Making a Side Table my Own Way – Part 1

Many years ago I went to an auction and bought some 14″ tall wooden legs.  I think I have 14 of them, which is an odd number, but anyway, this is what they look like:

Now, the problem with these legs is that they are round at the top, not square. Most legs have a square section at the top to which one could attach flat boards to be the apron, or skirt.  So, for me to make a side table I cannot just nail or screw these legs to a flat apron.  PLUS, the fancy rolls at the top would get covered by a traditional apron because they are so near to the top.

Q:  How to put four round pegs in a square hole?

A:  Who says it has to be square?

I decided to make the table a three legged table with a triangular apron.  Let’s add more geometric shapes to the mix, eh?

Now, on top of all that confusion, I had this 20″ clock sign that I made and had always wanted to be a table top…

So, if you are still with me, I’m going to have a round table top on a triangular base with 3 legs!

Here’s what I planned out:

Still, the problem exists of how to attach the legs to the side aprons and also how to allow the top two “rolls” part of the leg to show?

How WILL she do it?

Stay tuned for part 2, hopefully tomorrow if I don’t get side-tracked…

More about wood movement

This post is an attempt to further explain wood movement and how it relates to furniture building.

While I’m not an expert by any means, I do know some basics of wood movement.

Most of you will have seen, or have in your own homes, cupboard doors, or even interior doors that are made of solid wood.  In many cases, these doors will have a panel in the middle of a frame.  Have you ever wondered why and how it is built?

In most cases, if the the middle part (the panel) is solid wood it is not firmly attached to the outer frame, it’s known as floating.  This enables the wood to expand and contract with changes in household humidity. The frame, made with stiles and rails, has grooves in it that the panel sits inside without being glued in.

When the humidity changes (and it will unless you have a precise heating/cooling/humidifier system in your house that can keep the humidity constant no matter what the conditions are outside) the panel will move inside the frame and the door will not crack.

Perhaps you have, or have seen an antique with a cracked door or drawer bottom?  This is usually caused by wood that is expanding and contracting, and is trapped between other pieces of wood.

Now, if the panel is plywood, then you will not have any changes in size and it can be glued in the frame without worries.

One of my readers asked if table tops was one of the biggest issues in wood movement.  It is one of them, but any where that wood is trapped and cannot expand and contract, it will be a problem.  This could occur in the bottom of a drawer, which is often why plywood is used there. It could occur on a headboard, the sides of a bedside table, the back of a cupboard, anywhere really where wood is trapped.

This reader also asked about making the kerf cut in the table apron to hold tabletop clamps that allow the wood to expand and contract. (You can see what she was referring to in my last post here.)

from Lee Valley

I use a tablesaw to make the kerf, but you could also use a router, or a circular saw set to the proper depth.

There are other methods of attaching table tops and this article from Fine Woodworking (an excellent magazine) explains them quite well.

I hope this helps a bit, and I will write more soon.  I was also asked about pocket screws and will write about  that sometime.

Please Don’t Make a Table Like This

I am seeing plans like this all over the internet
 DIY Dining Set

There are people with their own blogs making this type of table and thinking they are saving money.

Many of these plans, including the one above are completely the wrong way to build.

Here’s a posting in a woodworking forum from someone who used that exact plan:

I’m fairly new to “fine” woodworking and undertook a project of building a table from a Lowes Creative Ideas magazine.
I have the table built and but the top has twisted so bad that the table rocked. So I trimmed the legs to level it after some reading online but the top has continued to twist. I installed table leveling feet before I could see how bad the top actually is.
Does anyone have a suggestion as to how to fix this? I put 3 coats of poly on the top and 1 on the bottom of the wood slats.
Every time I look at the table sitting in our kitchen I’m so disgusted and am wishing we would have just bought one, but we’ve spent the money and the finish of the table is nice – it’s just so twisted and visible. Any help is appreciated.

I’ve written here before about using construction lumber for a project, but I’m just a little blog and the message hasn’t got through, so I’m trying again.

There is a way to make things, and a way to make things that will last.  


Wood moves.

                      Wood.                       Moves.

