Turned Table

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This article is from Issue 94 of Woodcraft Magazine.

The sum of four discs, one spindle, and a day’s fun at the lathe 

Some furniture designs have funny inceptions. The idea for creating a turned table like this came from my father, who asked me to make a small table by mounting a turned disk atop a 24"-tall antique fire extinguisher made of copper. He wanted me to inlay the design of a snake into the top, explaining that it was for his Ruby. Now I know that Ruby doesn’t like snakes, so when I inlaid the reptile, I surrounded it with dyed blades of greenery. If he was gonna play a joke on his Ruby, I wanted to make sure she knew it was from my snake-in-the-grass Pop.

Since then, I’ve made these tables in many different configurations and heights, replacing the fire extinguisher with a turned column and base. The one shown here is a good height for an end table, while I’ve made some as tall as 42" for standing-deck-party drink pedestals. The post can be classical or contemporary, and as simple or complex as you like. As for the base, also shape it to suit; just make sure it has decent weight for good footing. 

As with this table, you can inlay the top with a design of thin material for decorative purposes. (See page 57.) You can also employ a thick piece to serve as a reinforcement for a split in an otherwise pretty piece of turning stock. If you’re inlaying, do it to the rough-bandsawn top blank before building the table. I dyed the top on this table to really make the curly maple grain sing. Whatever you do, have fun turning the tables!

A stack of rounds

This table consists of a face-turned base, collar, and top connected by a spindle-turned post. The base is turned slightly concave on the underside for firm footing, but otherwise retains its solid heft for stability. The collar serves as a visual transition while allowing for a deeper tenon mortise. 

Order of Work

  • Prepare blanks
  • Make collar
  • Turn and drill base
  • Turn post
  • Turn top
  • Join and finish parts


Universal Jam Chuck

Start with the collar

You have two choices for making the top: You can either turn it from one thick piece, which involves a lot of wasting, or you can make it from two pieces, which involves a glue-up. I prefer the latter, which I’ll discuss here. Lay out the top and collar discs and rough-bandsaw their perimeters. Drill a center hole through the collar blank and mount it as shown. Turn the collar’s profile and then true the area that will contact the post. (Medium-grit sandpaper adhered to a straight stick held against the spinning piece finesses the surface nicely.) Glue the collar to the underside of the tabletop, then set the assembly aside for now. 

Define the contact flat. After drilling a 11⁄2"-diameter hole through the collar blank, mount it on the lathe using #1 jaws on a 4-jaw chuck. Set a compass to 7⁄8", register the point leg against the edge of the hole, and mark off the flat area that will contact the top of the post. 
Turn up your collar. Use a 1⁄2" bowl gouge as shown here for the general shaping of the collar. Use a 3⁄8" spindle gouge to undercut and round over the bead at the perimeter of the flat that contacts the post.

Two-part top glue-up. Mark out the location of the collar on the underside of the top using a compass, then glue the collar to the top using deep-jaw clamps.

Turn the base

Lay out and bandsaw the blank for the base. Mount it between a flat jam chuck (see onlineExtras) and a live tail center, and turn a shallow recess and tenon on the underside as shown. Afterward, invert the blank and grip the tenon in the chuck. Mark out the perimeter of the flat where the post will meet, then shape the profile, leaving the top bead unfinished for the moment. Drill the post mortise, true the upper face, then roll the upper bead using 1/2" and 3/8" bowl gouges. Sand the entire profile, then dismount and invert the base, remounting it through the mortise hole. Finally, turn away the tenon on the underside, and set the piece aside for now.

Recess time. The first step to shaping the base is to turn a shallow recess into what will be the underside, leaving a 3⁄8" × 21⁄2"-dia. tenon for attachment to the four jaw chuck in the next step. I use a 3⁄8" bowl gouge for the job. 
Shape the profile. After mounting the inverted blank on a 4-jaw chuck, use a 5⁄8" bowl gouge to do the majority of the profile shaping. Detail the bottom perimeter with a 1⁄2" bowl gouge. Don’t round over the top bead yet.
On-board mortising. Using a 11⁄2" Forstner bit in a lathe-mounted Jacobs chuck, drill a 11⁄4"-deep mortise into the topside of the base to accept the post.
Tenon turn-away. Finish off the base by turning away the tenon on the underside. No need to be too neat here. 

The post completes the parts

Mount the post blank between a drive center and a live center, and turn it to a cylinder. Start by marking off the lengths of the tenons on the ends, and then turn them to final diameter as shown, test-fitting them in their mortises. Make sure the tenon shoulders are square to the post axis. Turn the profile shape in a series of steps, referring to the drawing on page 51. Keep in mind that the dimensions provided are just guidelines. Don’t fret if your results are off by a bit. After shaping the post, sand and dismount it. 

Test-fit tricks. Use a bedan to turn the entire length of each tenon slightly fat. Then use a calipers to gauge turning the endmost 1⁄8" to final diameter, as shown here. Dismount the post and test each tenon in its mortise. Recut if necessary, further reducing the endmost section if it’s too fat. If it’s too small, try again by moving inward another 1⁄8". Having established the proper diameter on each tenon, turn the remainder of the length to match. 
Establish the bead shoulders. After penciling off the locations of the two beads at the top of the post, use a bedan to turn their adjacent shoulders a hair oversized in diameter. 

Excavate the cove. Use a 1⁄2" spindle gouge to shape the cove, sweeping down and inward from each end toward the center, leaving a 1⁄8"-wide shoulder at each end. 

Roll the beads. A 3⁄8" detail gouge with a fingernail grind is a great tool for rounding over the beads and finessing their intersection at the shoulders. 
Begin the center section. After turning the details at the bottom of the post, mark off the major and minor diameters on the main post section. Then sweep from the major diameter to the post bottom using a 11⁄4" spindle roughing gouge, switching to a 1⁄2" spindle gouge as shown to finesse the transition point at the bead. 

Finish the center section. Use a 1⁄8" parting tool to establish a 15⁄8" diameter at the location of the post’s minor diameter, making the groove about 3⁄16" wide for safety. Then switch back to the 11⁄4" spindle roughing gouge to shape the top section of the post.

Turn the top profile. Mount the collar-and-top assembly between your flat jam chuck in the headstock and a live cone center in the tailstock. Then turn the profile of the top.

Profile the top, and glue up and finish in stages 

The collar-and-top assembly glue will be well-cured by now, so mount the piece on the lathe and turn the top’s profile, sanding it to finish it up. Next, glue the post to the base. After leveling the assembly as shown, I dyed the detached top, and applied a few coats of Danish Oil to it and to the post/base assembly. To complete the finish work, I applied a few additional coats of wiping varnish to the top assembly for better durability. Finally, I glued the top to the post/base assembly, checking it for parallel to the floor as before. 

On-the-level glue-up. To ensure that the top and base are perpendicular to the post, lay a straightedge across the table and measure to the floor from each cantilevered end. If necessary, adjust the lean of the table until the measurements match. Make sure to check east-and-west as well as north-and-south. 


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