Canadian Woodworking

Kitchen Island Table

Author: Michael Kampen
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: December January 2007

This kitchen island has been designed for smaller kitchens. Depending on your requirements, it can function as a preparation surface, an eating table, or both


Design Considerations

Large spacious kitchens, with multiple work surfaces, are lovely and convenient, but not always possible. In smaller, more compact kitchens, work areas are few, and need to be used for multiple purposes.

I borrowed a design element from the Shakers, and placed the two drawers in the ends, instead of along the face. The Shakers placed the drawers on the end of their sewing tables, so that they would be able to sit at the long side, and without getting up, pull the drawer out from the end.

I designed this island to take up minimal floor space, but if you have a larger kitchen you could make it somewhat wider, to allow a person to be seated at each end.

Also, because this piece was intended for everyday use, I knew that the drawers would see heavy use, so I chose full extension heavy-duty slides.

Apron joinery at legs


Full extension drawer slides

Underside showing side bead and drawer bead

Lumber Selection

As with all projects, careful lumber selection plays a critical part in your success. To achieve a clean, understated look on this piece, I chose lumber with straight, vertical grain for all visible parts. At the lumberyard I spent some time doing my initial selection (see ‘Lumber Selection’, Oct/Nov 2005, issue #38), and back at my shop I did some careful parts layout. Both were time well spent, as I was able to use vertical grain for everything except the top.

Remember, most flat sawn wide boards contain some vertical grain at their edges, so by planning your projects, it is possible to use the vertical grain parts for the visible areas, and save the wilder flat grain for the hidden parts, like the drawers.

I bought rough 4/4 stock that was clean and straight enough that I was able to maintain a thickness of ⅞” on all major parts. This extra ⅛” helps to give the island a more solid look.

Start at the Top

Some woodworkers prefer to wait until a project is finished to prepare the top. They reason that there will be less time for the large surface to get banged up and damaged in the shop.

I take a slightly different approach in most cases, and glue up and level the top first. This does two things for me. It establishes a physical presence for the largest part, which until this time has existed only on paper, giving me a feel for the final volume of a piece. And, more importantly, by placing the top, face down, on my assembly table I have a clear workspace to begin building the main structure.

• Begin by selecting enough lumber for the top (A). Try to achieve a natural looking transition from one board to the next. This is much easier with vertical grain than flat grain.

• Using a jointer and a thickness planer prepare the boards for gluing by milling them flat and square.

• Clear some space on a flat level surface and glue up the boards into a panel. Be sure that all of the pieces come together without any gaps, and let the glue set over night.

• Remove the clamps and remove any glue squeeze-out with a scraper. Level the top with a sander, finishing at 150 grit. Flatten the bottom in the same way, but only the outer 5″ of the underside of the top need be finished to the same level.

• Set the top aside, or turn it upside down on your assembly table to provide a base for the next stage.

Build the Drawer Box

• The box forms the heart of the island and everything else attaches to it. Use a critical eye when selecting lumber for the sides. This will set the tone for the piece when it is viewed from the side, so choose carefully. At the lumberyard I found one board of red oak that had vertical grain from one end to the other across its full width and I immediately set it aside for the sides.

• Mill the rough boards for the sides (B), drawer fronts (C) and the top cleats (D) at this time. Note the different thicknesses of the parts.

• Set the drawer fronts aside for now and with the sides cut to length, lay out and cut the tenon on each end.

• Using your table saw, run a ⅜” x ⅜” groove, ⅜” up from the bottom on the inside of the side. This will receive the tongue of the plywood bottom (E).

• Cut the plywood bottom to size on your table saw and, using either a router or a table saw, cut a ⅜” x ⅜” rabbet on the sides of the piece. This creates the ⅜” tongue to fit into the groove from the previous step.

• Using your table saw, run a groove along the inner edges of the two outside cleats, and both edges of the center cleat. These are for the Z-clips that will be used to attach the top later. Confirm the actual dimensions with your hardware.

• Mark out the locations for the #0 biscuits that will hold the top cleats in place and cut the slots. Dry fit the drawer box assembly.

Have A Leg (or 4) to Stand On

• Choosing vertical grain lumber for parts where only one side is seen is one matter, but when you can see multiple sides of a part it gets a little more complex. If your lumber supplier has quarter-sawn material thick enough for the legs it makes matters much easier. If you only have flat sawn 4/4 stock as I did, you can still get the look, but it involves a little more work.

• Glue up enough stock to make blanks for the legs (F) if you are not using 8/4 stock. At the same time, mill the pieces for the lower stretcher assembly.

• Use a jointer and thickness planer to square up the legs, end stretchers (G), and long stretcher (H). Then trim them to length.

• Lay out the mortises for the sides as well as the lower stretchers on the leg blanks. These are all 1 1⁄16″ deep.

• Cut the tenons on the end stretchers, all four are 1″ long.

• Cut the mortise in the end stretcher to receive the tenon from the long stretcher, just over ½” deep.

• Cut a ½” long tenon on the ends of the long stretcher.

Bring It Together

These drawers will be used every day, so to keep them running smoothly for the life of this piece, I chose ball bearing, full-extension slides. These will provide smooth, trouble-free operation day after day in all seasons. For these slides to work properly, the drawer and case must be built to close tolerances. To accommodate any dimensional changes during construction I wait until the main part of the project is complete and almost ready to assemble.

