them engage in drawbored tenon holes. Glue the center tenon in its mortise, but allow the remaining tenons to “float” by gluing dowels only. Trim the dowels flush, and you’re ready to sand and finish.
Elevate your table’s versatility with spring-loaded hardware
Coffee tables are usually too low for comfortable eating or working. You can overcome this limitation with some specialized hardware (see Buyer’s Guide, p. 64). This spring-actuated mechanism makes it easy to swing the tabletop up about 8" higher. The mechanism contains a pair of lower mounting bars (for fastening to the table base) and a pair of upper mounting bars (for fastening to the underside of the top). A clearance space of 3-3/4" is required (between the top of the table frame and the lower mounting surface). The hardware isn’t difficult to install, but instead of mounting it on cleats, as shown in the photos at right and below, it’s smarter to install a 3/4"-thick plywood panel between the stretchers, as shown in the drawing on p. 24. The weight of the plywood acts as a counterbalance when the table swings up and out. (I pocket-screwed a plywood panel between my cleats to add extra weight.)
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