Woodworking, joinery

Side table project

Recently I got new carpet in my living room, whilst this may seem unconnected from a side table project it was in fact the catalyst that got me started. Not only did I get new carpet but I also switched my sofa covers to a different colour. You see having made such a drastic improvement/change to the look of my living room I started to review everything else in it.One thing that needs improving is my coffee table. Some time ago I decided to make myself a 'temporary' coffee table from some bit and bobs I had laying around the garage. Some paint'n'grain effect MDF from an old desk, and some 3x2 spruce. The result was a functional coffee table that didn't take long to build. I even made it with a removable top that could be replaced by a larger one with green baize covering it. :-) This temporary solution has remained, as temporary solutions always do, for some considerable time now (something like 2 years). And whilst it is functional, it is not pretty. So I've started thinking about replacing the coffee table. And one of the options I considered was making one myself...

Now if you've been paying attention this post is titled 'side table project' not 'coffee table project' The reason is simple, I'm not convinced that I could do a nice enough job to make a 'good' coffee table. And I'm unwilling to spend lots on raw materials to find that out. Also my other half has found a really nice oak coffee table that I would stand no chance of replicating (it has a cool counterbalanced top that can be swung up and off whilst remaining horizontal). So to practice my skills, and see what I can achieve I decided to make a replacement for another table in my living room which I do not like.

The side table sits next to the sofa and holds a few sundry items like the phone. It is cheap black metal frame and glass top. I've had it for a long time, and I really don't like it any more. I've totally grown out of the glass surfaces thing. They almost never look good except for the 10 seconds between cleaning them thoroughly and the first fingerprint. So this is what I have set out to replace.

I am making mine a little taller, and a little narrower than the one it replaces. Since I'm making it from scratch I might as well make it as perfect as possible for the space. This is the luxury of making things for yourself, you get to have them exactly right for where you want them.

I also wanted to integrate some wood turning into the design, since that is my primary hobby. So I have decided to make it with 'pseudo-cabriolet' legs. Which I saw demonstrated last September at the HWA meeting. Only the demonstration I saw was on quite a short leg for a small stool or something. I'm making mine 550mm, the principal is the same but accuracy can be an issue, any slight difference in the centering has an amplified effect.

I can say now that I'm not terribly happy with how I did with turning them. 2 came out pretty well, and 2 did not. I don't have the wood or the patience to keep trying, so I shall chalk it up to experience and see how I feel about it when the table is finished. The point of it being a side table next to the sofa is that I can hide the worst offending pieces at the back where they will not be seen :-)

To make each 550 mm leg I cut a length more like 600mm long. To allow the prong drive and live centre to make dents that won't be in the final piece. I marked the length of the leg and made a line around the still square stock to mark the main features. 170mm down from the top I marked the position of the pommel. Above which would remain square. I also marked lines 20mm and 50mm up from the bottom which marked the point at which the foot would begin to taper into the leg and the point it would meet the leg.

Before mounting the blank on the lathe I marked the centre point at each end by drawing lines from corner to corner, and on the foot end I marked a point 15mm out from the centre towards one corner. If there were any defects in the wood I wanted to hide I made sure they were on the faces nearest the off-centre point As this will be the 'inside' of the table rather than the outside facing edges.

Mounted centrally first I cut the pommel such that I just reached the point of cutting all the way around, and allowed a few mm of complete rounded at this point beneath the pommel. Then I switched to the off-centre point. Made sure I had proper clearance for the now off centre spin, and that the lathe speed wasn't too high. Happy that it wasn't going to shake too much I began to work between the pommel and the top of foot line. To cut back to the cylinder that could be seen whilst it spun. E.g. cutting away the ghosting lines. It's surprising how hard it is to really see where the outside edges are at this point so you have to be careful! The idea was to blend the off centre tapered cylinder into the few mm of cylinder I'd turned straight. It's this point that caused the most problems. The two legs I'm not happy with revealed that I had not been careful or consistent in that initial turning, and that my accuracy of centering was not always great. Such that the thickeness of leg at this point varied too much, and that affected the shape of the blending and the way the leg tapered. Though to be fair it was only really bad on the first one that went 'wrong' the second I was more aware of what was happening and compensated better.

table legs turned and blanks
table legs turned and blanks

Having cut the tapered leg I then refined the foot, cutting back until there was a single arc between the remaining two flat faces. Then I tapered from me 20mm line back into the leg in a straight line. This is really not easy. Unlike the leg which you turn to round, just on a different axis. The foot piece remains off centre, so you need to get a good quality finish on a surface which is only in contact with the tool for a fraction of the rotation. A super sharp tool helps here. I'd love to say I did well, but in fact I trusted to my ability to sand out the worst at a latter stage.

