Dynamite Dining Table Done Easy

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This article is from Issue 78 of Woodcraft Magazine.

I’ve built many projects using traditional joinery, but sometimes it makes sense to forego mortise-and-tenon techniques in favor of more expedient methods that get you to your destination faster, and with fewer tools. With this table, the destination was clear: a nice-looking dining room centerpiece that could be made in a weekend by a woodworker who doesn’t have a fully equipped workshop. If you’ve got the basic tools featured here, you can build a beautiful table that would cost hundreds of dollars in a furniture store. Not bad for a weekend of work.

To get started, I chose dimensioned lumber from the local home center and bought premade legs from an online retailer. You can choose your legs and have them shipped directly to you, saving time and energy on your project. You’ll find legs that are square, tapered, or turned in modern or traditional styles in a wide mix of wood species. I found red oak dining legs that perfectly fit the simple Shaker table design I had in mind. With everything in hand, I got to work.

A small toolbox for a big project. You can build this table with only four power tools: circular saw, router, palm sander, and a drill. You’ll also need a Kreg jig, some clamps, and a few common router bits. And last, but not least, a free weekend.

Simple joinery, strong construction, ready-made legs, and routed details

Pocket-hole joinery keeps construction simple. Braces reinforce the corners, and a pair of cross members stiffens the table’s base to prevent the top from warping over time. Joining five or six narrower boards with pocket holes will speed up the top’s assembly and get you closer to a flat top with less fuss. Steel tabletop fasteners secure the top to the aprons, keeping the connection solid while allowing for seasonal movement.

Order of Work

  • Buy your legs.
  • Select the boards to make the aprons,
  • top, and other parts.
  • Get a straight, square edge on each board.
  • Cut the aprons to finished size.
  • Make the top, and then cut it to finished size.
  • Rout the edge profile on the top, then sand and finish.
  • Rout slots for the tabletop fasteners in the aprons and cross members, then rout the bead profile on the aprons.
  • Sand the legs and aprons, assemble the base, then finish.
  • Attach the base to the top.

Buy legs online for a fast and fun way to launch your project

Having premade legs jumpstarts your table project. And shopping for legs online can be fun, because there are so many sizes, styles, and wood species available. Take your time and have fun evaluating your options. Online suppliers offer standard lengths that correspond with common heights, but it’s always good to double-check to make sure that you’ll end up with the right legs for your project. Some sources sell apron and leg sets for easy assembly. They can even cut the mortises, making ready-to-assemble joints. Just another way to get your table done quickly.

The above photo and the legs used in this project are courtesy TableLegs.com. They helped us select legs that would elevate our project.

Joint without a jointer. The opposite edge of your jig is for jointing, and it works on the same principle as the circular saw side. Your router’s base rides on the base and against the fence of the jig as the bit cuts your stock.

Good results depend on straight, square edges

It’s smart to make a straightedge guide that can be used with your circular saw and router. If you don’t have a jointer or table saw to cut straight, square edges, a straightedge guide will get the job done. Even in a fully equipped shop, long boards and full-size sheets of plywood can be too unwieldy to muscle through a machine. The guide I’m using in the photo below was made from ¼"-thick hardboard and a 2×4 I straightened on my jointer then ripped to size on the table saw. Alternatively, you can have the home center or a friend (with a table saw) rip a narrow guide strip from a larger piece of hardwood plywood. As shown in the drawing, secure this guide strip to the jig’s hardboard base so that by guiding the edge of your circular saw and router against opposite edges, you’ll cut a straight line along the hardboard that exactly defines the future cuts you’ll make. Once you make one of these guides, you’ll want to make others, like a short version with a right-angled cleat underneath for crosscutting.

Straightedge Guide

  1. Make the base from 1⁄4" hardwood.
  2. Glue and screw the straightedge guide strip to the base
  3. Make the initial cut with your router and circular saw to remove waste and create two straight working edges. The jig is now ready to use.

Take a test. It’s important to properly set the depth-stop of your pocket-hole jig to avoid driving a screw through the adjoining board. Make a couple of test joints before drilling the real thing.

