Canadian Woodworking

Make a Wine Rack Table

Author: Bill Perry
Photos: Bill Perry; Lead Photo by Nik Groot
Illustration: James Provost
Published: April May 2012

This wine rack is great for a smaller home or a room that’s in need of another small surface for storage or serving. It’s also imperative that its owner loves wine, because it’s made to be used. Cheers!


What makes this project interest­ing is that you get to choose the style you prefer. In this table, the “cloud lift” profile in the walnut frame surrounding the top was strongly Greene and Greene-influenced, while the outward-curving legs were another North American interpretation of Asian furniture treatments. If you don’t want an Asian-style piece, however, it’s a simple matter to replace the “gumby” legs with ones that are straight or tapered. The same applies to the frame around the table’s top. You can lose the cloud lift pro­files, replace the bridle joints at the corners with mitres or use a slab top instead of frame and panel.

Full-scale drawings or patterns are a good idea with this piece. You’ll be cutting 24 mor­tises and fitting their respective tenons into them. Measuring each of their locations indi­vidually is a recipe for disaster; ticking off their locations from marks on a template is less risky. (It doesn’t mean you can stop think­ing; you still have to mark the correct sides of the components.) Full-size templates or models also help you to envision how the final construction will look. And if the design you’re trying just isn’t going to work, it’s less painful to scrap a piece of plywood or pine than a piece of walnut or birdseye.

Try a Template
 To increase your chances of success, make a template for the mortise locations. It will virtually guarantee all your mortises end up in the correct location. 

Great for Tenons
 A sled for your table saw, designed to work with your dado head, makes cutting tenons very straight-forward. The front rails are machined in pairs, then once the wine neck hole has been drilled, they were ripped in two on the table saw.

Another Template
 The back rails can be marked from the template. Then cut the arcs with a coping saw or bandsaw and clean them up on the router table.

Round the Edges
 The stretches that hold the wine bottles all get their edges rounded over on the router table, to give a softer look.

One Pass
 Perry uses a tenoning jig and a table saw to machine the first half of the bridle joint in a single pass. This joint will secure the four frame pieces that surround the top panel.

Round the Edges
The stretches that hold the wine bottles all get their edges rounded over on the router table, to give a softer look.

Wood selection

Once you have your design, take your time assembling the wood you’ll need. It’s tempting to look for a spectacular specimen for the top while neglecting other components. This is a grave error. All parts must work together and, in this case, the grain of the legs must comple­ment the table’s form, whether viewed from the front or the side.

Imagine how the legs would look if the grain curved inwards instead of hav­ing it flow out, matching the table’s form. Not only would the shorter grain weaken the construction, it would also look awkward. Now consider the table’s top. If you’re going to use a spectacu­lar piece of wood for a panel, you don’t want rails and stiles in a flashy, contrast­ing species that competes with it. An understated frame in quartersawn timber works far better.


Try to cut all your stock from the same piece of lumber to ensure consistent grain and colour. It’s always a good idea to mill the components just slightly over­size and let them acclimatize in the shop for about a week. Then mill them to fin­ished size, saving a few final passes with a hand plane for later.

The legs are the structural elements and support the table’s framework and top, so we start with them. It’s easier to cut mortises into stock that is still square, so mortising is done before any other shaping of the legs. Begin by marking the locations of the six mortises in each piece, using the template you made. (You did make a template, didn’t you?) Pay attention to grain direction and pattern, and mark each leg with both its position and orientation so it doesn’t get turned around. How you cut the mortises is up to you. I used a hollow-chisel mortiser. Plunge routers, Forstner bits or mortising chisels do just as well.

With the mortises cut, the legs can be shaped. The very gentle taper on these legs was traced from a masonite pattern and then bandsawn out. Spokeshaves and scrapers faired the curves.

