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Thoughts for my first wood project: side table design

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Dr Al

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Subject: Thoughts for my first wood project: side table design

As I mentioned in my introduction post, I've done odd bits of woodwork in the past, but most of it has involved plywood or MDF and the only "real wood" thing I've made was a pine planter about 13 years ago. I've now managed to squeeze a tiny amount of room into the garage for woodwork and, having only used it so far for practising planing, sawing and other such things, I want to embark on my first "proper" project.

One of the limitations I have is that I don't have much space in the house or garage for whatever I make, so that limits the options a bit. What seems like a good option for the first project is to replace a small side table that lives in the lounge and holds a wooden boat I've been making (very occasionally) for the last couple of decades! The current one is a cheap and nasty unfinished pine thing that came from Ikea (I think). It'll be nice to have something better in its place.

I've started having a go at a design for the table and was hoping some of the more experienced forum members could critique my design before I start cutting wood! Here's a picture of what I have in mind (more pictures from other angles later on):

ModellingTableView1.jpg


For a sense of scale, the top is 420 × 376 × 19 mm and it's currently 420 mm tall, although I might yet tweak the height. Most of the dimensions have been picked on the basis of the PAR oak I already have.

Does the design look sensible? Is there anything I need to be aware of, especially related to expansion/contraction of the wood in the top and the shelf? I know this is something I need to worry about, but I don't know whether this design will work or not or what to do about it if not.

Also, any particular recommendations for joinery? I'd been thinking of biscuits (with router-cut holes) or dowels or maybe just glue for joining the top slats together. Do any of them sound sensible? I hadn't got as far as thinking about the joints for the rest of the table, so am very open to suggestions!

Finally (for now): finishes. I was thinking a few coats of boiled linseed oil and a coat or maybe two of paste wax (linseed oil / beeswax mix). Does that sound sensible or should I be looking at something else?

Thanks!

More pictures:

ModellingTableView2.jpg


ModellingTableView3.jpg


ModellingTableView4.jpg
 

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billw

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The three slats on the shelf looks infinitely better than four to my relatively untrained eye.

It's a nice simple design and for your first piece it should be a good lesson.
 

Myfordman

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Trying to make rails flush with the legs can easily go wrong and shout "error" to anyone looking. set them in by 3-4mm known as a reveal and the eye will be far more tolerant of small errors.
The top is a variant of breadboard ends. look at some youtube videos for the way to do selective gluing to be more tolerant of movement.
hth
 

Dr Al

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Myfordman":1mhy1d0z said:
Trying to make rails flush with the legs can easily go wrong and shout "error" to anyone looking. set them in by 3-4mm known as a reveal and the eye will be far more tolerant of small errors.
The top is a variant of breadboard ends. look at some youtube videos for the way to do selective gluing to be more tolerant of movement.
hth
Thanks, that's really useful. I'll have a look at breadboard ends & selective gluing. I've updated the model with a 4 mm rail gap (hopefully visible in this pictutre):

RailsMovedIn4mm.jpg
 

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AndyT

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I agree that it looks better with three equal slats and the stretchers set back a bit.

Thinking about how the slats are supported on the lower rails, your design neatly covers up the end grain. Presumably you are planning to cut rebates along the upper edges of the rails for the slats to sit in? If so, remember to think about the detail of the tenons on the ends of the slats.

One option would be to use barefaced tenons, half the thickness of the rails, with a rebate on the inner half, as deep as the slat thickness. Probably what you are already planning!
 

Dr Al

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AndyT":1tnljg5m said:
I agree that it looks better with three equal slats and the stretchers set back a bit.

Thinking about how the slats are supported on the lower rails, your design neatly covers up the end grain. Presumably you are planning to cut rebates along the upper edges of the rails for the slats to sit in? If so, remember to think about the detail of the tenons on the ends of the slats.
Yes, it was my plan to rebate the upper edges of the lower rails. I hadn't got as far as thinking about how the rails were going to fit into the legs: I'll have to spend some time thinking about that! Thanks for the advice.

