Walnut Coffee Table Construction

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Blog entry by Woodhacker posted 05-11-2008 02:16 AM 19884 reads 9 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch

When I returned to woodworking several years ago my nephew had been talking about a particular style of “coffee” table he’d seen online somewhere and was describing it to me. Since he’d just announced plans to marry, I told him I’d make him, and his fiancée, the table as a wedding gift.

He showed me some online photos of the table, which I used as the basic, general design plan. The joinery I chose is original but the style was taken from the photos.

This piece is the result:


My nephew came with me to a local lumber yard to pick out the type of wood and grain pattern that he wanted. He’s not a woodworker but I did get him involved in a few aspects of this project.

The entire piece is made from solid 4/4 and 12/4 stock wood.

The Legs:
Each leg is essentially a hollow box. After gluing up sufficient walnut “planks” with enough width (across the grain for the height of the legs, I cross cut each “plank” so the grain sequence would flow or “wrap” entirely around each leg. I used rabbet joints for the leg corners. My first thought was that 45 degree miters would be more appealing, but I didn’t trust myself to cut the miters perfectly for the entire width of the cut (height of the legs). Thus rabbet joinery seemed to be safer, though at the expense of visual appeal.


Each hollow leg has a base of red oak tongue and grooved into the lower portion of the inside of the leg 1inch from the bottom. Because of the size or footprint of each leg, I used two levelers within each leg’s base to ensure the table would sit level on either carpeted or smooth surface floors. An unforeseen benefit to this is that even though the table is quite heavy, it actually slides on either type of floor surface quite easily for moving it around as needed.

The following picture shows the underside after all the glue-up was complete. In this picture, you can see that I’ve temporarily replaced the leveler’s feet with bolts until the table was completely finished. This allowed me to move it around the shop (to some people it’s called a garage) without worrying about damaging the actual feet that came with the levelers.


To mark the project as a gift on their wedding day, I woodburned a wedding message into the underside of the top:


The Top:

The top is a frame/panel design. The panel is basically 4/4 stock walnut, which my nephew specifically picked out for the top. I used a glue line interlocking type router bit on each edge before edge-joining/gluing together each of the four planks that make up the panel. Since I don’t have a drum sander (and am very jealous of all you LJs who do), and lacked hand planes at the time to do a sufficient job of flattening the panel, I took the panel down to a local millshop to have it drum sanded flat on both top and bottom. That cost me $20 bucks but was well worth it since I didn’t want to take a chance with my hand-held belt sander and not getting it dead flat.

I routed a tongue around the entire perimeter of the panel to be received by the corresponding groove in the frame pieces. The photo below shows a dry fit of the panel and frame before cutting the key slots in the miter joints.

And here’s a close up of one of the corners. Note again the key slots have not yet been cut:

The Frame:
The frame is made of 12/4 stock walnut. I decided to use 45 degree miters at the corners which I cut on my table saw. The grooves (for the tongue and groove) were done on my router table. I also decided to use a “key” lock vertically in the miters perpendicular to the miter joints at the corners. In order to do this I made a jig for my router table sufficient to handle frame pieces this large. The next few photos show this process. I made the jig so I could use it for any angle between 90 to 30 degrees. It is bolted onto the mite-r-slide on my router table.

The photo below shows the set up for cutting the key slot for one of the longer two pieces of the frame. I used a ½ inch spiral up-cut bit in multiple passes, increasing the depth until the depth matched ½ the size of the key size.
(As you can see above my “shop” extends out into my driveway thanks to mobile bases. My primary dust collection system is called “prevailing Kansas winds”. It sure keeps the garage cleaner)

Below is a close up of the end result of routing the key slots. You can also see the ¼ inch wide groove that will accept the tongue on the top panel. This was also done on the router table.

Fastening the top to the legs:
The design of this table posed some challenges in deciding how to join the legs to the top. I much prefer wood joinery and really dislike using metal fasteners, unless absolutely necessary. Even though I’m sure there are many ways in which I could have chosen to join the legs and top, I chose to basically dado grooves on the underside of the top to accept each leg. Then for strength and stability I decided on a series of braces that were also dado’d
 into the legs,
 into the underside of the top,
 into the frame itself, and
 between the legs that are on each end of the table

This photo (below) shows the basic pattern of these dados on the underside of the top.
(No this isn’t an aerial photo of Aztec UFO runways for visitors from other galaxies)

The dados were cut by a combination of (1) a handheld router using a homemade straight-edge guide (it’s called a board) and (2) hammer and chisel. In the photo directly below you can see the connecting braces being fitted to the legs, the top, and the frame of the top.