I cut the tenons with a dado set on the table saw using a single setup – a huge timesaver. With the workpieces sup­ported by a sled I could use a single height adjustment for the blade, while a stop block clamped to the sled regulated the length of the tenon. After refining the machine setup with a test scrap, cutting perfectly-thicknessed tenons was a breeze. Then I marked the width of each tenon directly from its corresponding mortise, trimmed these to size using a hand saw, and the tenons were done.

Another timesaver was to dou­ble up the width of the stretchers that would support the necks of the wine bottles. They would have a 1-1/4″ hole bored through them along their cen­tre line. Once the tenons’ thickness had been milled, these pieces could then be ripped in half, yielding two for one. With this done, the tenons’ widths were laid out directly from their correspond­ing mortises – the same as for the other components.

The stretchers that hold the wine bottles’ bodies had their curves cut out on the bandsaw and then faired with rasps. If you prefer, you can make a template for the stretchers, rough-cut them to size, and then use the template to pattern-rout them to final dimensions. However you make them, once they’re cut to finished size, run around their edges with a bearing-guided round-over bit on the router table.

You should be able to assemble the table’s base now and begin work on the top. If you’ve decided on a single-piece table top, that just means gluing up the boards you’ll be using, cutting them to final size and adding any detail work such as an edge profile. An arts-and-crafts style like this requires a bit more work, but if you’re careful it shouldn’t present any great difficulties.

The female portion of the bridle joint for the tops’ frame can be cut by hand, on the bandsaw, or on the table saw using a tenoning jig. The mating male joint can be cut using the same tools, or they can be milled to their proper thick­ness using a dado blade set and a sled on the table saw.

Whichever method you choose, remember to cut the length of the ten­ons and of the open mortises a bit longer than their width so they can be rounded over to give the “pillowed” look of arts and crafts joinery. That can be done using a round-over bit used with a router in a router table, or even more easily using rasps and sandpaper.

The tabletop’s panel is bevelled steeply down to a tongue that fits into a groove milled into the frame. I formed the bevel using a Lee Valley Tools router bit (16J66.51) which was designed to form the rabbet on the inside of Shaker-style door panels. The Shakers would use a door with a flat panel on the outside for ease of cleaning, and the bevel of the raised panel on the inside. This table­top could have been done exactly the same way, but I preferred to have the bevel showing, so I just flipped the raised panel over. The tongue could also be machined on the table saw.

A framed top such as this one makes it a snap to attach it to the table’s legs and stretchers. There is no issue of wood movement since the grain of the table­top’s frame and that of the stretchers between the legs runs in the same direc­tion. That means just a couple of screws driven through from underneath are all you need.


If you’re going to use a frame and panel style of tabletop it’s wise to pre-finish the panel before gluing it into the frame, just in case it shrinks when humid­ity is low, exposing an unfinished edge. It’s also much easier to pre-finish the table’s components before gluing up. That way you have easy access to all sides of them instead of trying to brush finish into corners after assembly.

The walnut I used for this table was air-dried, which helped to avoid the grayish tone walnut often gets from kiln drying, so I decided a couple of coats of amber shellac to warm up the colour and bring out some gold in it would be suf­ficient. For walnut that has a strong gray tone from the kiln, a couple of drops of reddish-brown liquid dye concentrate such as burnt sienna added to amber shellac will create a colour that restores the warmth of the walnut.

I used a 2-lb. cut of shellac, which I wiped on using a rag, working quickly and trying to avoid any heavy build-up or changes in colour. The thin cut of shellac dries so quickly it’s possible to put on two or three coats in a day. I buff it down lightly between coats using a gray Scotch-Brite™ pad.

If you’re confident that the table will only receive light wear and won’t be subjected to spills – especially alcoholic ones – you can complete your finish­ing with a coat of wax. I’m never that confident, so while I left the table’s legs and stretchers with a shellac finish, the top received an additional coat of water-borne polyure­thane rubbed out to a satin finish.

1 comment

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  2. Thanks for the vid of a good looking wine rack. In Australia our wine bottles have metal screw caps and so there’s no need to lay wine bottles flat. Champagne bottles still have corks and so they have to be laid flat to keep the corks moist.

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