Depending on the season and climate, wood can and does change size.  Wood in a dry environment shrinks and in a humid environment expands. This change takes place widthwise, not in the length of a piece of wood, and is due to the internal structure of wood.   Wood pieces that are placed side by side against each other and attached to something, or pieces that are trapped in a frame, will crack or warp. Table tops made of solid wood cannot simply be screwed down.
Also please note that construction lumber is not made for furniture.  2 x 10s, 2 x 8x, 4 x 4s and 2 x 4s are not kiln dried to the water content that wood for furniture is. Have you ever sat a 2 x 4 in your house for a few days?  It usually will end up looking like a hockey stick.  
Construction lumber is not sold to be used for furniture.

The top should first have all pieces glued together side by side then attached with Z shaped clamps which you can see here:
and I used for my lamp table

If you use some of these incorrect plans your table, bed or chair might look good at the start, but will not last. Unfortunately there are people offering plans that are not properly designed.  You may end up with something cheap, but you will most certainly be disappointed and get what you paid for.
I am willing and happy to answer any and all questions about woodworking.
Linking up here:
Elizabeth & Co.                                 Primitive and Proper
Sew Woodsy                                             Coastal Charm
Savvy Southern Style                                No Minimalist Here
The Shabby Creek Cottage                        Remodelaholic  
The Brambleberry Cottage                        aka design
Miss Mustard Seed                                   My Repurposed Life
Sassy Sites                                                Funky Junk Interiors
Be Different Act Normal                          Sisters of the Wild West
Under the Table and Dreaming

Log Coffee Table from Maple with Floating Barn Board Top

I finally decided to use some maple logs that I had kept from when we cleared space in our wooded area for our garage/workshop.

I read books by both Doug Stowe and Daniel Mack about working with logs and bought a tenon cutter from Lee Valley. (A tenon cutter is like a huge pencil sharpener that is driven by a drill.) I found some old 1” thick barn board, complete with bug holes, for the top.

The legs are from logs that are a diameter of 2 1/4” – 2 1/2” and cut at 15” long. I used two horizontal rungs between the side legs. Mine are about 1 3/4” – 1 1/2” diameter and 14” long including the tenons.

Joining the two sets of legs and between the rungs is a 1” diameter cross piece of 27 1/2”.
I’m not sure what to call the pieces but I think it will be obvious from the photos as to what I am referring to.

There are then two short 1” diameter pieces that go vertically from the top rungs and will hold the top in a floating manner.

Here’s another view:

A hole is cut right through the top to receive the tenons of the small pieces. My top is old barn board (three pieces glued together) with a partial live edge.

I used about 4 coats of tung oil over the whole table, which for some reason is hard to take a good photo of!

Showing this at the following parties:

Blue Cricket Design
The Shabby Chic Cottage
Mustard Seed Creations
Funky Junk Interiors
Sawdust and Paper Scraps

Everything I make is for sale, so if you see something you like, please contact me.

Lamp Table – make your own

 How about we start with a lamp table.  (Not a table lamp, which is a completely different thing.)  A lamp table is a small table that you can put a lamp on.

I use pine because I like it and it’s nice to work with and you can either stain or paint it.  I like the knots.  If you are going to paint, you can use poplar which is very smooth and doesn’t have knots.
My wood starts like this, it’s called rough and comes from my local lumber warehouse which is not anything like Home Depot or Lowe’s.

Before photo:

I have to run the wood through a jointer and planer and table saw to get it to the size I need.  You may be able to find wood already planed and ready to go, which eliminates a lot of steps but means you have to get the sizes that are available. My rough pine is dried to about 8% MC, which is really important for furniture that will be in your house, but that topic is another blog post for the future.

Here’s a basic drawing
of the parts needed:

The four legs are about 1 5/8″ square and then tapered after.  They are about 24 1/2″ long.  You may wish to use dowels to join them to the aprons, or you could alternatively use tenons. If you are using dowels as joinery, you put two dowel holes in each leg and two dowel holes correspondingly in each apron.I prefer the traditional way, which is sliding dovetails. When you use sliding dovetails everything slips together like puzzle pieces and is very sturdy.   For sliding dovetails, you make the dovetail groove in two adjoining sides of the legs from the top of the leg for a length of about 3 1/2″. This is called a stopped groove and is done with a dovetail bit in a router.  I find it much easier to first use a straight bit and make a straight groove where the dovetail groove will be. This leaves far less wood for the dovetail bit to hog out.  Do your dovetail groove before you put the dovetails on the end of the side pieces.

