A stool with a back

Another prototypebackstool1

I continue my quest for the perfect stool. So over the holidays I set out to make another stool prototype. This time with four legs and a back.
Over all this stool is basically the same as the other four legged stool I made however I wanted a stool that provided some support for my lower back. The height of this stool is closer to 24″.  After trying several taller stools I am finding that I do not really like the taller 26″ to 28″ form, at least for most applications.


Once again, the real business begins on the bottom. The bottom of these stools is the the main reference surface from which you build the entire stool. On these stools I have been trying to have the rear legs set narrower than the front legs. However to compensate for this I set the back legs at a broader angle. If you look at the picture full size you will see that I have written the angles on the bottom for easy comparison later. These angles represent the the angle of the leg relative to the sight line.

Dry fitting

backstool-dry-fitAfter getting the legs to seat at the proper angles and looking right  from every angle the stool was ready to dry fit and to get the rungs fitted to the spaces between the legs. Of all the processes in building a stool this is the most critical and to be honest the one where the most things can go wrong. It is bery difficult to get an accurate measurement on the length of the rungs and also get an accurate take on the angles tha the rungs have to go through the legs. If all of this is not right the result is a mess.


Appraisal of this model

After finishing this stool I was pretty happy with the look of this stool. As a work stool it is a pretty good size and shape. However, if you want a stool that is comfortable in the long term the seat will have to be given different proportions. To be a comfortable sitting stool the seat needs to be deeper by at least 2-4 inches.
Next time I think I will be building a stool that has a deeper seat and a hollowed out seat.

Building a Set of Kitchen Chairs

Prototype Kitchen Chair

It all starts with a prototype

Before I started on the project of building a set of kitchen chairs for my son I thought I better build a prototype.

Since I had never built a chair before I thought I had best start simple. And what could be more simple than this chair. Four legs and a back. No rungs, no bending.

For the most part I was quite happy with the result, it was even surprisingly comfortable. But there were a few problems, no deal breakers but disturbing nonetheless. The biggest issue was that if you put this chair on a slippery floor, like the bamboo floors in my house, the legs flexed out enough to notice. It was not dangerous but noticeable. When you sat on it you had this moment where you wondered, is this chair ok? But fundamentally I liked the chair I just realized I was going to need rungs in the legs to make this the chair I really wanted.

Armed with that knowledge I pressed on to make four chairs for my son’s apartment. They would need a slightly bigger seat, and 3 rungs but I was satisfied this was it.

Working out the sight lines

The seat is the heart of the chair

To begin I had to work out the sight lines so that I could get the proper rake and splay angles on the legs. This is where building the prototype really helped, I knew what I was after and roughly how to get there. Although if you look carefully at the image on the left you will see. It took a couple of tries to get it right.

Boring the Seat
Setting up to bore the seat

Then it was just a matter of clamping the seat blank to my saw bench and boring and reaming the sockets for the legs. This is where it actually pays to build custom tools. I made a custom bevel gauge with an overly wide handle and a tall wooden try square that stands nice on it’s own.These tools were great to use as references for staying on my sight lines while boring.

Preparing the legs and back supports

Preparing the Legs

As you can see above I do not own a lathe. But I am not sure I want a lathe for these chairs. I have come to really like the asymmetrical look of the legs I made for my stools, and shaping them with simple hand tools is one of my favorite parts of building things like this. I go for a look where the bottom of the leg ends up teardrop shaped and the last quarter of the legs length appears to turn back in toward the inside of the chair.

Chairs 11

Chairs 7
Dry fitting

Assembling the chairs

After fitting all the parts I was ready for dry fitting the chairs and getting a final look at the design. What I found at this point was that my new seats looked bad. After examining the chairs and comparing them to the prototype I realized why I was happy with the prototype and totally unhappy with the new chairs. It actually was not a big change, I needed to make the radius on the back corner larger. When I did this the form of the seat suddenly felt much more balanced and pleasing to the eye.

All I had to do then was shape the seats, glue, trim, and finish. Which was a workout with my drawknife, planes, and scrapers but it was fun.

In the end the chairs were very sturdy and I think good looking.


