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Walnut Coffee Table

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Walnut Coffee Table

Simple joinery allows time to add cool design details.

By Tim Johnson

I like traditional joinery, and I enjoy working with hand tools. But I also like completing a project without having it drag on because the joinery is labor intensive. This table has all the earmarks of a traditional heirloom: beautiful hardwood, classic proportions and solid construction. And you can build it in a weekend.

What's the secret? Instead of using traditional joinery to build it, I used pocket screws, a contemporary jointmaking method. I discovered pocket screw joinery years ago, while designing a coffee table project that featured haunched mortise-and-tenon joints,web frame structure, and dovetailed drawers. To work out the design details, I built a prototype using pocket screws.The prototype went together amazingly fast, and it was solid as a rock.The table you see here descends directly from that discovery.

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Pocket screw joinery is definitely blue collar: It won't win any aesthetic awards, but it does a good job with minimal fuss. If you can fit a butt joint, you can master this method.Of course, butt joints are notoriously weak, so reinforcing them is nothing new—dowels, splines, biscuits and loose tenons serve the same purpose.To give pocket hole joinery a go, you'll need a pocket screw jig, a specialized drill bit and pocket screws.


Use your best-looking boards for the top. You can save money by using #1 Common lumber for this project, because all of the pieces are relatively short and narrow.

Click any image to see a larger version.


Make the drawer and its frame from a single oversize board. First, rip the board into three pieces.Next, crosscut the middle piece to create the drawer front. Locate the drawer ends by marking from a centerline.


Glue the board back together, using the unglued drawer front as a spacer. Bevel-rip this assembly to width along with the other aprons. Measure from the centerline to locate the ends for cutting to length..


Saw tapers on two adjacent sides of each leg. Remove the saw marks by sanding, jointing or hand planing.


Tilt the tablesaw blade to match the taper. All the beveled cuts for this project are made at this angle.


Bevel both edges when you rip the aprons to width. Bevel one edge with the board face side down and the other edge with the board face side up, so both bevels slope in the same direction.


Assemble the legs and aprons with pocket screw joinery. A pocket screw jig positions the workpiece and guides the drill bit, which automatically drills a counterbored shank hole.


Fasten the aprons so they follow the slope of the tapered legs.Use spacers to create the 1/8" setback. Make sure the top edges are flush. Reinforce the joints with glue.


Install the bottom rail support with glue and pocket screws. To fit the sloping rails, this piece is beveled on the front edge and both ends. Allow the glue to tack-set before driving the screws.


Install the drawer supports with glue and pocket screws. A special clamp holds the joint flush while you install the screws. Follow the same procedures to install the top rail support and the drawer kickers.


Cut the front end of the drawer sides at an angle, so the drawer front will slope to match the apron, which slopes to match the tapered leg.


Fasten the top after centering the base and clamping it in position.


















This story originally appeared in American Woodworker October/November 2009, issue #144.

October/November, Issue #144

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