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AW Extra - Café Table



Café Table

Transform rugged Australian jarrah into a graceful outdoor table.

by Tom Caspar

Picture yourself at a small, round café table with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. The world goes by along a busy boulevard. People are hurrying about their business, but you’re an island of calm in a crazy world. Although your backyard may not be quite that busy, you can enjoy the same tranquillity with this outdoor table.

This table is just the right size for one person to spread out the Sunday paper, or for two people to have lunch. It has three feet instead of four, so it sits firmly on an uneven deck or terrace. It has a turned central column instead of legs, so you can comfortably stretch out your legs.

The table is made from jarrah, a weatherproof wood from Australia that’s strong and durable. White oak would be a good alternative. Total material costs are about $500.

The table consists of four major parts: the top and cleats, made from 6/4 lumber, and the column and base, made from 8/4. Tackle the bottom half first, beginning with the column.


The column

The column is made from four pieces, with a cavity between them that houses a threaded rod. Cut all four pieces a bit longer than the finished length of the column. Orient the two largest pieces so their heart sides (the sides nearest the center of the tree) face away from each other (Fig. B). This keeps the glue joints tight if the boards cup, since most boards cup away from the heart.

Use a weatherproof glue, such as Franklin’s Titebond II, for all the joints in this table. Spread it on the column pieces with a small paint roller and clamp with moderate pressure (Photo 1). Let it dry overnight. Then take the blank to the bandsaw to slim down the central section before turning (Fig. B).

Add four short pieces of wood to the top and bottom of the column to increase its diameter. The growth rings of these pieces should go the same direction as the wood that they’re glued to. Cut off the outside corners of the four pieces at 45˚ before gluing them on. This makes the column easier to turn. After the glue is dry, stand the column up on end and split off the square corners of the large blank to finish making each end an octagon.

Any good lathe can handle this large turning, but the machine must have a sturdy base. Jarrah is heavy! Sandbags on the base’s shelf will help dampen vibration. Run your lathe at its lowest speed as you rough out the column. Once you’ve made a cylinder, use a parting tool to cut down to the diameter of the central shaft in a few places (Photo 2). Then part to the diameter of the narrow ring that separates the cove and bead. Cut the ends of the column to length with the parting tool as well. Leave a 1" dia. stub while making each end slightly concave (Photo 2). Then complete the turning and sand it on the lathe.


The base

Cut the base from a glued-up blank. To figure out the least amount of wood you need for the blank, draw a full-size pattern of the base onto a piece of paper. If you make the blank the size suggested here, draw the pattern directly on it, and use the waste for the feet. In any case, here’s a way to save yourself some work: trim the end of the center piece straight and square before gluing up the blank. Now you have a finished surface onto which you’ll attach one of the feet.

Use a shop-made trammel to lay out the base (Fig. C). You can make a trammel that’s accurate enough for this project out of a 2' length of 3/4" square stock, a pencil, and a sharpened 8d nail (Fig. C). Drill a hole for the pencil near one end. The pencil must fit snugly. Drill three smaller holes for the nail, to make 9", 15-3/8", and 19" radius circles. Hammer the nail into each hole, as needed.

Draw the corners directly onto the base. Use a tablesaw to cut the blank, using a 24" square piece of plywood as a sled to hold the work (Photo 3). Align one edge of the plywood with the layout line for a corner, clamp the plywood in place, and run in three screws to attach the plywood to the base. (The screws go in the middle, so the holes will be covered by the column.) Set the saw’s rip fence to the size of the plywood square. Then, cut the blank exactly on the layout line. Reposition the plywood for the third corner and repeat the process.

Lay out the large concave curves of the base with a bent bow (Photo 4). Cut the curves on a bandsaw and clean them up with a belt sander or half-round file and scraper.


The feet

Each of the three feet is glued-up from two blocks of 8/4 stock. Cut the mortise for the loose tenon in the upper block with a plunge router (Photo 5). Bandsaw the end of the lower block, sand the curve, and glue the two parts of the foot together. Smooth the sides and cut the ogee curve on the bandsaw. File and sand the ogee.

Radius all the edges of the foot and base with a router, using a 3/16" round-over bit. Mill some 12" long blanks for the loose tenons. Round their sides with a 1/4" radius roundover bit to fit the ends of the mortises. Make up a two-piece clamping block for squeezing the feet onto the base (Photo 6). Build the block from pine and plywood.


The top

All wood expands and contracts with the cycle of the seasons. That’s why the top of this outdoor table is made of small units that are independently attached to a supporting framework of cleats. Each unit is free to shrink and swell on its own.