Chairs Finished


Examining Stool Samples

3 stools
First efforts

Lately I have been making stools. As I mentioned in a previous post, staked furniture is something I had not done. So I tried it, and as is often the case one thing leads to another and now I have done four of these. With the last three being variations on a theme. So I thought I would take the time to analyze what about these variations works and does not work from a design perspective.

High stool
Staked Shop Stool

My first High Stool

I have already written a short article on this stool but here I want to look at the design details and do a bit of analysis.

First if you compare this stool to the others in this group you will see that the legs are noticeably thicker. What is surprising is how much this is noticeable when you consider that the legs on this stool are at most 3/8″ thicker than the thinnest legs.

This is a 28″ high stool with a “D” shaped seat. The “D” shaped seat is the same on all three stools. The differences all lie in the legs and bracing. But when you compare them side by side they are very different looking and feeling though in their specs they vary only a little.

For example the difference between the the angle on these legs which look almost vertical and those on the the stool below is only 2 degrees.

While I don’t dislike the appearance of this stool, it is the least stable of the three due to the fact that the feet are only slightly proud of plumb from the corners of the seat.
stool 3

A wider Stance

This stool is my most recent attempt at the perfect 3 legged stool. (As if there could be such a thing) But I have to say that it is better in almost every respect than the stool above.

It is lighter, more stable, and I think more attractive due to thinner legs and braces. And although only time and abuse can tell for sure. It seems to be every bit as strong in use. Although I would not want to jump up and down on the front cross brace. It is just over an inch thick with 5/8″ tenons and it is made of pine. But in normal use the stool is very rigid and feels very solid.

The finish is paste wax over Boiled Linseed Oil. It is a nice finish for a chair. The wax gives it a nice sheen and nice combination of smooth but not overly slippery.

From the standpoint of aesthetics this is my favorite version so far. When you see it in person it is very light and elegant looking. You are almost afraid to sit on it. But it is actually quite strong.

4legged Stool

The winner for stability

I also used the same seat shape with 4 legs just to see the difference. The leg profile is very similar to the other two and the height is only 24 inches instead of the 28 inch high I used on the other stools.

While this design is not going to give anyone chills. This stool is really strong and stable and very comfortable.

The big difference with this design is that assembly is much more challenging. Basically you have to tease all the pieces together with glue pretty much at the same time. I needed some extra hands on this one. But the finished product was pleasing. The picture shows this stool before the finish was complete, but after a few more coats of oil and a bit of wax it is a good looking stool.

A summary of what I learned

There are a few things about design that I learned in this process.

  1. I like the thinner legs, but this means more bracing.
  2. Three legged stools need a lot of rake to be stable. On a long legged stool this means either a really thick top and thick legs, or you need to brace them with rungs.
  3. Pine actually works for this kind of project, I was not sure that it would. You can not get away with the kind of design extremes with pine that you can with a harder, stronger wood, but it works. And the end result can be quite light and elegant.


Building a White Oak Sideboard

Finished Sideboard

On a recent trip home to visit I ended up coming home with a trunk load of home sawn White Oak. (Too bad I was not driving a truck 😉 After staring at it for several months in the corner of my shop I finally determined that I would build a small sideboard with it. The inspiration for it came from a picture my wife found on line but it quickly morphed into this sideboard due to the amount of Oak I had to work with and frankly some if it was not to my taste.

Original plan

First the plans

As you can see the plans I used to build this project were minimal to say the least. But they were to scale so I could pull dimensions off this drawing easily with a scaling ruler. I generally do not like to spend more energy than necessary on drawings. Mostly because no design I have ever drawn including this one, ever survived the build. As you can see I originally intended to make this more of a craftsman piece with pinned joints everywhere. By the time I got to the preliminary assembly I was already pretty sure that I did not want to go there. Preferring instead to keep it clean and very simple.

Working the top

Then the bad news

The first thing that I learned about this oak tree is that in the couple of hundred years it was soaking up the sun on my uncles farm. It developed a pretty foul attitude. The minute I pulled my first chips from this very old oak I knew this was going to be no picnic. This old tree was going to fight me every step of the way. Although the grain at first glance looked pretty straight, in reality it had grown with a twist which put a lot of fun into finding the direction to plane. On top of that it was harder than diamonds and sent me on a lot of trips to the sharpening stones. But it looked good so, I moved on.