Each leg took me about 40 mins to turn. I certainly got quicker with each one, but I dread to think how much I'd have to sell a table like this for to account for the time it's taken. Over two and a half hours just to turn the legs, before any of the mortising, sanding, varnishing, etc.

Having completed the legs I got to make up the side pieces that would join with mortice and tenon joints into the legs to form the base of the table. Cutting these was a joy, the first time I've had to such a thing whilst in possession of my bandsaw. It made very light work of cutting pieces to size then cutting the tenons, quickly and accurately. The only downside of this process was the finish on at least one side of each piece would need extensive planing or sanding to get out the marks left by the bandsaw. In the end I elected to use my belt sander. Which was slow, but probably less likely to make a mess of it than me with an electric planer.

Another tool which I own and appreciate a great deal at certain times is my pillar drill. Having marked out the mortices I drilled them out mostly with my pillar drill. Then it was relatively quick to clean them up and make them square with a sharp chisel.

drilled out mortices
drilled out mortices

I don't have a good grasp on how long it took to get to this point. At a guess I'd say I probably spent another two and half hours with marking out/drilling/chiseling etc.

I actually made the top of the table before I started the legs. Well I say 'made' I cut some oak to thickness, and glued it up into a single table top. I also spent quite a lot of time trying to power sand the surface with an orbital sander. Again to remove the marks left by the bandsaw. This got boring so I moved on to the legs, and it sat for sometime  with more sanding required before I was  happly call it a finished table top. I suspect this is the main sort of activity that would make me really want a planer thickenesser. Trying to get a quality finish on what needs to be a large flat surface is very time consuming. But then how often am I really going to do such a thing? the table top took a good few hours of general work, much of which was sanding ;-(

table top
table top

The last things that I need to make before I can consider final construction are 2 spindles that will run between the legs on the long edges. They will attach into the square section of legs. This is because I decided that with a relatively tall table it would be nice to make use off the space beneath. My idea is to ask Kat to make a canvas 'sling' which will have tabs that attach over each spindle. This will then provide space for magazines and such like beneath the table.

Here is one part turned, just roughing it down to a spindle

half turned spindle
half turned spindle

This seemed like a good idea. But turning 460mm spindles about 20mm diameter is not easy. I have no centre support so there is significant vibration when you make cuts in the centre. Additionally the accuracy of centring and indeed just how true and straight the piece is, effects how easy it is to get a consistent cylinder. I elected to make a couple small v-cuts to divide the length into 4, and shape the two centre sections slightly. This allowed me to hide a multitude of sins in the turning ;-) Also I had to remind myself that these will be mostly hidden under canvas when finished, so I tried not to agonise over the detail. Like the legs I actually turned a slightly longer piece. This time to allow me to turn round pegs on each end that will fit into the legs. I decided on 10mm as the drill bit I'd use, so I turned the ends down to this thickness.

These two spindles probably took another hour or so to turn, and with the table top and the sanding I must be looking at a project total so far of 12 hours.

But added to the leg structure they do look pretty good:

one pair of legs plus spindle
one pair of legs plus spindle

I assembled and glued both of the long sides of the table leg structure

both sides of table
both sides of table

It starts to get quite fun at this stage. After a great deal of making parts, you are starting to pu the structure together and see it take shape

lower structure assembled and varnished
lower structure assembled and varnished

The shot above is after the first of 2 coats of varnish. After the first coat I sanded back with 600grit

after the last coat I used 800 grit, just to smooth down the varnish coat.

At long last after what I am estimating somewhere between 13-16 hours (I didn't keep close track so I'm not able to give a more refined estimate.)

The complete table:

Finished table wide side
Finished table wide side
Another view
Another view

a closer view of the finish on the table top

table top
table top

It's pretty good, it's not perfect, if you get really close you can see a slight glue join, if I make another table I'll have to take more care on that initial join.

And finally here are a couple of shots of it in situe

table in location
table in location

and lastly (I promise) with general paraphernalia back in place

table in final position
table in final position

Ok so this has been a really long post, with probably too many pictures. But this has been about the most complicated piece of furniture I've made.

Before this I've made a floor standing dressing mirror which I'm simialrly pleased with, however that was pretty simple, where as this had 4 turned legs that all had to end up the same, and 2 spindles that similarly had to look identical-ish. It's taken quite a lot of my time and energy in the last few weeks. I reckon that to make it worth while for selling I'd have to sell it for about £300 which is rather excessive I think. I think realistically I'd have to get faster at the whole process if I wanted to do it for anyone else. But for me I think it's been workshop time well spent. I'm pleased with it, it's not perfect but it looks much nicer than the metal and glass thing it replaces and that was the main objective.