Kitchen Table

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This article is from Issue 48 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Contemporary comfort for a compact room

Overall dimensions: 30"w × 48"l × 30"h

We were long overdue to replace our sad, old kitchen table, so my wife and I discussed our options. The new table needed to suit the size of the small room, and it had to be comfortable with a bit of style. It didn’t need to be expandable, as we have a dining room to accommodate groups. I also wanted it to be relatively quick and easy to build so we wouldn’t be waiting weeks for it.

From those parameters emerged this design. This cherry table seats four comfortably, and part of that comfort stems from the top’s wide beveled edges, which provide a perfectly angled bed for resting forearms. For styling, I hand-planed an offset radius onto the two outer faces of each leg and routed a bead along the lower edge of the aprons. As for the construction, the strong, simple mortise-and-tenon joinery is easy to make and destined to last for generations. And you’ll find hand-planing the legs to be a breeze, especially with the use of a simple cardboard template.

Lay out the boards for the top and aprons after skim-planing the lumber to reveal its color and grain patterns for good matching.

Clamp straight cauls across the ends of the top at the joints to align them. Use a rubber mallet to persuade other areas into alignment.

Make the top panel and apron blanks

1 Skim-plane your best 4/4 material, and then match your prettiest boards edge to edge (Photo A), leaving them a couple of inches oversized in length for now. Pay attention to symmetry, color, and continuity of grain flow across the joints. Orient the boards in their desired configuration, and number the end-grain surfaces for reorientation after final planing.

2 Lay out the apron blanks, leaving them slightly oversized in length and width for now.

3 Joint and plane the boards for the top (A) to about 1⁄32" thicker than 3⁄4", as the top will need further flattening after assembly. Alternatively, you can simply plane the 4/4 stock to its maximum possible dressed thickness. There’s no harm in a slightly thicker final top.

4 While you’re milling the top stock, plane the aprons (B, C), too, and then cut them to the sizes shown in the Cut List.

5 Reorient the top boards, and mark a triangle across their faces for reference during glue-up.

6 Glue up the top (Photo B); then set it aside for now.

Why Begin (And End) With The Top?

When I glue up a tabletop, I let it sit for a day or two before flattening it to allow water from the glue to fully evaporate. If you flatten it while the joints are somewhat swollen with water, they may shrink back afterward, creating valleys. So, I start with the top, and while it dries, I work on the base.

Cut the shaping gauge and the leg profile template from the same piece of stiff cardboard.

Trace the leg profile pattern onto both ends of each leg using a fine-tipped marker.

Lay out the legs

1 Lay out the legs (D) from straight-grained sections at the edges of thick plainsawn stock to yield diagonal grain on the ends, thereby producing straight grain on all faces. (If you lack thick enough stock, laminate the leg blanks from thinner pieces, taking pains to match the grain slope at the mating edges.) Dress the leg stock to the size shown in the Cut List.

2 Mark the leg blanks for position, orienting the most attractive faces outward. Place the blanks together in their desired orientation; then span all four ends with a triangle.

3 Use the full-sized leg profile pattern at right to make a cardboard contour gauge and leg profile template (Photo C).

4 Lay out the leg profile on both ends of each leg, orienting the point toward the outside corner (Photo D).

5 Fully lay out the haunched mortises on one leg, and then simply mark off the ends of the 11⁄4"-deep by 3"-long mortises on all the other legs.

Plunge at each end of the deep mortise; then remove the waste between in overlapping passes.

In preparation for hand-planing, first rip away most of the waste at the corner of the curved face adjacent to the mortise.

Mortise and shape the legs

1 Using the leg with the fully laid out mortises, set up the fence on a hollow chisel mortiser, and cut all of the deep mortises (Photo E). Then reset the depth stop and cut each haunched section. Alternatively, you can cut the mortises with a router outfitted with an upcut spiral bit and edge guide.

Extending a finger against one edge of the leg helps maintain the angle of the plane throughout its stroke.

Register the shaping gauge against a mortised leg face to check your planing progress on the curved face.

2 Set your tablesaw blade to about 21°, and rip away the majority of the waste at the corner adjacent to the mortised face of each leg (Photo F).

3 Hand-plane the contours on the outer faces of each leg (Photo G). I used a #5 jack plane, but a #4 smoothing plane will work. Set the blade for a relatively coarse cut for starters, working to the profile lines on the ends of each leg. As you approach the lines, check your progress with the contour gauge (Photo H). At this point, abide by the gauge rather than the profile layout lines. Also check your progress occasionally with a straightedge. Aim to leave the legs as thick as possible, stopping your planing as soon as the profile matches the contour gauge.

4 After coarse-planing the legs to shape, adjust your plane for a fine cut, and revisit the surfaces to blend any wide facets into the general curve. Occasionally check the surfaces under a strong glancing sidelight.

5 Sand the legs with 150-grit paper wrapped around a flexible sanding block. (I used 1"-thick closed-cell foam cut from a kneeling pad sold for gardening.) First sand diagonally across the grain while riding the curve; then follow up by sanding with the grain. As you work, check for fair curves under a glancing sidelight. Sand the inner faces of the legs with a flat block wrapped with 150-grit paper, and ease the edge at the inner corner of the leg, but not the remaining corner edges.

