My daughter is already a year and a half old. That’s…..just crazy to think about. Everyone says kids grow up so fast and it’s not until now that the saying is setting in. Her mind is a sponge and every day holds something new for her to pick up on and explore. One of the things we are exploring more and more is craft time. And to help with that I wanted to make her a children’s size table and two chairs that would be built well and made to take many years of abuse. Regarding dimensions, I took measurements from a few different sources I found in the wild and went with the averages.
Lots of options for materials. This project would be 100% fine with plywood and pine but because I just got a killer deal on 500 board feet of 8/4 ash I decided to go with it. This checks a lot of boxes for me. First, it lets me know how stable the batch of ash will be. It will provide some working experience with ash as I’ve never really used it for a full project. And the icing on the cake will be a solid, built-to-last set made out of a beautiful species. Stick around until the end to see how gorgeous this wood ended up being. I had no idea when I first cut into it.
All of the 500 board foot bundle I got is rough sawn at 8/4 thickness. Only the table legs will be greater than 4/4 so that means everything else needed to be resawn to rough 4/4 thickness before even starting.
After getting everything to rough 4/4 thickness, length, and width I laid everything out to sit and climate over the weekend. This will give more opportunity for internal stresses to be released before milling to final thickness.
On the following Monday I kicked off the week by running through the final milling process. Starting with the table top and chair seats. First jointing one wide face at the jointer.
Followed by getting the opposite wide face flat and parallel with the planer…
And finally back at the jointer to get one perfect narrow face. It’s best to go back and forth like this because after getting both wide faces planed it will allow you to use either wide face against the jointer fence to ensure you are jointing in the downhill direction.
The jointed narrow face goes against the table saw fence and all of the panel pieces are ripped to their final width. Well, a smidgen more than their final width. I left a little more room in the width direction to do one final cutting to size after the panel is glued up. This will also allow me to remove any clamp marks that might come into play during glue up.
To help keep the panel joints flat during glue up I’m using biscuits. For years I skipped this step and just tried to keep things in line the best I could during glue up. The extra step to add biscuits really is worth it. Such a quick step to keep things in line.
However, the seat panels were small enough that I did skip the biscuits..
Here’s a quick tip. My project design process always starts in SketchUp. It’s a free program that allows me to work out any design kinks before cutting the first piece of wood. I also use it to create a layout diagram for better material efficiency. Of course, all of that is subject to change when the pencil hits the wood as I generally don’t plan for knots in SketchUp. But one benefit of having a printed layout to take with you into the shop is that you can keep all of your pieces laid out on a table identical to the layout on the paper. This will allow you to keep track of your parts better and not worry about labeling them. You will know what parts are what based upon where they are in the layout and where they are on the table. Sometimes it’s a good practice to label the parts. Other times the label will just get planed off.
The final milling stage is repeated for all of the chair and table frame parts.
Now the joinery can begin. There’s a ton of perfectly acceptable options for this kind of a project. It’s really up to you and how much effort you want to put into it. Pine and plywood is fine. So is pocket holes and screws. I originally planned on using mortise and tenon joints with integral tenons but I ended up going with the Domino simply because I haven’t used it in a while. For the mortises on the end grain it was easier to bring the material to the tool with the help of a Domino Dock. It’s a fantastic jig created by @ramonartful on Instagram. If you have a Domino I highly recommend picking one up. I have no affiliation with him. I’m just a happy customer :)
For the face grain mortises it’s easier to bring the tool to the material. Typical domino fashion here.
Just a few mortises when it’s all said and done. I really like this joinery method though. It’s fast and easy to knock out all of the joinery for the rest of the build.
With all of the mortises cut a dry assembly can take place. I cut all of the end grain mortises on the precise setting so the tenons are a nice tight fit. All of the face grain mortises were cut with a little wiggle room that can be utilized to make sure all of the reference ends and parts are lining up perfectly.
After a successful dry assembly all of the detail work can begin. First the majority of pieces are rounded over at the router table. I used a 3/16” roundover on all of the edges for this project. If you want a great deal on router bits then check out bitsbits.com and use the code JAYBATES for 10% off your purchase. I’ve been doing some work for Bits & Bits for a while now and highly recommend their Astra coated bits.
Next up is a slight curve on the top of both chair backs. Just find something that has a similar radius and trace it on. It’s up to you, really. I found the inside handle arc on my Greene & Greene tool tote template to be perfect for this.
