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Two-Drawer Coffee Table


Two-Drawer Coffee Table

Pass-through drawers offer two-sided convenience.

By Tim Johnson

A coffee table isn’t just for coffee. It displays interesting reading and serves the Saturday night pizza. It hosts Scrabble games, labors under kids’ crafts and gives you a place to rest your feet. It’s a real workhorse that has to be well built and versatile.

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Our table is rock-solid, featuring mortise-and-tenon joints, splines, and dovetailed drawers. It’s also easy to build, because simple, shop-made jigs ensure perfect-fitting joints. Its two drawers act like four, because they open from both sides. A standard dovetail jig is all you need to make them. Rare-earth magnets work like magic as two-way drawer stops.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Use your best boards for the top. Choose ’em and use ’em right away, so you don’t get caught short later. Cauls above and below keep the boards aligned and flat during glue-up. Use a non-marring mallet to make minor adjustments.

Plunge-rout the mortises, using the router’s depth-stop turret to increase the depth of each pass. If you have a variable-speed router, you’ll get a smoother cut if you slow it down by about a third. Start/stop marks let you cut the mortises without stop blocks.

Square the ends of the mortises, using a block clamped on the layout line to guide the chisel.

Center a wide dado in the top of each leg, using a shop-made tenoning jig. Make two passes, one on each opposing face, so the shoulders are the same thickness.

Taper the two mortised faces. Clamp the leg with one mortised face toward the blade and the other face down on the tapering jig. After cutting the first taper, rotate the leg clockwise to cut the second taper.

Cut shoulders in the aprons with the blade set to leave 1/4-in. remaining in the center. You can use both the miter gauge and rip fence for this operation because you’re not making a through cut.

Cut apron tenon cheeks using the tenoning jig. Set the blade height to score the tenon shoulder. Then adjust the tenon’s thickness with the rip fence. Make two passes, one on each side of the apron.

Finish sawing the tenons with a coping saw or on the bandsaw. Be careful with your layout to make sure the haunches are properly located.

Glue the side assemblies. Brush hide glue on the walls of the mortises and on the tenon cheeks. Use blocks to distribute the pressure when you clamp things together.

Cut the rails’ tenon shoulders simultaneously. Gang them together in pairs, one upper and one lower, and make sure they’re precisely mated when you make the cuts.

Cut half-lap shoulders on the inside faces of both upper rails. Use the same setup you just used to cut the tenon shoulders.

Cut half-lap cheeks on the inside faces of the upper rails, using the tenoning jig. Orient the rail so the offcut falls out of harm’s way.

Mark the inside shoulders of the two lower-rail tenons right from the mortises on the leg, after shortening the rail’s long tenon.

Fit the drawer dividers while the base is clamped together in a dry assembly. A shop-made gauge block that measures the width of the drawer opening lets you know when the dividers are the right length.

Screw the upper rails to the legs when you glue up the base. These open joints benefit from the mechanical assistance of screws.

Wooden splines perfectly align the runners and rails, just like a tongue-and-groove joint.

Slip the center drawer guide over the splines, and glue it to the dividers and the lower rail.

Dovetail the drawers, using a standard jig. They’re sized so you’ll end up with half-pins at the top and bottom of the drawer fronts.

Carefully positioned rare-earth magnets stop the drawers dead center, so you can shut them from either side.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker February 2002, issue #92.

February 2002, issue #92

Purchase this back issue.