Making a small kitchen table - question

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Forum topic by dbray45 posted 07-15-2011 02:14 PM 1560 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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3147 posts in 2195 days

07-15-2011 02:14 PM

I have made many tables. Kitchen table legs, at least for me, tend to be problematic. I want them tight but because of their use, are easy to become loose. I have a number of choices for the joints:

1.) Dovetail the joint – 2 3/4” long
2.) Dovetail half way, the other half (bottom) mortise and tenon – not unlike a haunched mortise and tenon
3.) Mortise and tenon
4.) Haunched mortice and tenon
5.) Use a steel corner bracket (tacky but they work)

The legs and apron are poplar, the apron is 3” x 3/4” thick, the legs are 2” x 2” thick The table is 36” x 36” x 29” tall, the legs are inset 2” on all sides

Want to hear your ideas. I have done one leg with a 2 3/4” long hand cut dovetail and I’m just not sure this is the best way to go.

-- David in Damascus, MD

8 replies so far

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 1971 days

#1 posted 07-15-2011 03:07 PM

I would go with mortise and tenon, but dovetails and the others tend to just fine as well.

What typically happens, though, is that the legs want to splay outwards, and this causes the legs to work their way loose. What helps, though not always attractive because it impedes on your ability to put you own feet under the table, is cross bracing towards the bottom. This pulls the feet back together towards the bottom, so that those outward forces are more balanced across the whole leg, making it harder to act like a lever and loosen.

A way to allow you to put your feet underneath the table is to go with an X shaped cross bracing.

A third option, which I have yet to see, might be to do X shaped braces along the sides of the table, either in place of, or below the apron. Again, this will create two points on each leg that are joined, breaking the lever like action, and due to the cross shape, you will be creating triangles, one of the most stable shapes, geometrically speaking. The X’s don’t necessarily need to be wide, only a few inches of space should do, but it can be daunting to get exact angles and lengths, and mitered joints can add to the complexity.

Thirdly, and not an overall solution, adding pocket screws to whatever joints you decide on can give additional strength, and the threads will make the pieces more difficult to pull apart as well.

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3147 posts in 2195 days

#2 posted 07-15-2011 04:02 PM

Can’t do the bracing at the bottom, legs have to be open for wheelchair use. The problems that I anticpate, largly due to the current table has this problem, is the wobble effect from side to side. This being said, the dovetails hold until they are worked loose or split.

Pocket screws will pull out over extended stress, tried this. I have had this issue with poplar, pine and oak due to softness or the open grain.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2269 days

#3 posted 07-15-2011 04:39 PM

The mechanical corner brackets are tried and true. No arguments about the tacky factor, but then, who will see them but the occasional Jack Russell terrier (and they tend not to care about leg bracing).

You can do the same thing with just wood; all you would be buying would be the hanger screws. I’ve usually seen these seated in a vee-cut in the skirt.

Can you fudge a slightly wider skirt than normal? That would add to the stability. Also consider a thicker skirt, even doubled in thickness six inches from the leg.

Bottom line is, a glued joint when worked loose is a major problem. A mechanical joint which works loose isn’t.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

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3147 posts in 2195 days

#4 posted 07-15-2011 04:54 PM

Well noted. I have some of the metal brackets in a drawer some place. I am always looking for a better way of doin things. The brackets I have also bolt into the legs as well as aprons. Not happy with that feature, split the legs once.

Has anybody used a combination of a dovetail and tenon joint? With the dovetail at the top and the tenon at the bottom seems interesting – a pain to make but easier than a long dovetail.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View eaglewrangler's profile


61 posts in 1956 days

#5 posted 07-15-2011 05:26 PM

On a small bedside table you can get away with a variety of glued joints, from bisciuts, mortise and tennon, but on one table I cut a slot with a dovetail bit and slid the sides down into it. It worked well for a few years, but in moving the legs got wiggly as the joint is subject to wood compression over time with abuse, glue joint also fail with abuse as do screws and very small montise (a leg is a long lever to the joint)
1 be nice to your tables
2 ugly Metal brace to offend only the dog when he chews the leg.
3 Make a tressel table or larger legs/apron (think German beer hall.)

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3147 posts in 2195 days

#6 posted 07-15-2011 05:47 PM

On bedside or end tables, I can put a shelf that reinforces the legs, kitchen tables are a whole different animal. People lean on them, sit on them, cut things on them putting stresses that a table should never have.

That is why the question. Want this table to last a while. The top is going to be QS oak and is real pretty, legs and apron will be white.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View Loren's profile


8158 posts in 3067 days

#7 posted 07-16-2011 06:25 PM

You can cut angled sliding dovetails in the insides of the skirts,
make a dovetailed board that bridges the corner at the angle
and then you’ve got a solid wood bracket you can put a lag
screw through to hold the leg tight.

A tilting router table is very useful in making this kind of angled
sliding dovetail.

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3147 posts in 2195 days

#8 posted 07-18-2011 01:15 PM

cr – Doing this on a 3’x3’ table would be making a butcher block table, a little out of proportion – but thank you, it is an option for future tables, I iwould like to see how yours turns out. If you have 3-4” inch thick legs, having three points that go into the legs is not a problem, having 3/4” aprons going into 2” legs takes away to much material for three points. A variation may be possible, will have to think on this.

Loren – This is an interesting aproach. I like it. Will have to draw this up and see what I will run into. It is different from the metal bracket approach.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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