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Occasional Table Routing Project

A small and a very simple occasional table using the box combing jig to provide the contrasting detailing on the corner joints.

I am not a great fan of using contrasting timbers in small furniture projects as the result can look a little contrived. However, if you try and incorporate the contrast as part of the design, rather than using the different colours just for the sake of it, it does sometimes work quite well.

In this case I wanted to produce a small and a very simple occasional table with two drawers using the box combing jig to provide the contrasting detailing on the corner joints. The logical extension of this was to then continue this dentil theme through to the top and insert some contrasting pieces to form the chequered ends.

This is not meant to be a piece of fine cabinet making, but hopefully shows that you can produce quite contemporary looking pieces of furniture using a minimum of tools and equipment, keeping the design extremely simple and leaving the timber to produce the 'wow' factor.


Step 1 - Preparing the Timber

The final timber choice was maple for the top and drawer fronts and Goncalo alves for the frame and contrasting detail. Both of these are relatively cheap hardwoods and should be available from your local timber merchant.

Wide boards of thicker material will often contain drying stresses so I prefer to cut out the individual pieces from the rough sawn boards to release these stresses before I start doing any planing.

The top is made up from six separate strips so plane and thickness these to size first, along with enough of the contrasting material to make up the inlays.

Take particular care to get the long edges straight and square, then lay the strips out on the bench and play around with their orientation until you get the most pleasing arrangement. Mark this with a large triangle so you get them back in the same position later.


Step 2 - Biscuit Jointing and Glueing

This stage involves cutting and joining the timber to form the table top.

Cut alternate strips shorter to allow for the inserts and then mark across the width of the top for the biscuit positions. Three biscuits along each length should be sufficient in thicker material like this.

There are several options for edge to edge joints, but by far the easiest option is to use a biscuit jointer. The more sophisticated versions incorporate fine setting controls and are able to joint to superb accuracy even on angled pieces. However for simple edge jointing jobs like this, one of the less expensive models is perfectly adequate provided you make allowances for their often variable accuracy.

Set the jointer to the number 20 size biscuit and cut three slots along each strip, holding the jointer firmly in place as you plunge into the hard timber or it has the tendency to try and kick sideways.

Clean any ragging from around the biscuit slots as this may stop the joint fitting together properly. Use a brush to apply plenty of glue along the mating edges and also work it well into the biscuit slots.

I did hesitate about putting biscuits into each of the separate inlay pieces as well but decided against it. With hindsight it would have been much easier at the cramping up stage as it was a struggle to get them all lined up and tighten up the cramp at the same time, and in fact the whole thing got rather messy, though I did get there in the end!.


Step 3 - Cutting, Glueing and Clamping

This stage involves sanding the table top, cutting and forming the legs and beginning the assembly process.

Once the glue is dry a random orbit sander should be enough to clean up the glue lines working down the grades of abrasive from about 120 to 400 grit.

The resulting inserted detail was quite pleasing and despite the slight trauma at the gluing up stage, the joints ended up quite tight.

The taper on the legs is cut from the 70mm x 70mm square section using a simple jig on the table saw, but note that the crown guard has been removed for the photograph. A similar jig would work just as well on the bandsaw.

Plane up the sawn faces on each taper and then mark the position of the various rails on each leg.

Layout the legs and rails on the bench and again play around with the orientation of each piece to get the best looking timber match as regards grain and figure.

Use the biscuit jointer again to joint the rails and legs together, the two side rails and the back being located on the centre line of each leg.

Keep checking for squareness as you glue and cramp it all together or you will have great difficulty getting the drawers to fit later on.

The side drawer runners are simply glued in place and you can add a couple of guide strips later when the drawers have been made.

The top is attached using buttons and slots in the traditional way, as this allows for any movement of the top. Make the buttons first and then mark the position for the slots in the rails.

The slots are cut using the router and a grooving cutter, but clamp a support block in place on the rail to provide some stability to the router, rather than trying to balance it on the narrow edge.

The drawer joints are cut with the box combing jig featured elsewhere in this issue, using the contrasting timber for the sides to echo the inserted detailing of the top.


Step 4 - Final Cutting and Assembly

Now, only a few finishing touches need to be done.

Cut the box joints very slightly deeper than the thickness of the timber and machine a groove around the inside of each drawer to take the base.

Once the drawers have been assembled and the glue has dried, use the random orbit sander to smooth back the joints so they are flush on both faces.

The drawers may need some fine tuning to make them fit and slide easily, but care taken at the assembly stage to get everything square will be well rewarded here.

The drawer pulls are turned on the lathe from a piece of scrap Goncalo alves, forming a small spigot on the end of each to locate in a hole drilled in the drawer front.

The underside of the top is chamfered back using a 45 degree cutter in the router. Again with hindsight this would probably have looked better if I´d used a 30 degree cutter to be more in keeping with the angle of the legs.

The finished table was given a thorough sanding and then primed using cellulose sanding sealer. Final finish was a couple of coats of Danish oil, but take the top off and give it the same treatment on both sides to prevent it cupping.