Flat top formula: join one board at a time, using pocket screws, joinery, and glue

Pocket-hole joinery allows you to glue and screw the top together one board at a time. In addition to pipe clamps to pull the joint together, you’ll need a long-arm locking clamp or two to align the edges as you drive home the screws. Once the screws are in, you can release the clamps and move to the next board. When the glue dries, crosscut the top to length. Now you can add the decorative ogee profile. The ends are prone to break out, so rout them first. When you follow up on the edges, the ends will be cleaned up. Finally, give all surfaces a final sanding, and apply your finish. I used Behlen Rockhard Waterborne. Unlike oil-based, water-based finishes dry quickly enough for me to apply three coats in a weekend.

One board at a time. Drill the pocket holes 6" to 8" apart in the top pieces on one edge of each board, except one. Don’t drill pocket holes through the outside edge of the last board in your glue-up. Once your holes are drilled, the glue-up is fast and easy. Start by attaching two boards together with glue and screws. Then attach those two boards to another, and so on until you reach your table’s width. Use the pipe clamps, not the screws, to fix gaps, before driving the screws. Remove the clamp and repeat with the next board to complete the top.

Guide your saw. You already used the saw guide to rip your stock to width. Here, you’ll use it to square the ends of your table, crosscutting it to length.

Drill the pocket holes. Each end of all four aprons and both cross members get a trio of pocket holes. The jig system allows you to set the depth of hole and spacing between the holes. It will also hold your workpiece steady as you drill.

Pocket holes, slots, and beads for the aprons

Your legs and top are done; the aprons are the last major pieces of the project. First, rip your aprons to width and crosscut them to length. Now mark and drill your pocket holes in the ends of the aprons for attaching the legs. To attach the top to the base, I used z-clip tabletop fasteners. Cut slots to fit the z-clips about 3/8" down from the top edge of the aprons. Three slots across the length of the side aprons and one in the center of the end aprons are all you need. Next, rout the decorative bead along the outside bottom edge of the aprons. Cut your cross members to size after the legs and aprons are together. Finally, drill pocket holes in their ends, and then cut one slot in their centers for the top fasteners.

The routing procedures are sometimes done on a router table. But if you don’t have one, see the photos at right for a safe setup to rout the slots and beads with a handheld router.

Rout the slots. Group your apron boards together as shown. Use the top edges of the grouped boards as a solid platform for the base of your router. This keeps the router from tipping into the workpiece mid cut. Once the cutters hit wood, the router will want to travel down the face of the workpiece. Turn on the router and maintain control as you steadily move in for the cut.

Bead the aprons. Add a classic edge treatment to your aprons with a beading bit. Arrange the aprons like you did when you cut the slots, this time routing the outside bottom edge.

The project comes together: assemble the base, and then attach the top

It may not seem that way, but we’re in the home stretch. All the project parts are cut to final size, and it won’t take long to put everything together. You can start by sanding the legs and aprons through 220-grit. Assemble the legs and end aprons, and then attach the sides. Watch for glue squeeze-out here, it will be more difficult to remove in the tight corners. Place your cross member pieces from side apron to side apron, and mark your cuts. Measure and cut the corner braces the same way. Drive pocket-hole screws straight through the corner braces into the aprons. Apply the finish, and screw the base to the top with tabletop fasteners. Flip your table on its legs, and show it off.

Assemble one end first. Bring together the base by first attaching two legs to an end apron, and then repeat for the opposite end. Now, join both ends with the side aprons. Add visual interest to your table by setting the aprons back on the leg. To do this, set a scrap piece of 1⁄4" hardboard under the apron before attaching the legs.
Cut the corner brackets. Tilt the blade of your circular saw to 45°, and make a pair of angled cuts to create each bracket. Here I’m guiding the base of my saw against the edge of a short straightedge guide equipped with a cleat on its underside for aligning square cuts. Your brackets don’t have to be exactly the same size. Install them with glue and screws.

Attach the top. It’s time to crown your project. With the table upside down, center the base on the top. Feed one end of the steel fasteners into the slots and mark your screw hole location. Remove the fasteners and drill the holes. Use blue painter’s tape on your drill bit so you don’t drill too deep or, worse, through the top. Now, reinsert the fastener, and drive the screws. Use a screwdriver as shown to prevent over tightening or damaging the table.


Check out our website for more information on attaching tabletops.


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