A couple of years ago, my wife and I were doing some window shopping for tables. The one we had has been in my family for at least twenty years, and its still rock solid. However it is stolidly a four seater, and with our family of five, plus guests, we needed an upgrade.
My wife fell in love with the idea of a counter-height table, to more easily help with homework. We identified an example at a chain store that was what we both liked. It was 36″ high, 54″ square with the leaf deployed, and had a base that was a square pedestal. No corner legs to get in the way. This was about the time I started woodworking, and I thought I would begin with the chairs. Fast forward to today, and as far as I had gotten with the chairs was a poor attempt at a leg. I decided that perhaps finally taking care of the table would be a good anniversary gift.
I started out what I normally do, on Sketchup. I designed a table of similar dimensions and style as the one we saw, seen here. With my recent workbench build done (or near enough), I thought I finally had the requisite skills to get it done. I journeyed to the lumber yard and selected some soft maple for the legs and some curly maple to edge the top. I ripped, joined and planed the soft maple and laminated them in gangs for the legs. I was aiming for 3.5″ square, but some bending made them be 3.5″*3.25″. This detail would be important later. Other than that, the leg assemblies were good to go.
I then turned my attention to the box that would serve as storage and structure for the legs. I used 1/2″ white birch ply that I already had on hand for the top, bottom and sides. I notched the corners of the sides to obtain more glue surface. I used my new hollow chisel mortiser to make the mortises to receive the sides. I discovered that I still need to tune it up, but it got the job done. Six mortises on four legs were to hold the sides. To hold the top and bottom, I went with the dado stack on the table saw to make the open-sided mortise. I then notched the top and bottom sheets to fit in the mortises. That was the theory anyway. The top and bottom pieces were to be 24″ square. I then picked up a tapering jig for the leg bottoms. I forgot to account for the difference in the legs being out of square, so the tapers aren’t the same on the two sides of each leg. In the scope of things, this is a mistake, but a very minor one. It’s not apparent from just looking at it since the difference is so small. Now it was time to assemble.
This is where my measurements got me into trouble. I had gaps in all the dados where the top and bottom sheets were inserted. I tried filling with putty, but it was too much. After a couple of days away to get my head together, I decided to trim the two sheets on one side to make up for the measurement discrepancy. This reduced my errors down quite a bit, but could not eliminate them. I was forced to cut my losses and continue on with the project. Also about this time, I had to make a change from my original plans in terms of finish. Originally, the base was to be a white paint and the top a light natural finish. Unfortunately, I discovered that a dark finish all around was preferred, so I ran into some slight finishing problems due to the species I had chosen. Luckily, I went with soft maple over my original choice, poplar. I chose a can of General Finishes Java gel stain, and the application was pretty easy. I did two coats over the entire base while I waited for the opportunity to pick up the materials for the top.
I rented a truck and popped back over to the lumber yard and picked up a sheet of 3/4″ baltic birch ply for the top. This is my first experience with true baltic birch, and not white birch. I went ahead and picked up a sheet of 1/2″ for some drawers (one for the table, the others for the shop) and two boards of 4/4 wormy maple for the apron.
I cut the 5’x5′ ply down to 52″ square and used a groove cutting bit along the perimeter. I then ripped the curly maple I bought previously into 1.5″ wide strips, then ran them through the router table equipped with a T&G bit to make the tongue. I left the additional width of the strips to be planed down later to match the plywood. I cut the curly maple strips down to near length, then mitered them with the miter saw. That went less than perfect, I shorted my cuts on a couple of sides and had to fill with scrap. I’ll get better. Trying to flush the edging with a router bit was less than stellar. The bearing burned into the plywood and made it’s own cut in a couple of places. Will have to sort that out before I use that particular bit again.
The edging got glued up to the plywood and I started thinking about the apron. I decided to ditch the idea of an external apron and just go with a couple of stretchers based off of the legs. This ties the base to the top nicely, and makes for a sturdy structure. I forgot to knock off the corners of the stretchers, I’ll have to do that at some point before I put a finish on them. I left it plain to see what my wife wanted, plus I was out of time. A roundover on the hardwood edging on the top was applied and then it got the same java stain. Once it dried, a coat of gel poly was applied to the base and underside of the top, two coats so far on the table surface. I’m aiming for a total of four.
I presented the ‘finished’ (needs the drawer and a couple more coats of poly) to my wife on Friday and she absolutely loves it. I’ll always see the mistakes I made, but the destination was well worth the journey.