Sliding Dovetail Sofa Table Bench

While the purpose of this video is to make a bench and not to be an advertisement for the PantoRouter I did use it for all of the joinery in this project. You can save $150 off a purchase of the PantoRouter with the code JAY.

A couple years ago I made a mahogany and ambrosia maple sofa table. Today I’m making a matching bench to use the table as a quick laptop station in the house. The bench frame will be made from the same ambrosia maple stock I used for that build. This is actually all that I have left and as it turns out it is the exact amount I need. The overall style of the bench will be slightly different than the table. The base will be the same design but the top will be a little more interesting.

The majority of work will be done to the ambrosia maple so that’s where I’ll start. First jointing one wide face and then both adjacent narrow faces.

Then it’s over to the bandsaw to rip the blanks into about 1-5/8” square.

And then back to planer to establish a 1-1/2” thickness in both directions.

At the miter saw station a fresh 90 degree end is established and then the legs are cut to the final length.

As I already said, this material is just left over material from the table build. That means I don’t really have a choice about grain direction. I just have to use what is available. But as it turned out, the leg blanks were 100% perfect with matching rift sawn grain all the way around. I couldn’t get any better than this even if I tried to pick out stock. Definitely a happy accident.

What I’m doing here is marking the location for each of the sliding dovetails as well as a carpenters triangle in the middle to instantly let me know where each individual piece belongs at a quick glance.

Next up is the rails. The only piece I had left was already planed to 7/8” thickness and it unfortunatley had a little bit of a bow to the board. Rather than chasing the bow out of the board at the jointer I decided to just skip plane it down to the final 3/4” thickness. My thinking here was that I would rather have a full 3/4” thickness and a very slight, probably unnoticeable once assembled, bow on the final length pieces rather than joint and plane the bow out and be left with thinner material.

The board was then jointed on one long edge and the rails were ripped to a smidgen more than final width at the table saw.

When working with figured wood like this it’s pretty exciting to be able to shift pieces around to get the look you’re after. In this case I was able to layout for really interesting grain on all four rails.

Then it’s back to the miter saw to cut the pieces to their final length.

I ripped the pieces to a little more than the final width because I knew the table saw would cause some burning on the maple. Maple and cherry are notorious for burning easily against woodworking tools. But with a few passes of a hand plane all of the burn marks are gone. Not only are the burn marks gone but all of the machine marks from the planer and table saw blade are gone too. A smoothing plane is MUCH faster than sandpaper when it comes to material prep like this. Of course, that’s assuming the wood grain is not going crazy and in multiple directions.

The rail to leg joint will be a sliding dovetail and both sides of the joint will be cut using a single template.

The inside of the template allows the negative part of the sliding dovetail to be cut. Once a test piece confirms the correct setup all eight of the negative cuts are batched out quickly.

Then the machine is setup to run on the outside of the template for the positive part of the sliding dovetail. Again, a test piece is used to dial in the perfect fit.

The fit I was going for was a really tight fit that doesn’t require a mallet for a dry assembly. When hide glue is used it will slightly lubricate the joint for assembly, but due to the thickness of the glue and the already tight fit of the joint a mallet may be required.

And once again all eight cuts of the positive side of the joint are batched out quickly.

Next, both long rails are clamped together with the top faces touching and then placed in a vise. This will allow me to easily layout all of the slat locations on both front and back rails at the same time. The layout consists of 2” wide by 1/2” deep cuts for the slats spaced 1/2” apart. To keep symmetry each end cut will start 1/4” in from the sliding dovetails. The bottom of these end slat cuts will line up with the top of the legs during assembly.

To make the slat cuts I’m setting up the machine to restrict the horizontal cut to 2” wide but also allow vertical travel inside that 2” restriction.

Now the bit can be lined up with the layout lines and the partial slat cut on the end can be made.

Then the piece is repositioned for the first full slat cut.

I found the best results were achieved by making a typical mortise cut first. Then backing out, lifting the bit so the center was slightly higher than the top of the material, plunging full depth, then plunging top down to clean up the leftover material. This sequence resulted in zero tearout on both sides of the cut. Then it’s just a matter of repositioning the material and repeating the cut.

For consistency sake and to cancel out any error I made during lining up the bit with my pencil lines I made sure to cut one rail from left to right and the other rail from right to left. This means the cuts will be made from the same side of the bench and increase precision of the slat alignment.

This dry assembly shows the slat cuts on the front and back rails lining up with the top of the legs. It also shows how much the side rails need to be trimmed to match the top of the legs. Also, using a metal hammer isn’t a big deal here as not only is the maple pretty hard but both the top and bottom faces will be covered and I’m making sure to not hit the edges.

Two quick cuts at the table saw and they are ready for assembly.

One of the simplest ways of making a leg more interesting is adding a taper. There’s many ways of cutting a taper but I already had a specific size taper block for the bandsaw that matched the dimensions I needed so that’s the route I took. And just like the last cuts at the bandsaw the tapers were cut with a smidgen more material left on the leg than the final desired amount.

Here you can get a good look at the taper as well as the nearly perfect grain appearance on the legs.

Back at the workbench the tapers are quickly cleaned up with a couple passes of a smoothing plane.

