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Greene and Greene-Style Side Table

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Greene and Greene-Style Side Table

By Tim Johnson

Why make an ordinary table when you can make this elegant one instead? The difference is in the details. That’s the genius behind the furniture of Charles and Henry Greene, California architects and furniture designers active during the first quarter of the 20th century. Through thoughtfully designed details, they combined the flowing, organic curves found in traditional Chinese furniture with the hard-edged lines and pronounced joints of the popular Arts and Crafts style.

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8 Details: Transform an ordinary table

Protruding Joinery: Extending the ends of the stile and rail accentuates an ordinary slip joint.


Marble: A piece of marble adds beauty, color and texture without being visually dominant. It’s also a practical surface for drinks and plants.


Rounded Edges: The Greenes replaced sharp edges with rounded ones that are easy on the hands and eyes.


Lifts: Lifts break the monotony of a straight line with S-shaped transitions.


Carvings: Simple carvings done with ordinary bench chisels accent the lifts on the aprons.


Pronounced Pins: Pins, a hallmark of hand joinery, usually aren’t functional in Greene and Greene pieces. They’re purely decorative—made of ebony, square, left proud of the surface and gently rounded.

Joint Reveals: The edges of flush-fitting joints are rounded, creating shadow lines that catch the eye.


Tapered Legs: The subtle, inverted taper on the outside edges of the legs is virtually invisible, yet it’s responsible for the table’s graceful appearance. Square, untapered legs would look out of proportion—they’d either be too wide at the top or too narrow at the bottom. Tapering gives the base a firm stance while keeping the top of the leg proportionate to the understated overhang of the top.


Although this table isn’t a replica of a specific Greene and Greene piece, it incorporates many of the details they used—accentuated joinery, decorative pins, lifts and rounded edges. It’s made from walnut, one of several woods they favored. You’ll need at least 10 lineal feet of 2-in. square stock for the legs. It’s easiest to use 5/4 stock for all the other pieces—10 bd. ft.will be plenty.As on original Greene and Greene pieces, the pins are ebony.

The marble inset in the top is a 12-in.-square floor tile. Marble tiles are available at flooring stores. Have the marble in hand before you cut any of your lumber. Tiles can vary as much as 1/4-in. from the specified dimensions. You’ll have to change the lengths of the stiles and rails for the top and the aprons and stretchers for the bottom if your tile is not exactly 12 in. by 12 in.

 

Make the top

It’s easy to make the protruding ends that accentuate the top’s joinery. Just make the tenons longer and the slots deeper than the widths of the stiles and rails. Assemble the top pieces and mark the inside edges (they receive a smaller roundover). Then test the fit of the marble. The plan measurements allow 1/16-in. clearance for it. If you want a tighter fit, remove a bit more from the tenon shoulders and make the slots a bit deeper.

Mortise holes for the ebony pins in the top stiles and rails.You’ll need only two fence settings to cut all of these holes. Next, round over the ends of the rail tenons and the stile legs with a 3/16-in. radius bit.Use the same bit to round the outside edges of the stiles and rails, top and bottom. Create joint reveals between the stiles and rails by routing the rail shoulders and all top and bottom inside edges with a shortened 1/8-in. radius round-over bit. Then glue the top together. Make ebony pin blanks. Seat them with a hammer and a bit of glue, saw them off and round their tops.

 

Make the legs

Rout lifts at the bottom of adjacent inner sides of the leg blanks. Then taper the two outer sides.

Cut mortises for the haunched apron tenons on the two inner sides of each leg (the sides with lifts). First, using the tablesaw, cut stopped dadoes. They provide room for the haunch of the tenon and guide the bit when cutting the mortises.

These dadoes are parallel to the tapered side of the leg so the apron has a consistent reveal. The mortises for the stretchers are also parallel to the outside tapers, and have the same reveal as the aprons.

Mortise holes for the ebony pins. This time, position the legs with their straight inner sides against the fence.Level the faces using a tapered offcut, and protect the mortise cheeks with sacrificial plugs before cutting.Round the edges of the legs with the 3/16-in. radius bit. You’ll have to round the inside edges,where the lifts meet, by hand.

 

Make the aprons and stretchers

Prepare four blanks with tenons on both ends.Rout the lifts using a template. Add the carvings to the aprons.Round the bottom edges of the aprons and the top and bottom edges of the stretchers.

