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AW Extra 2/6/14 - Treasured Board Table


Treasured Board Table

One precious board is all you need.

By Tom Caspar

Every woodworker discovers an extraordinary piece of wood once in a while. What do you do with it? One board is not enough for a big project. It’s a crime to cut it up into small pieces for a little project. So you stash it away, like a pirate burying his treasure, and wait for the perfect project. Here it is.

Turn your precious gem into an uncomplicated table for the hallway or behind the sofa. The thin black base recedes from view, leaving your beautiful wood to glow.

Our treasured board started out as a bigleaf maple growing on the western coast of Oregon. After it was felled by loggers, the tree laid on the forest floor and started to rot, or “spalt.” Then it was hauled to a nearby river to be floated to the sawmill. It didn’t make it to the mill. The log sank to the bottom of the river. Years later it was recovered from the river by a sawyer, cut into planks, and dried. Sunken treasure, indeed.

The base of the table is made from yellow poplar, a humble species of wood with green heartwood. While it may not be pretty, yellow poplar has appealing qualities. It’s relatively inexpensive, even in thick planks. It’s easy to machine and sand, and its small pores fill quickly with finish, making a smooth surface to complement the top. Soft maple has the same characteristics and would be another good choice.

All the joints in this table are made with a plate joiner. The base is light in weight and won’t be subject to much stress, so biscuits are a safe bet. The table rails are fairly thick. There’s plenty of room for two #20 biscuits for each joint. All the rails and legs are made from the same piece of 6/4 lumber. (Make sure you have enough for a few extra legs.) The table’s joints are staggered to keep the thin legs strong.


Preparing the stock

Mill the wood for the base first, but don’t take it down to final thickness and width right away. Leave it 1⁄8-in. oversize all round. Here’s why: The legs are narrow pieces, and when they’re released from a wide board they may bend or twist. Let them settle into a relaxed state over the course of a few days, then joint them again and mill to size. As for the rails, they should be allowed to relax too, because you’re removing almost 1⁄2-in. of thickness.

Work on the top while you wait for the other wood to settle down.


The top and shelf

Your top may be made from one board or glued up from a couple of boards. In any case, take the time to compose it with care. If your board has been following you around for a while, that’s great, because it has reached a state of equilibrium and won’t distort as you mill it. This table has no under structure to help hold a top flat, so you’re relying on the stability of your special board.

Draw the slight curve of the top with a bent stick. Bandsaw the curve and chamfer the underside of the edge with a router (Photo 1). Stop before you make the final cut and fair the curves of the edge. This is easier to do now than when the edge was at its full thickness. Finish cutting the chamfer with a hand plane or belt sander.

Plane the shelf and cut it to width, but hold off on cutting it to length. You’ll fit it to the base after the base is glued up. Then you’ll draw the curves and smooth them off.


The base

Mill all pieces to final thickness and width. Taper the legs on two sides before cutting the joints. With legs this small it’s safer to build your own tapering jig with toggle clamps than to use a commercial jig that forces you to hold the leg in place by hand (Photo 2). Draw the taper on one leg in order to set up the jig. Try it out on a spare leg. After cutting the first taper, flip the leg so the taper faces up. You’ll need a shim under one toggle clamp when you cut the second taper.

Draw a centerline down the outside face of each rail to locate the slots for the biscuits. The four main rails are flush with the inside of each leg, rather than the outside. This means that the inside face of the rail will be your reference surface. Make sure the inside face is down when you cut the slots.

Clamp the rail down to a truly flat surface. Set your plate joiner on the work surface to cut the first slot. Then place a 3⁄8-in.-thick spacer under the machine and cut the second slot.

The front and back rails are as narrow as possible while still wide enough to hold a #20 biscuit. The slots go all the way from side to side and cut into the top edge of the rail a bit. That’s fine, because these over-cuts will be covered by the shelf.

