End-Grain End Tables – Part 2


End-Grain End Tables – Part 2:
Hendrik Varju combines simple robust joinery and a few minimalist details to complete the work on a pair of matching end tables.

Hendrik Varju combines simple robust joinery and a few minimalist details to complete the work on a pair of matching end tables

The base of this table design is, visually, very simple – three tapered legs and two aprons. Yet there are some interesting techniques involved, including dowel joinery and decorative cherry (Prunus serotina) strips glued to the apron faces. Sometimes a simpler design is difficult to build because there is nowhere to hide if you make a mistake.

Making the leg blanks
I started by milling stock for the legs and face gluing the boards to make the fairly bulky leg blanks. I always orient growth rings on the end grain with a ‘butterfly’ pattern to improve stability should the moisture content drop in future – a common event in this part of Canada. The theory being that the outer edges of the two boards would be drawn closer together should any movement occur. It’s a good idea to remove any machine marks from the gluing surfaces with a hand plane before applying any glue. The hollows or indents on the surface are areas of compression of the wood fibres and can expand when they come into contact with adhesive Using a double row of clamps for an assembly of this size allows you to generate even clamping pressure across the entire mating surface, which will minimise the appearance of a glue line. 

Take a moment to mark the ends of the boards to identify their correct orientation

Bulletproof dowel joinery
After remilling the leg blanks and cutting to length, the aprons could also be made quite simply before moving on to the joinery. While I love mortise and tenon joinery, sometimes dowels are more than adequate and I don’t think anyone can argue that they’re not strong enough in this application, especially when I used 10 dowels per joint! I could have easily used just five but the apron thickness allowed room for a double row, easily accomplished with my Dowelmax dowelling jig. I often joke with my clients that if their house ever collapses in a tornado the only thing still standing might be a piece of furniture that I built for them! In fact, these tables might even hold the roof up, saving a few people inside. This table base involves just four joints in total – three where the legs meet the aprons and one T-joint where the two aprons meet. Each leg is a little vulnerable, having only one joint instead of two as in a normal four-legged table, so it’s better to make the joints super strong.

Wooden spacers allow the jig to be positioned at varying distances from the reference edge

Alternate their position in the stack to offset the location of the holes without swapping reference edge

Removing the sharp edge from the top of the dowel hole will aid assembly

The Rack Stop from Lee Valley helps maintain even clamping pressure on a wide jaw vise

Levelling the Dowelmax jig on end grain joints helps to promote accurate drilling

Note the same reference edge is being used for each component

Note the same reference edge is being used for each component

The Dowelmax jig has ample clamping area to secure it in place for drilling

Set a consistent height for your dowels with a depth stop block

Use a square to ensure a 90° angle between components

Carry out a partial dry fit of the components before final assembly

Cherry strip detail
While the basic design is quite simple, I wanted to include a sort of cherry inlay at the bottom of the aprons on the visible sides (the back side of these demi-lune tables go up against the end of a couch). However,
this ‘inlay’ is really more like a raised bead. I glued them into 3mm-deep rabbets but they are 6mm thick. So they sit proud by 3mm. There is a 3mm roundover profile at both the top and bottom, so the order of operations was quite important.
I started by routing the rabbets into the aprons on my router table. I debated for some time whether the rabbet on the long apron should be stopped where the short apron rabbets would meet it. But I decided a through rabbet would be easier than hand chiselling at the stop point. That left a tiny exposed area on the underside of the aprons, which was easily filled with a small piece of beech custom fit, glued in and then trimmed with a flush trim saw and block plane.
I first made the cherry strips, leaving them extra long and slightly wider than the rabbets. I cut mitres on one end where they would meet at the ‘T’ joint of the two aprons but left the other end long. Then I routed the 3mm roundover profile on the top edge of the strips before gluing them into the rabbets. Of course, the strips had to be properly sanded, as well as the front face of the aprons, before the strips were glued in. Sanding inside corners after assembly is to be avoided. 

The gap in the through rabbet requires filling

A slither of beech fills the gap

The inlays were glued into place before assembling the T joint

Feather guides are the safest and most accurate means of shaping small stock on the router table

A single rabbet is easier to machine than a stopped version

Plan ahead about joining table top to base
I also used a Forstner bit on the drill press to drill three shallow holes for figure 8 clips to attach the table top later. This was easier to do now before assembly. Remember that an end grain table top expands and contracts in both width and length (but not in thickness), so figure 8 clips work well in this application. The fixings effectively pivot around the two screws to the components are free to move independently of each other. Notice that drilling holes in the tops of the aprons for these clips means they are technically visible from the front view of the table. I considered burying the clips in a larger recess routed into the table tops instead. But when I realised that the clips, as I’ve done them, could not be seen even from 6 metres away while in the squatted position, I knew this wasn’t a real issue. I opted for the quickest and easiest route that served my goal.

