Federal Candle Table

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This article is from Issue 27 of Woodcraft Magazine.

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.

Make a template for the top and cleat

1 Starting with a 14×16" piece of ½" MDF, use a compass to lay out a 15"-diameter circle. Without changing the distance between the legs, “walk” the compass around the circle as shown in Figure 2. After six steps, the compass should rest on your starting point. Connect the arcs to create a perfect hexagon. Now, carefully bandsaw and sand along your pencil lines to make the master template.

2 Glue up stock to bookmatch a  3/4×14×16" panel for the top (A). Now make the Pattern Reproduction Fence shown in Figure 3. (With this fence you can use the master template as a cutting guide to make as many tops and cleats as you might like.) Clamp the jig to your table saw’s rip fence and then adjust the outside edge of the pattern fence so that it sits directly above the outside edge of the blade. Next, adjust the blade height so that the blade just cuts through your workpiece. Attach the top (A) to the template with double-faced tape, making the grain of the top parallell with one side of the template. Then run the template along the pattern fence as shown in Photo A. Remove the offcuts from the table saw as you complete each cut.

Run the template against the pattern reproduction fence to trim the edges of the top. Move the fence 3" away from the blade to cut cleat (B), which is smaller.

3 Use the template and pattern fence to make the cleat (B). Affix the 8×7" (rectangular) cleat blank to the center of your template, with the grain parallel to one side. Adjust your rip fence so that the edge of the pattern fence is 3" away from the outside edge of the blade. Set the blade height to lightly score the template and then run the six sides against the pattern fence. Gently pry the cleat from the template with a chisel or putty knife. Using a straightedge, connect two pairs of opposing corners to determine the cleat’s center. Drill a hole through the cleat for the pedestal (C) with a 1"-diameter Forstner bit. Also drill the countersunk screw holes where shown in Figure 1.

4 Install the string inlay to the top, if you so choose. To learn how, read “String and Fan Inlay Made Simple,” page 61.

5 Cut a 15º bevel along the bottom edges of the top (A)and a 20° bevel on the bottom edges of the cleat (B). Adjust the rip fence to leave a ¼"-wide edge, as shown in Figure 4 and Photo B for the cleat. Readjust the blade’s bevel angle to 45˚, and cut the cleat’s secondary bevel as shown. Finally, chuck a ¼" beading bit into your table-mounted router and cut a shallow bead with a 1/16" fillet on the perimeter of the top (A). 

Beveling the bottom faces of the top and cleat with a right-tilting table saw will require you to make the cut with your rip fence on the left side of the blade. Reverse for a left-tilting blade. Caution: Use a zero-clearance throat plate

Start sawing the six-sided tapered pedestal 

1 Mill a pedestal (C) blank to exactly 2×2 5/16×22½". Label one end “top” and the other end “bottom.”

2 Lay out a hexagon on the bottom end of the pedestal blank. Establish the center point and centerline, and use a compass to create a circle with a radius of 15/32", as shown in Figure 5. Now, place the compass point where the centerline intersects the circle, and scribe an arc equal to the radius along the circumference on each side of the centerline to mark the hexagon corners. Using the arcs and centerpoint divide the circle into six equal segments. To keep track of your taper cut sequence, number the hexagon’s segments as shown. Note: the black numbers on Figure 5 represent a left-tilting saw, and the red numbers represent a right-tilting saw.

3 Make the Tapering Jig as shown in Figure 6

4 IF Using a left-tiltING table saw, adjust the bevel angle to exactly 30° and blade height to 15/8". Set the rip fence 2½" to the right of the blade. Position the blank in the Tapering Jig so that the 25/16"-wide face rests on the table. Hold it in place with a thin 1/8" tapered wedge at the bottom end. Now, run the jig along the fence, top end first, to cut face #1 as shown in Photo C. Without removing the blank from the jig, flip both end for end and then run the assembly over the blade, bottom end first, to cut the bevel on face #2 as shown in Photo D. Be certain to rest the blank flat on the table and against the jig on this cut.

