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Shop Project–living room table

Posted by joeabbott on December 29, 2015

When looking through my pictures and tallying my final project of the year (the knife), I realized that I had failed to detail my September project: a table designed for the back corner of our living room. So, while a few months late, here we have it!

What problem are you solving

A guy I worked with a while back helped me with a pitch to a group of people; it seems I like to start in with what I did. He convinced me to get everyone on the same page with what the problem was first, and then discuss the solution. In that spirit …

A year or two back Suzanne and I bought a lamp that has a big arching arm allowing it to be positioned over a reading spot but the base is suitably off to the side. Unfortunately, the lamp sits right over your head if you sit below it and we talked about how it’d be nice to sit about a foot higher. Additionally, we have a few cat toys that gather dust beside our couch and thought it’d be nice to have a place to set out-of-the-way items like that. Well, cat toys or the magazines I can’t bear to toss out and swear I’ll get to reading “soon”.

What did you plan

To address those issues, I wanted to build a table that was about a foot high and had the footprint of something just slighting bigger than the base of the lamp … so about 20” square. As we got closer to build time, Suzy questioned whether that sort of table wouldn’t be too special purpose and she’d always imagined something a bit more rectangular; so maybe 20”x36” … and about a foot high.

Hitting SketchUp, I cranked out this little gem


Pardon the coloring … I didn’t have the right model wood style so using an approximate. The “yellow” woods above are maple and the brown is a strand bamboo. Sound familiar? It should … I used the same woods in my bedside table that was my July project!

The height dimension was chosen to suite the final lamp positioning and the length and width were a pleasant combination that suited the base of the lamp. I situated the lower shelf a bit lower than usual but wanted to have as much space to store things under the table as I could get.

What did you build

As you can see, the table is pretty simple: four legs, four apron pieces, and two surfaces (a top and a shelf). I was going to try to build something with curves or angles, but that wouldn’t match any of the other furniture we have. After talking about it with Suzy, she conceded to allow me to do something here “if I needed to build some skills or something”, but it was a concession with reservation; so I opted straight, clean lines.

Unfortunately, when I was cutting my wood, I cut all the apron pieces quite a bit longer than I needed. My thought being that I’d trim up the parts to final size when I was ready to start assembling. The unfortunate part comes into play when I forgot that I’d done this … and just started building the table with the oversized parts!

It wasn’t until I’d built the leg assemblies and then started to plan the top and shelf that parts weren’t matching up. When I discovered my flaw, I opted to just build the table slightly bigger and not go through the steps of cutting it apart. So while the height was right on, the overall dimensions of the top was 24”x36”. Not terrible but not my finest moment.

Legs and apron

When I built the bedside table, I tried putting everything together in one shot: a lot of clamps, a lot of activity, and ultimately some parts were just a bit out of square. For this table, I built up parts as subassemblies: two legs and an apron first, then another two legs and an apron, then the shelf and top, and then attaching the leg assemblies with the shelf and final two apron parts. Once all that was together (and the glue dried), I added the top.


The first picture shows the two leg assemblies just prior to glue-up. While I like mortise and tenon joints, I was really worried about this application because, due to the dimensions of the legs, my tenons only ended up being about a 1/2” long … which is just completely inadequate for durable furniture. I argued that the table would just be sitting in a back corner, so I went ahead with this design.

The second picture shows the trimming of the tenons to get a nice, tight fit in the mortise. Again, using a medium shoulder plane that may be my favorite tool … everything just seems to come out working perfectly after I use that tool!

The picture below shows a new tool, my shooting plane. While it’s a pretty special purpose tool (to create perfectly flat trims), I love it. In the shot below, it’s trimming the top of the legs so they’re perfectly flush and at right angles to the leg face.



I built the top next and, because I had chosen to stay with the over-sized legs, my top was just a bit too small. Which was disappointing, but allowed me to use two smaller pieces of wood that I merely joined down the middle. And, because of the strong grained feature of the wood, the seam would be nearly invisible.

You can click the pictures to see larger versions … in the first picture we have the two parts of wood that will be the top, in the second the very un-exciting glue-up, and finally you can see I’m adding the edge banding. The neat thing about that last picture seen at full-size: you can’t see the seam!


Here are two “action shot” of the banding actually being attached … as you can see, I used a plate joiner and biscuits to ensure a nice, strong joint.










The shelf was a lot like the top in terms of construction. I’d planned to have a thinner edge band (just to set if off) but with the larger table size, I was only able to use the prior top as the shelf if I had wider edging on it. You see, the shelf is smaller because it doesn’t have an overhang and it rests between the legs.

Here it is in a dry-fit configuration:


Final assembly

imageAfter I saw that everything would go together, I disassembled the whole shebang and sanded and sanded and sanded. 60-grit (where needed) to 100-grit to 150-grit and finally 220-grit.

Once that was completed, I nested the shelf between the legs and clamped it all up!


Because I was just finishing with oil and wax, I really waxed that top! About five good coats. You can see it here getting a good oil/wax treatment.

One detail you can see from making it longer: I’d cut the maple for the sides already, making them as long as I needed, but I planned on trimming them shorter. In the below picture, on the edge piece closest to the viewer on the left side, you can see a blackish mark that’s part of the wood. I had planned to trim that off but, needing a board that was another three inches longer than intended, I had to keep that marred part. You can say it adds character but it wasn’t intentional.


I’ll have to post a picture of the final product a bit later … right now it’s under a Christmas tree along with a tree skirt and I can’t even see it! But, because we did leave it a bit bigger, it easily supports both our small tree and the lamp! Win!

This project taught me that even something simple-looking like this table can have challenges; especially working on a project over multiple busy weekends is bad. But, that I can do it and do it well. The table looks great and is serving its purpose admirably.

Thanks for stopping in! I’ll create a final summary of my 2015 project review sometime in early January so I can both appreciate how much I accomplished but more to inspire me to get out there, even in the cold months!


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