Built up legs

Legs First

Since all of the oak that I had was 1″ and I wanted the grain to match. I needed to build my legs up from 1″ stock. While this is not my favorite way to do legs, since this oak all came from the same tree I was able to match the pieces pretty well. In the end I am pretty happy with the results. This was a multi-step process since I could not simply build them up into 2″ billets. I matched not only the grain pattern but also grain direction since this was pretty cantankerous wood to plane. I also added extra beef anywhere I was going to cut a mortise. The finished legs at the right turned out to be pretty accurate and looked like they belonged together.

The legs are not solid all the way through since I had just enough oak for the project. I had no material to waste, so I could not afford any excess, or any mistakes for that matter.

End Panel in Frame

The panels

The panels for the ends and doors were for the most part pretty straight forward. But this is one of the rare times I used power tools on this job. (My original intent was to use none.) I used my table saw to deeply curf each side of the board I wanted to resaw. Then finished up with my frame saw by hand. This actually worked really well, and left me with bookmatched panels I was pretty happy with.

The frames I mortised by hand and grooved with my home built plow plane. I think that was the most fun aspect of this whole project. I was using wood grown on my uncles farm. And I was using about 6 or 8 of my hand built tools to make this sideboard for my wife. The whole thing left me feeling very connected to the piece.



Putting it all together

Assembly was in some ways the most challenging part. I had to borrow some big pipe clamps first of all, since I did not have enough. But mostly the challenges were in getting the drawer rails just right. I did not use any hardware so I lined the runners with white oak strips and seriously over built them. I knew that these drawers were going to be heavy so they had to fit right and be very strong. I also had to design a drawer stop that I could flip out of the way when I wanted to remove the drawers.

Drawer Stops in place


That just left me with final fitting of the drawers and doors. Which went without a hitch for the most part. This was a blessing since sometimes doors can really be a pain to get right.



I finished this project with Danish Oil Finish. Not always my favorite but it did work really well in this case. The finish turned out with just the right amount of sheen which for me is very little. I like the wood to be rich colored and to glow. I do not like a shiny plastic coating and for the most part I despise paint, no matter how many people tell me how good it looks.








Three Legged Staked Stool

Staked Shop Stool

My first staked furniture

Over the years I have made many stools and such, but up until recently I have never made anything with staked leg construction. After receiving a Lee Veritas reamer and taper tenon cutter for Christmas (very nice) I had to make something with it naturally so I made a small table and the stool on the right.

My Granddaughters table









The table was especially fun since my granddaughter helped me make it and in the end she and I carved our names in it. She loves it.

Lessons learned

Staked furniture is pretty straightforward stuff to make. However, I did learn a couple of lessons that are probably worth passing along if you are interested in this sort of thing.

  1. If you buy a Lee Veritas reamer congratulations it is great. But do not even try to use it until you have adjusted down to its finest cut. Mine came set for a much too heavy cut and I struggled through a few cuts thinking this was just the nature of the tool. When all I needed to do was back off the iron.
  2. This is the most important thing I learned. There is no substitute for getting your angles exactly right as you taper your holes. It is true this is pretty forgiving work, but you will fight a lot of unnecessary fights if you are the least bit sloppy in reaming your holes.
  3. Do not even attempt anything with your rungs until you are completely satisfied with the rake and splay of your legs. Your legs should look exactly like you want them, before you attempt to strengthen them with rungs.

With that said…


Faux Follansbee chest in reclaimed lumber

When you don’t have nice fresh Oak…

I have admired Peter Follansbee’s coffer chests since the first time I saw one on the WoodWrights shop. I grew up where there was a lot of Oak so I have always had a soft spot in my heart for anything Oak. However for the last 25 years I have lived in a place where quality Oak is both hard to find and expensive and finding an actual tree to fell is impossible. So what to do.