AndyT":1tnljg5m said:
One option would be to use barefaced tenons, half the thickness of the rails, with a rebate on the inner half, as deep as the slat thickness. Probably what you are already planning!
Certainly wasn't what I was planning, but not because it's a bad idea, just because (a) I hadn't thought about it yet and (b) I'd never heard of barefaced tenons! Looks like a promising approach though. I might have to practice cutting a few tenons first: I haven't tried that yet!
 

AndyT

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I just realised that barefaced tenons would need more of a set-back than 4mm. Might work if centred on the legs. It depends on the sizes - it's the sort of thing where a proper drawing beforehand, like you are doing, is really useful, and can save wood later on.
 

TheTiddles

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Depends on the look you’re going for, to me it looks heavy (this may be intentional) like a machinery stand or a step. If you wanted to lighten it, you could make the legs square and thin down the shelf support.

Personal preferential but I think tables should look light and chairs should look solid

Aidan
 

MikeG.

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Yep, I'm with Aidan. This looks like a really nice project, but the design is heavy. The legs should be slimmer, and the rails could be slimmer too. If you are going to do "chunky", then it really has to be very chunky, and have straight legs....and that really only suits something bigger than this. Personally, I'd also overhang the lower shelf, for no reason other than aesthetics. Therefore, it's just an opinion, and you may prefer it as it is.

This is a testing but perfectly do-able first project. I wish you well with it, and I hope you'll post a WIP with lots of photos as you take it on.
 

Dr Al

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TheTiddles":37zqhwof said:
Depends on the look you’re going for, to me it looks heavy (this may be intentional) like a machinery stand or a step. If you wanted to lighten it, you could make the legs square and thin down the shelf support.

Personal preferential but I think tables should look light and chairs should look solid

Aidan
MikeG.":37zqhwof said:
Yep, I'm with Aidan. This looks like a really nice project, but the design is heavy. The legs should be slimmer, and the rails could be slimmer too. If you are going to do "chunky", then it really has to be very chunky, and have straight legs....and that really only suits something bigger than this. Personally, I'd also overhang the lower shelf, for no reason other than aesthetics. Therefore, it's just an opinion, and you may prefer it as it is.

This is a testing but perfectly do-able first project. I wish you well with it, and I hope you'll post a WIP with lots of photos as you take it on.
Thanks for the feedback both - that's really useful.

I'd picked the dimensions entirely based on what wood I had available. I bought a hobby pack from British Hardwoods which had a lot of 19 mm material and I also got some 19 × 94 mm and some 43 × 69 mm (not for any good reason, it just seemed like a reasonable selection to start with.

The legs were chosen as 43 × 69 mm, but thinking about it now, it would be quite straightforward to rip these down to 43 × 43 mm. I'm trying to avoid reducing the 19 mm dimensions of the various planks as it may not be that easy to rip them to size: I don't have a thicknesser and don't have enough faith in my hand-planing skills to get the thickness consistent over long-ish lengths.

Here's another version with 43 mm square legs (tapered in two sides at the bottom) and a rebate drawn in for the shelf:

ModellingTableSquareLegs.jpg


Does that look better or do you think it needs thinning more?

When you say "the rails could be slimmer", do you mean reducing the thickness or the height? They're currently 19 × 44 mm (again just because that's one of the sizes of material I've got), 44 mm in the "Z" axis of the picture. Do you mean reducing the 44 mm or the 19 mm?

I've been thinking a bit more about how everything joins together as well. I'd imagined the shelf at the bottom sitting in a rebate in the rails. Do I need to worry about expansion of the shelf planks if it's done like this?

Also, I'd envisaged attaching the top with some dowels in two of the rails. Since two of the rails are underneath the "breadboard ends", the grain direction of the rail will be the same as the grain direction of the top, so I think this will be okay. Am I missing anything?

