Canadian Woodworking

Build a kitchen table

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: October November 2020

A simple kitchen table with an interesting visual design element is what this table is all about.


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Kitchen table illo

My goal was to create a table with room for four people to eat, but be able to expand it for slightly larger gatherings. To maximize leg room, I didn’t want an apron under the table’s perimeter. The lack of an apron posed certain strength and design challenges. This isn’t the type of table I’d encourage you to get on top of and dance, but it’s more than strong enough for day-to-day eating and the occa­sional family gathering. The finished size of the table top is 60″ long × 30″ wide, though this can be adjusted to suit your needs.

A Nice Top
With the majority of the table top laminated, Brown used a hand plane to remove any minor imperfections in the top. A belt sander was the next step, used to further smooth the table top.

Keep Parts Aligned
When making the series of cuts to allow the legs to protrude through the top, Brown marked the parts with letters so they could be put back together how they were cut. This ensured the joints were virtually invisible, as grain and colour could remain constant and even. The narrow strip of wood in this photo is 1-13/16" wide, which is the width of the leg plus an extra 1/16".

Mark the Leg Location
Once the first 3-1/2" wide strip is ripped off the top, it’s then ripped into two pieces. One is 1/16" wider than the width of the legs, and that’s the piece that’s being marked here. Brown is adding a mark at 6" in from the end, as that is where the inside of the leg will be butted up to the strip of wood during assembly.

Clamp the Strip On
The strip of wood that is 1/16" wider than the width of the leg is clamped into place. You can see the leg notch in the table top at the lower, left-hand corner of the photo.

Add the Legs
The lower red-handled clamp is clamping the leg perpendicularly to a temporary caul. The caul is then clamped to the underside of the table (with the vertical red-handled clamp). The orange-handled pipe clamp brings the leg into contact with the end of the strip of wood slightly wider than the leg, while the dark blue clamp applies pressure to glue the leg to the table top.

Almost There
With the leg glued into place, the outer block can be positioned and glued. Because the strip was crosscut twice, and the material where the leg is positioned has been removed, the grain of the strip continues on either side of the leg.

Just a Sliver
To create an edge on which to glue the final outer strip of wood, Brown uses a track saw, positioned ever so slightly to the inside of the leg’s outer surface.

Make the Cut
A track saw makes quick work of producing a good, square edge to glue the outer piece of material to the table top.

Shape the Arms
Once the leaf arms were cut to size, Brown cut a curve into both ends of them and sanded the curves smooth.

Ready for Glue
The track saw blade left a good edge for gluing the outer piece onto the table top.

Secure the Arms
A couple of screws and some glue are more than enough to secure the arms to the underside of the leaf’s top surfaces. Ensure the distance between the arms will allow the leaf to fit between the table legs by adding a bit of extra room for seasonal movement of the table top.

Drill Pin Holes
With the leaf in place, Brown bores a hole through the arms into the legs. Notice the solid wood collar placed over the drill bit. This is to stop from drilling through to the outer face of the legs.

A Good Finish
A finish on a kitchen table is called on to do so much. Brown chose OSMO TopOil to take care of this table.

A Bit of Extra Room
The two table leaves provide enough room for a few extra people to join you at the table for a meal.

Start with the top

The 5/4 boards I used were all just under 6″ wide, though yours don’t need to be. A bit of math to laminate panels of the width I discuss below will work out nicely. I cut the boards to rough length (1″ longer than finished length) and dressed them to within 1/8″ of their final thickness. This allowed me to see the grain and colour in each board so I could match them together. Once all the boards were organized for the best grain and colour match, they were labelled so I could glue them back up properly. I then lami­nated them in pairs, giving me two panels just under 12″ wide each. These panels were just narrow enough to fit through my 12″ benchtop planer. When dry, I fed the panels through my planer, smoothing both upper and lower faces, bringing the boards to final thickness. I also dressed one more 6″ wide board to final thickness.