6 Sand the legs to 220 grit, easing all of the edges in the process.

Saw the wide tenon shoulders, feeding the apron with a miter gauge and using the fence as a stop.
Use a tenoning jig to cut the tenon cheeks. A backer on the jig prevents exit tear-out.

Complete the aprons

1 Working with the apron pieces (B,C) that you cut earlier, arrange them for attractive grain composition; then strike triangles across the top edges for proper reorientation later.

2 Lay out a single haunched tenon on one of the pieces, and use it to set up your tablesaw. Then cut the 3⁄16"-wide tenon shoulders across the broad faces of each piece (Photo I). Next, raise the blade to 1⁄4" high, and cut the narrow tenon shoulder across the bottom of each apron. Finally, raise the blade to 1⁄2", readjust the fence, and saw the vertical haunch shoulder.

3 Set up a tenoning jig and saw the tenon cheeks (Photo J). Make the tenons a few hairs too fat to fit in their mortises for now.

4 On the bandsaw, rip the tenons to their finished 3" width.

5 Fit each tenon into its particular mortise, trimming the tenon cheeks with a shoulder plane (Photo K). Alternatively, you can use 150-grit sandpaper wrapped around a hardwood block. Shave and test-fit until inserting the tenon requires hand pressure, but no beating with a mallet.

6 Using the tablesaw and a miter gauge, miter the ends of each apron, where shown in Figure 1. Cut the tenons about 1⁄16" shy of 11⁄4" so that their ends don’t hit within the leg.

7 Rout a bead on the bottom edge of each apron (Photo L); then sand the aprons through 220 grit.

Use a shoulder plane set for a very fine cut to trim each tenon for a snug fit in its specific mortise.
Use the router table to cut a bead on the outside bottom edges of the aprons.

Glue the legs to the short aprons after attaching soft pads to your clamp faces. Partially insert the long-rail tenons to keep the legs from cocking.

Assemble the base

1 Apply several coats of finish to the aprons and legs, avoiding the joint surfaces (I used an oil-based wiping varnish). Let the finish dry thoroughly.

2 Dry-fit the legs (D) and aprons (B, C) to ensure that all the joints seat well, and to rehearse your clamping procedure. To prevent marring the curved leg faces, attach thick, pliable material to your clamp jaw faces. I taped on pads made from styrene packing material, but leather or rubber pads would work.

3 Working on a flat surface, glue the legs to the short aprons (B), with the long aprons dry-fit in place to prevent the legs from cocking out of alignment under clamp pressure (Photo M).

To prevent excess glue from seizing the tenons on the long aprons, don’t insert them fully. Give the glue an hour or so to cure, remove the long aprons, and pare away any excess glue inside the empty mortises. Then glue the legs to the long aprons (C).

4 Flick off any dried glue squeeze-out with a sharp chisel.

The Benefits Of “Pre-Finishing”

Finishing project parts before gluing them up into assemblies has several advantages. For one, applying the finish is easier and cleaner when there are no intersecting parts to obstruct the brush, rag, or other applicator. Scuff-sanding and rubbing out between coats is also unimpeded. A final benefit is that dried excess glue squeeze-out can be effortlessly lifted and flicked off the finished surfaces after assembly.

Saw the bevel using a featherboard and tall auxiliary fence. This box-style fence fits over the rip fence.
When planing the end-grain bevels, work inward from each end  to prevent exit tear-out.

Complete the top

1 Flatten the top. I hand-planed, but you could carefully belt-sand or pay a friendly cabinet shop a few bucks to put it through their wide abrasive planer.

2 Rip the top to final width and then crosscut it to length using either a large tablesaw sled or a portable power saw guided by a straightedge.

3 Lay out the bevel on a piece of dressed scrap the same thickness as the top, and use it to set up your tablesaw to make the cuts. Saw the bevels using a tall auxiliary fence and featherboard (Photo N). A tilting splitter will also help hold the top against the fence. Feeding a large panel on edge like this isn’t as dicey as it looks. Just push it steadily, don't rock it, and keep your fingers a safe distance from the blade.

4 Smooth the bevels. The cleanest, most efficient approach is to use a razor-sharp smoothing plane (Photo O). Alternatively, wrap sandpaper around a hard rubber block, starting with the finest grit possible that will remove the saw marks. Strive to keep the bevel edges crisp at this point, and make sure that the intersections line up with the corners.

5 Sand the top through 220 grit, gently easing the bevel edges. Then apply finish. I carefully wiped a total of six coats of oil-based varnish onto both faces. To obtain a smooth, protective build, I let each coat dry without wiping it off; then I scuff-sanded between coats with progressively finer sandpaper, finishing up with 0000 steel wool.

Attach the top with fasteners

1 Use a biscuit joiner or a slot-cutting bit in a router to cut the slots for tabletop fasteners, where shown in Figure 1.

2 Attach the top with tabletop fasteners, setting the dog leg back about 1⁄8" from the long aprons to allow for seasonal cross-grain movement.  


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