Canadian Woodworking

Build a side table with a floating top

Author: Steve Der-Garabedian and Vic Tesolin
Photos: Steve Der-Garabedian and Vic Tesolin
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: October November 2018

This simple yet stylish side table is a great addition to any home, and it can be modified to suit. Changing the width or length, using a different wood species and modifying the style of the top would all be great ways to customize this table.


  • COST
side table diagram

While demonstrating separately at the 2017 Woodstock Wood Show, Vic Tesolin, the Minimalist Woodworker, came up with a great idea asking, “Why not demonstrate a project from beginning to end throughout the entire show?” Our first collaboration at the Hamilton Woodworking Show ended up taking the shape of a whiskey cabinet, which we ended up giving away so as to not tear it apart deciding who would take it home. We will be demonstrating how to make this table September 28–30, 2018 at the Woodstock Woodshow. If you would like to see this table built in real time, or have any questions about the techniques used, come visit us at the show.

For this project, we decided on a modern, floating veneered-top side table with tapered legs. The tasks were split up, and a full size mockup was made that included screws enforced with hot glue, plywood and milled 2x4s. After fine tuning the mockup, our final dimensions ended up being 18″ x 15″ x 3/4 for the top, 26″ long for legs and 1-1/4″ square at the top down to 3/4″ square at the bottom.  The aprons were 13-3/4″ x 3-1/4″ x 3/4″ which includes two 3/4″-long tenons.  Lastly, the floating supports were 10″ x 3-1/4″ by 1/2″.

Mock It Up
Using cheap materials such as 2x4s, glue and screws, Der-Garabedian and Tesolin mocked up the table to determine the overall design of the table.

A Sharp Knife
To cut veneer to rough size, a sharp knife works pretty well, though you have to be careful as veneer can sometimes split along the grain. This is especially true when dealing with figured veneer.

Evacuate the Air
Here, Der-Garabedian uses a Roarockit kit to suck all the air from the vacuum bag and apply pressure to the cauls so the veneer gets pressed to the core properly. Cauls and clamps would also work, as this is a fairly small panel.

Grain Graphics
Rather than rip the legs from the blank parallel with the edge of the board, Der-Garabedian uses a long straightedge to draw cut lines that run in line with the grain. This results in a leg that's more visually appealing.

Even Tapers
With the help of a simple jig, an even taper can be cut into two sides of all of the legs. The same jig could be used on a table saw.

Mark the Mortise
Though a standard marking jig could also be used, Der-Garabedian and Tesolin used a dual marking gauge to mark both sides of the mortise at the same time. This speeds the process and more importantly, reduces the chance of error.

Clean it Up
After the majority of the waste was removed with a drill press, Tesolin chops the remaining waste out of the mortise with a chisel.

Create the Tenons
There are many ways to create a tenon, but Der-Garabedian and Tesolin opted for a rabbet block plane, equipped with a fence to form the tenons on the aprons.

Easy Dowel Jig
A very simple shop-made dowel jig is great for locating the dowel holes in these table parts.

Perfect Match
Der-Garabedian and Tesolin choose to include a veneer match on their table, and it will draw attention from anyone who sees it. Solid wood edging protects the veneered top and conceals the edges of the plywood core.

Once machined and sanded, the supports and aprons were dry assembled. A quick check with a square ensures they're clamped at right angles to each other.

Even Divisions
A set of dividers assists with laying out evenly spaced dowel holes on the tops of the supports. When installed, the dowels will help align the top on the table base and keep it fixed for many years.

Time for a Finish
With the joinery covered with masking tape, DerGarabedian and Tesolin applied coats of finish to the parts, then assembled them.

Floating Top
When complete, the top looks like it's floating above the legs and table base.

Veneered top

First on the agenda was veneering the top, as it would take a bit of time being pressed, and then we left it to cure completely. There are various ways to press veneers, and we ended up using the kit from Lee Valley Tools made by Roarockit. It’s a manual pump version, and for small projects like this it’s a perfect fit. When pressing veneers make sure to laminate the top and bottom veneers with the grain running crosswise to the layer underneath. This ensures that the piece is less likely to warp. Baltic birch plywood is a good choice for the substrate, and starting off with a slightly larger piece will allow for cleaning up of edges or slightly shifted veneers. Veneers were book matched and cut to the exact size of the plywood using a knife.