The rest of the routing will be done at the router table with just two bits. The first is a 1/8” roundover for the legs followed by a 1/4” roundover for the slats and the top of the long rails. Use code JAYBATES15 for 15% off these bits and any other bits at bitsbits.com.

The legs receive the 1/8” roundover on all long edges as well as the bottom of the leg. Since getting a 1/8” roundover bit I use it on the majority of everything I make. It breaks sharp edges without giving an intentional rounded appearance. Meaning; pieces can still maintain a blocky or straight and flat appearance but still have an edge that’s a little more inviting to the touch.

For the top of the long rails I installed the 1/4” roundover bit and buried the infeed side of the fence into the bit. This will provide more support to the back of the cut and reduce tearout. I was a little nervous of this step because these rounded edges were part of the design and any tearout would be extremely noticeable and nearly impossible to fix.

The final results were perfect though. Zero tearout.

Finally the frame is assembled with hide glue. As expected, the thickness of the glue and the tight fit of the joints made the use of a hammer necessary. But at the same time the lubricating properties of the hide glue meant I could take it easy with the hammer. No clamps necessary, just get the top edges to line up.

With the frame set aside I milled the mahogany slats. I’m not 100% sure this is mahogany though. While building I thought it’s sapele due to the predominant streaks in the grain. But after analyzing the completed project next to a coffee table I made where I know the wood was mahogany I honestly just don’t know.

At the table saw I sized the pieces slightly wider than the slat cuts on the frame.

So that the narrow faces could be both cleaned up and the perfect fit established with the smoothing plane at the workbench.

Back to the router table to cut the 1/4” roundover on all long edges of the slats.

Followed by cutting the slats to their final length at the miter saw. I got these two steps backwards. I should have cut to length first and then routed the edges. That way the router bit would clean up the tearout caused by the dull miter saw blade I was using.

The last pieces needed before assembly are the 1/8” strips that will be glued to the bottom of all the rails. This is one of the many reasons why I think a 2×6 push stick is the best all around option out there. The sacrificial flat bottom of the 2×6 provides stability and holds down the material on both sides of the blade while allowing the blade to cut right through the push stick. The sacrificial hardwood cleat on the back edge of the block provides a mechanical connection to prevent slipping of the push stick over the workpiece as it is being cut. And you can easily cut strips 1/16” or less between the blade and the fence safely and easily. Pickup yours today for free at your nearest scrap bin.

The glue I’m using for the rest of the project is a quick setting glue that dries clear. To reduce squeeze-out on the outside I’m only applying a small bead of glue close to the inside edge.

Finally the slats can be installed and the same glue technique is used. Just a little bit of glue near the inside edge. This is a long grain to long grain glue connection so it should be pretty strong as is. In my initial SketchUp design I planned on using screws to attach the slats but decided against it mainly for looks. I think not using screws will look cleaner and I honestly don’t think they are needed for strength. And of course, if by chance the glue only strategy doesn’t work out long term I can always drill and add screws later.

The final step before finish was to do a once-over with fine grit sandpaper to take care of any problem areas. For a finish I’m just spraying shellac. Nothing fancy. I ended up spraying two coats of sealcoat shellac and literally that’s it. It’s plenty enough protection for the way it will be used and it still feels like you’re touching wood instead of a plastic feel like polyurethane can sometimes give. The secret sauce or the main takeaway here was that cleaning up all the pieces as I went with either sandpaper or a smoothing plane made this finishing process painless.

So here it is in the house. Excuse the lack of cable management. This is just a temporary location for the table as our Christmas tree is up. Overall I think it looks good. The wood combination matches perfectly and because the bench top is different it provides something else for the eyes to inspect. And of course my big’ole butt fits on it and I finally have something to sit on for a quick laptop session in the house.

Also, here you can see it next to the african mahogany top coffee table I made. So what do you think? Sapele? Mahogany? Now that I look at it while editing this video I’m leaning more towards it being mahogany.

That’s It for this video. If you want to stay up to date with everything that I’m doing then check out my website and sign up for my email newsletter. That’s it for this one. Take care and I’ll talk to you later.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I like the bench as is, but understand what you mean, that it doesn’t pop for you. What if you made the slats a little thinner and or the dividers between them a little taller? Then you could set the slats against each other and cut out a “mortise” for the “tenons”. With different woods, I would think this would show nicely. Great project!

  2. Great video as usual. When you were making the rails with the raise slot for the slates did the Pantorouter not have enough horizontal travel to cut both pieces at once? This could have potentially saved a setup and would help with alignment but it not enough travel then I get why you did it the way you did.

    When you were talking about adding the taper to the curved slats I think you would have run into an issue with the taper if I understood correctly how you were going to taper it. The wedge would have to be curved the same as the curve in order for the taper to not change angle. This probably wouldn’t be all that noticeable depending on how much it curved. If you just used a straight wedge the distance from the curve to the wedge would vary along the curve thus changing the angle of your taper.

  3. Bench looks great, Any reason not to roundover the tops of the rails before cutting the slat rests? Seems like that might have been easier.

  4. Great video, Jay! I feel you did an amazing job here. This video comes at an appropriate time, as I am designing a behind the couch table. I’m looking at 84-96″ long by 20″ deep. It will be used for o0ur guests to sit and watch a game or have a meal. Sort of the main table overflow. but also have the use of a few do-dads.
    Thanks for sharing and teaching this old dog a thing or to.

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