In this article I’ll cover the process of making a sofa table for my living room. It’s a relatively basic table that focuses on the wood grain for the majority of the visual interest. I wanted to try something new with the joinery on this table and that is to use the dado stack in the table saw for as much of the mortise and tenon joint as possible. I also wanted to add some interest by adding hidden storage.
I also made a video covering the design and layout of this table in SketchUp. If you want to see that video or simply download the SketchUp file I created then click here.
For this project I’m using two species; ambrosia maple for the base and African mahogany for the top and accent trim pieces.
After determining the best location for each part on each board I started my milling process like I always do and that is at my miter saw station. Having a dedicated station setup for cutting material to length is a real treat and the amount of work surface this station has makes breaking down rough sawn stock a breeze. Rough crosscutting first allows for smaller, more manageable size pieces to be taken to the jointer and planer.
Next up is typically the jointer but in this case it was better to do some rough size ripping at the table saw first. The rails and legs were separated first.
And the top planks were cut to rough width. These offcuts from the mahogany are going to be used for the trim pieces.
Then everything was milled flat on one wide face and one adjacent narrow face at the jointer.
Followed by planing to thickness at the planer. When planing the mahogany I heard one board pop and upon inspection I realized that the board was cracked pealing apart.
Since the defects were most noticeable on bottom I decided to open the splits slightly more with a putty knife and let hide glue drip down into the crack.
After clamping it over night and planing it smooth once again this is what the board looked like. I wasn’t too concerned with it as it will be on the bottom face. I was more concerned with how the end grain would look as I cut the piece to the final length. It turned out fine in the end.
I chose the two clearest boards I had on hand for the mahogany top. In their rough sawn state they looked like a great color match and after milling the boards to this point they still looked like a great color match. However, as you’ll soon see, either one of the boards darkened a lot or the other lightened up quite a bit as I went through the build.
Before gluing the pieces together I marked opposite faces on each board and jointed both boards with the mark facing out. That way if the jointer fence is any tiny amount away from 90 degrees the error will cancel itself out when the jointed faces are glued together.
A few biscuits for alignment during glue up. You can see that the biscuits are offset to the bottom. They don’t have to be perfectly centered so I left the biscuit joiner setup at the depth that is perfect for table top hold down clips that I’ll use in a little bit. If you do have the depth set off center make sure you offset it towards the bottom to prevent the shape of the biscuit telegraphing through the top.
And the top was glued together. Pretty easy, uneventful glue up, which is exactly what you want.
With the top in clamps I finished milling the rail material to their final size. Basic milling repetition on the jointer, planer, and table saw. If you’re interested, I have a full article and video covering my milling process.
Time for the joinery and in this case I wanted to try something new. My go-to method for cutting tenons is to use a dado stack in the table saw and I normally make the mortise with a plunge router. In this case I wanted to try to make as much of the joint as possible with the dado stack….both the tenons and the mortises.
Cutting the tenons is extremely easy. The dado stack height determines the size of the tenon shoulder and the saw fence location determines the length of the tenon. With a miter gauge set to exactly 90 degrees to the fence the tenons can be knocked out easily.
Here’s the completed tenons. You can see that the shoulder is very small and only on three sides.
Normally you use the rule of thirds when it comes to mortise and tenon joinery where the tenon thickness is 1/3 the material thickness. This allows for the mortise side walls to be 1/3 the material thickness as well and if all components of the joint are the same thickness it results in a good balance of strength on each piece of the joint.
That’s the general rule for a mortise and tenon joint where each board in the joint are the same thickness though. In this case the mortise pieces, which are the legs, are much thicker than the tenon pieces. Therefore, there will naturally be extra material on the side of the mortise which allows for the tenon to be cut larger. The resulting small tenon shoulder still does its job for joint alignment.
As I said, I wanted to cut as much of the joint as possible with the dado stack. Here’s my setup. I adjusted the dado stack width so that the resulting cut is perfect for the a snug fit on the tenons. The dado height is established with the tenon board making sure the blade is slightly higher than the tenon is long. And a stop block is added behind the dado stack which will result in a cut that is the same length as the tenon.
Then each mortise is cut. Is this really a mortise and tenon joint? I supposed if you want to get technical the joint consists of a tongue and stopped dado. But it’s basically the same concept as it will be used on this table. Plenty strong enough for this application.
