Woodworking Projects

Oval side table

Photo (left): Thomas Throop

Synopsis: With its X-shaped rails and stretchers joined with half-laps, oval top, and tapered legs, this contemporary table captures an overall sense of lightness while not sacrificing strength and stability. The feet, rails, and stretchers are also curved, adding to the design’s visual interest. Thomas Throop explains how to taper the legs, cut the shouldered half-laps and the rest of the joinery, and assemble the table.

When I designed this side table, I was aiming for something straightforward yet still somewhat unexpected. I have always been fond of half-lap, or halving joints, and I decided to give the table’s base X-shaped rails and stretchers that would be joined with half-laps where they crossed. A rectangular top might have been visually awkward with this configuration; going with an oval instead seemed like a natural solution. I often include tapered elements in my designs, which can control visual weight and movement in a piece. Here I designed a leg that is wider and thicker at the bottom to help ground the piece while still maintaining an overall sense of lightness. And to enhance the upward movement of the taper I added an incised vertical line at the center of the leg. At the foot I included some curves to reduce the visual weight down there and produce a more dynamic stance that ties in with the oval top and shelf. To complete the composition, the rails and stretchers needed to be curved too. The rails, bowing upward from center to ends, echo the oval top, while the stretchers, bowing the opposite way, create more lift in concert with the feet. I’ve made this table in a variety of woods; this time I made the base of walnut and the top and shelf of bubinga.

Legs first

cutting mortises for the table rails and stretchers Mortises first. Throop cuts the mortises for the rails and stretchers with the workpiece still square. Then he bandsaws the taper into the front face of the leg.

The legs taper two ways—they are wider at the bottom, but also thicker there. With the leg blanks still square, I marked both tapers, then marked the mortises. After chopping the mortises on my hollow-chisel mortiser, I moved to the bandsaw to cut the taper in the leg’s thickness. In order to keep the joinery simple where the rails and stretchers meet the leg, I tapered only the outside face of the leg. I smoothed the bandsawn surface with a few light passes over the jointer.

With the leg tapered in thickness but still full width, I detailed the front side with a centered V-groove running top to bottom. I did this at the tablesaw with the blade tilted at 45° and set to cut about 1⁄16 in. deep. The V-groove then became my reference line as I laid out the rest of the shaping of the leg—the taper in its width and the curves at the foot. I cut to those lines at the bandsaw, then cleaned up the tapers on the jointer and the curves at the bench with hand tools.

fitting half lap joint Well-fitted half laps. Having cut the second slot slightly tight, Throop uses a few strokes of a shoulder plane to achieve a perfect fit.

Half-lapped rails and stretchers

The next step was to cut and fit the tenons on the rail and stretcher blanks. I cut them at the tablesaw with a dado stack and a miter gauge. I set up the dado blade to cut less than the full length of the tenon; for a 1-in. tenon I use a dado stack 3/4 in. or less. This enabled me to cut each face of the tenon in two passes and use the rip fence as a stop.

After the tenons were complete, I cut the shouldered half-lap joints. I used the shouldered version because it helps keep the rails from twisting. I started by cutting the shallow dadoes for the shouldered section of the joint. I used a dado stack and the miter gauge, and again the width of the dado stack was less than the full width of the dado. To be sure the dado was perfectly centered in the length of the rail, I set a stop block on the miter gauge and cut each dado in two passes, flipping the rail end for end between them.

Tom Throop makes custom furniture in New Canaan, Conn.

Photos, except where noted: Jonathan Binzen; drawings: John Hartman

oval side table spread image

From Fine woodworking #298

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