The majority of the waste is removed at the bandsaw…
And then the radius is finessed down to the line at the belt sander. Every now and then I look for improvements in the shop and areas where a lot of time can be saved. One of the biggest time-suck areas for me has always been sanding and shaping so when I moved into this new space last summer I planned on getting a large belt sander. Holy cow I’m glad I did. This machine saved so much time on this project alone. I can see this getting a LOT of use over the next decade. It’s the Hammer H950 for those who are wondering. This is just a brief introduction here. I’ll save my thoughts and feedback for a proper tool talk video in 6 months to a year after I get more experience with it.
Time to talk about the table top hold down clips. These are a relatively simple piece of hardware but a very important one. I try to cover this topic every time it comes up because not allowing for proper expansion and contraction of a table top is one mistake a lot of people starting out in woodworking tend to make. Solid wood panels NEED to expand and contract. If you don’t allow room for contraction then the panel will crack. If you don’t allow room for expansion then the panel will expand and break something else. Table top hold down clips are a Z shaped piece of metal with a hole drilled on one side and a tab on the other. The tab goes into a slot or groove cut on the inside face of the apron rail and a screw is used through the hole to secure it to the bottom side of the table top, or in this case the chair seats as well. The groove is sized and located so that the tab remains parallel with the table top allowing the clip to slide around the groove as necessary due to seasonal expansion and contraction of the wood panel.
In the past I’ve used the biscuit joiner to cut slots in various locations for the clips. If the material size allows it’s much easier to run a single saw kerf into all of the rail pieces at the table saw before assembly. The depth of cut isn’t too critical, however, I wouldn’t go past ½ the thickness.
With the clip dado’s cut assembly can finally begin. This process is relatively quick. I’m using a fast setting MPA II glue as it allows me to basically rotate all of the assemblies through a single set of clamps. By the time the second assembly needs the clamps the first can be removed. This makes for a pretty fast glue up stage but I wouldn’t recommend it for all situations. MPA II dries so fast and sometimes that can be a problem.
Now I can switch focus back to the solid panels. First the chair seat surfaces are scraped smooth with the best card scraper ever made.
Followed by cutting to their final size.
The chair seats need to sit into the back legs slightly. Marking these cuts is pretty easy. A square transfers the between-the-legs dimensions..
And setting the feet on top of the first marks allows the second cut to be marked in the front to back direction.
With a stop setup on the bandsaw fence the notches are made quickly and easily.
The chairs I referenced when I initially scouted for dimensions had an even overhang on the front and both sides. It looked a little too bulky for my eyes so I traced a very slight front to back taper and then also traced a small radius on the front two corners. No sharp corners sticking out for children’s furniture.
The taper is quickly sanded in place and the corners rounded over.
Next the seat gets the same 3/16” roundover. Also, the rest of the chair that didn’t get rounded over before assembly.
The table top panel finally sees some action. The biscuits did a great job keeping everything flat during glue up so a light sanding at the drum sander is all that’s needed to flush up the top. Just a few passes and It’s ready for a final sanding with the random orbital sander.
The final width is established at the table saw.
Then the first crosscut is made with a circular saw and a straight edge. Notice the auxiliary dust collection. I threw this together after getting the belt sander and have found so many uses for it since.
Final length is also established at the table saw. A little back and forth here but it worked out great.
Back to the sander for the rounded corners and a little sanding work on the narrow faces.
And finally the last shaping is done at the router table. The 3/16” roundover looks great on 3/4” thick stock.
Sanding, sanding, sanding. Oh how I hate sanding. One of these days I’ll get a more efficient RO sander setup. In the mean time O’le trusty DeWalt gets the job done.
I keep Seal Coat Shellac in my HPLV spray gun at all times. It’s just so convenient to be able to hit anything with a coat of shellac at any moment. In this case I hit the entire project with two coats relatively quickly.
The first final assembly can be done by attaching the seats to the chair frames and the table top to the table frame.
And with that, this project is done! Well, kinda. My initial plan was to topcoat the shellac with Arm-R-Seal but I didn’t have enough on hand and I got a little impatient. Instead I picked up a can of thick one-coat water based polyurethane. I’ve never used it before but it looked like a thicker Polycrylic from Minwax. Time will tell how it holds up.
So what do you think of the final product? I think it looks great! All of the figure in the wood was a happy accident. I could see some small traces of curl in it’s rough state but I had no idea it was going to be this beautiful.