While I do like to make things, I’ve not spent much time making things out of wood aside from a few workbenches or small shelves. So, clearly, I’d be able to make a nice piece of furniture out of expensive walnut using joinery techniques I know nothing about, right?
We moved into a new house a year or two ago and my wife wanted a nice entryway table. She showed me a few pieces she liked and I said “That’s so expensive and it looks really simple. I could totally make that.” However, the only tool I had was a cordless drill, a circular saw, and an orbital sander. So I also said that I’d need at least a table saw and a router to do the project. That means I got an early Christmas gift of a DeWalt 7485 table saw (with a stand), and then I picked up a Kobalt router and router table. This was early November and I’m writing this post in May – I’ll let you decide if she regretted her decision.
YouTube to the rescue
Since I was pretty inexperienced at woodworking, I did what everyone does nowadays when they need to learn a new skill – watch 1,000s of hours of YouTube videos. I’ll say that I wouldn’t have been able to do this project without the knowledge shared on YouTube by Tamar from 3×3 Customs, Jason from Bourbon Moth, Keith Johnson Custom Woodworking, and Jonathan Katz-Moses. They’re all amazing creators – check them out. I’ll also say that watching 1,000s of hours of YouTube videos makes you an expert…at watching YouTube videos. The magic of video editing makes everything look so easy – especially when you have the right tool or jig for the job which I don’t always have.
Projects before the project
Before I could even get started on the project, I knew I needed a couple of other things to make the project easier. I needed a workbench that would also serve as an outfeed table for my table saw. And I needed to make a crosscut sled since I didn’t have a miter saw. I used some 2x4s and plywood I had laying around to make the workbench. Nothing fancy here – just a table I could work off of. For the crosscut sled, I bought Tamar’s multi-function crosscut sled plans. I haven’t added the t-tracks or the extension yet, but will definitely add that in the future.
Now that I had (almost) all the tools I needed, I could go buy some wood. We decided on walnut because we liked the look of it when finished and knew it’d look nice with the rest of the furniture in our house. Before I could buy the wood I had to figure out how much I needed first. For the frame pieces, I knew I wanted those to be about 1.75″ square so those pieces would need to come from 8/4 stock. I wanted the top to be about an inch thick, and the slats should be about 3/4″ thick. I figured the total length I’d need for all the pieces and got a rough idea of the board feet needed for each type of stock I’d need.
Once I had that, I set off to one of the local lumberyards that had what I’d need. I chose one that had some reviews mentioning how helpful they were because I’d only bought wood like this once and hoped they could help double-check my math on how much wood I’d need. Luckily for me, they were super helpful and agreed that I had figured the correct amount of wood needed. I wanted to buy S3S (surfaced on three sides) boards since I didn’t have a planer or jointer. I (incorrectly) thought that this meant that I’d be getting flat, straight boards at a consistent thickness. I dug through their stacks of walnut boards trying to get good boards with attractive grain. I ended up buying a few extra boards so I’d have some options later on and some extra in case I messed something up (spoiler alert – I did).
The project begins
After I got home with my giant pile of money – I mean walnut, I started planning which pieces I’d cut out of which boards. I was going to work on the frame first so I ripped my 8/4 stock into square strips before cutting them to their rough length. In hindsight, I probably should have reversed this process. Some of my cuts were, let’s just say “less than straight.” So I think that cutting to rough length first would have made it easier to rip the frame pieces. Eh, lesson learned.
Now that I had my frame pieces cut to rough length, I could start figuring out how to cut a mortise and tenon joint with the tools I had. I used a 1/4″ spiral compression bit from Bits & Bits to rout out the mortises on my router table. I clamped a piece of plywood as a secondary fence on my router table so I could reliably cut the width of the mortises then made some marks on the plywood on where to stop for the height. This felt a bit sketchy but this was my first time using a router table (or a router). I’m sure there’s a better way to do this, but that’s what I came up with. The bit I was using allowed me to plunge into the wood so that made it pretty easy to get started and gradually add depth in multiple passes.
Because my stock was square, the size the tenons needed to be meant that the mortises would meet on the inside. Again, I’ve never done this type of joinery before so I was just sort of figuring things out as I went. I used my table saw to cut the tenons using multiple passes to remove material from the shoulders. I used a pull saw to cut the 45s on the ends of the tenons where they’d meet inside the mortises.
If I were building this again, I’d maybe do a half lap on them instead of the 45s. I spent a lot of time trying to refine that angled edge so that the joint would fully seat. I think it would have been easier to cut the tenon to the full depth of the mortise and then only have to worry about making two straight cuts for the half lap.
Everything was coming along nicely until my wife pointed out that the frame wasn’t long enough. Apparently, we’d had a conversation about the overall size of the table and I just forgot about it. Not saying the conversation didn’t happen – I’m sure it did – I just ended up making the table like 6 or 8 inches too short. The extra 8/4 stock I bought really came in handy since I had to make two longer aprons and two longer stretchers. Are those the right terms? Anyway, it was the four longest parts of the frame that I had to re-make.
Once I finally had the frame made (at the correct size), I did a dry fit to make sure everything came together nicely. It did. Then I sanded all of the frame pieces up to 180 grit before I glued everything together. That took forever.