I have always been shall we say… underfunded with my woodworking so I have always planned my projects around whatever wood was available. And nothing is more easily available generally speaking than salvage lumber. My latest excursion to the dumpster yielded a bunch of 2×4’s that had been taken out of a 50 year old building that was being remodelled. I have written before that salvaging old wood by hand gives me a good workout and generally some decent wood. That left me with a pile of clean but not consistently dimensioned salvage lumber that I needed a project for.

I had two choices either continue to work on this wood until it was all of a consistent dimension or just keep letting the pile grow and use it however it came off the plane. That is when I remembered watching Peter build one of these chests on the Woodwright’s Shop. He only worried about the outside of the chest, inside the wood was crudely dimensioned and not even square. This is when it dawned on me that I could substitute salvaged pine for riven oak, weird thought but it sounded fun so there you are.

My wife likes to knit so I thought, I have not made anything for her for a long time, maybe this could be a chest to hold her knitting. Any excuse to build something fun is good enough for me. (Plus she really does like it. Win, Win.) The dimensions did not really matter as long as it was not too big to sit next to her knitting chair. So the dimensions were a combination of assessing the use case and gauging the size of the pieces I was able to get from some truly awful looking 2×4’s.

salvage lumber
Raw material, very raw

It all started with this pile of fugitives from the burn pile. As you can see there is a lot of work here before you can get clear usable sized pieces of pine from this. But on the up side much of this wood is pretty old and was sawn from bigger and more slowly grown trees than construction lumber is today. So although there is probably 50 to 75 percent waste here it was 100 percent waste when I started and I get a good feeling out of taking something that was to be burned and making it into something that could potentially last for generations.

After pulling a lot of nails and trimming mangled ends I started the process of trimming the pieces into the longest clear sections that I could get. I don’t generally bother with pieces less than 18″ long. Once that was done it was off to the planing bench for a good old fashioned hand tool workout.

When I first started doing this it took a fairly long time to reduce wood like this to usable straight square stock but it is amazing what just plain old practice can do. At this point I can size up a piece by eye, flatten it on one side, then work my way around the piece at a really good clip. I do not believe it takes me much longer than it would by machine. Especially if there is any twist or bow in it, unless you have a truly huge jointer and really know how to use it, I think hand tools can take the weirdness out of a board better and faster than machines. Plus if you do happen to hit a nail it is cheaper, faster, and easier to re-sharpen a handplane than any power tool I have ever used.

Trued lumber
Ready to start

That took me to this point, a bench full of clear pine waiting to be put to use. For the sake of full disclosure I did use a table saw to resaw the wood you see here to 5/8″. I am not enough of a hand tool freak to do that much resawing by hand. But all the planing and joinery were done by hand on this one.

As you can see in the background the carcase had already begun to take shape at this point. Most of the wood you see here was destined to become panels for the sides. I bookmatched the pieces since I got 2 pieces from each of my salvaged 2×4’s which gave me good looking pieces roughly 5″ – 6 1/2″ in width and 5/8″ thick. From these I was able to put together all the panels for the project.

One last point I think should be mentioned is nail holes. I do nothing with nail holes except to arrange them so that they fall in a non-symmetrical way as much as possible. If you do this right it actually looks better to me than if you try to cover them up or pretend they are not there. It tends to look like wormholes or pin knots if you do it right and I like that in this style of furniture. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I think it is more honest looking than faux antique reproductions with artificial distressing and so on. These are honest holes that tell you this wood has been places and done things. I will let you be the judge in the final pictures of this project.

The carcase

Final assembly

As you can see there is nothing really difficult about this little chest just simple mortise and tenon construction. Be careful to do all your marking and measuring from the face sides letting the internal surfaces meet in whatever way they do. This is “no ruler” kind of work for the most part where each piece is fit into place individually so the fact that the legs are not the exact same thickness as the rails does not really matter at all. The chest is square and smooth on the outside. The inside has a nice one-off hand built look to it. Especially when you add the panels that have been tapered on the inside as Peter explains to Roy in the show. This makes the chest very interesting looking on the inside and very definitely hand made. No one will mistake this for Ikea furniture or some such thing.

paneled chest
With panels installed

Once construction was complete I just had to pin all the joints to make sure this thing never comes apart. On the next chest I think I will draw pin it, but for this one I simply glued and clamped it, then pinned the final joint. I don’t think it will make a huge difference in overall strength or longevity.

