This project began when a friend commissioned a small table as a gift for his wife on her birthday.
What made this commission special was that both of them are longtime friends, and I was given carte blanche in designing the piece, with the caveat that the table would compliment their existing furniture. I chose some well-seasoned walnut with nice figure for the table, and black cherry as an accent wood. The pull on the drawer is made from an antique shank button.
After the drawings are complete, I sit with a cup of coffee and consider what I may have missed – a cautious second look. It gives me a chance to re-think my choice of materials and construction techniques. Where possible, I rough dimension good, dry stock, and then let it sit for a day or two before final surfacing and dimensioning. This releases any interior stress. You may find it convenient to mill pieces of the same thickness together. For example, begin with the legs, which are the thickest. Then mill the 11⁄16″ material, followed by the 5⁄8″, 1⁄2″, 3⁄8″, and finally, 1⁄4″ material. Cut the stock a little longer than the finished length, and trim the pieces during the construction stage. I also make sure to match and mark all pieces so there is no confusion during the assembly process.
The rails are relatively thin on this table, so I cut the tenons closer to the inside edge, leaving a 1⁄8″ shoulder on the inside. The width of tenons for this project is 1⁄4″ with a 3⁄8″ tongue, and the mortises are cut to a depth of almost 1⁄2″. This allows for excess glue to accumulate in the mortise, rather than be forced out and onto the project surface. I do all mortising first, and then cut the tenons to fit. I thin stock, for the tails of the dovetail joints, by about 1⁄16″ on the inside edge of both the full and half blind dovetails. This greatly eases marking for the pins, and helps gives a nice clean finished inside edge after glue-up.
You don’t have to be confined to the dimensions in the materials list, or the selection of wood. Adding a few inches to the height, for example, would make this a wonderful entrance table.
• Mark leg (A) orientation, selecting the best face for the fronts.
• Cut the mortises.
• Cut the half blind dovetails.
• Mark the bottom center of each leg (A), and pencil in the location for the 11⁄16″ foot detail.
• Mark a pencil line around each leg, 3 1⁄8″ down from the top.
• Taper one side of the legs between the two pencil lines. I use a hand plane, beginning at the bottom section of the leg, gradually enlarging the planning area until I work up to the 31⁄8″ pencil mark. Check with a long straight edge to ensure the taper will finish both straight and square. Clamping all four legs together and planning them as a unit, can make this easier, assuming that no tear-out is occurring.
• After the first side is complete, rotate the leg and taper the opposite side. To plane the remaining two tapers, add a spacer between the legs to fill the gap left by the taper so the legs remain positioned as if they were fully dimensioned. Place a support block under the legs to prevent downward arcing while you are planing.
• Carefully measure the placement for the kicker (F) and runner (G).
• Cut side rails (B) to size. Locate the tenon so that these rails will sit flush with the outer edge of the legs when finished. This may result in a 1⁄8″ shoulder on the inner tenon side.
• Cut tenons on the back (C) and front (D, E) rails. The front top rail (E) requires you to cut a tail for the half blind dovetails. I then use this to mark, and finish the half blind dovetail pins on the front legs.
Kicker and Runners
• Drill two slightly oversize holes in the kickers (F), close to the outside edge, to accept a #8 screw, which attaches the table top to the main carcass.
• Cut out a notch at the rear leg end of the kicker to allow a snug fit against the side rail.
• Cut the tenons on both the kickers (F) and runners (G) to size.
• Glue the drawer guides (H) to the outside edges of runners (G). Dry fit the carcass to insure that the guides fit between the legs and are square to the runners.
• The top is built similar to a frame and panel door. When assembling the top, take into consideration dimensional change of the insert (I), which will vary with local climate, the cut of the lumber and the season in which you are constructing the table. In Saskatchewan, the tangential cut cherry insert will move about 5⁄32″ in width over the year.
• Cut mitres on the frame pieces (J, K).
• Cut dadoes into the frame pieces to accommodate the insert. Ensure the insert is flush with the top of the frame.
• Use biscuits to join the mitred corners of the frame. (You can use either R3 mini or 0 sized biscuits). Be careful in the placement of the biscuits, since the outside
top edges of the frame are chamfered to a thickness of 1⁄2″ to soften the edge.
• The kickers and runners, when installed, determine the inside space into which the drawer will fit and slide.
• Cut a piece of scrap plywood or MDF, to the size of the drawer footprint, and use it as a guide during assembly. This is a great help in squaring the table and
ensuring the proper placement of the drawer guides.
• Sand all the carcass pieces.
• Dry fit the pieces, making any adjustments to achieve a perfect fit.
• Glue and clamp the carcass. I prefer to enjoy this process and since I am not a fan of stress I like to work slowly and precisely. I use regular epoxy or a polyurethane based glue to give me plenty of open time, applying only enough glue to the joints to keep squeeze out to a minimum during clamping.
• I made the drawer sides (N), back (M), and bottom (O) with quarter sawn sycamore, which highlights the dovetails against the walnut drawer front (L). I then attached a walnut false front (P) to the drawer front. If you prefer, substitute Baltic birch for the drawer bottom.
• Cut the through dovetails and pins by hand or with a router jig.
• Drill holes through the drawer front (L) to accommodate #8 screws, for later attachment of false front (P).
• Rout grooves near the bottom of the sides and drawer front to accept the drawer bottom (O).
• Ensure that the drawer bottom can move under the drawer back (M) when assembled. This will allow for seasonal movement of the bottom drawer panel (O).
• Dry assemble the drawer to ensure that everything fits nicely, bearing in mind that the finished drawer should slide in and out of the table with very little movement laterally or vertically. You may need to do some final custom fitting of the drawer after glue-up.
• Rub paraffin wax on the runners and kickers to help the drawer glide smoothly. Chamfer the false drawer front (P) around the outside edge, and screw it into place, allowing for clearance below the tabletop.
• Attach a drawer pull and or a handle of your choice. I drilled two small side-by-side holes into the center of the drawer front (P) to accept a shank button, which I
glued in place using 5-minute epoxy.
I applied 3 coats of Minwax Polycrylic to the top, allowing the final coat to fully dry before the wax finish was applied. I finished the rest of the table with wax to bring out an aged look with a soft sheen. All inside surfaces were finished similarly to the exposed surfaces. Wax enhances the walnut by deepening the colour and adding lustre to the finish.
At the end of the day I often reflect on the joys and challenges of woodworking, and share my thoughts with my wife Genevieve.
While working on this table I was stumped when it came to the drawer pull. I just could not design or find one that suited the piece.
After some consideration, Genevieve suggested a shank button. She has a collection of such buttons and offered an antique one (circa 1950) that was just perfect for this table. Although most shanks on buttons are best suited for use by smaller hands, the selection of buttons is endless, and can add a nice personal touch.