5 Rotate the pedestal blank 180° and insert a ½" thick shim between the blank and jig (thin double-sided tape on the jig will keep it there) at the top end to adjust for the tapers you just cut (Photo E Inset). Run the jig and blank against the fence, bottom end first, to bevel-cut face #3, as shown in Photo E. As in the previous step, flip the jig, shim and blank end for end, and run the jig against the fence, top end first, to rip face #4. In both cuts make certain the blank is solid on the table and tight against the jig. 

6 Remove the shim and rotate the stock 60° clockwise (counterclockwise for right-tilting table saws). (At this point, face #2 should be touching the table.) Now, rip face #5. 

7 Rotate the stock 180º and insert a ¼"-shim at the top. Rip face #6 as shown in Photo F. You can now inspect your taper work. If one face is slightly larger than the rest, plane or sand the others to match it. Only the top 4" and bottom 6" are important.

Sequence for sawing the tapered pedestal

Using the taper jig with the blade angled at 30º, bevel-cut the #1 taper, left. (Note the jig’s top face is colored blue to differentiate.) Flip the jig and blank end for end, then bevel-cut #2 taper, sawing the bottom end first.

Insert a ½"- shim at the top to compensate for the material ripped by cutting tapers #1 and #2 (Inset). Ensure that the jig and blank rest flat on the table and make the cut.
Rip face #6 of the six-sided tapered pedestal by inserting a ¼"-shim between the top of the workpiece and the jig before bevel-ripping. Make the cut using the pushpad.

Hanging a full-sized turning template behind your lathe makes it easier to make key dimensions and visually gauge your turning progress.

Reposition the pedestal in the jig with the 1/2" shim at the top to offset the taper. Make the mortises for the legs.

USE THE PATTERN to trace the legs. Position the pattern so that the grain runs from toe to tenon.

Turning the pedestal

1 Enlarge the Pedestal Template Pattern at right to make a full-sized guide, and hang it behind your lathe for reference, as shown in Photo G. Next, mount the stock in the lathe with the drive spur at the top end. Position your tool rest slightly above the blank’s centerline and as close to the blank as possible. Rotate the blank by hand to make sure it’s centered and that the corners won’t hit the tool rest.

2 Make light NICKS at the starting and end points of the three pommels (knobs) with a ½" skew, toe down, to prevent the corners from chipping during the roughing process. Now, with the skew’s bevel rubbing on the stock, use the heel to turn the pommels where shown on the Pedestal Template Pattern. 

3 Round the sections between the pommels with a  3/4" roughing gouge. Do no more roughing than necessary to make the pedestal just round. Establish the diameters of the remaining elements with a  3/16" parting tool and a set of calipers. Switch back to your roughing gouge to remove the remaining waste.

4 Using the heel of your ½" skew, complete the pommels by cutting the sides of the adjacent beads. Next, carefully form the remaining beads not adjacent to the coves.

5 Cut both coves with a ½" spindle gouge, then switch back to your skew and finish the beads adjacent to the coves, the base of the vase, and the drop at the bottom of the pedestal.

6 Turn the 1"-diameter tenon at the top end of the pedestal with a 3/16" parting tool.

7FINISH the vase with a 1" skew chisel or a  1/2" spindle gouge. Finish-sand the pedestal, working from 150- through 220-grit sandpaper, keeping the details crisp. At this point, you can finish the pedestal with oil and shellac while it is still spinning on the lathe.

8 Use a hollow chisel mortiser to make three 3/8"-wide, 2" long mortises 13/16"-deep as shown in Figure 1. (Don’t have a mortiser? Use a 3/8" brad-point bit in your drill press and clean up the mortise with a chisel.) To establish a parallel edge along the tapered faces, use the tapering jig and ½" shim as shown in Photo H.

