Accent table with curved legs
The organic shape of this accent table is created by a series of matching nested curves that produce a light, visual appearance.
Face aprons are cut from single boards and opened with sweeping curves to create a light and graceful look. The face frames are braced with two aprons: the upper being a scaled version of the face and a lower higher single arch. The legs are also curved outward along their length mirroring the upper curve of the face apron. The top is shaped with parallel sides and curved ends, all cut at an angle to blend into the leg curves.
The frame is built with pinned blind mortise-and-tenon and dowel joinery for strength and clean, uninterrupted lines. Sliding brackets attach the solid top to the frame to allow for seasonal movement. The table measures 31″ H x 40″ L x 17″ W and is finished in low-lustre Tung oil with a Varathane finish.
The joinery in this table is the easy part of the project and requires only the minimum of tools. The large sweeping curves use full-scale templates and final shaping uses bearing-guided router bits.
Cut the templates for the legs and the three apron shapes, full-size. Using the curve details on the drawings, trace the leg and the three apron shapes onto MDF or hardboard. The radius of each curve is given so that you can draw the curves with a beam compass.
Cut the curve of the leg template just to the waste side of the line. Do the same for the upper and lower curves of the lower side apron. For the face and upper side aprons, drill out the end of the main cut-out with a ¾” Forstner bit in a drill press. Bandsaw from each end to this hole to complete the cut-outs and then saw the main continuous lower curve. Use your preferred combination of spoke-shave, drum sander and/or wood file to clean up the saw marks and smooth the curves to shape.
TIP: To reduce drawing and template making time, the leg curve is the same as the upper curve of the face apron.
Mill 6/4 solid stock for the legs and 4/4 for the aprons to final thickness (see cutting list). The actual thickness does not really matter. You will compensate for it later, so you can substitute pre-dimensioned lumber if you prefer.
Form the Leg Mortises
Use blind mortise and tenon joints to connect the apron to the legs. Cut the legs to width and form the face apron mortises (see detail) using your favourite method. The mortises are ½” wide, 1 1/16″ deep and centered on the width of the leg. The upper mortise starts ½” from the top and is 1 ¼” long. The lower starts 5″ from the bottom and is 2″ long. Clean up with a sharp chisel and lightly relieve the edges of the mortise to prevent splintering.
Shape the Legs
Use the leg template to trace the curve of the leg. Use carpet tape to stick two leg blanks together. Align the mortises and cut out on the bandsaw. Use more carpet-tape to stick each pair of legs together and sand all four to shape. While they are stuck together, joint the long straight edge and cut the bottom of the legs to length. Separate them and mark back/front, left and right on the top end grain.
Cut the Face Apron Tenon Blank
For the face aprons, it is easier to cut the tenons on the blanks before the final shaping. Cut the face apron blanks to length and choose the best faces. Mark them front/back, top/bottom. Install a dado blade in your table saw. Flip the board end-over-end and cut a tenon on each end 1″ thick. Sneak up on the thickness until it fits snugly into the leg mortise. Using the leg as a guide, cut the top (approx. ½”) and bottom (approx. ¼”) of each tenon. Make sure that you keep an eye on your markings and test continuously.
Cut the Face Apron to Shape
Trace the apron template onto the blank between the tenons. Use carpet tape to attach the two blanks together (with best faces in), and cut them out approx. 1/16″ bigger than the template. Drill out the insides of the apron cut-outs in the same way and use scrap as backing to prevent tear-out. Separate the aprons and attach the template with carpet tape. Clean up the curves with a bearing-guided flush trim bit on the router table.
Cut the Tenons to Length
With the apron cut to shape, line it against a leg and mark the width of each tenon. Cut the tenons to length to get a good fit into the mortise. Ensure that the top of the apron is flush with the top of the leg.
Cut the Side Aprons to Shape
In a similar manner, trace, cut out, and shape the upper and lower side aprons.
Use bearing-guided round-over bits in a router table to relieve all curves (including cut outs) of the face and side aprons. Rout a ⅜” round-over on the straight edges of each leg and a ⅛” round-over on each leg curve.
Cut the Groove
As the top is made of solid wood, it will expand and contract with seasonal changes in moisture. To allow for this movement and yet firmly attach the top to the frame, metal “Z” brackets are used. One end of the bracket screws to the underside of the top while the other end grips a groove cut around the apron. A groove is cut into the inside top of all apron rails. It runs through the side upper apron but is stopped before the tenons on the face aprons. Use the table saw to cut a ⅛” wide groove ⅜” deep and 7/16″ from the top. If you are using different hardware, adjust these measurements appropriately.