The lid

The lid was also a very straightforward process. Again it is just mortise and tenon construction with a panel. I cut all the grooves with my recently built plow plane and it worked really well.

I plan on using my usual oil finish on this because I find that it is a really good finish for pine, it darkens with age and gives a nice patina to projects of this sort which really adds to the charm of building with salvaged lumber.

Now all I have to do is learn to carve the way Peter Follansbee does and I will really be getting somewhere!

2015-07-25 18.46.58
Inside w/ till in place


2015-07-25 18.47.46
Complete w/ lid


2015-07-25 18.48.37
Finished except for hardware.

Finished Chest left

Finished Chest right



Drop Leaf Table in Alder


Finished alder table
Finished Table in Alder

Previously I wrote about a small drop leaf table that I was trying to prototype and refine. I have finally finished what I think is the table I am happy with. It is roughly 36″ square when fully extended and roughly 12″ x 36″ when fully closed.

This table was really quite enjoyable to build and I think I will make more of these in order to fully perfect this form. The main differences between this one and the prototype I made earlier was using hand made rule joints on the leaves, doing away with the through mortises on the legs, and of course using Alder instead of salvage  Hemlock. So in this article I wanted to be a bit more specific in showing the process of building this table, I took a lot of pictures so hopefully that will help if you ever get the urge to make a nice little table like this.

Building the table

raw material for the top
Finding the best match for the top

The first challenge I faced was getting a harmonious set of boards for the top of the table. I had acquired a nice bunch of Alder but the pieces were not all that harmonious when I actually started laying them out for the project. I had some very attractive darker pieces with almost a quilted grain pattern,  but not enough for the entire project. So I had to get clever. It is not easy to see in the picture at the right but I used the darkest and most flamboyant piece in the center of the table and then blended it to some lighter less figured wood toward the the edges. This seemed to my eye at least to be the most attractive arrangement, particularly when you realize that most of this tables life will be spent with the leaves down, so the center leaf will really be the focus of attention for anyone looking at the table in use.

carcase of table

The 8/4″ stock for the legs was also dark and somewhat figured so I had to save some of the dark figured wood for the rails as well or the whole project would have taken on a terrible Harlequin look. The remaining lighter wood I used for the unseen parts of the carcase. As you can see from the picture at the left there was a very significant difference in color and figure in this stack of Alder. It was however, very agreeable wood to work with. This was my first time working with Alder and I really loved it’s working properties. It cuts and planes wonderfully, even the highly figured pieces were nowhere near as ornery as Maple figured like this would have been. I was able to bring this entire project to a finish ready state with nothing but edge tools, in fact most of it was beautiful right off the plane. There were only a couple of small areas that were so woolly that I was not able to smooth it to my satisfaction with a normal plane so I had to use a cabinet scraper.

Once I had the basic layout of the pieces figured out I was ready to begin work. I started with the legs. In my prototype I used an octagonal taper for the legs, but for this one I wanted simpler lines so I opted for a more conventional two sided taper that gave the legs some grace and also gave the appearance of a slight splaying of the legs which I find absolutely necessary on a narrow table like this.

2015-02-28 11.59.27

The first step was to mark out the various orientation of the legs and to number each of them. I learned on the prototype that it is exceptionally easy to confuse the orientation of parts during the construction of this table and this can quickly lead to disaster.

The next thing is to cut the tapers. I did this with nothing but planes and although it could be argued that a jig in my table saw would be faster, I think that is only true if you need to make a lot of these things. Because when you are done with the table saw you would have to tune each one up with a hand plane to get a decent finish on them anyway.

Beginning the taper
Beginning the taper


After you have marked out the taper on each leg you are ready to begin cutting the tapers. I used three planes for this. I started with a jack plane set for a fairly course cut, next a try plane set to a fine cut, and finally a smoother for the final finish.

