Floating-top side table – FineWoodworking

Floating-top side table - FineWoodworking

Synopsis: Curves are everywhere in this elegant table, and they make it fun to build while learning a variety of skills such as shaping with a router, using a drawing to find angles, and creating small flat areas to make joinery simpler. The design can be scaled up or down depending on where you plan to use it. The floating top, curved and tapered legs, and interesting rail assemblies all invite a closer look. The table shown is made from white oak, but it could be made from any number of woods depending on the preferred look.

My dad and I are both professional furniture makers and teachers, and furniture design was something we liked to do together while I was growing up. This table design is one of our collaborations.

The first version was taller, but when my grandmother asked for a small, round end table, I revisited the design. I enjoy how the table looks at this smaller scale, though it can be scaled up in a variety of ways.

The smaller size adds versatility in how the table can be used and fit into a home. It can serve as a side table in a living room, a nightstand, a plant stand, or a pedestal for an art piece. And you can elevate the look by placing a small rock, ceramic pot, or other sort of art atop the lower rail assembly, which is partly why I made that joint flush at the top edge. You could also add a round shelf in that same spot.

How to simplify curved, angled joinery

The curves and angles in this table not only make it really fun to build, but also teach valuable techniques you can use on future projects.

The legs are curved along their inner and outer edges and tapered on their sides, which requires a couple of different shaping techniques. You’ll also learn how to use a drawing to find the angle of the legs where the rails hit them. And making the round top involves a handy router jig.

I prefer using slip tenons where parts meet at angles and curves. They let me cut simple butt joints at these tricky junctions, rather than angling or curving the shoulders of integral tenons, which is a lot harder. There are a variety of ways to make matching mortises for slip tenons. While I sometimes use a horizontal mortiser, I’m using my Domino DF 500 joiner here, a handheld power tool that cuts precise
mortises in a variety of sizes, and comes with ready-made tenons that fit those mortises perfectly.

Make a leg template

The legs are curved along their inner and outer edges, and they get flats on the inside edge so the rail joinery is gap-free. Start by making a leg template, which will be transferred to a router jig for shaping the legs.

Lay out the template
Lay out the template. Using 1 ⁄ 4-in. MDF, make a template that represents the curved leg outline. Use the dimensions in the drawing to lay out the apex of the inward curve and the end points of the outward curve. Then bend an MDF strip as shown to draw the curves at each edge.
Cut and smooth the template
Cut and smooth the template. Rough out the shape on the bandsaw, leaving approximately 1 ⁄ 16 in. of waste outside the line. Then smooth the curves to the line using your preferred sanding or planing tools. Dolese used her curved-platen edge sander here.
Sand flats where the rails hit
Sand flats where the rails hit. To make it easier to eliminate gaps where the rails meet the legs, Dolese sands small, nearly undetectable flats on the leg template, which template routing will transfer to the legs themselves. Start by laying out the mortise locations and the edges of the rails, and then sand up to those marks. Check that these landing spots are flat using one of the rails or another flat piece.

Shape the legs first

Making complex, repeatable shapes using shaper and router jigs has opened up a lot of possibilities in my work. I generally prefer using my shaper for template work, as it has a large, helical head that cuts very smoothly with minimal tearout. But I know many woodworkers lack a shaper, so I’ll demonstrate a very similar router-table technique here.

You might be tempted to skip the router jig and shape the curves by hand, but bear in mind that any inconsistencies can leave gaps in the joints where the rails meet the legs. Note that we are shaping the curves on the legs before tapering their sides. That way they will sit flat on the router jig.

Start by making a leg template. You’ll use it to make a two-sided leg-shaping jig, which shapes the concave edge on one side and the convex one on the other.

Hand-sand the joinery flats—To simplify the rail-to-leg joints, I create very small, almost undetectable flats along the leg curves, allowing me to cut a simple angle on the ends of those rails and know the joints will be gap-free. That’s a lesson I learned from my dad—Tom Dolese, a chairmaking specialist in Bellingham, Wash.

On the leg template, make center marks for the mortises. Then work from those to mark the top and bottom edges of the rails.

—Alex Dolese is a professional furniture maker in Bozeman, Mont.Floating-Top Side Table

Photos, except where noted: Asa Christiana.

Drawings: John Hartman.

For the full article, download the PDF below:

From Fine Woodworking #303

Floating-top side table - FineWoodworking

How to make a tabletop float

Simple and sturdy joinery allows the top of this table to float without overshadowing the rest of the design or blocking the flow of light between base and top.

shaping the legs

Shaker Candle Stand: Shaping the Legs

In this video, learn how to cut the legs on a bandsaw, shape them with a disk sander and a lathe-mounted drum sander, and then use a router table to cut the dovetails.

Floating-top side table - FineWoodworking

From the archive: The slip joint

This basic joint of the trade goes together fast and is designed to last

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