Dining Table Fastenerless Design

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Forum topic by MostlyHarmless posted 05-08-2013 08:29 AM 6556 views 1 time favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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21 posts in 3094 days

05-08-2013 08:29 AM

Topic tags/keywords: table fastenerless screwless

I’m looking for some advice on a design I’ve created in Google Sketchup of a table that doesn’t use nails/screws/bolts.

I’ve never built a table before and thought maybe someone could tell me if there’s any fatal flaws in my mock up or if this is just a terrible idea all together.

I was thinking that a dove tail joint design would hold the legs upright and the cross brace would keep them square.

I can provide the SketchUp file if anyone wants a closer look.


-- If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.

27 replies so far

View derosa's profile


1577 posts in 3036 days

#1 posted 05-08-2013 12:38 PM

Your top will be constantly be trying to tear apart the legs or splitting the top due to your design not allowing for expansion or contraction. You might try turning your through tennons into hidden dovetails. If you have the top in three pieces the first sits between the dovetails with just a little space between them and the top. The two sides have the keys the dovetails fit in that are slightly elongated to allow movement, just slide them over the dovetails and glue to the center piece of the top. This locks the dovetails into the top permanently and if you make the keys just the right size they will disappear and not be visible around the legs. I’ve wanted to do this but you need to make dovetails that are tight enough that the top doesn’t rattle but just the right looseness that the top can expand and contract. I’ve wanted to do this but I haven’t got the ability to be that precise in dovetails. Alternatively you could have the dovetails incorporated into the end curtains and just have the top be two pieces that you slide and glue together. Without either one I’m not certain how you attach a top that allows for movement without fasteners.

-- --Rev. Russ in NY-- A posse ad esse

View casual1carpenter's profile


354 posts in 2676 days

#2 posted 05-08-2013 12:59 PM

Just a couple of thoughts, I would consider reducing the dovetail angle or with so that you do not isolate that inside leg corner from the leg center with the dovetail cuts, or look at a mortise and tenon joint. While the corner bracing does prevent the angle from closing it is dependent upon glue alone for the angle opening. The table top depicted seems to be trapped by those four tenon pins and I believe you might need to consider expansion and contraction. Perhaps you could use only two pin points on diagonal.

These type of things would concern me but I often tend to over work and over think things. you might want to look up “The Shrinkulator – WoodBin” to see relative expansion contraction, apparently wood moves a lot.

View oldnovice's profile


7329 posts in 3568 days

#3 posted 05-08-2013 05:17 PM

In my opinion the corner braces should connect with a dovetail in a connection that is “normal” to the face of the brace. In other words, does the brace add any strength/rigidity to the corner (without the legs) if not, then why even use the braces? That is my 2¢ worth!

I have to agree with all the concerns about the top being “trapped” and/or trying to pull the legs apart. The top needs to be “free” from cross grain constraints.

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View pintodeluxe's profile


5798 posts in 3014 days

#4 posted 05-08-2013 05:51 PM

I would make the through tenons faux. Otherwise the top will expand in width, while the rails will not expand much at all. Using inexpensive “figure 8” tabletop fasteners has worked well for me. They are invisible, and allow the top to expand and contract across its width.

For the rail-to-leg connection, sliding dovetails or M&T would be fine. I prefer cross-pegged mortise and tenon, but either will work. As far as the brace, I would predrill holes at an angle and use screws. It is easier to make, and you will never see it.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 3170 days

#5 posted 05-08-2013 06:08 PM

I wouldn’t dovetail the apron to the legs, m&t will do, you’ll get a longer stub into the leg. You will have to leave a means for expansion across the width of the top, how you have it there is likely to either force the legs apart or crack the top. If you don’t want to use metal clips you could make wooden buttons to fit into slots to hold the table top on. The faux thru mortise is a good idea to preserve the look.

View MostlyHarmless's profile


21 posts in 3094 days

#6 posted 05-08-2013 07:22 PM

I really appreciate all the feedback guys. I knew there’d be oversites you guys would pick up on right away.
It seems the consensus is that expansion forces will likely be a problem because the shorter rails won’t expand evenly with the top. I’m curious that if this table is strictly in doors and has a thick varnish on it, would it likely still expand enough to damage the frame?

I’m having a tough time visualizing your recommendation. I get what you mean by using 3 sections with the center locking the sides into the dove tails. I can’t picture how to make the dovetails invisible around the legs. Not that I’d mind them being visible, I just want to be sure I understand what you mean.

I see what you mean about the joint. I’ll definitely adjust that angle to give some more meat to the corner section of the legs. I understand what you mean about the braces resisting push force and not pull. However, the way I see it is that in order for the corner to be pulled open, a separate corner of the table would be forced to push close, which would then be mitigated by the brace in that corner, keeping the square true. Do you for see a situation that would contradict my thinking?

The idea of the braces is that all four work together to prevent deformation of the frame angles. I explained my reasoning more in casual1carpenters’ reply.

Personally, I’d rather not have the tenons at all if they were to be faux. I’m really trying to make a design that doesnt use fasteners, if for no other reason than the challenge involved. I’ve also considered using the cross-pegged mortise and tenon, but was concerned that it wouldn’t lend itself very well to keeping the legs plumb, where the dovetail joint requires the leg to stay rigid and vertical.