To get started you begin on the narrow end of the taper taking short strokes until you have a short section of the taper running parallel to your guidelines. Once you have a good straight start you simply keep planing, your stoke will get longer with each pass. As you do this watch the leading edge of your cut. It should run as close to perfectly perpendicular as possible. This will assure that you are working straight down to your guideline on both sides without constant checking.

tapers cut
Legs all tapered


When you are finished you should get the following effect when you stack them together with the correct orientation. As you can see the legs give a nice splayed look even though they are in reality still just as straight as they were when I cut them. It was at this point I decided that I was not going to add the extra facets to make them octagonal. They looked nice the way they were. So I moved on.

Jointing the top

The next thing I did was edge joint the top to prepare it for glue-up. Make sure that you do no more than you can easily handle because you want your joints to be glued up as perfectly as possible. If this means three separate glue-ups to get the entire table top together that is far better than trying to correct for a shifted joint later.

I glued up in three sections then the whole slab into one piece. I then made my final measurements and cut it into three pieces later on my table saw.  I tried to build this entire table with hand tools but partitioning the top and ripping the legs from 8/4″ stock and cutting the 1/4″ cross-cut dado’s for the carcase were all jobs I ended up breaking down and using the table saw for. The hand tool equivalent for these tasks were either too hard or too risky for me. Sorry purists. Maybe next time.

drilling tenon holes
Drilling for the tenons

Mortising the legs was another process that I changed after building the prototype. In the prototype I used through mortises and I chopped them with a chisel. However for this version of the table I wanted a cleaner look so I used stopped mortises that meet inside of the the leg. Then I used mitered tenons to bring the whole thing together.  I find that stopped mortises are far easier to do to a clean consistent depth if you drill to depth first then follow up with a chisel. You can see in the next image what I was left with after I was done on the drill press.

holes done
Holes ready for final chisel work.

It is a simple process then to clean out the motices to the proper depth. Be careful though, although you can get away with a lot cosmetically with this design, you do not want your mortises to get too loose and they must be absolutely square. Even a tiny amount of drift from square will be multiplied about 7 times by the length of the leg. Even a 1/32″ becomes very visible under these conditions. Think of the legs as built-in giant winding sticks and you get the idea.

Next up is fitting the tenons to the mortises. But before you try that you need to cut the side rails at the point that you want them to hinge on the knuckle joint. REMEMBER that your side rails need to be long enough to allow for the depth of your tenons AND remember that cutting the knuckle joint will shorten your rails by the the depth of your knuckle joint pins.

Cutting the shoulders on your tenons

Once your rail pieces are cut to length you are ready to mark and cut your tenon shoulders. There is nothing complicated here, you just cut down to your lines. The next question is, do you saw your tenons or chisel them. This depends entirely on your material. I tried to chisel first but I found after the first one the the grain was just to hairy to do this consistently so I switched to the saw after the first one. I then cleaned them up with chisels and a rebate plane that I use in place of a shoulder plane (it actually works just fine and cost 10$ at a flea market it’s just not as cool as a shoulder plane). Next I need to fit the tenon to the mortise, so I had to fit the height to the height of the mortise.

fitting tenons
Showing the tenon to the mortise.

This is simple just “show” the tenon to the mortise and transfer the exact height and placement to the tenon and cut the corners out with your dovetail saw. Don’t worry about cross-cut saws or rip saws here, people just say this stuff to sell saws. A 15 tooth dovetail or tenon saw filed rip will crosscut all day long just fine, just be sure to cut your lines to ensure that you get clean edges on your cut. Also make sure your saw is sharp, a dull saw will make a mess no matter how it is filed.

The last thing I do is to cut a small chamfer on the leading edges of the tenon this makes fitting and gluing much easier later. Then it is just a matter a careful paring and fitting of the tenons. One caution here, do not allow yourself to favor one side or the other as you pare and trim. It is possible to create a tenon that fits well but is no longer perfectly square and true with the face of the rail. This is another place where the length of the leg will serve as a 7x magnifier of your errors. This is easier to do than it sounds, so you have been warned.