Use a Forstner bit to create the rebate for the fixing

Allow sufficient clearance for the fixing to rotate

Gluing, trimming, planing and routing
From there I could glue the strips into the rabbets using multiple light duty clamps. The strips stuck out beyond the ends of the aprons, so I later trimmed them off with a Veritas flush trim saw and low angle block plane. Finally, the two aprons could be glued to each other and left to dry.
At this point, the cherry strips were still slightly proud of the underside of the T-shaped apron structure. I considered using a flush trim router bit to do most of this work, but in the end my standard angle block plane proved to be more than suitable. If you’ve ever hand planed the face of a mitred picture frame, this was similar except that you reference the plane sole off the aprons like you would when trimming edge banding. You just have to be careful about grain direction, particularly at the mitres, to avoid tear-out. The work went swimmingly.
Once trimmed, I could rout the 3mm roundovers onto the bottom edge of the cherry strips using my Bosch Colt palm router. The router bit couldn’t cut right into the inside corner of the ‘T’, so I had to trim this by hand. A smallish bench chisel held bevel down carved this out nicely, followed by a bit of sanding for final smoothing. A good bit of work here for a seemingly simple T-shaped structure. As they say, the devil is in the details.

Leg tapering done simply
I drilled the dowel holes in the legs earlier while they were still square, but it was time to taper the legs as well. The rear legs are tapered only on the two ‘inside’ faces. This is a 16mm-deep taper at the bottom and it begins 6mm below the aprons. I always start my tapers below the aprons in case I cut them slightly too high up the leg. Any cut beyond the bottom edge of the aprons would result in an unsightly gap.
The middle or front leg is tapered on three sides – all but the front face. I originally planned to make all three tapers 16mm deep, but I decided to cut that deep only on the rear face while I cut the left and right faces only 8mm deep. This left the leg with a square profile at the bottom identical to the rear legs. I suspected this might look better, so I cut my first leg that way (I made two tables at the same time) and was immediately convinced it was the right decision. This example shows the pitfalls of designing on paper and hoping to predict how the project will look in real life. So a minor redesign was in order here and a quick email to Derek Jones meant the drawing in Part 1 of this article would reflect the change.
This jig is easy to use and will cut any taper angle on any number of sides with just a few simple pencil lines on the leg to guide you. If these legs were slightly thicker I’d have to use a similar jig on my bandsaw, but my tablesaw just managed the cuts. It can cut 80mm deep but you have to include the 12mm birch ply base of the jig.
After cutting the tapers, I ran them over the jointer to clean up the saw cuts, sometimes cutting the top of the leg first and sometimes the bottom of the leg first, depending on grain direction. As long as your push pads remain over the tapered part of the leg and not the untapered top end everything works out beautifully.

This tapering jig uses the saw’s fence for reference…

…and requires the leg to be positioned at the correct angle

Use pressure pad as well as a push stick to smooth the tapers on the jointer

Check the grain direction on each component to avoid tear-out

Sanding and final assembly
The legs needed to be properly sanded before final assembly and I can’t tell you how much I despise this step! You always think you’re nearly done and then you find that several hours are required to do the job right. I had six legs to sand for two tables (120 grit, 150, 180 and then 220), so it takes time. The success of your finish, though, depends on your sanding regime, so there are no shortcuts here. Also, be careful not to sand much in the untapered parts of the leg so as not to introduce convex shapes where the aprons will meet the legs. Final assembly was straightforward, especially with my son, Noah, willing to help. I carefully loaded the dowel holes with glue using the glue bottle nozzle and a smaller diameter dowel rod while my son hammered the dowels home. He likes to hammer on things for some reason!

The finish line
A day or two of drying time to allow the glue to really harden in the joints and I was ready for finishing. I could write another article on that alone, as finishing by brush is quite an art form. Suffice it to say that I applied three coats of oil-based varnish to the base and somewhere closer to six or seven coats on the table tops. It takes a few coats on the end grain surface just to stop up the pores of the wood when not using a paste grain filler. After a couple of coats, I started wet sanding with 320 or 400 grit wet dry sandpaper between every coat, finishing off with 600 grit wet sanding at the end to remove any final dust nibs. A final rubbing out with fine synthetic steel wool and a coat of paste wax gives the tables a luxurious feel. I often rub out table tops, especially larger ones, by cutting a round of synthetic steel wool for my random orbit sander, operated on low speed. It works wonders.

Final surface finishing the top

I hope you’ll agree that this design is quite pleasing to the eye and will look fantastic at the end of a couch. Because I have two of them, they can also be pulled into the centre of the room and oriented to form a full circle, serving as a makeshift cocktail table for guests. While they look simple, there is considerable skill involved in some of the steps, so be ready for a bit more work than you anticipated.


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