Beginning woodworking – practical concepts of design.

The coffee tables we are making are quite substantial, with some unique aspects in my design that I like and you might like to hear of. The before-and-after features created by shaping are quite striking in that, by adding a series of seemingly insignificant curves, they transform the clunky, angular squareness and mass into gracious curves that allow transition from each wood section and direction to the next with minimal effort and at the same time lighten  the presence of the whole. Whether you use hand tools or machine bandsaws, jigsaws and drum sanders the end result is the same though the machine process is boring and can negate the goal and ambition to develop skills of shaping and carving and strengthening them upper body, inner mind and soul.

The main unusual feature to my table is the employment of hand cut dovetails to form the undercarriage to the tabletop itself. Rigidly strengthening the corners, this feature alone allows a very solid frame that gave me the ability to replace the four-corner legs of conventional tables, giving a compactness that I like in pedestal tables. There’s lots of mortise and tenons for so small a piece and my system for chopping mortises guarantees perfectly aligned surfaces even in thin materials down to 1/2″ thickness. My apron system allows for turn buttons, which in turn allow for tabletop expansion and contraction so there are none of the issues you might usually get from pocket holes and such.

The cross stretcher from one centre column to the other in each pedestal really changes the look too and the span unites the two sections as any bridge does. Once this is fitted, glued and clamped you have an incredibly strong table built to last a lifetime, but the appearance as I said is gracious with many practicalities not readily considered at first glance.

In my view the beauty of the design is that it is scaleable and the work it takes to make the dining table is about the same. Doubling the length and adding width to about 42″ gives you a table for six and eight people at a squeeze for Thanksgiving or Christmas-day dinner. Bringing people to the table is what it’s all about anyway.

In two days we will hopefully have these oak coffee tables completed and on Monday we begin discovering rocking chairs in oak too. The most commonly used joint used by furniture makers is without doubt the mortise and tenon joint. It exceeds all other joints by hundreds of times over. We hade fourteen of them in our tool boxes last week, fourteen of them in this week’s coffee table and next week we enter the marathon of forty four in the rocking chair. By the time that is done, everyone will be well versed in the art and craft of cutting mortise and tenon joints by hand. Not one of these joints takes me longer than ten minutes to complete, many of them half that time.


  1. Paul, when cutting the tenons on a wider part such as the center vertical piece on your coffee table, which is the best method to cut that tenon? For the shoulder cut, is it best to cut full width across that line vs. cutting a knife wall down to full depth as in a dado? Along similar lines, for forming the cheeks of the tenon, would you use a saw to cut that wide tenon- seems that it may be difficult to keep the saw square all the way across, or would it be best to pare it down or use a splitting cut and then true up the cheeks with a hand router?
    I have a project in the works that will require some 6″ wide tenons and that’s the method I’m leaning towards because I’m not confident in my ability to saw square cheeks for a tenon that wide, but there’s probably a better and easier method that I haven’t thought of.
    Thank you for all the incredible information that you provide through this blog and your books, it’s really helped to change the way that I work wood so much for the better.

  2. I will try to post a blog on your questions. You will not believe this but I use a # 4 Stanley and a splitting technique you must see. We will do a video at the same time.

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