Marking for the knuckle joint

Making the knuckle joint starts out very similar to the process for making a dovetail joint. Make sure that you have an odd number of fingers on your joint. No less than 5 for obvious reasons.The other peculiar thing is that you want to mark your baseline to twice the depth on the inside of the joint on the side with the most fingers (in my case the side with three fingers. Because the 2 sockets on this half of the joint need to be relieved to a 45 degree angle to allow for free movement of the hinge.

finger joint
Relieve the back of the joints to 45 degrees

The two pictures at the right should make it pretty clear how straight forward this is. Once you have the 45 degree cuts let in it is a simple task to remove the waste with a sharp chisel. The mating piece is cut square like a box joint. When you have both pieces cut test fit them, they should fit very tight. It would be a big mistake to build a joint like this with a loose fit. You have a lot of leverage when you use this joint so you do not have to worry it will work just fine even if it is very tight. And it will only get looser with time. Just don’t force it and split your joint open.

45 degree cut
Cutting the 45 degree angle

The real trick comes next. It is absolutely essential that this joint be drilled perfectly plumb on both axis. If it is off either way it will either be crooked when it is closed or crooked when it is open. No matter how much of a hand tools freak you are, you should use a drill press for this and drill from both sides and measure very carefully. And you still might have trouble. In my prototype I messed this up and drifted ever so little on one of my joints. This tiny error was very visible when the leg was extended. Once again the length of the leg magnifies the tiniest error. In fact as simple as this table is in principle in reality it can be a bit of a challenge to build because the carcase has to be perfect or the legs will not look straight. There are several steps where even a small error can really have a big effect. Once the holes are drilled then I just used a stainless steel pin (the store was out of brass in the size I wanted) and drove it in over the anvil on my vise. This mushroomed each end just slightly, which is all it takes to keep the pins from falling out. Now it is time to shift the focus to assembling the carcase.

Gluing rails and legs
Gluing the rails to the legs.

I start by building nice square sub-assemblies I glue the rails to the legs making sure they are absolutely square. Then I begin cutting the inner carcase. This is another task that I used my table saw for. Mostly because I did not have any hand tools that could cut a 1/4″ crosscut dado that close to the end of a board. So I used a stack dado set for this task. Again the only trick here is to make sure that everything is square and straight. Clamp it up on something that you know is flat. And practice before you start to use glue.

Gluing up the carcase.

If you are careful this is the most enjoyable part of the process because now it all starts to come together. Once this is done all that is left is fitting the top and applying the finish. And if you have been careful up to this point to smooth each piece before assembly the finishing process goes much faster as well. Since I have not provided any measurements for this table there is one design element to bare in mind. The swinging leg needs to clear whatever hardware you are using and the hinge needs to be placed so that it supports the leaf but does not obviously extend beyond the leaf. In the case of this table that was around 3′ long by 1′ wide folded with 12″ leaves I needed the leg to swing in an arch with about an 11″ radius. And I had an overhang of about 3″ on each end.

marking the rule joint
Marking the rule joint profile

Next up is the rule joint for the top. I am assuming that the top is cut to size and the edges are jointed. This is the step I think I spent the most time obsessing about and in the end I think it was the most fun of anything I did on this table. My first thought was to use a router with matching cove and bead bits. But although I had two of these sets one was too big and the other far too small. So I went to town wasted 2 hours and found nothing helpful so I came home and made a hand plane for the job (I wrote about that project here).  Making a rule joint by hand seemed a bit frightening at first, but once I did it I found myself thinking, “what was all the fuss about?”.

The first step is to mark the profile you are going for on each end of the material. Then with a cutting gauge follow that profile all the way down the length of the leaf. Honestly you just plane down to these marks. But I did experiment a bit first and I do have some advice if you have never done this. Use a fence. This made all the difference. For the cove I planed a bevel with a block plane down to the point where I was near the longitudinal marks but not all the way to them.

Getting started.
Getting started with the molding plane.

Then I clamped a straight piece of wood to guide the molding plane for the first few strokes until I had a nice groove cut in the middle of what will be the cove. Then I moved the fence back but I did not remove it because it protected me from slipping out of the cut and scaring the table top (or bottom). Once you get going you just plane until you hit all your marks. When it looks right it is right.