I then jointed the two mating edges of the 12″ wide panels and the other single board that makes up the center section so I could laminate them together to form the panel for the top. The width of the panel is about 1″ wider than the finished distance from the outside of one leg to the outside of the leg on the opposite side of the table. This was about 28″ for my table. The exact width isn’t critical at this stage as long as you have enough width to trim the edges straight and still be at least as wide as the distance between the outside leg surfaces. I added a few 1/4″ dowels along the joints in order to assist with keeping the joints even. A dowel jig works wonders here, but even dowel centers work well. Dominos, splines or other methods would also work nicely. Even pressure across the width, while ensuring the panel was flat, is important.

Dealing with the legs

Because the thickness of the legs needs to be determined before cutting two strips from the main section of the table top, it might be a good idea to break the legs out now. I used legs that were 2-1/4″ wide × 1-7/8″ thick. It’s the thickness that’s important right now.

Accounting for the four leg-to-top joints is the tricky part of this build. Out of the clamps, I used my track saw to create one straight edge on one side of the panel. I then ran that freshly straightened edge along my table saw’s rip fence to remove a strip of wood about 1/16″ to 1/8″ wider than the thickness of the legs. I ripped this strip just barely under 2″ wide. I marked the strip and the panel so I could eventually reglue the strip back in place. This ensures the grain and colour will remain uniform, and the joint will be almost invisible.

Putting the strip aside for now, I cut the center section of the table top to width. For my table, this distance was 23″. This distance will be the exact distance between the inside faces of the legs. As with the first cut, I labelled the larger panel and smaller strip so I could reglue them later. The next cut was to trim the second strip to just under 2″, and I did that operation on my table saw.

Careful cuts and assembly

Working with the two strips that would be positioned in line with the legs, I marked a line in from each end at 6-1/2″. The top is still 1″ longer than it will finish at, so this extra half inch will eventually be trimmed off. This marks the inner edge of each leg and determines the distance between the two legs at either end of the table – 48″. I made these two cuts on both of the two strips of wood, and made sure to mark both the 6-1/2″ and 48″ long parts, as they will all have to be glued in place carefully.

In order to keep the grain and colour aligned as much as possible, I removed a total of 2-1/4″ of length from the 6-1/2″ long piece to make room for each of the legs. This is where the legs will protrude through the table top. I made sure all of these parts were labelled clearly so I could put them back together in the position they were all cut from.

With the pieces cut, I started with one of the 48″ long strips and glued it to the correct side of the table top, aligned with the pencil line. I made sure to use a long caul on the opposite side of the table top so the straight edge didn’t get damaged by the clamps.


I machined the legs to finished dimension and sanded their four edges, making sure not to sand the top few inches of each leg. During machining, keep in mind the legs must be perfectly square so there are no gaps between the legs and the mating table top parts.

Before applying any glue, I positioned the leg against the table top and clamped a caul to the inner face of the leg. The caul was butted up against the underside of the table. This was done so that during assembly the leg would be much easier to position and clamp in place, square to the table top.

I applied a light layer of glue to the end grain of the piece of wood one leg would be positioned against, and let it dry for a minute or two. This helps stop the next layer of glue from seeping into the end grain too much. Then I reapplied glue to that end grain, and also to the edge of the table top the leg would get adhered to. Making sure the leg was positioned perpendicular to the table top, I used one clamp to apply force to the caul and bring the leg into proper position. I then added another clamp across the width of the top to adhere the leg against the table top. Before tightening this clamp, I added a third clamp (a pipe clamp, at least 5′ long) to apply force to the leg so it would butt up to the 48″ long strip of wood. A solid wood caul helps protect the side of the leg from damage.

When the leg was dry, I added the 4-1/4″ long strip on the other side of the leg, using one clamp to bring this piece tight to the leg and another clamp to ensure it was snug to the edge of the table top. Once I repeated this approach for all four legs, keeping all of my pencil layout marks in mind, I was ready to prep the table so I could add the final two outer lengths of wood to the table top to complete its width.