Mark the legs for slotting directly from the rails. Stand a side rail on a leg, flush with the top end, and transfer its centerline mark to the outside face of the leg. The front and back rails fit directly below the side rails, so it’s easy to mark their positions (Photo 3).

Make a simple jig for slotting the legs. Hold the legs in place with the same toggle clamps you used for the taper jig (Photo 4).

Drill and shape the front and back rails. Round the lower edge with fine sandpaper. Mark the inside faces of all the rails so you don’t get mixed up in the glue-up. Sand the outside faces. Slot the front and back rails with your plate joiner for the tabletop fasteners (Photo 5).

Radius the edges of the side rails and legs on a router table using a 3⁄16-in. round-over bit. Then smooth the surfaces. This will reduce the radius of the edges a bit. That’s just what you want to happen on the legs, because the setback of the rails is also 3⁄16-in., and you don’t want the radius to come too close to the face of the rail.

Drill holes for screws to hold the top on one side of the upper rail. Slot the other side of the rail on the tablesaw. The slots allow the top to expand and contract without cracking. This rail is slightly thicker than the other rails so the screws penetrate only 1⁄2-in. into the top.


Glue-up and finishing

Glue the ends of the table first. Biscuits don’t align pieces side to side. You must do that yourself. Make sure the side rails are flush with the top ends of the legs before you apply clamping pressure. Have a mallet handy to knock the parts into place. You’ll need pencil marks to align the top edges of the front and back rails. Square across from the bottom edge of the side rails to make these marks. Now you’re ready to glue the rest of the table.

Prime the base by spraying on a sanding sealer, Krylon, for example. You will need one can. Sand with 220-grit paper. Color the base with a matte-black spray paint, such as Krylon 1613 Semi-Flat Black, (Photo 6). You may need two cans of paint. Screw down the top, attach the shelf, and bring your buried treasure out into the light of day.

Cutting List & Hardware List

Fig. A: Top and Shelf Details

Cut curved edges on the top and shelf. A bent stick and three reference points are all you need to draw the curve.

Fig. B: Exploded View of Table Base

Fig. C: Rail Detail

Drill a hole in the center of the rail, cut the angled slot, and bandsaw a slight curve to lighten the rail’s appearance.

Fig. D: Taper of Leg

Start the taper 1⁄2-in. below the rail. This will leave plenty of room for cleaning up the saw marks.

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. Chamfer the edge of the top with a router. Go around the top four or five times, lowering the bit for each pass.The chamfer will make the top seem thinner. Standard router bits cut a 45-degree chamfer. Increase the slope of the chamfer to 30 degrees to improve the floating effect, using a plane or belt sander.

2. Cut the tapered legs on the tablesaw. Hold the narrow leg in place with toggle clamps mounted on a sled.This will keep your hands well away from the saw blade. A stopper board at the foot of the leg prevents it from sliding.

3. Layout the biscuit slots with center marks. First mark the center of each rail.Then transfer the marks to the legs. Use the side rail as a spacer to determine where the front rail goes.

4. Cut double slots with a plate joiner for a strong joint. Hold the leg in place with toggle clamps mounted on a stiff board. Cut the first slot with the plate joiner flat on the work surface. Then raise the plate joiner with a 3⁄8-in. spacer to cut the second slot.

5. Cut slots for tabletop fasteners with the plate joiner. Reference with the fence set on top of the rail.

6. Spray the base with matteblack paint.Wear a respirator and exhaust the paint fumes outside with a fan. Easy-to-sand red primer is used first to fill the pores and make a smooth surface.The thin, black lines of the base seem to disappear while the beautiful top springs to life!


Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.

An exterior oil finish: Performance Coatings Penofin Marine Oil Finish,, 800-736-6346.

Jarrah: Timber Holdings Intl.,, 414-445-8989.

Advantage Trim and Lumber Co.,, 877-232-3915.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August 1999, issue #74.

August 1999, issue #74

Purchase this back issue.