The photo below shows a close-up of the braces being fitted into the dados that were cut in the top, frame and legs:

Another view:

The photos below shows the legs and braces being simultaneously clamped to the top (and frame by way of the braces that serve as structural supports). As you can see I used gorilla glue for attaching the legs and braces:

A close up view:

Another close up:

I wasn’t sure how stable this technique would be, but I was very pleased with the result. There is absolutely zero wobble or sway in the legs…which was a concern due to their weight and the fact that there are no cross braces near the bottoms of the legs. The legs and top truly are “one piece” as a result. For this I was thankful.

All edges were rounded over using a 3/16 inch round over bit in my handheld router. The piece was sanded to 220 grit. This was repeated after wiping down the entire piece with water to raise the grain. The finish was four coats of wipe-on poly/oil blend. This was followed by two coats of paste wax, with the first one being rubbed in with 0000 steel wool.

One reservation I have for the construction style I chose was whether or not moisture content changes over time would ever effect the frame/panel top and the bracing design for attaching the legs. It’s been 2 ½ years since this table was completed and I’m happy there are no signs yet whatsoever of any changes in the joints, etc., and it remains rock solid… so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

I hope you enjoy this post. I’m also posting this table as an LJ project.

-- Martin, Kansas

13 comments so far

View nxs's profile


3 posts in 3679 days

#1 posted 05-11-2008 03:05 AM

Nice! It’s very De La Espada (quality and solid wood) looking and maybe some Crate and Barrel thrown in :) <- check out their site if you are going to be building any more walnut furniture.

View Kevin's profile


291 posts in 3956 days

#2 posted 05-11-2008 05:37 AM

I think this is a very beautiful piece that has both a unique design and beautiful figured wood.

Great job

-- Kevin, Wichita, Kansas

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4245 days

#3 posted 05-11-2008 09:07 AM

Beautiful project, and wood. Do you think the Gorrilla glue had a lot to do with the stability? mike

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View BrianM's profile


116 posts in 3751 days

#4 posted 05-11-2008 01:14 PM

Great Job…. Everyone should have a Uncle like you!

-- There is no such thing as scrap wood!,

View gbvinc's profile


628 posts in 3945 days

#5 posted 05-11-2008 02:24 PM

Very cool. Nice choice of wood, nice joinery! What type of finish did you apply?

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5621 posts in 3711 days

#6 posted 05-11-2008 02:32 PM

A great post about an fnatastic table. Thanks for the detail and the good photos!

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View John Fry's profile

John Fry

74 posts in 3698 days

#7 posted 05-11-2008 03:30 PM

This is a great looking table.

You have obviously put a lot of effort into insuring the stability of your leg joinery, but I am puzzled and a bit concerned that with this much “cross grained” joinery, that you have not allowed for expansion and contraction of your main table top panel. It appears that the top could cause movement problems both within the heavy timbered frame, and over the end legs that are rigidly glued across the top’s grain.

I hope they live in an area that has consistent annual humidity. Your table is very attractive and I would hate to see it have problems.

EDIT to add: I just saw that the wedding date was in 2005. Hopefully, this table is already three years old and has already proven I was wrong and that it can withstand seasonal changes. I hope so!

-- John, Chisel and Bit Custom Crafted Furniture,

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4092 days

#8 posted 05-11-2008 05:02 PM

This is a fantastic table. Thanks for the details about the construction. Interesting approach with the joinery of the top to the legs. I’m glad you haven’t experienced any disruptive movement. Do you think that might be related to the size of the stock?

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Kipster's profile


1076 posts in 3751 days

#9 posted 05-11-2008 05:44 PM

Wow, That is one solid and beautiful table

You get my vote for uncle of the year.

-- Kip Northern Illinois ( If you don't know where your goin any road will take you there) George Harrison

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3894 days

#10 posted 05-11-2008 09:05 PM

That’s a great table! All those dados had to be a real job to keep track off. Thanks for the good post.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View Grumpy's profile


23917 posts in 3849 days

#11 posted 05-12-2008 12:39 AM

Excellent looking table. Great blog. I like that router jig, adjustable as well.

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4216 days

#12 posted 05-30-2008 02:25 PM

Man, looking at how that thing went together blows my mind! Quite a feat of engineering.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View motthunter's profile


2141 posts in 3797 days

#13 posted 05-30-2008 02:44 PM

interesting design and well built. What a great present.

-- making sawdust....

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