Build an Elegant End Table

Author: David Bedrosian
Photos: David Bedrosian
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: February March 2017
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Templates and jigs are the key to tackling the different curves on this cherry table.

  • DIFFICULTY
    4/5
  • LENGTH/TIME
    4/5
  • COST
    3/5
  • SPECIAL TECHNIQUES
    WORKING WITH CURVES

I chose a size of 29″ by 21″ for the top of this table, but you could scale it up if you want to make a coffee table. I wanted the top to overhang the oval apron by 1-3/4″, which meant the outside dimensions of the apron should be 25-1/2″ by 17-1/2″. To make the apron sufficiently strong, I made it 1-1/4″ thick and 2-5/8″ high. The 17″ long curved and tapered legs are 1-1/2″ square at the top and approximately 1″ square at the bottom. I found this leg size to work well for both this end table and larger coffee table.

MDF Templates
Templates are used to shape the top, apron and legs. MDF is a good material to make the templates from, as it can be shaped very smooth.

Glue Half at a Time
Bedrosian uses dominos to glue together the pieces that make up the left and right halves of the middle layer of the apron. Position the dominos so they won’t be exposed during final shaping of the apron.

Mind the Gap
Sand the ends on a flat surface such as a jointer table so the left and right halves fit together without a gap. Use the jointer’s fence to ensure the apron assembly is at a right angle while sanding.

Rout Flush Using the Template
Mark arrows on the template and use both a flush trim bit and a template bit so you are always routing downhill to avoid tearout.

Clamp Around the Curve
Use thin MDF cauls and lots of clamps around the top and the bottom of the apron to pull the veneer tight to the face. Even pressure, without over-tightening each clamp, is key here.

Rout the Curves on the Legs
The router sled ensures that the curves on all four legs will match the leg template.

Slot the Top of the Leg
The leg is fastened to the apron using a bridle joint. The slot is cut with multiple passes of a rip blade using spacers to ensure a consistent width for all of the legs.

Mark the Leg Positions
Trace the leg width on the top of the apron by aligning the leg and apron, then pressing a 6" rule against the side of the leg.

Taper the Sides of the Legs
Use a taper jig to hold the legs in place as the sides are tapered. The upper few inches of the leg fits into the apron and is not tapered.

Rout the Outer Notches
The jig Bedrosian uses is made up of two pieces of ¾” plywood that are fastened together with two parallel rails. First, rout a shallow opening on the outside face of the apron, the exact same width as the top of the leg.

Rout the Inner Notches 
With all four notches machined into the outer surface of the apron, reposition the jig with the layout lines on the inner surface of the apron. The depth of the second notch will create the final thickness of the tenon. When in doubt, leave a little extra material on the tenon and fine-tune the fit with a shoulder plane.

Groove for the Inlay 
Two bearings on the trim router base ride against the edge of the table top to rout the 1/16" groove for the inlay.

Add Inlay
The inlay has slightly tapered edges for a tight fit in the narrow groove. Apply some glue in the cavity, then gently tap the inlay into place. An extra set of hands may come in handy here.

Rout three MDF templates

The 1/2″ thick MDF templates for the top and apron can be cut using any of a number of ways, but my preferred method is with a shop-built elliptical router jig.

Make a 1/4″ MDF template of the curved face of the leg. Note the upper 2-3/4″ of the leg should remain straight and square since that portion will be joined to the apron. It’s worth spending a little extra time sanding the edges of the templates since any irregularities will be transferred to the finished pieces.

Build the three-layer apron

The apron is built from three layers of 7/8″ poplar, arranged in a brick-layed fashion for maximum strength. Start with the middle layer by cutting the 10 pieces to length and at the correct angles using the drawing of the middle apron layer. Glue the pieces together into a left and a right half using splines or dominos to strengthen the end-grain joints. Make sure the two halves are flat during glue-up. To ensure a tight fit of the left and right sides of the ring, I taped 120-grit sandpaper to the infeed table of my jointer and while the assembly was held perpendicular with my jointer’s fence, sanded the ends until they were flat.

Before gluing these ends together, use the apron template to mark the inside and outside edges on the wood and then bandsaw away most of the waste. You can then use splines or dominos to glue together this middle apron layer. When dry, temporarily fasten the apron template to this layer using small screws so you can rout flush to the template. This middle layer now becomes the template for the top and bottom layers.

Building up the apron with the top and bottom layers is easier. The pieces can be glued directly to the middle layer without requiring splines or dominos to strengthen the end grain joints. Ensure the joints of each layer don’t align with a joint in the middle layer. Cut all but one piece per layer using the lengths and angles shown on the drawing of the top and bottom layers of the apron. The final piece will be cut to fit precisely after the other nine pieces are glued in place. To minimize the amount of wood that needs to be routed away, bandsaw each piece close to the finished size before gluing it to the middle ring. Pin nails can be used to hold the pieces while the glue dries, provided you stay away from the location of the legs. Rout away the waste using a flush trim bit with the bearing riding on the middle ring.

