Canadian Woodworking

Build a Coat Tree

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Published: August September 2011

A simple solution for entryway clutter.


This is a great little project to allow you to hone your sliding dovetail skills. It also allows you a bit of artistic freedom when it comes time to finish the top section. Once complete, it should give you and your family a place to throw a few jackets and hats throughout the year. It’s the perfect time to use a wood never worked with before, as it’s a smaller project that doesn’t require a lot of material. Most of the dimensions are not crucial. The base should have a large enough footprint in order to keep the coat tree from falling over, but otherwise you have permission to adjust these figures as you see fit. If you really want to end up with a stately giant to greet you and your guests, use thicker material all around. Heck, you can even try your hand at an octagonal column tree if you’re looking to make things difficult.

Rout Dovetail Slots First
After testing on some scrap (or an extra long column), use an adjustable stop to fine-tune slot length. A screw in the end of a piece of wood makes for easy adjustment. Clamp the stop, adjust the screw, then machine the slot in each side of the column. You want to end up with at least 3/16" between the corners of the slots for strength. For this operation, always make sure you feed the stock from right to left as the rotation of the bit keeps the work-piece against the fence.

Easy Angled Dovetail Tenons
Drawing the shape of the legs onto the blanks makes it easier to visualize what’s what. Machine the blanks to contain at least two legs so you have a more substantial piece to work with. Cut the angle on its end then rout the dovetail tenon on the end of it, fine tuning with precision. Once again, feed the work-piece from right to left.

Add Some Character
 By adding inlay, a routed detail or some notches you create some visual interest. Practice on a piece of scrap before committing to the final design.

Start with the main column

Break out the main column. It finishes at 1 ¾” square and 66″ long. It can be glued up from a couple of pieces or machined from 8/4 stock. You can leave it a bit long in order to have some set-up material to dial in the dovetail slots just right. An extra 6″ should be enough. With a medium-sized dovetail bit in your router table, adjust the fence to cut the grooves in the center of the post. Clamp a stop to the table’s surface in order to get a consistent slot length. You want the slot to be slightly shorter than the width of the legs, so the slot doesn’t show above the legs when everything is assembled – just under 2″ should be fine. Adjust the height of the bit so when you machine all four dovetail slots there is at least 3/16″ between the corners of the slots. If you end up with too little material between the slots, just cut a few inches off the end of the column, adjust the bit height and start again. Break out the legs in two ⅞” thick blanks that are at least 12″ long. To make machining the dovetail tenon easier and safer two legs will come from one blank. The legs are 2″ wide so two 5″ wide blanks should be enough. Joint one edge then cut a 10° angle on one end of each of the two blanks with a mitre saw. Keep the router bit at the same height as when you machined the slots, but adjust the fence to cut the dovetail tenon on the angled end of the blanks. (Refer to our April/May 2010 issue for more info on sliding dovetails.) Draw the shape of the legs onto the blanks, keeping the length of the dovetail slot in mind. Use a bandsaw or jig saw to cut them to shape then fair the edges of the legs. You may have to use a chisel to adjust the dovetail tenon in order for each leg to seat perfectly in the dovetail slot.

Add some character

Before you glue the legs to the column, cut the column to length. Now you have the opportunity to do something interesting on the top of the column, and even down lower, if you like. Some carving, a routed detail or even some inlay is a great addition. The sky is the limit, really. On the other hand, you can cut a 45° chamfer on each of the four sides of the column with your mitre saw to simplify things, maintaining a small, flat section on the very end of the column. To keep the chamfers aligned set up a stop on your chop saw and butt the bottom of the column up to it, rotating it 90° after each cut. While you’re working on the top of the column, position your hooks one at a time, mark the hole locations and drill pilot holes. Placing the hooks at different heights makes it easier to use the coat tree and it also gives it a touch of style. If you have kids, you can also add a couple hooks down low. That is, if you want them to put their jackets away. Another word about the hooks … a nice, classy hook will go a long way to dressing up this otherwise fairly simple project.

In order to keep the coat tree from rocking, I installed an adjustable foot from Lee Valley in the underside of each leg, near its end (item # 00F15.01 and the mating 3-Prong T-Nut). Whatever you do, don’t drill through the top of the leg this far into the game. After sanding the legs and column surfaces, apply glue to the dovetail tenon and slot and one-by-one attach the legs.

Although this is a good time to try a new finish, I don’t blame you for using the same old finish that’s got you this far. It all depends on how much time and energy you have. A few coats are usually enough to offer a bit of protection and add a bit of sheen. Attach the hooks, adjust the feet and hang your work hat up. You’re done for the day.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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