Lamp table

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Blog entry by ~Julie~ posted 02-12-2010 12:19 AM 3217 reads 5 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This blog is about the making of a lamp table. (Not a table lamp, which is a completely different thing.) A lamp table is a small table that you can put a lamp on.

I use pine because I like it and it’s nice to work with and you can either stain or paint it. I like the knots. If you are going to paint, you can use poplar which is very smooth and doesn’t have knots.

I have to run the wood through a jointer and planer and table saw to get it to the size I need. You may be able to find wood already planed and ready to go, which eliminates a lot of steps but means you have to get the sizes that are available. My rough pine is dried to about 8% MC, which is really important for furniture that will be in your house, but that topic is another blog post for the future.

Here’s a basic drawing of the parts needed:

lamp table sketch

The four legs are about 1 5/8” square and then tapered after. They are about 24 1/2” long. You may wish to use dowels to join them to the aprons, or you could alternatively use tenons. If you are using dowels as joinery, you put two dowel holes in each leg and two dowel holes correspondingly in each apron.I prefer the traditional way, which is sliding dovetails. When you use sliding dovetails everything slips together like puzzle pieces and is very sturdy. For sliding dovetails, you make the dovetail groove in two adjoining sides of the legs from the top of the leg for a length of about 3 1/2”. This is called a stopped groove and is done with a dovetail bit in a router. I find it much easier to first use a straight bit and make a straight groove where the dovetail groove will be. This leaves far less wood for the dovetail bit to hog out. Do your dovetail groove before you put the dovetails on the end of the side pieces.

This photo shows eight legs with their dovetail grooves:

lamp table legs

My table has tapered legs. The tapering starts 5” from the top of the leg on the two inside leg faces, which are the same faces that have the dovetail grooves in them, and they head down the leg leaving a 1” square leg at the very bottom. I use the table saw and a tapering jig that I bought. Some make their own jig, but I found one for only about $15 and it was worth it, considering the time I would have spent making it. When you taper, the wood is being pushed into the saw blade at an angle so that the leg is not parallel to the saw’s fence. The jig holds it that way, which is the only safe way to do it.

A leg on the table saw ready to be tapered:
(saw blade, leg, tapering jig, fence)

lamp table tapering jig

The four side pieces are aprons (or skirts) and are about 4”wide x 9 1/4” long x 3/4” thick. Use the width of the previously made dovetail groove as a sample for your dovetail width that you will put on each end of the aprons. I purposely make my dovetails too large to start and ‘sneak up’ on the correct size. You don’t want it to be too loose in the dovetail groove on the leg, nor too tight. The ends of the bottoms of the dovetails need to be cut off so that when you slide it into the groove it covers the end of the groove. This is why your groove is shorter than the full 4” width of the aprons.

Here is an apron (upside down) with the dovetail end trimmed:

apron ends

Here are two of the aprons sitting in a leg:
apron leg

On the inside of the apron 3/8” down from the top edge, you need to make a kerf on the table saw to hold the Z table fasteners that will hold the top on. I get mine at Lee Valley, you can see them here:,41306,41309

If you want, you can put a beadboard edge at the bottom of the aprons. This makes it look a lot nicer than a straight piece, but it’s not necessary. The beading is done with a router bit in a router hanging in a table with a fence that you run the apron upright (vertically) against. After a good sanding of all pieces you can slide the aprons into the legs with a little glue. If you put too much it will just come out the top of the groove and make a mess. You really don’t need a lot because the dovetail does all the work, it really can’t pull out.

This shows the beaded apron in the leg:

The top is square, 16” x 16” and about 1” thick. I use widths of pine glued together edge to edge to make up the wider piece I need. Usually about 4”-5” widths are okay. If you have them too much wider they can warp. Make sure the edges are completely smooth and perpendicular to the faces before gluing to get the flattest top you can. Use clamps to hold this for a few hours. Bessey clamps are nice. I love clamps, all kinds of clamps except those spring clamp things which I find don’t have any holding power. Always make this piece a bit larger than you need and then trim to final size and sand smooth.

This table has painted and distressed legs and aprons, the top is stained and distressed. I painted the legs and aprons with black exterior acrylic paint and then distressed it by rubbing with sandpaper along the edges. At the places where the wood showed through I rubbed on the same stain that was going on the top. The top is stained with gel stain. Other stains go blotchy on pine and some other woods. I have had great success with gel stain and the brand I use is Flecto Varathane which comes in many shades and is also mixable, so you can make your own colour. (Don’t ask me how I know this, but it’s best to make sure you make enough of your own colour, just in case you run out and need more.) After staining the top, I beat it a bit with a screwdriver and some other things I found in the shop. Then I took some of the paint and painted it into the distressed depressions with a small paintbrush. Everything got at least five coats of wipe-on polyurethane. It goes on nicely, but is very thin so it needs a few more coats than the brush-on poly. Always test your poly over your paint first. I have had interior acrylic paints which are not compatible with the poly, and I found out the hard way.