Next up is the leg tapers and these were cut 100% on the jointer. If you’ve never cut a taper on the jointer this might be interesting to you. So here’s the setup, and I’ll also include my error in the setup.
To cut a taper on the jointer you need the jointer depth set to 1/2 the desired taper depth. I want a 1/2” taper depth so I set the jointer depth to 1/4”.
You also need to add a stop block positioned 1/2 the desired taper length away from the beginning of the cut. So for the 24” long taper that I was after I should have positioned the stop 12” away from the beginning of the cut.
As you can see from the horizontal ruler I have the stop block set 12” from the TOP of the cutter head…NOT the beginning of the cut. I must have read the ruler wrong and set it around 13” as my taper ended up being about 2” too long. Luckily this setup mistake didn’t ruin the project and, contrary to that, I think the tapers turned out great good being slightly higher on the legs than I had planned.
It’s worth noting that before cutting the taper the leg material was already milled square and to its final dimensions. With the bottom of the leg going forward the first pass is made stopping at the stop block and then pivoting up from the infeed side.
This is repeated on all of the tapered faces on all of the legs. It kinda gives an interesting look with just half of the process done.
Now the taper can be established and to feed the material through this time weight needs to be applied to the middle of the previous cut. The two ends of the previous cut are the contact areas and this is the angle the piece needs to be passed through the jointer.
For this step I like to use a 2×4 or 2×6 push block with a solid heel that hooks over the back of the material. The width of the push block keeps my hands elevated and away from the jointer, the length of the push block allows for good downward pressure distribution, and the solid wood heel stays engaged with the material to prevent slipping as you pass the material through. For one cut in the video I pinned the guard back so you could better see the cut being made. It’s pretty interesting to see how this two cut process makes a perfect taper.
Because a round blade was used to cut the mortise there is a little clean up work to make the tenons fit. The choice is to either round the tenon to match the radius of the dado cut, which could easily be done with a bandsaw, or chop the rest of the mortise square.
I chose to remove the mortise waste with a chisel and a router plane.
A little surface prep before assembly as it’s a lot easier to sand pieces before assembly rather than after everything is assembled.
Then the bottom of the legs got a tiny chamfer with a hand plane. Always chamfer the bottom edges of your projects that will touch the ground. This prevents bad tearout from happening due to the edges getting snagged on something.
Applying the first coat of finish before assembly is generally beneficial as well. This will prevent any glue squeeze out from sticking to exterior surfaces and make it a lot easier to clean. I normally try to plan for this step to be completed right before stopping for the day.
To make things a little less hectic I split the assembly into two glue ups. First the side rails were glued to the legs.
And after those assemblies were dry I connected the sides with the front and back rails.
To attach solid wood top panels I always use these table top hold down clips. With a slot or groove cut into the rails the clip can be inserted into the slot and secured to the bottom of the top panel with a screw. This connection allows the clip to slide around as needed while the top panel expands and contracts with seasonal humidity changes. This piece is actually a test cut to make sure I had the tool set to the appropriate height.
Then a bunch of slots were cut in the rails with a biscuit joiner. If you don’t have a biscuit joiner a single groove can be cut with the table saw on the inside of the rails before assembly. I like the biscuit joiner because it removes less material.
For a little more support in the middle and also to prevent the front and back rails from bowing in or out over time I added a center rail support. This piece was secured with a couple of pocket hole screws on each side.
Next I added two drawer runners, or tray runners, to the inside of the front and back rails. The table is upside down in this shot so they were placed flush with the bottom of the rails. These are just glued and clamped into place while I work on the next step.
Which was cutting the trim pieces to size. The offcuts from the table top were perfect for trim as all I needed were a few 1/4” thick strips. These smaller strips ended up bending and bowing quite a bit right off the table saw.
And the saw also burned the surface quite a bit. All of that is easily removed by a few passes with a hand plane.
The strips were then cut a little long and trimmed to the final length with a shooting board.
The strips were secured to the bottom of the rails with a tiny amount of glue and a few brad nails. I ended up having to shoot quite a few nails to bend the trim straight as it was secured.
I also made sure to put the glue bead close to the inside of the table so that any glue squeeze out would be on the inside and easier to clean up.
Finally the top is cut to its final width and final length at the table saw.
