Make a Super Sofa Table

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This article is from Issue 84 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Learn how to make the most of a small shop with this tip-packed project.

For the lucky few finally enjoying their “dream workshops,” big projects aren’t a big deal. However, for those still struggling to carve out a little shop space from a garage or basement, big projects offered by many magazines may be little more than wistful page-turners. This project is designed for the “little guy.”

In keeping with the spirit of our BasicBUILDS project series, I returned to my small-shop roots and revisited a piece that I built when my shop was the back corner of a cluttered garage. A large shop with full-sized machinery has its advantages, but I re-discovered how creativity shifts into high gear when making do with less.

This table offers a bevy of valuable tips for beginning woodworkers, plus a few jigs that can help anyone make the most of the tools and space that they have.

Create a sturdy case with simple web frames

This contemporary table takes advantage of readily available materials and case joinery accomplished with splines and pocket screws. The frame’s strength comes from its core. Whereas a solid wood panel needs to float in order to accommodate seasonal changes in humidity, a plywood panel can be glued within the frame, essentially creating a single, solid assembly.

I used 1/2" primed plywood for the panels, and made the frames from stair treads, which I like because they’re made from clear, straight lumber, of the appropriate thickness. Alternatively you could mill your solid wood parts from 5/4 stock.

Note: The table’s dimensions can be adjusted to make a narrow hall table or short side table.

Order of Work

  • Break down the plywood and cut the solid wood parts to size.
  • Groove the legs, rails, and divider.
  • Assemble the sides and back.
  • Attach the back to the sides, and then screw on the front rails.
  • Cut the shelf and bottom to fit.
  • Apply a finish, and then attach the bottom and top.

Small shop tricks for prepping parts

The trick for building big projects in a small shop is breaking down the parts as quickly as possible. It’s fine to work on the floor when cutting sheet goods to size, using rigid foam as a safe, flat base. (I suggest ripping an extra strip at each width. The spares are handy for testing set-ups, and can be a life-saver if you make a mistake.)

When crosscutting parts to length, I think it’s better to pay closer attention to your stop block than your tape measure. Even if the correct length doesn’t exactly match the Cut List, cutting the parts so that they’re consistently sized eliminates errors that can multiply over the course of a project. After cutting the parts to size, stack them according to the subassemblies. This system can help you keep track of the parts.

Start with a circ saw. For quick, accurate positioning of your saw’s straightedge guide, make yourself a pair of spacers equal to the blade-to-edge distance of your circular saw. Staple a strip of shelf-liner to the underside of the straightedge to ensure that it won’t slip.

Stack-cut the legs to length. Stacked cuts and stop blocks save time and help ensure that the parts are the same length. Using this method when cutting the legs prevents the dreaded “wobbly table syndrome.”

Use a jig to tackle the tapers. This plywood jig creates a secondary fence for your mitersaw so that you can safely cut acute angles. Make sure the toggle clamp is clear of the blade before you make the cut.


A table saw crosscut sled may be the preferred jig for trimming panels, but my full-sized sled doesn’t play well with a bench top saw. Instead, I outfitted my circular saw with a fine-tooth blade, and trimmed the top at my workbench. To ensure a square cut, I enlisted the opposite edge of a T-guide that I made for routing dadoes. To protect your bench from the saw, set the panel on rigid foam.

Grooves without guesswork

A frame-and-panel assembly requires a snug-fitting panel and perfectly aligned grooves. To accomplish this, I tried enlisting two jigs that are designed for other applications. Surprisingly, I found that they made a perfect “groovy” pair.

An auxiliary fence is typically used for rabbet joints. Here, the fence serves as a spacer. Install and set the dado blade, attach the fence, and then groove the legs, rails, and dividers as shown.

Next, use the tenoning jig to cut the ends. After making your first pass, flip the piece so that its opposite face is against the fence and make a second pass.

Centered grooves, simply sawn. Adjust the cutter width to about half the thickness of your plywood, and then adjust the cut height to 1⁄2" Next, attach the auxiliary fence. After making your first pass, flip the board so that the opposite face rides against the fence and make a second pass.

Tenoning jig two-fer. The tenoning jig cuts grooves as well as tenons. Make the jig’s tall fence from the same material as the auxiliary fence to ensure that the edge and end grooves line up.

Assembly top helps make the frames

Assembling large panels in a small shop can be a major balancing act. The solution is simpler than you might think. A sheet of MDF can serve as a respectable small shop assembly table. This fixture can be set on sawhorses, or rest on the floor, and then stacked against a wall when not in use.

To defend the surface from glue, I applied a few coats of polyurethane and a coat of wax. To help ensure that the frames are assembled squarely, I attached a pair of guide strips with 1-1/4" deck screws. Use a framing square when attaching the guides, to ensure that they are perpendicular.

Square up the side panels. The guide strips help ensure a good glue up, but to be safe, double-check the legs and rails for square as you tighten the clamps. After the glue cures, trim the splines with a flush-cut saw, then finish up with a chisel, plane, or sandpaper.

Build the back. Center the back divider between the upper and lower rails, and slide in the panels. The spacer strips prevent over-clamping. The spacer blocks allow the panels to project past the ends of the rails.

Prepare a few parts, and then proceed to clamp up

Assembling the case goes quickly, but to prevent mid- or post-glue up headaches, follow these steps. First, I finish the case joinery, using your table saw and previously-set dado stack. Groove the inside face sof the back legs as shown. Position the groove so that the back rails are inset by 1/4". Next, I rout a row of  button holes in the top rails. Finally,  drill a pair of pocket screws in the ends of both front rails.

After doing a dry run to practice my clamp-up choreography, I decided to work from back to front. Immediately after gluing and clamping the back panel between the sides, I set the front rails in place with shop-made corner clamps, and then screwed them in place. (I added glue blocks for extra insurance.) The next day, I installed the splines in the back panel, and then attached the cleats for the bottom. Finally, I drilled the shelf pin holes and fit the shelf.

After sanding the project up to 180-grit, I sprayed on three coats of General Finishes milk paint, followed by a coat of water-based polyurethane. (For additional help with the top, check out “Batch-Cut Buttons,” on p. 54.)

Groove the sides for the back. Cutting the groove for the back panel after assembling the sides prevents the risk of grooving the wrong face or leg.

Rout a row of mortises for the buttons. After laying out the location of the mortises with a pencil, rout between the lines. The edge guide helps keep the bit on track.

No-problem pocket holes. In order to easily fasten to my bench, I attached my Kreg K4 to a plywood base. A glued-on rare-earth magnet keeps track of loose parts.

Assemble the case. Glue and clamp the back to the side assemblies first. Then attach the front rails with pocket screws. Shop-made squaring guides hold the front rails in place and help square the case.


If you don’t own a shelf-drilling jig, you can get the job done with a scrap of 1⁄4" pegboard. Mark the desired holes as shown. When drilling the other end, flip the pegboard to ensure that the holes are the same distance from the back of the case. A wooden block is a more reliable stop than a strip of tape.


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