The bead portion of the joint is actually even easier than that. I used the same plane to do the whole thing. My old 10 buck metal rebate plane. It works so well I use it for both rebating and as a shoulder plane. I am not saying I would not like a nice LN shoulder plane but this works.

Cutting the bead.
Cutting the bead.

I started out by clamping my fence to the center leaf and just cutting a rebate down to the top of the curved profile. Then I just rounded over the bead by eye leaving the fence in place to protect the pristine edge on the top. This not only worked on the first try it left barely perceptible facets in the bead which looks clean but hand made. I liked it so much I did not even sand it when I was done.

I did do just a bit of final fitting by taking a pass or two here or there and I also relieved the under side of the bead to allow just a bit of clearance when the leaf is folded down. How much depends on a lot of factors. The key variable is the exact position of the hinge pivot when your hinges are mounted. What I did was to locate this position as perfectly as I could then I took my compass and traced the arch of the bead and looked at how much I needed to clip off the bottom edge to allow the cove to rotate without rubbing.

rule joint
Finished rule joint

In my case I needed a very small amount of rounding on the bottom edge which is a good thing since it prevents any possibility of the edge catching when you put down the leaf and doing something nasty. As you can see at the left the rounding at the bottom of the bead is barely visible.

I used hardware store hinges for this which I felt bad about but real deal rule joint hinges are so expensive that it would have nearly doubled the cost of this project. It seemed a high price to pay for something nobody would ever see. And the hinges I did choose were very strong so I was not worried about the functional quality of the hinge. It just looks a bit sad when you tip it upside down and see those 5$ a pair hinges. Maybe next time. Cutting in the barrel of the hinge is also easy I just mortised them in with a 1/4″ chisel. Be careful though you do not want to get careless and cut in so deep you break through the bead. In my case there was not a lot of wood left between the barrel mortice and the bead. This is a case where hand tools are beyond all doubt better than power tools.

Mounting the hinges
Mounting the hinges

Unless you plan on going in production on this sort of thing cutting these rule joints by hand was quieter, safer, and easier to  adjust and perfect than trying to set all this up for power tools. I did all of this in a couple of hours of actual work.

The top is held on with a couple of screws into the center leaf and then it is ready for final finishing. I cut a wide but shallow chamfer around the perimeter of the bottom of the tabletop to “lighten” the look of the top. I also put a small conventional chamfer around the perimeter of the top just to finish it off. Some might prefer to route the edges of the table but I was going for a very simple look to this table. The wood has a sort of quilted grain pattern that give the piece a lot of visual interest so I wanted the rest to be fairly understated.

Finished with a couple of coats of oil finish.

As for the finish I used about 4 coats of a home blended oil finish. One part Boiled linseed oil, two parts turpentine, and two part spar varnish. I call this 221 and I really like it. It produces no surface build but soaks in deeply and is very tough for an oil finish. The prototype table has nothing but three coats of this on it and the people that are using it, take no special precautions when placing drinks on it. They use it like any other table and have had no trouble. I have written a full post on this here, it is a finish I have used in one form or another for many years and I really love it.



Leaves extended

Finished alder table
Finished Table in Alder

Drop leaf table prototype

Drop leaf table qrtr
Drop leaf table prototype

Recently several young friends of mine decided to get married. As a couple of them were looking through some of my woodworking magazines they stumbled across this little drop leaf table in an old issue of Woodsmith magazine and fell in love. Their appartment is small and I have to admit to liking many things about this table myself so I decided to build a prototype to see if this design would be as handy in real life and it would appear in the photos.

I had a stack of salvage Hemlock so I thought I would give it a try. This design has a very fun knuckle joint on each side that allows the legs on opposite corners to swing out to 90 degrees. supporting the leaves. It turns out that while these joints are not difficult to make it is pretty easy to allow the holes for the pins to wander slightly. So it was well worth my time making this prototype before I started using more expensive material. The length of the legs magnifies even the tiniest error in the pins. The other difference between this prototype and the final version is that I want to use a proper rule joint for the leaves in the final version.

Those small problems aside I think I do like the design over all and now all I have to do is find a little cash for some decent wood and build a couple of good ones.


half extended
One leaf extended

Fully extended
Both leaves extended

end view
End view showing through mortises