ModellingTableSquareLegsPlanksRemoved.jpg


ModellingTableSquareLegsAllPlanksRemoved.jpg


I've started the build; so far I've made the top (with the breadboard ends) and also glued three planks together to form the shelf (but not cut them to size yet). It took me a lot of goes of planing (with a #5) the sides of the planks to get a flush joint between them (partly not helped by deliberately making it more of a challenge for myself and doing the planks one at a time rather than pairing them up). It was easier on the shelf than on the top; I'm hoping that was because I was getting better with more practice!

I'll post some photos of progress in a separate post.
 

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Dr Al

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Over the weekend I started making the two "panels": the table top and the shelf. I figured that the overall size of the table wasn't likely to change and hence those two could be made now, even if the rest of the design changes considerably.

I started by cutting the various planks a bit longer than necessary and then clamped each one in the vice and had a lot of practice running a #5 plane over the edge to try to get it at 90° to the face and straight all the way along. I'm happy to say I got there in the end (and was much quicker on the shelf, so maybe I'm improving???

I decided to reinforce the joints with biscuits (I have a biscuit cutter for my small router). I suspected it was unnecessary (and having seen how strong the glue joint was on the 6 mm wide sliver I cut off to square up the end after the glue had dried, I'm pretty sure it was unnecessary!), but I figured it couldn't hurt.

IMG_20200718_155819.jpg


After cutting the biscuit holes with the router, I used a 6 mm chisel to lightly chamfer the edges of the cut marks, just in case there was any "burr" (or whatever the wood equivalent is called) that might get in the way of the joint closing nicely.

IMG_20200718_155825.jpg


I then glued the four main panels together and left them overnight to dry.

IMG_20200718_162847.jpg


The next morning, I trimmed the ends square to one side and parallel to each other. I then put a 6 mm cutter in my big router (in my home-made router table) and cut an 8 mm deep groove in the middle of two of the end panels (gradually increasing the depth of cut and then repeating the last cut with the board the other way round to make sure the groove was central).

I then replaced the cutter with a 12 mm one and used it to cut an 8 mm wide rebate in the end grain of the table top. It took a few goes to gradually sneak up on the correct dimension to give a good fit in the slot in the end pieces, but I'd rather take it slowly than go too far. I'd been a bit too cautious on the 8 mm depth of the groove, so ended up tweaking it by hand with a 6 mm chisel.

Trial fit...

IMG_20200719_121219.jpg


IMG_20200719_121228.jpg


One day I'd like to get myself a plough plane and a rebate plane, but I might get in trouble if I get any more tools in the immediate future!

Having watched a few youtube videos on the subject, it seemed like I could get away with joining the "breadboard ends" if I apply glue just in the middle third of the joint, so that's what I've done:

IMG_20200719_144012.jpg


and now it's all clamped up:

IMG_20200719_144629.jpg


I've also biscuited, glued and clamped the three shelf pieces, but I didn't bother taking any photos of that as it's basically the same as how I started doing the table top.

Next job is to use some offcuts to practice making some mortise and tenon joints as that's what I'm currently expecting to use to join the rails to the legs and I've never done one before! Hopefully my chiselling skills will be up to scratch!
 

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TheTiddles

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Are the breadboards just held with glue in the middle, or are you pinning them too? You probably want to hold them tight to the board ends and drive the expansion/contraction to the other side or you might get a slight curve and a gap that will appear much larger than it actually is (that’s why I fake breadboards onto veneered panels)

I think the square legs look much better, I agree that reducing the 19mm thickness should be avoided, there’s an easy work around for this, if you think the top looks heavy you can add an unequal chamfer all around, makes a heavy top look much lighter for very little work, you can also do it later on when you’re certain it’s right (or not).

If you reduced the depth of the shelf rails that would further lighten how it sits (they look plenty strong enough for a side table) and/or move them up and increase the length of the taper on the legs making them more dainty.