Create the shapely legs

1 Using the Leg Pattern on page 76, make a template from ½"-thick MDF. Be sure to maintain the 2° angle at the bottom of the foot (if you place the template along the inside edge of a carpenter’s square, it should stand on its toe). This angle compensates for the pedestal’s taper.

2 Plane the stock for the legs (D) to   5/8" thick. Arranged toe to tenon, the three legs could be cut from a 5½×39" board; if laid side by side, the legs would also fit onto a 12×12" short. It’s best to start with a little more material than you need to capture the correct grain pattern. 

3 Position the template on the wood so that the grain runs parallel with the length of the leg, as shown in Photo I. Trace out the three legs. Bandsaw the ends, the foot and tenon shoulders, on your pencil line, but for now don’t cut the curves.

4 Using a table saw and tenoning jig, cut the  3/8× 3/4×2" tenons. Now test-fit each leg into its matching mortise. Use a shoulder plane or sanding block to adjust the tenons to establish a snug fit and seamless shoulders. Finally, dry-fit the legs and check that the pedestal points straight up and that the feet sit flat against the floor.

5 Bandsaw the legs’ curves. Keep the blade 1/32" on the outside and sand up to your line. 

6 Using a table-mounted router and 5/16" round-over bit, radius the top and bottom edges where indicated on the pattern. (Do not rout the pad on the bottom of the foot. You’ll add this detail after installing and leveling the feet.) Finish-sand the legs to 220 grit.

Final assembly and finishing touches

1 Test-fit the pedestal (C) tenon into the cleat (B). Orient one of the cleat’s points that is parallel with the grain toward one leg. Draw a line for a kerf on the top of the tenon that is perpendicular to the cleat grain. Remove the cleat and saw a 5/8" long kerf into the top of the pedestal’s tenon, with the grain, as shown in Figure 1. Make a thin wedge (E) to fit into the kerf. Apply glue to the tenon’s outside edge and slide it into the cleat. Rotate the pedestal so that the kerf is perpendicular to the cleat’s grain, and one of the cleat's points is pointed toward a leg. Apply glue to the wedge and gently drive it into the kerf (Photo J). Let the glue dry before trimming the wedge flush with the top of the cleat.

2 Glue all three legs (D) to the pedestal (C) at the same time to ensure that the pedestal stands straight. Use surgical tubing to hold the delicately shaped legs in place while the glue dries. (To make slight post-glue adjustments to flatten the feet, adhere a piece of 100-grit sandpaper to a dead-flat surface, such as the top of your table saw, and sand the offending foot. Lightly sand the other two feet as needed to keep the pedestal perpendicular.)

3 Chuck a 1/8" DIAMETER ANTIQUE BEADING bit into your table-mounted router, adjust the bit height so that the bottom of the foot is just rounded, and rout the pad around the three bottom edges of each foot. 

4 Attach the TOP TO THE cleat with two #6×1¼" FH brass wood screws, as shown in Figure 1. Use the countersunk screw holes as guides for pilot holes. To accommodate wood movement, orient the tabletop so that its grain is parallel with the cleat’s.

5 Apply the finish. I like shellac, not just because it’s period-appropriate, but because it’s fast and forgiving. However, I do suggest one extra step. Following a final inspection and touch-up sanding, wipe on one coat of Natural Watco oil to enhance the grain. Give the oil a day or two to cure, then brush or spray on two or three coats of shellac (#2 cut). To erase brush marks and make the piece shine, rub out the surface with wax and 0000 steel wool.  

Use a wedge and glue to lock the cleat to the pedestal. Do your tapping and trimming before attaching the fragile legs.

About Our Designer/Builder

When Charleston, West Virginia, woodworker Glen Jewell is not building furniture or restoring old machinery, he splits his time between duck hunting, fly fishing, and gardening. He is also an active member of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM) and Valley Woodworkers of WV. Glen’s workshop was featured in the Oct/Nov 2008 issue of Woodcraft Magazine.


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