Apply apron veneer

Using commercial veneer for the show face of the apron will work, but I prefer to resaw my own slightly thicker veneer. Use four lengths of veneer, leaving about a 1/2″ gap where the legs will be connected. Cut the veneer about 1/4″ taller than the apron to allow some play when gluing the veneer. I used three pieces of 1/8″ Masonite as clamping cauls and I applied packing tape to the inner caul so it would not stick to any glue squeeze out. Be sure to do a dry run before applying glue to the veneer. You will need quite a few closely spaced clamps on the top and bottom of the apron to ensure the veneer is pulled in tightly to the apron.

Machine the legs

Machine four leg blanks to 1-1/2″ by 2-1/4″ by 17″ long. I used straight grain 8/4 stock. Use the leg template to build a two-sided sled that will securely hold the leg blank so you can rout both faces of the legs. Before routing the outside edge, I placed each leg in the sled and traced a pencil line so that I could remove most of the waste on the bandsaw. I then routed away the small amount of wood that was left using a template bit riding along the edge of the sled. I did the same thing using the opposite side of the sled for the inside edge of each leg.

The legs are tapered on the sides to a width of 1″ at the bottom. Be sure not to taper the upper 2-3/4″ of the leg since this portion will fit into the apron, and the sides need to be parallel. I used a tapering jig on my table saw to achieve the look I wanted. Remove any saw marks with a few passes of a hand plane.

The last step for the legs is to cut a slot in the top of the leg equal to the height of the apron. This will form one half of the bridle joint used to join the legs to the apron. Cut the slot using a tenoning jig on the table saw. The slot is too deep for my dado set, so I used my flat top rip blade raised to a height equal to the height of the apron. Rather than making adjustments to the tenoning jig, use different width spacers between the leg and the side of the jig to get the full slot width.

Machine the apron notches

The tenon portion of the bridle joint is formed by routing a shallow opening on the outside face of the apron and a deeper opening on the inside. To hold the router flat on the curved apron, build a router sled with cross supports that straddle the apron and has parallel rails that guide the router so it will cut an opening the exact width of the leg (1-1/2″). I used a plunge router with a router collar so I had to account for the spacing between the collar and the bit to determine the distance between the rails. Make test cuts on a scrap and fine-tune the sled until the leg fits nicely in the routed slot.

Draw two parallel lines on the top of the apron at each leg location by pressing a ruler against the side of the leg as it is held in position. The leg will rock on the curved apron surface so be sure to hold it securely. Use these reference lines to position the router sled on the outside of the apron and clamp it in place. I set my plunge router to cut about 1/8″ deep into the apron and routed away the face veneer and slightly into the poplar. Without changing the depth of cut, rout the openings on the face of the apron for the other three legs.

Routing the openings on the inside of the apron is a little trickier since you have to get the jig aligned with the opening on the face of the apron, and you have to adjust the router depth so the tenon will match the slot in the leg. I found it best to leave the tenon a little thick and custom fit each leg with a shoulder plane. You want the leg to fit snugly over the tenon, but not so tight that you have to hammer the leg in place. If the leg twists while it is being inserted, you can widen the opening on the inside of the apron since that part of the joint will not be visible.

Glue the top from a single board

I sorted through my stock of cherry to find a single board that I could use for the top. This helped to get a consistent grain pattern and colour. After machining to a thickness of about 7/8″, glue the top together and sand or handplane the surface flat.

Using double stick tape, fasten the MDF template to the workpiece and head to the bandsaw to cut close to the template. I used a combination of a flush trim bit and a template bit to rout the top to the final size, making sure I was always routing downhill.

To give the top a little more character, I inlayed a 1/16″ wide strip of maple about 1″ from the edge. Cutting the groove for the inlay can be done by hand, but I chose to use my trim router with a shop-made base that has two bearings that ride against the outside edge of the top. Go slowly with this step so that you keep both bearings in contact with the edge. I cut the maple inlay on my bandsaw and then handplaned a slight taper to get a tight fit when glued into the top. As a final step, relieve the underside of the top with a thumbnail router bit taking a number of passes before getting to full depth.

Finish before assembly

I recommend applying the finish to the individual parts of the table before you do the final gluing and assembly. Sand all of the pieces, soften all of the edges and mask off the leg slots and the tenons in the apron. My preferred finish for cherry is to apply a coat of boiled linseed oil followed about a week later by a few coats of garnet shellac and then several topcoats of polyurethane. The combination of the oil and the shellac gives the cherry a warm glow and the polyurethane gives the protection this table needs for use in a family room.

When the finish has dried, glue the legs in place using epoxy since it will fill any small gaps that may exist in the bridle joints. Leave the table upside down while the epoxy dries so any squeeze-out will not run down the legs. As a final step, fasten the top to the apron allowing for seasonal changes in its width.


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