TIP: To make the stopped groove, set the blade and fence as above. Using masking tape, make a mark on the fence ¼” forward of the front of the blade and ¼” behind the rear of the blade. Make sure it can be seen when the apron is on the saw. With the blade running, and the apron tight against the fence, face-side up, gently lower it onto the blade. The forward tenon cheek should line up with the rear mark. Push the apron through the saw and stop the blade when the rear tenon cheek aligns with the front mark
Finish and Oil
Finish the sanding up to 400 grit and remove all surface dust. Mask off the areas around the leg mortises, face apron tenons, and side apron end grain. Apply a coat of Tung oil to all parts. Allow to dry and repeat until you have a silky smooth coating.
Assemble the Face Frame
Dry assemble the front and back face frames. The joints must be able to come together without significant effort. Glue up each face in turn using a couple of pipe clamps. Use the top 8″ of the leg curve offcut as a clamping block. Apply a thin even coat of glue to both the mortises and tenons and work it into the wood a little. Clamp each joint lightly.
You will notice that the frame will tend to “crown” (bow at the centre) if you tighten the lower tenon clamp too much. Use a straight edge to check for bowing and back off clamping pressure as necessary. Remember that the joints are going to be pinned so you will be adding extra strength to the joint. When skinned over, remove glue squeeze-out with a chisel.
Assemble The Side Aprons
Dowels are used to attach the side upper and lower aprons to the legs. The dowels at the top of the side apron pin the face apron mortise and tenon. In each leg, drill the four ¼” dowel holes ¾” deep (see details).
Starting with the front frame, use dowel centres to transfer the hole locations to each apron in turn. Ensure that the top of the apron is flush with the top of the frame and position it ¼” from the straight edge of the leg. Drill the two dowel holes in each upper apron ¾” deep using a brad-point bit and stop. Position the lower apron 6″ from the bottom of the leg and centre it. Mark the holes as before and drill ¾” deep holes. Use 1 ¼” long, ¼” wide fluted dowels and test fit all joints. Do the same with the back frame for the upper side aprons.
TIP: To bore straight holes into the ends of the apron, clamp it upright in a vise. Stand a long square
Assemble The Frame
Glue the aprons to the rear frame and dry fit the front. Clamp the assembly and adjust until square. When dry, glue the side aprons to the front frame.
Clean up all glue squeeze-out and final sand to 400 grit and apply your top finish.
Laminate The Top
Choose the mahogany boards for the top with the best grain pattern, colour, and match. Joint each edge and plane for consistent thickness. Cross cut each board approx. 1″ longer than necessary and wipe on a coat of Tung oil to the faces of each board – this will help in cleaning up any glue squeeze-out. Apply a thin even layer of glue to each edge, working it into the wood a little.
Clamp the boards alternatively top and bottom and apply sufficient clamping pressure to raise a small bead of glue from the joint. Check for flatness and if necessary, clamp across the joint ends of two boards to align them. When dry, scrape off any glue and sand or scrape the top until it is flat.
Cut the Top
The sides of the top are cut at 10 degrees so that when installed the top edge blends into the start of the curve of the legs. Joint one edge of the top and cut it to width. Set the table saw blade to 10 degrees and cut both long edges. With a large square, mark a perpendicular across each end of the board 40″ apart. With a drawing bow or thin strip of hardwood, trace a convex curve starting 1 ½” from each end. Attach an extension to the front of your bandsaw and angle the table down 10 degrees. Cut out both end curves. Use a spokeshave and sandpaper to smooth the curves. Final sand, and finish as before.
Attach the Top
“Z”-type brackets attach the top to the frame. Use a small brad-point bit to drill pilot holes into the top for #8 screws. (The length of the screws really depends on the thickness of the wood used to make the top. The thickness of the wood I used was approx. 13/16″ [4/4 planed] and I used ¾” screws without problems.)
Use a bracket at the end of each apron close to the leg and another in the middle of the face aprons. Install them so that there is ¼” to 3/16″ gap between the bracket and the apron. Tighten the screws so that the top is just pulled onto the frame – there is no need to tighten further.