This photo shows eight legs with
their dovetail grooves:

My table has tapered legs.  The tapering starts 5″ from the top of the leg on the two inside leg faces, which are the same faces that have the dovetail grooves in them, and they head down the leg leaving a 1″ square leg at the very bottom.  I use the table saw and a tapering jig that I bought.  Some make their own jig, but I found one for only about $15 and it was worth it, considering the time I would have spent making it.  When you taper, the wood is being pushed into the saw blade at an angle so that the leg is not parallel to the saw’s fence.  The jig holds it that way, which is the only safe way to do it.

A leg on the table saw ready to be tapered:
(saw blade, leg, tapering jig, fence)

The four side pieces are aprons (or skirts) and are about 4″wide x 9 1/4″ long x 3/4″ thick.   Use the width of the previously made dovetail groove as a sample for your dovetail width that you will put on each end of the aprons.  I purposely make my dovetails too large to start and ‘sneak up’ on the correct size.  You don’t want it to be too loose in the dovetail groove on the leg, nor too tight. The ends of the bottoms of the dovetails need to be cut off so that when you slide it into the groove it covers the end of the groove.  This is why your groove is shorter than the full 4″ width of the aprons.

Here is an apron (upside down) with the dovetail end trimmed:
Here are two of the aprons sitting in a leg:

On the inside of  the apron 3/8″ down from the top edge, you need to make a kerf on the table saw to hold the Z table fasteners that will hold the top on.  I get mine at Lee Valley, you can see them here:,41306,41309

If you want, you can put a beadboard edge at the bottom of the aprons.  This makes it look a lot nicer than a straight piece, but it’s not necessary.  The beading is done with a router bit in a router hanging in a table with a fence that you run the apron upright (vertically) against. After a good sanding of all pieces you can slide the aprons into the legs with a little glue.  If you put too much it will just come out the top of the groove and make a mess.  You really don’t need a lot because the dovetail does all the work, it really can’t pull out.

This shows the beaded apron in the leg:

The top is square, 16″ x 16″ and about 1″ thick.  I use widths of pine glued together edge to edge to make up the wider piece I need.  Usually about 4″-5″ widths are okay.  If you have them too much wider they can warp. Make sure the edges are completely smooth and perpendicular to the faces before gluing to get the flattest top you can.  Use clamps to hold this for a few hours.  Bessey clamps are nice.  I love clamps, all kinds of clamps except those spring clamp things which I find don’t have any holding power.  Always make this piece a bit larger than you need and then trim to final size and sand smooth.

This table has painted and distressed legs and aprons, the top is stained and distressed.  I painted the legs and aprons with black exterior acrylic paint and then distressed it by rubbing with sandpaper along the edges.  At the places where the wood showed through I rubbed on the same stain that was going on the top.  The top is stained with gel stain.  Other stains go blotchy on pine and some other woods. I have had great success with gel stain and the brand I use is Flecto Varathane which comes in many shades and is also mixable, so you can make your own colour. (Don’t ask me how I know this, but it’s best to make sure you make enough of your own colour, just in case you run out and need more.)  After staining the top, I beat it a bit with a screwdriver and some other things I found in the shop.  Then I took some of the paint and painted it into the distressed depressions with a small paintbrush.  Everything got at least five coats of wipe-on polyurethane.  It goes on nicely, but is very thin so it needs a few more coats than the brush-on poly. *Always test your poly over your paint first.  I have had interior acrylic paints which are not compatible with the poly, and I found out the hard way.*

When everything is dry, turn the table upside down and attach two clamps to each apron with screws. You cannot glue the top to the apron and legs, this is why you need these.  Wood moves with the seasons, if you just glue it or screw the top on, it will crack. The clamps allow the top to expand and contract with the seasons.  Now that is really another blog topic…. wood moves and many people do not realize that.

Underneath the table:
Finished table:

Another lamp table I made has stained legs and aprons and a tiled top in a wood frame.  The possibilities are endless.  And who says the top has to be square?  How about shaped like a flower or any other shape and painted?

Hmmmm… so many ideas, so little time!