Much like thicker pieces of wood, veneers have to be jointed in order to provide a seamless fit. This is easily accomplished lining up the veneers and closing them like a book. Next, sandwich the pair between two pieces of MDF with no more than 1/4″ of the veneer edges sticking out. Run a jointer or jack plane across the veneers until the edges are smooth and flush with each other. This can also be accomplished with a hard and flat sanding block. Alternatively, finding a wide piece of veneer with which to work is a step saver.

Once the veneers are jointed, and the two halves are attached to each other with veneer tape, apply glue to the substrate, and along with some cauls, place the assembly in the vacuum bag and press the veneers. Leave the top in the bag for at least two hours, but longer will not hurt the process.

Tapered legs

While regular straight legs will suffice, adding a taper on two outer faces of each leg will give the table a lighter look. After milling a plank of cherry to 1-1/4″ thick, we mapped out the position of the legs. Taking into account that the straight grain wasn’t running parallel to the sides, it was easy to draw a line and cut parallel to the grain with a bandsaw. Small details like this allow the piece to have nice grain graphics.

To taper the legs, a jig was created that uses Bessey toggle clamps. Their adjustability makes for a hassle-free hold on the pieces. The jig is rather simple in that there are no moving parts other than the clamps. It’s constructed using one of the legs marked up with the desired taper, which runs the full length. Draw a line that shows this taper starting at 1-1/4″ square at the top down to 3/4″ square at the bottom. The leg is clamped on a piece of MDF with the portion to be cut off hanging over a long edge. Two small blocks of hardwood are added against the leg and serve as positioning guides. Another small block is added at the bottom of the leg and acts as a stop. Driving a small screw through this piece where the point just protrudes out will act to pin the bottom of the leg, ensuring it won’t move during the cuts. Lastly, the toggle clamps are attached to the base.

This jig can either be used on the bandsaw or table saw. Adjust the fence so the edge of the base rides against the blade. Use the cabinetmaker’s triangle to mark the position of the legs and even go the extra step of adding a mark on the two outside faces that will be cut.  Clamp a leg to the jig and run it through the saw. Turn the leg to the next marked face and cut once more. Repeat this process for the remaining three legs, then use a hand plane to smooth the tapered faces.

Simple joinery

The joinery for the table was kept simple. Mortise and tenons were used from the aprons to the legs and dowels for the floating supports to the apron, and again from the supports to the top.

After marking the position of the mortises on the top of the legs with a marking gauge, most of the waste was removed at the drill press then cleaned using a chisel.  To create the matching tenon, a skewed block plane made quick but accurate work of it, using both a fence and depth gauge.

Dowels create a very strong and accurate method of joinery. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy and can be as simple as a shop-made jig. After milling the floating support to size, French curves were used to create a pleasing shape on their top edges.  Using the dowel jig, holes were drilled in both the aprons as well as the ends of the floating supports.  Be extra careful not to drill through the outer face of the apron.

Capping the edges

Once the top was fully cured, it was trimmed to final size, complete with a 9-degree underbevel. We hid the plywood edges with 1/8″-thick maple strips, machined slightly wider and longer than the top. The two short edges were glued on first and once dry were flushed to exact length. Next the long edges were glued on and the process repeated. The final step was flushing the maple strips to the veneered surfaces, all with a block plane.

Using clamps, dry assemble the base members in order to position the top. The positions of the dowels were marked on the top of the supports using a divider, then matching lines and marks were drawn on the bottom of the top.  These lines should allow the top to be centered over the base. Drill these holes in the drill press, using a bit that matches the size of the dowels.

Cleaning up

Sand the top and bottom of the table top with a random orbit sander, being careful not to sand through the veneer. To prepare for applying the finish, cover the dowel holes in both the floating supports and aprons as well as the bottom of the top with masking tape. Do the same with the mortises and tenons in the legs and the aprons.

Apply a finish

There are many great choices for finishing a table like this, but we opted for one coat of blonde shellac followed by several coats of polyurethane. The shellac adds a lot of warmth and depth to the wood, while the polyurethane provides needed protection from spills, scuffs and stains.

Once the finish has cured, remove the masking tape and glue the apron-to-leg assemblies together. Next join those two assemblies via the floating supports with dowels and finally attach the top to the completed base.

Good news – in this case, too many cooks did not spoil the brew. While woodworking is a mostly solitary endeavour in our shops, it’s nice to break out, more than just on social media, and work with a partner. You’ll probably end up learning a thing or two.

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