Federal Candle Table

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Simple three-legged table: the perfect period furniture primer.

Designer/Builder/Writer: Glen Jewell

Antique candlestick tables are coveted as collectibles, but back in their day they were as commonplace as a modern lamp. These small, three-legged tables provided a convenient spot to put a light in order to brighten a room. But instead of disappearing with the candle, the table’s design has proven to be timeless. I built two for my house, where they stand at opposite ends of our sofa. These days, they serve more as small “accent” end tables, although my wife keeps a candlestick on each, for old time’s sake. 

My table was inspired by a photo I found in a book about the Dunlaps, a family of furnituremakers noted for 18th century New Hampshire furniture. Like many pieces from the Federal period, this table is wonderfully delicate and detailed, but what makes it different is the Dunlap-style, six-sided, tapered pedestal. This hexagonal design makes it easy to attach the three legs at exactly 120°. Unlike a typical round pedestal that requires coping the shoulders of the legs’ tenons or chiseling sliding dovetails, the flat faces make mortising a straightforward process. Pre-tapering the pedestal at the saw also reduces the amount of time spent at the lathe. The only trick was making the hexagonal taper. After some head-scratching, I came up with a jig to cut this quickly and accurately using my table saw.

The table consists of only a few parts (see Figure 1), but it does offer some interesting hand tool and machine challenges. As with many period pieces, you can simplify the design and still create an attractive piece. For example, the string and fan inlay could be easily omitted. If you aren’t yet an experienced turner, you could substitute a six-sided tapered pedestal made on the table saw for the tapered and turned one. That said, I encourage you to try these details as an introduction into period furnituremaking. I’m sure you’ll find the reward well worth the effort.

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