I recently upgraded the cutter head on my planer to a helical head which results in a much better finish right off the planer. Because of which, I noticed that I can now start at a higher grit sand paper when sanding.
Because the grain was a bit wavy on the edges I stuck with the sander instead of a hand plane to remove any table saw marks.
And then broke all the sharp edges by hand with 320 grit sand paper.
Remember the first shot of the top pieces side by side and how even they were in color? You can see here how much one of the boards has changed. As I was applying the finish I really noticed it. Luckily, it’s a directional thing because if you view it from a different angle it’s not as noticeable.
So why hidden storage and not a regular drawer? Well in this case I wanted to highlight the grain on the front rail. It looks gorgeous. I wanted it to flow uninterrupted from one side to the other because it has a lot going on and if I put a drawer or two in that board I’ll have to chop it up and I really didn’t want to do that.
For the drawer, or tray, I used some pieces walnut from my scrap pile and a piece of 1/4” plywood for the bottom. There’s nothing fancy about this tray. Just brad nails and glue for construction and finished with old garnet shellac I had left over from a previous project. I also added a block to the bottom to assist in removing it. This is hidden storage so there’s no need for anything fancy here. It’s not an item that will be removed and showed to others.
I wanted the tray to be easily accessible but not fall out if the table is moved or bumped. The easiest solution I could think of was to use two tiny, but strong magnets. With the magnets stuck together I applied a dot of epoxy to the back side of the drawer and dropped the magnets in place.
Once that cured I mixed a little more epoxy and added a dot to the top of the other magnet and pushed the drawer against the center rail support piece.
The last step is to secure the top panel to the base with the table top hold down clips.
Some of you may remember the last sofa table I made which is this pine table here. The goal for this project was to move the pine table into our guest room which now completes the bedroom furniture set I previously made and replace it with this table as it matches my living room coffee table I just made and it is a little larger to match the space in our living room a little better.
And of course the hidden storage drawer can be used as needed. It’s hidden and out of the way and of course easy to remove when needed.
That’s it. You all take care, have a great day, and I’ll talk to you in the next video/article.
Some interesting techniques in the one video – thanks.
Well done Mr. Bates, well done. I envy your skills to create something like that. Your shop is great as well. Techniques, tools and materials are all top notch.
Thank you very much, Jim.
As usual a job well done. I do enjoy your projects and tips. Keep ’em coming.
Thank you, Joe.
Great build, Looks really nice, I like the narrated videos gives more info than just watching.
Thanks for the feedback, Dale. I appreciate it.
Thank you again Jay for what you do! Your videos, instruction, projects are of great interest and I always, seriously always, enjoy them.
Thank you very much, David.
I hope I’m not the only one who knows who Jenny is! Nice job as usual.
Did you get her number from the wall?
Hmm… even your errors look great!
With all the work your clone does, it’s time to get him one of those shop aprons. (Did he hide Jenny’s number in there or was that you?)
Thanks for the narrated video, i’ve learned a lot. I like the way you made the leg tapers on the jointer. Good video as always
Thanks Jay. I’ve been following you for a while now. I think this was the best so far. I have learned a lot from you.
My father was a cabinet maker and one son is a french polisher by trade. I think I learn more from you. I wish we had access to some of the material and tools here in Australia.
After watching this video, I came away thinking, “I might actually be able to do that.” So, success on your part. Thanks.
Oh, and the Tommy Tutone reference was a nice bonus.
Hey Jay why didn’t you use your DF 500 DOMINO instead of the biscuit jointer in this build?
Great video, learned quite a bit. Really like the tapering trick. I do have one question. When you added the hold down clips, why put them on two adjacent rails? Won’t that contradict wood movement? I want to do something similar with a wood slab but unsure which rail direction to install the hold down clips. I thought just on the rails from front to back. Not across the front and across the back too. (assuming the grain runs along the length of the cabinet)
Hi Jay, this is a particularly good video and the table is beautiful.
The narration is great and I appreciate the addition work that it required.
Very well done.
I recently repaired a small badly broken antique table and the original apron joinery was all cut like you demonstrated except the tenons were rounded to match the mortises. This table had held up for over 100 years until someone had tripped and fell on it.
When I built my computer desk I did the apron joinery and the leg taper like you demonstrated.
Your efforts are appreciated.
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