 

Assembly

Glue together two sides, each with two legs, an apron and a stretcher and install the ebony pins. Complete the glue-up, adding the remaining two aprons and stretchers. Then install the rest of the pins.Glue blocks on the insides of the aprons for the screws that hold the top.

Install the ledger strips for the marble, working from the underside of the top. Set the marble in place after the finish has cured. I used a glaze of burnt sienna and burnt umber over a seal coat of shellac, topcoated with varnish.


Cut mortises in the straight, untapered sides of the legs, using stopped dadoes to set and guide the bit. Make sure the leg’s two tapered sides are against the base and the fence.You’ll have to level the leg so the mortise is perpendicular. Use the scrap left from sawing the tapers for leveling, making sure it completely supports the leg. Cut the mortises for the stretchers the same way.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Saw tenon cheeks on the rails using a shop-made tenoning jig. Remove the waste with bandsaw cuts first. Then you can raise the tablesaw blade and clean the tenon cheek in one pass. Cut the slot mortises in the stiles with the same jig. CAUTION: This operation is difficult to do with the guard in place. Use extra care.


Square the tenon shoulders using a miter gauge with a stop block.The critical dimension on the rails is end-to-end between the shoulders. On the stiles it’s the distance between the slots.These dimensions must be slightly longer than the marble so it fits in place after the top is assembled. CAUTION:This operation is difficult to do with the guard in place. Use extra care.


Cut square holes for the pins with a 5/16-in. mortising chisel and bit. Space the pins evenly on a diagonal that starts at the end of the slot mortise. Mortise through the upper leg of the stile. Stop in the sacrificial tenon. It keeps the chisel and bit from blowing out the inside surface of the joint.


Hold the styles and rails upright to round the ends.To reduce the risk of blowout, always cut into the rotation of the bit. Clamp a piece of hardboard with a 1-in. hole on top of your router table to support these short pieces while routing.


To fit inside the slot between the legs of the stile you’ll need a bit with a 1/4-in. pilot.


Round the rail shoulders with a 1/8-in. radius bit. Shorten the bit slightly, by grinding the tip of the pilot, so it fits under the tenon.The inside edges of the stiles and rails also receive an 1/8-in. rounding.

When the top is assembled, these rounded edges create reveals at the joint between the stiles and rails and between the wood and the marble.


Saw square stock for the ebony pins from a single saw set-up. First, cut a kerf in the face side of the board.Then, with the board on its edge and the kerfed face against the fence, make a second pass. A featherboard and push stick are mandatory when cutting small parts.This shop-made push stick includes a stop that prevents the newly cut square blank from kicking back. CAUTION:This operation is difficult to do with the guard in place. Use extra care.


Saw the pins proud of the surface, after seating them in the glued-up top. Use a notched credit card as a spacer so all the pins are a consistent height.


Sand the pins by hand, leaving them rounded and slightly proud of the surface. Bear down with your fingertip on each side of the pin to cut down the edges and create the rounded shape.Tape protects the walnut from scratches.


Rout the leg lifts using a jig with a template and a router (outfitted with a 5/8-in.O.D. guide bushing and a 2-1/2-in. long, 1/2-in. dia. straight bit).To make routing easier, saw away most of the waste first.When you use this guide bushing and bit, the finished edge of the leg will be 1/16-in. away from the edge of the template, so be careful not to saw away too much.


Cut leg tapers with this shop-made jig. It holds the legs securely and keeps your fingers away from the blade. Save the tapered offcut. It’ll be used for mortising. CAUTION:This operation is difficult to do with the guard in place. Use extra care.


Carve the apron detail by making vee-cuts with two chisels. Cut the center vee first, about 1/4-in. deep, with a 1/2-in. chisel.Then use a 3/4-in. chisel for the tail vees. Use a pivoting motion from the outer end of each vee so they start at nothing and deepen towards the center. After the vees are carved, soften their sharp shoulders with the chisel.Then smooth everything gently with fine sandpaper.


Set the marble top in place with a bead of silicone caulk on the ledger strips.


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August 2000, issue #81.

August 2000, issue #81

Purchase this back issue.

Rout two lifts at once using a template and a blank wide enough to contain both an apron and a stretcher. Saw away most of the wood to be removed on the bandsaw before routing. After routing, saw the blank into a separate apron and stretcher.


Fasten the ledger strips that hold the marble. It’s easy if you flip the top upside-down. For the marble and top to be flush, clamp the top to two flat sticks and lay the marble in place on top of them. Put a bead of glue on one edge of the ledger strips and nail away.