The two halves of the outer ring are laid out, sawn, and glued-up first. Make a plywood pattern of one ring piece (Fig. F). Try the pattern on your rough lumber before deciding where to cut. Mill six blanks.

Miter one end of each ring piece. Mark the other end using the plywood pattern, and line up the mark with the kerf in your fence. Clamp an angled stop block onto the fence and saw all the opposite ends (Photo 7).

Trace the curves of the pattern onto the mitered pieces. Cut them on a bandsaw. Lay out the pieces in a ring and mark which ends get splines and which don’t. (There are no splines between the two halves.) Use a plunge router to make the mortises. Note that the mortises aren’t centered side to side. They’re offset away from the short grain of the curve. Glue three pieces into a half ring with one bar clamp (Photo 8). Smooth the sides and radius all the edges with a router.

Now you can figure out the dimensions of the top’s inner boards. Lay out the top, with spacers, and scribe around the inner edge of the ring with a compass set to 3/16" (Photo 9). Cut the boards on the bandsaw, smooth and radius all the edges. Counterbore the underside of the two middle boards for the bolt and washer.


The cleats and assembly

Five cleats support the top. One is connected to the column and the others support the middle of the rings. All have tapered ends. Counterbore the bottom of the main cleat to receive the washer. The main cleat is wide enough that allowance must be made for wood movement. Thus, half the holes for the lag screws are oval (see Fig. A). Assemble the tabletop upside down, with spacers, and lay the cleats on top of it. Pre-drill the holes for all the screws that will connect the cleats to the top. Screw down the four short cleats. Drill a 7/8" hole in the top of the column for the coupler. Drill 1/2" holes in the bottom of the column and base for the threaded rod.

The completed assembly will be very sturdy. Slip the washer and bolt through the main cleat, put another washer on the other side, and tighten down the coupler. Then, screw the cleat to the top boards. Screw the threaded rod into the coupler and slip the column and base over the rod. Rotate the base so the grain of the top runs the same direction as the grain of the base. Add a stiff Grade 8 washer and stainless steel nut, which won’t rust. You’ll have to turn this nut every few years to re-tighten the table.

Jarrah is such an attractive wood that you might want to put an outdoor oil finish on it to preserve the rich color. The drawback is that you will have to renew the finish every year or so. Left unfinished, the table will weather to a handsome silvery-gray color.

Click on each image to see a larger version.


1. Glue up 8/4 lumber to make the column. A cavity runs down the middle for a threaded rod that holds the table together. Blocks at the ends of the cavity will be used to mount the column on the lathe.


2. Even up the ends of the column and make them slightly concave with a parting tool.This concave end will always sit tight on the base.


3. Cut the corners of the base on a tablesaw, using a plywood sled.To set up the cut, place one edge of a plywood square along the layout line and screw the plywood to the base.The saw fence is set to the width of the square. Saw guard removed for photo clarity. Use yours!


4. Follow the curve of a bent bow to finish laying out the base.Make the bow from two strips held together with duct tape. A notched bar creates the arc.


5. Rout mortises into the ends of the base. Loose tenons will join the feet and base together.


6. Glue the foot onto the base using a clamping block. The block won’t split under pressure if it’s made of two pieces: a thin piece of plywood screwed and glued to an ogee-shaped piece of pine.


7. Cut 60-degree miters on six ringsegment blanks.Two miter gauges spanned by a fence make a rigid jig. Each miter gauge was set up with a plastic drafting triangle. Saw guard removed for photo clarity. Use yours!


8. Tighten one bar clamp to glue up the ring. Stop blocks clamped to a stiff board keep the ring from spreading under pressure.


9. Scribe the gap between the inner boards and the rings with a compass. Spacers keep the gaps uniform during layout. All the parts of the top will be supported by stout cleats.



(Note: This information may have changed since the story's original publication date.)

Penofin Marine Oil Finish,, 800-736-6346, exterior oil finish.

Timber Holdings Ltd.,, 414-445-8989, Jarrah.


Click on each image to see a larger version.


Fig. A: Exploded View


Click on each image to see a larger version.


Cutting List


Fig. B: The Column Blank

Fig. C: The Base


Fig. D: Sliding Router Jig

Fig. E: The Foot


Fig. F: Ring Template


Fig. H: The Cleats


Fig. J: Ring Mortise Details


Fig. K: Cleat Taper Details


This story originally appeared in 
American Woodworker June 1999, issue #73

June 1999, issue #73

Purchase this back issue.

Fig. G: Bolt and Rod Assembly