• Dry fit the island using clamps to hold it firmly in place.

• Mill a piece for the filler strip (I) which fills in the area where the side is recessed from the face of the legs. For the slides to be mounted, this surface must be flush from one end to the other.

• With the filler strip (I) set in place, set the slides in place on either side of the drawer cavity and measure the space between them. This will be the outer width of your drawer box. Adjust your measurements accordingly.

• Mill the material for the drawer sides (J) and ends (K).

• Cut the sides and ends to length and use your table saw to run a groove 1⁄2″ up from the bottom edge of each piece. This will hold the drawer bottom.

• Cut the drawer bottom (N) and fit the drawer together. Join the drawer ends and sides together using your preferred method. I used screws.

• Slide the drawer box into the opening with the slides in place. It should fit between them with little play or difficulty.

A Few More Details

• Retrieve the drawer fronts you set aside earlier, and using the assembled project as a guide, trim the drawer fronts to length. To give the drawer structure a more finished look (and conveniently hide the seam between the plywood bottom and the side), a section of beading is added to the bottom of each side and both ends.

• Choose clear straight-grained material for the side beading (L) and end beading (M). Because these are only ¼” thick when finished. Any pieces with wavy (short) grain will tend to tear apart in the thickness planer.

• Mill the material for the beading.

• Use a beading or a canoe bit in combination with a fence on a router table to profile one edge on each piece.

• Cut to length and fit them into place.

• With the beading set in place, use a countersink drill bit to drill holes for the brass screws that will hold the beading in place.

• Disassemble the island.

• Use a 45º chamfer bit in a router table to chamfer the four corners on each leg as well as the four sides at the bottom. Chamfering the bottom like this will prevent splintering when the piece is moved across the floor.

• Use a piloted chamfering bit to chamfer the top and bottom edges of the top. Use a file or hand plane to chamfer the four remaining corners.

Don't Rush the Finish

There are many areas on the island where glue squeeze-out after assembly would be impossible to remove, and would therefore ruin a finish. To get around this, I break the process into three stages.

First, the visible areas are all stained. Then, the project is glued up, and the final finish goes on.

• Sand all the parts through to 150 grit.

• Use painter’s tape to mask off any tenons and areas that will later receive glue. Stuff mortises with old rags, and cover with painter’s tape.

• Clean off any sanding dust and apply two coats of Home Hardware’s Fine Wood Maple Stain #723.

• Remove all of the tape and lay out the pieces in preparation for assembly.

• Assemble the drawer section first. Lay a side, face down on the bench. Apply glue and set the bottom in place in the groove. Set the top cleats in place with the biscuits, and set the other side in place. With the help of an assistant, lay the drawer box assembly on the workbench and clamp it in place. Be sure to check that it is both flat and square – this is critical for everything else to come together.

• Glue up the legs in pairs with a short stretcher in between. Again, an absolutely square result is critical. To make this a foolproof task, cut a piece of plywood to the same width as the shoulder-to-shoulder distance of the short stretcher. Glue and clamp the parts, with the plywood establishing the proper distance between the legs at the top. Check the diagonals to ensure that it is square. Check it for flatness as well.

• Turn the drawer box assembly upside down on the bench and assemble the leg sections and long stretcher using glue and clamps.

• Turn the island upright and install the filler strips for the slides. Use a spacer to support the slide and fasten it to the island.

• Attach the top to the island using Z-clips. Because of the limited working space in the cavity, you may wish to clamp the top in position and then carefully trace out the edges of the cleats. Remove the top and drill pilot holes for the screws the appropriate distances out from these lines.

• Assemble the drawer box. Use a countersink bit and drill a pair of holes in each end of the drawer sides. Assemble the drawer and drive the screws in tight.

• Hang the drawer box on the slide (see how to install drawer slides – page 34, of this issue) and fit the front to the box.

• Use steel flat head wood screws to attach the beading to the bottom edge of the sides and drawer fronts. When you are done, remove them one at a time and replace them with brass screws. If you skip the steel screws, it is almost a certainty that you will have several brass screws shear off in the holes before you are finished.

• I decided not to use a drawer pull to avoid cluttering up the clean look of the wood. Instead I routed a small finger pull under the center of each drawer front. If you will be installing hardware, drill the holes now.

• Because this piece of furniture will see a lot of use in a harsh environment, a tough durable finish is a must. Unless you have a dedicated finishing room, you will be faced with a dilemma; how to apply a tough finish in less than perfect shop conditions. ‘Bowling Alley Polyurethane’, a Canadian made product from Swing Paints Ltd, (available from Home Hardware) is the finishing touch that will protect this piece for years to come. With a recoat time of three hours it doesn’t give dust much of a chance to settle on the wet finish. It applies beautifully by brush, but by using a turbine driven HVLP gun I was able to apply several coats in a day to further cut the finishing time.

• Before you apply the polyurethane, touch up any flaws in the stain. As well, remove the drawers from the slides and use painter’s tape to completely mask off the slides. Better yet, remove the slides altogether. When the polyurethane has fully cured, re-assemble the pieces and mount the hardware. Initially I had designed this piece as a kitchen island, as I needed more work surface and a little extra drawer space in that area of our house. However, once in place, I found myself using it more as a workstation for my laptop. With a comfortable stool, and a bit of wireless technology, this kitchen island might just turn out to be an ideal place for your computer.

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