Build a Dining Table

When my friend needed a dining table for his family of four, he wanted something small for everyday use that could expand for seating guests when the occasion required it. Together we designed this contemporary-style extension table. High-quality wood slides allow the table to open an extra 51 in. — just drop in four leaves, and you're ready for company.

This project teaches you the basics of extension tables, so you can design your own or recreate ours. (You may want to consider making your table wider if you have the space; at 34 in. wide, this one is relatively narrow compared with the generally accepted standard width of 44 in.) Our table is loaded with design elements: The top front and rear edges of the top are curved and the ends are beveled, the legs are tapered, and the outside corners of the legs are rounded over. You could eliminate any or all of those touches and still build a great table. To save time and work, you can purchase tapered table legs online (see SOURCES in PDF, below). If you do that, you'll probably have to forgo rounding over the outside edges of the legs because the method we show requires that it be done before the tapers are cut.

We decided to splurge and make our table using black walnut. It's one of the more expensive domestic hardwoods, but we felt that the stunning results were worth the cost. Three coats of clear satin polyurethane finish enhance the natural beauty of the wood and protect it from spills and wear.

Construction notes
Even a beginning woodworker can build a table using manufactured components. This project includes a few design elements that require intermediate woodworking skills. I spent about $650 for materials and 30 hours on construction. I used a table saw, a jointer, a planer, a drill press, a band saw, a biscuit joiner, a belt sander, an orbital sander, a hand plane, a handsaw, six 36-in. opening pipe clamps and a variety of smaller bar clamps. You could buy a 1-in.-radius roundover bit to shape the outside corners of the legs, or you can save the money and use a hand plane as I did. (It's not difficult to do.)

The legs are joined to the aprons with metal corner brackets. This was the first time I used these brackets on a dining table, and I was surprised at how easy they were to use and how well they worked. I also used special table locks that double as top-alignment devices. They're great because they eliminate the need for table-alignment pins, which are notorious for being hard to install.

Make the legs
Cut the legs (A) to size (see cutting list, in PDF). Choose the best faces to be visible; then lay out the leg tapers and the corner-bracket notches accordingly. Draw guidelines for shaping the roundovers. Strike a 1-in.-radius arc at the top and bot- tom of each leg, and draw lines down each face 1 in. from the out- side corner. Use a table saw to make a series of cuts to remove most of the waste and begin shaping the rounded edges (photo 1). Next, shape the roundovers with a hand plane (photo 2). Use sandpaper and an orbital sander to finish the shape.

Rough cut the 1-in.-radius roundover edges on the legs' outside corners. Make the first cut at 45 degrees; then make two more cuts at 22-1/2 degrees. That will remove most of the waste.

Shape the legs' rounded edges using a hand plane. Remove the high spots that remain from the table saw cuts. When you're done, the edge will be nearly round. Finish smoothing the shape with a sanding block.

Use a band saw to cut the leg tapers (photos 3 and 4). Sand the sawn faces smooth using a belt sander. Cut the corner-bracket notches on the top inside corners of the legs (photo 5). Drill pilot holes for the corner-bracket hanger bolts; then finish sand the legs. (It's easier to sand them before the bolts are inserted.) Thread two nuts together on the threaded end of the hanger bolt. Tighten the nuts together so that they jam and then drive the hanger bolt into the pilot holes. A little screw wax applied to the wood screw threads makes this easier.

Use a band saw to cut one tapered side of each leg. Go slow and cut close to the line, leaving some excess to sand. Save the cut-off pieces, and don't mix them up.

Tape the cut-off pieces back in place on each leg. They will help to support the legs as you cut the second side of the taper.

Set the band saw to 45 degrees and cut the 3-1/2-in.-long corner-bracket notches at the inside top edge of to remove the waste pieces (see detail in illustration, in PDF below).

Make the aprons
Cut the apron pieces (B, C, D1 and D2) to size. Cut the corner- bracket slots on the backs of the apron pieces (photo 6). The D1 cleats need elongated holes to allow the top to move slightly if it should expand or contract over time. Drill the elongated holes through the D1 cleats (photo 7). Drill 7/32-in.-dia. clearance holes through the D2 cleats. Glue the cleats to the side aprons (B).

Cut slots in the apron ends for the corner-bracket lips. Set the saw blade 1/4 in. high, and use a miter gauge to support the apron pieces as you make the cuts.

Define the elongated screw holes by drilling three 7/32-in.-dia. holes side-by-side through each D1 cleat. Then use a hand drill and the 7/32-in. bit to open the slots. A small round file helps too.

Make the tops and leaves
Assembling the top halves is tricky because of the beveled ends. I didn't want to glue up the 30-1/2-in.-wide top halves and then tip them on end to cut the bevels because push- ing tall pieces through a table saw can be a little risky. Instead, I glued most of the top pieces together, leaving off the final end pieces that are beveled.

Cut the top pieces and ends (E, F) to size. Cut the biscuit grooves; then glue and clamp four E pieces together to make each top half. Cut the bevels on the top end pieces F (photo 8). Clamping the beveled edge piece to the rest of the top pieces is not easy because the clamp pressure on the narrow edge will force the piece to pull up or tilt. The solution to this problem is to use clamping blocks across the joint. The clamping blocks are simply scrap pieces of 1 x 1 x 8-in. wood covered with mask- ing tape. (The tape prevents the glue from adhering the blocks to the top pieces.) Apply glue to the joint and butt the parts together. Then clamp the blocks on top and bottom of the pieces, positioning them across the joint line to keep the table top pieces aligned and flat as clamping pressure is applied. Alternate your pipe clamps, placing three on the top and three on the bottom. Gently apply pressure, taking care not to crush the 3/8-in.-wide outside edge.

Cut the 15-1/2-degree bevels on the top end pieces (F). For safety, set the saw blade just high enough not to cut through completely. Break the waste piece off and use a hand plane to remove the tiny nib that is left at the bottom of the bevel.

Make a template of the curved top shape using 1/4- or 1/2-in. fiberboard (see illustration, in PDF below). Trace the shape onto the top half edges. Cut the shapes and sand the sawn edges smooth. Then make the leaves (G).

Assemble the table
Draw apron-alignment lines and table-lock centerlines on the under- sides of the top halves (see illustration in PDF). Mount the table locks across the table-top halves (photo 9). Separate the top halves, insert each leaf one at a time, and mount the table locks to the leaves. This is the easy way to get everything properly aligned.

Align and mount the table locks. The locks work best if they apply a slight amount of pressure to the joint when they are latched. Test mount them on scrap wood to determine the best spacing.

Join the top halves again. Assemble the aprons and corner brackets. Mount the aprons to the tabletop (photo 10). Bolt the legs to the corner brackets. Double-check the protrusion of the 1-1/2-in.-long screws through the slides to be sure they aren't too long; then mount the table slides (photo 11).

Screw the aprons to the underside of the tabletop. Clamp across the side apron ends to keep them flush together. Use a 24-5/8-in. spacer to maintain the proper spread between the aprons.

Screw the extension slides in place. Use spacers to ensure that all parts are parallel. The manufacturer has labeled the slides "left side" and "right side." Those labels mean nothing more than to tell you the slides are a matched pair.

Check the operation of the table extension. Disassemble everything, finish sand the parts, ease the exposed sharp edges, and apply three coats of finish. When the finish is dry, reassemble the table and it's ready for use.