Before gluing the two outer 60″ long strips of wood to complete the table’s width, I needed to ensure an even, straight edge was cut into the two edges of the table. I used a track saw for this, but a router and long straight bit, coupled with a long straightedge, could also be used. I placed my 8′ long track saw rail on the table top, positioned about 1/32″ inside the outer face of both legs, then clamped the track in place. Once the depth of cut was adjusted so the blade ever so slightly cut deeper than the thickness of the table top, I made the cut. I repeated the process on the other side, pro­ducing two straight edges for the next step.

Finish the top

The final step to complete the top was to glue on the final two narrow lengths of the table top. I made sure to keep these pieces flush with the existing table top with the help of a series of F-clamps straddling the joints while a series of bar clamps closed the joint.

After an hour I removed the clamps, scraped off the glue and cut the table to finished length. After a day or so, I hand planed the surface even, then sanded it smooth. I routed a quarter round to the top, underside and corners of the top to increase comfort when seated at the table.

I flipped the table over, drilled for a T-nut in the underside of each leg, hammered them in and twisted in an adjustable foot.

Two leaves

Although optional, the two leaves add a level of flexibility when it comes to hosting more people for a meal. They are both quite low-tech, because I was trying to make them as simple as possible. The main challenge was respecting the seasonal movement of the table top. Since I wanted to run the grain of each leaf the opposite way for strength reasons, I had to come up with a proper approach.

Each leaf consists of the top surface, two arms and two wooden pins to hold it in place. The arms fit between the table legs, and a wooden pin protrudes through the arm into the leg to support the leaf. I made sure to leave a 3/16″ gap between the outer faces of the arms and the inner faces of the legs so when the table contracted during the drier months it wouldn’t squeeze against the arms of each leaf. If you build this table in the middle of a hot, humid sum­mer, you need to err on the side of leaving an even larger gap, as the table top will only shrink in the future.

Once the leaf top surfaces were glued up and cut to final size, I shaped the arms. A bit of math told me where the arms were to be attached to the underside of the tops, and I used screws and glue to do that. With the table upside down, I positioned a leaf, then used a 3/8″ diameter Brad point drill bit to bore a hole through the arm and into the leg. I set a stop so I wouldn’t drill out the far side of the leg. I repeated this for the other three corners. Each leaf would only work on one specific end of the table, as I didn’t measure the holes and drill them all in the same location. Because of this, I added some textured mark to the underside of one end of the table top and to the underside of a leaf. This gave the user a simple guide as to which leaf was to be used at which end of the table.

To make the 3/8″ diameter wooden pins, I used a dowel former. I cut a length of wood to just a hair over 3/8″ square, then used a block plane to chamfer the sides. I then created a slight point on one end of the length and hammered it through the dowel former, creating a long length of 3/8″ diameter dowel. I cut the pins to length and added a slightly tapered point to their ends. To ensure they fit easily into the 3/8″ diameter holes, I chucked them in a drill one-by-one, turned the drill on and used a sanding block to reduce their diameter slightly.

Finishing details

If you wanted to add a bit more strength to the joint between the leg and underside of the table top you could apply a few glue blocks. Even a few 3/8″ × 3/8″ glue blocks would add a decent amount of rigidity to the table. I added one glue block to each leg joint.

I was aiming for a finish that was easy to apply, easy to maintain, had a nice feel to it and wouldn’t yellow the maple much. I opted for OSMO TopOil. I rolled on the first coat, allowing all excess fin­ish to remain on the wood until dry. At that point, I sanded with 320 grit and used a fine abrasive pad to apply an additional two light coats of finish, lightly sanding between coats. I applied finish to all surfaces of the table, including the ends of the legs.

At this point I was ready to put the table into its home and start planning what meal would be enjoyed on it first.

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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