You’re probably getting an idea of how many tweaks you can make to a piece to adjust its aesthetics... which is why it takes me so long to decide on a design, it has to ferment for months before I’m happy

Looks like it’s going nicely though.

Aidan
 

TheTiddles

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You could also not taper the inside faces of the legs and do the outsides all the way down, not sure how that would look but you should be able to make the whole thing, do a dry fit and see what works then take it apart to implement, I often sit a piece in situ and stare at it for quite a while before I decide, as my original plan occasionally has improvement opportunities...
 

Dr Al

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TheTiddles":1qv6cpix said:
Are the breadboards just held with glue in the middle, or are you pinning them too? You probably want to hold them tight to the board ends and drive the expansion/contraction to the other side or you might get a slight curve and a gap that will appear much larger than it actually is (that’s why I fake breadboards onto veneered panels)
At the moment, they're just held with glue in the middle (well, at the moment, they're also held with lots of clamps, but that's beside the point!). I'm not sure what you mean by "pinning them". The videos I watched (which might not have been good ones, of course) showed breadboard ends just being held with glue in the middle so that the outsides could move as the middle pieces of wood expand/contract.

Could you explain what you mean? I'm hoping I haven't done it wrong already: I haven't got much spare wood!

TheTiddles":1qv6cpix said:
I think the square legs look much better, I agree that reducing the 19mm thickness should be avoided, there’s an easy work around for this, if you think the top looks heavy you can add an unequal chamfer all around, makes a heavy top look much lighter for very little work, you can also do it later on when you’re certain it’s right (or not).
Good thought, thanks.

TheTiddles":1qv6cpix said:
If you reduced the depth of the shelf rails that would further lighten how it sits (they look plenty strong enough for a side table) and/or move them up and increase the length of the taper on the legs making them more dainty.

You’re probably getting an idea of how many tweaks you can make to a piece to adjust its aesthetics... which is why it takes me so long to decide on a design, it has to ferment for months before I’m happy
I'll keep playing with the CAD model and see what I think of each version. I don't want to move the rails too far up as it'll reduce the height of stuff that can go on the shelf. I probably shouldn't be worrying about that, but the grotty Ikea table that this will replace currently has quite a few things on the shelf!

Thanks again for the advice: much appreciated.
 

Dr Al

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For completeness, a few more photos...

The table top after having been removed from the clamps:

tabletop_topside.jpg


and the underside, which needs a bit of glue scraping off:

tabletop_underside.jpg


Here's what the shelf looked like in its clamps:

shelf_clamped.jpg


I made a bit of a mistake here. I clamped it in the same way I clamped the table top: with long clamps along the edge and some speed clamps in the middle to make sure it didn't bend upwards under the force of the edge clamps. That worked nicely on the table top (which was clamped in some t-bar sash clamps, which have a flat top), but didn't work as well on the shelf, which was clamped using some pipe clamps. Here's the underside of the shelf:

shelf_rear_face.jpg


Close-up:

dent_in_shelf.jpg


Entirely predictable, but it didn't occur to me (too used to working with metal rather than wood!). I'll try to plane it out, but it's on the underside of the bottom shelf, so worst case I can just put it down to experience and take comfort in the fact no-one will ever see it!

The top face of the shelf looks fine:

shelf_top_face.jpg
 

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MikeG.

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I think I see just a hint of sapwood here and there. Try not to use the pale stuff at the edge of boards, as it is soft and prone to rot and insect attack.
 

TheTiddles

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I’ve just re-read your notes on attaching the top with dowels... I wouldn’t. Whilst you have minimised then shrinkage risk, it’s still there and as you’re doing a decent job of it, go the whole way and use buttons, if you have the biscuit cutter bit you can cut a couple of slots in the rails, make some buttons and you’re done, way better than just sitting it on dowels and another important furniture design/make feature ticked off

Aidan
 

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