When everything is dry, turn the table upside down and attach two clamps to each apron with screws. You cannot glue the top to the apron and legs, this is why you need these. Wood moves with the seasons, if you just glue it or screw the top on, it will crack. The clamps allow the top to expand and contract with the seasons. Now that is really another blog topic…. wood moves and many people do not realize that.

Underneath the table:
underneath table

Finished table:
finished table

Another lamp table I made has stained legs and aprons and a tiled top in a wood frame:

two tables

The possibilities are endless. And who says the top has to be square? How about shaped like a flower or any other shape and painted?

Hmmmm… so many ideas, so little time!


-- ~Julie~

13 comments so far

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3695 days

#1 posted 02-12-2010 12:55 AM

Thats a great blog.

View SteveMI's profile


1100 posts in 3316 days

#2 posted 02-12-2010 12:59 AM

Great blog! i was going to blog a couple lamp tables this week, but you covered well over half of it and I can just tell people to “read Julie first and here are a few details that I did a little different.” I used sliding M&T instead of dovetails for the apron to legs, included a drawer, little different table top idea and used figure 8 brackets instead of the hooks. All of the table out of construction pine.


View a1Jim's profile


117114 posts in 3599 days

#3 posted 02-12-2010 01:16 AM

Good good good, table, blog,logo

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View rtb's profile


1101 posts in 3735 days

#4 posted 02-12-2010 01:22 AM

Your explanation and illustration are superb, Have you considered writing a woodworking book

-- RTB. stray animals are just looking for love

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3325 days

#5 posted 02-12-2010 03:53 AM

very nice blog Julie…and a good project too…nice table…i like the sliding dovetails…a good way besides mortis and tenon’s…thanks for the blog…

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View ND2ELK's profile


13495 posts in 3795 days

#6 posted 02-12-2010 04:36 AM

Great blog. Very informative and nicely done. Thanks for posting.

God Bless

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View OutPutter's profile


1199 posts in 4012 days

#7 posted 02-12-2010 05:50 AM

Hi Julie,

Nice blog and table. I’ve been wondering about those clips that hold the top down. If you put them on two sides I can see how it would allow wood movement but, if you put them on all four sides how does that work?


-- Jim

View ~Julie~'s profile


607 posts in 3056 days

#8 posted 02-12-2010 08:58 PM

Okay Jim, now how can I explain those clips, I will try will a few simple sketches…

There are clips on the edges of the wood (zclip1) and clips on the ends (zclip2):

If the top moves in the direction of the arrows (the width of the top) then the clips (shown as zclip1) will be more into the kerf in the case of the wood shrinking and the clips will be less in the kerf in the case of the wood expanding:

If the top moves in the direction of the arrows (still the width of the top) then these clips will move along sideways in the kerf:

I hope this explains the clips.

-- ~Julie~

View OutPutter's profile


1199 posts in 4012 days

#9 posted 02-13-2010 11:19 AM

Thanks a lot Julie. That helps me understand the theory for the zclip1. I can easily understand the zclip2 thing. One more question about the clamps if you don’t mind. The aprons you used are 3/8” thick. Lets say you decided to make the kerf 3/16” deep because I can’t see going more than half way through. When you installed the clips on the edges, zclip1, did you place them half way into the kerf? That would mean you placed them 3/32” into the kerf, right? Or, did you assume the wood would only shrink and place them all the way into the kerf? Or, how did you decide what to do and how did you do it? Is that more than one question? lol Sorry. Anything you can offer would be appreciated.


-- Jim

View ~Julie~'s profile


607 posts in 3056 days

#10 posted 02-14-2010 10:04 PM

Jim, the aprons are 3/4” thick not 3/8”. I don’t believe 3/8” would allow enough space for the clips.
Here’s the picture from Lee Valley, which I hope is okay to link to here:
Lee Valley tabletop clamps

In my climate there is quite a range of humidity. In the winter here it’s dry and so if I’m making something in the winter, I need to assume that the wood will expand. Of course the opposite applies in the summer. So this will determine, just the same as if you are making floating door panels, for example, how “deep” you apply the clips.

Perhaps others don’t have such a variation as we do here, and don’t have to plan for that, but if you are shipping something across the country you will need to take changing climates into account.

-- ~Julie~

View OutPutter's profile


1199 posts in 4012 days

#11 posted 02-15-2010 11:04 AM

Thanks again Julie. How deep was your kerf and how deep did you install the clips then?

-- Jim

View ~Julie~'s profile


607 posts in 3056 days

#12 posted 02-16-2010 03:39 PM

Hi Jim

I honestly don’t remember, but most likely the kerf was approximately half the wood thickness, so that would be 3/8” and since I made it in the fall, I probably stuck the clip in most of the way, say, just over 2/8”.

Really, I much prefer the home made buttons (which I usually use) and they work on the same principle. Being hardwood, they look much nicer than a piece of metal under the table.

-- ~Julie~

View hjt's profile


835 posts in 3160 days

#13 posted 05-06-2010 10:08 PM

Another nice blog and a beautiful job.

-- Harold

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