The frame glue-up was a bit stressful. I don’t even remember how I assembled it during the glue-up, but I think I did the back laying flat, then added the side pieces, then the front legs, then the long pieces on the front. I 3d printed some strap clamp corners so I could use a ratchet strap I had to go around the bottom joints. The strap wasn’t quite long enough so I just used two quick clamps to bridge the extra length. Definitely not ideal, but it seemed to get enough pressure.
Once the frame was glued, I moved on to the slats. Crap. How am I going to attach the slats to the frame? I wanted them to sit flush with the top of the frame – not on top of the frame. I had some extra wood from the slats so, since this was a learning experience for me, I decided to make little walnut brackets that I’d attach with two maple dowel pins. Then I’d secure the slats to the brackets with a single screw from the bottom side.
I had 8 slats so I made 16 brackets and laid them out on the frame. Once I was happy with the spacing I drilled two holes in each one with a 3/8″ Forstner bit. Then I cut 32 dowels and glued them into the brackets. Once the glue was dry I cut them as flush as I could with my pull saw and cleaned the rest of it up with my sander.
Next up – the top panel. Now, I’ve never done a panel glue-up before and I was nervous because 1) I didn’t have a jointer or planer, and 2) remember how I said that I thought that 3S3 meant that I’d be getting flat, straight boards that were a consistent thickness? Yeah, they weren’t really any of those things.
Once I decided on how I wanted the boards arranged for the panel, I needed to trim a few inches off the width of each board to get them to the correct width. My cuts on the table saw this time around were straighter than I did with my 8/4 material but still not perfect. After cutting everything, I still had a few gaps so I tried to correct that with a bit of sanding. I think it helped a little? Either way, I was able to close the remaining gaps with moderate clamping pressure. Since the boards weren’t exactly the same height, I borrowed a biscuit joiner from my dad so I could get some help keeping the boards aligned while I glued them together.
Oh, one of the boards had a check that I couldn’t fully get rid of so I stabilized and filled it with some brown CA glue. I wanted to do that before gluing the panel together because the board was already a consistent width at the check and I didn’t want anything weird happening when I clamped it.
Applying the finish
After getting the panel glued up, I went back through all my pieces and filled any holes or knots with the brown CA glue and re-sanded where necessary. At this point, everything was sanded to 180 grit. I had my frame, 4 angled support pieces (for the sides), 2 angled support pieces (for the back), the slats, and the top panel. It was time to apply the finish! I chose Rubio Monocoat Pure because it looks amazing on walnut and is pretty simple to apply. Wipe it on. Wait a few minutes, and wipe it off with a clean towel. It doesn’t leave “lap marks” if you ever need to make a repair either.
I applied finish to the frame first and moved it to an extra bedroom inside the house once it had dried. Once I had the frame out of the way, I had enough room to lay out all the rest of my pieces and apply the finish.
After everything was dry, it was finally time to assemble the table! The slats were pretty easy – I just figured out what the spacing needed to be and then pre-drilled a hole through the bracket and slat, added a countersink to the hole, and put in a single screw.
I hadn’t fully decided how I was going to attach the angled support pieces yet, though. I had thought about screws from both the top and bottom but ended up deciding on using dowels again. I did the sides first since they were smaller, the angle wasn’t as steep, and they were easier to clamp. Just clamped them in place, making sure they were lined up with the frame, drilled holes for the dowels, and then glued them in the holes.
The back frame pieces weren’t quite as easy to clamp because the angle was more extreme. I ended up having to make a caul so I could keep the piece in place while I drilled the holes. I definitely made a mistake here by clamping it with too much force and ended up bowing the apron up in the back. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice it until I went to put the top on later. I’m not really sure how to fix it so it’s staying like that for now. I guess if I could just drill out the dowel, let the bow out, fill the old hole with a new dowel (it’s under the top – it’ll never be seen), then drill a new hole.
I bought some adjustable feet to put on the legs so I put those on. This is just to protect the legs from being banged up by moving the table around and to account for any unevenness in our wood floor. The table itself wasn’t wobbly where I first put it in the house, but I’m glad I put the feet on because when I moved it to the final location there was a slight wobble. That was easily fixed with just a couple of turns on one of the feet.
To attach the top panel I used figure 8 fasteners. They were pretty easy to install. Mounted them to the frame first, making sure to angle the ones on the long sides to allow for wood movement of the top panel. Then I brought the table inside to install the top panel which just needed 8 screws for the other side of the figure 8 fasteners.
I bought the wood on December 28th and installed the top panel on May 2nd. I wasn’t working on it every night – more like once or twice every other week or so, but still, it took forever. Overall I’m extremely happy with it (other than the slight bow) and, most importantly, my wife loves it so maybe I’ll get to build something else in the future.
- 8/4 Walnut
- 4/4 Walnut
- 3/4 Walnut
- Maple dowel rods
- Titebond II wood glue
- Starbond brown CA glue and accelerator spray
- Rubio Monocoat – Pure
Tools I used
- Table Saw
- Router and router table
- Cordless drill
- Biscuit joiner
- Pull saw
- Random orbital sander
- Sanding blocks
- Pipe clamps
- F style clamps
- Quick clamps
- Strap clamp
- Forstner bits