Serve Up an Eye-Opening Coffee Table

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By Thomas Skaggs

A fun lesson in mortise-and-tenon joinery, this coffee table’s versatile design shows off “cool wood” accents while offering a practical storage shelf and foot-traffic-friendly trestles. 

Recently I built a coffee table that needed to look good in a rather eclectic setting. Flavors of Arts and Crafts, contemporary and even traditional styles can be found in this table, a piece of furniture that makes its own statement and yet feels at home in many interior settings. 

In addition to versatility, the adapted trestle design allows for the functionality of shelf storage, removes the typical four legs that sometimes pose as “knee knockers” and rounds the edges on the base components to provide a more comfortable feel to shoeless feet.

I wanted this table to be sturdy and practical. In contrast with most other pieces I have built, this project calls for thicker stock in many of its components. I believe the trestle design offsets the mass and allows the table to appear lighter and more open. The height is established at 19", a hair taller than most coffee tables, to allow room for a shelf below the top. The shelf is a great place to stash reading materials, remote controls and the like, keeping its handsome wood surface free and clear.

This design will provide good practice for a variety of mortise-and-tenon joinery. In addition to the more traditional enclosed mortise-and-tenon joints, I also added pinned and exposed tenons in the breadboard ends, and even some through tenons on the trestle legs. I highly recommend keeping your cutoffs and scraps handy for test cuts and test-fitting the joinery. I find that “rehearsal” cuts are a great way to assure a good fit before cutting actual components, and can often save you from unpleasant surprises.

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