I’m not sure what you mean by wooden buttons. Would it be like having a half tennon that sits in a long mortise under the table top that would allow the expansion of the table to slide along it?

Again, I really appreciate all the feedback. I’m not trying to be critical or stubborn, I’m just trying to learn as much as possible from the best!

-- If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.

View Hammerthumb's profile


2907 posts in 2176 days

#7 posted 05-08-2013 08:11 PM

While it is possible to do this without fasteners, the issue I would see is that fastening the top to the base could be done with buttons, and dowels to attach the buttons with adhesive. The top would become permanent unless you drilled out the wooden fasteners to remove it.

-- Paul, Duvall, WA

View redSLED's profile


790 posts in 2093 days

#8 posted 05-08-2013 09:14 PM

Is your table’s width more than 30”? If so, you’ll have to tip the table sideways to get it through doorways – and this is the issue: without FIRM and STEADY and METICULOUS control in doing so can lead to your table’s legs and apron twisting just enough that one of your joints could snap, followed by flowery language and inner pain. This is a good reason to design removable legs. Otherwise, mortise and tenon would be a stronger joint as noted by others above. Building without fasteners will certainly be challenging. Looking forward to your final design!

-- Perfection is the difference between too much and not enough.

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 2686 days

#9 posted 05-08-2013 09:27 PM

Apart from the engineering issues already mentioned, I notice the top has 6 boards. In my opinion, table tops look better with an odd number of boards in a glue-up.

-- Brian Timmons -

View redSLED's profile


790 posts in 2093 days

#10 posted 05-08-2013 09:35 PM

^ I actually agree with the odd number of boards looking better issue – though I can’t explain it. Could be a higher brain functioning aesthetic thing.

-- Perfection is the difference between too much and not enough.

View derosa's profile


1577 posts in 3036 days

#11 posted 05-08-2013 10:16 PM

What I was trying to explain is that the legs terminate in dovetails rather then through tennons. You have the keys cut into the outside pices of the top so that the center of the top is sitting in place and the sides of the top push onto the tennons and are then glued to the center portion of the top. If you could get it all lined up up properly the top would have the 4 dovetails hidden in it and be just one top. I’ve wanted to do this to stump the curious on how it was assembled but I’m not that good at being precise yet. Big thing with the idea is having enough space for the dovetails to slide but not enough that they’re visible when the top is flipped.

-- --Rev. Russ in NY-- A posse ad esse

View joeyinsouthaustin's profile


1294 posts in 2273 days

#12 posted 05-08-2013 10:51 PM

I have used a double apron with knobbed dowels to make a removable table top connection without fasteners. Imagine an inner and outer apron… the inner could be through tennoned to the table top, and connections made with unglued, loose Mort and tennon joint, Leave a little room at the shoulder to mortise joint for expansion. this apron will expand and contract with the top. cut the through tenons in the pieces of the apron that has grain running in the same direction only. Then, from the inside only (if you don’t want them to be seen) you can use 4 dowels (i cut mine with knobs on the end so they could be pulled out) to Pin the inner apron to the outer apron that is dove tailed, or m n t to the legs. with good joints and proper wood selection, you could make this table without fasteners or glue, and be able to disassemble it for moving.

-- Who is John Galt?

View MostlyHarmless's profile


21 posts in 3094 days

#13 posted 05-08-2013 10:52 PM

I’m under the impression that buttons are plugs that are raised above the surface. Are you saying to attach the rails to the tabletop with dowels then hide the dowels with buttons?

Wow, this is a great point I hadn’t considered. My design has the ability to take the legs off, by removing the pins that hold the dovetail joint in place vertically. But I’ll probably want to change the design a bit so that the rails can stay attached to the tabletop when the legs come off.

This is something I never would have thought of. It should be easy enough to setup an odd number of boards.

I get it! Wow thats really clever for a “how’d he do it” type project. Which isn’t exactly what I was going for with this, but this early in the design, maybe I will.

Again, I appreciate the feed back. I’m still curious though about the amount of expansion that could be expected using a thick varnish on hardwood with a table that is only for indoors. I’m only curious because my table design was inspired by this table I saw at Crate & Barrel Looking at it in the store, it was impressive the craftsmanship used to create it, but wouldn’t it also suffer from expansion issues?

-- If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.

View derosa's profile


1577 posts in 3036 days

#14 posted 05-08-2013 11:44 PM

no, if you look there are visible gaps at the legs so the top is probably attached to the aprons and can move freely between the legs. Look at the gaps in the 5th picture which are larger where they need to worry about movement vs. the second pic where movement is less of a concern. You only need to account for a 1/16 of an inch, rough guess, between the sides but your design doesn’t allow for it. Now if you have the through mortices on the alt corners as someone else I believe suggested and a matched set of fake ones on the opposite corners that would allow for movement while possibly still having the table fixed to the legs tightly enough to lift the table by the top.

-- --Rev. Russ in NY-- A posse ad esse

View derosa's profile


1577 posts in 3036 days

#15 posted 05-09-2013 12:44 AM

For the appearance of no fasteners you could mortise 3/4 of the way through the top where the legs are, attach with screws and then put in a piece that makes it look like a through tenon. Just make the screw hole elongated and use a washer so the head can’t pull through.

-- --Rev. Russ in NY-- A posse ad esse

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