Project Plans: Classic Accent Table

Build a handsome catch-all piece in a weekend using a few beautiful boards.

If you have some furniture requests to fill, this accent table is a quick and elegant project that’s sure to please even the most discriminating recipient. Its clean, classic lines will complement almost any decor, and it can turn an unused hallway space or the back of a sofa into an attractive focal point for collectibles. The project also provides a good opportunity to practice your joint-making skills, and you can complete it in a couple of long afternoons.

Slender and graceful, this accent table complements most styles of decor and easily fits in a variety of locations.

The tapered legs and gentle curves of the aprons give the table a sophisticated and graceful stature, so choose top-quality lumber to build it. I used mahogany, but cherry, walnut or maple would also be good choices. A piece of figured wood can add visual interest to the center panel of the tabletop if the other parts are made of plain-grain stock. You can even make the center panel from a contrasting wood species for a more contemporary look.

Most of the project can be made from 3/4-in. lumber, but buy thicker 8/4 stock for the legs so you won’t have to glue together two thinner boards — glue seams and irregular grain patterns on the legs can be distracting.

Make the legs
To begin, joint and plane the leg stock to uniform thickness (1-1/2 in.), and rip the four leg blanks slightly larger than necessary. On each leg, run one of the sawn faces over the jointer to smooth it; then plane the other sawn face to reduce the leg to its final dimensions. Crosscut the legs to length.

It may be tempting to cut the leg tapers next, but instead you should cut mortises for the apron tenons while the leg faces are still flat. Lay out the mortise positions carefully. Notice in the drawing (see the PDF below) that the location of the mortises creates an attractive 1/8-in. setback where the legs meet the aprons.

A mortising machine and 1/4-in. hollow-chisel bit will cut the leg mortises quickly. You can also use a 1/4-in. straight bit mounted in a router table if you don’t have a mortising machine (or a drill press mortising attachment). Plunge the leg down onto the router bit and slide it along the fence to cut the mortises.

If you rout the mortises, make them in a series of three or four passes, raising the bit in 1/8-in. increments for each pass. Chisel the ends of the mortises square.

Cut 1/2-in.-deep mortises in the legs for the apron tenons. A mortising machine or a router table and straight bit will cut the mortises efficiently.

Once you’ve completed the mortises, cut tapers along the mortised faces. I cut the tapers on a table saw using a shop-made tapering jig with a pair of hold-down clamps, but you could use a commercial jig instead. Adjust the jig and saw fence settings so the tapers start 3-1/2 in. from the tops of the legs and reduce the legs to 3/4 in. at the bottom. Double-check the leg orientation before you make these cuts to avoid mistakes.

Cut tapers in the two mortised faces of each leg using a tapering jig on a table saw. Slide the jig along the rip fence to make these angled cuts.

After you’ve cut the tapers, joint the angled faces smooth. Finish the legs by easing all sharp edges.

Prepare the aprons
Rip and crosscut the short side aprons to final size, but rip the long front and back aprons about 1 in. oversize. This extra material gives you room to lay out the bottom curves. Mark the aprons to their 3-in. width and plot the end and center points of the broad curve. Scribe the curve by flexing a strip of thin plywood or hardboard between two finish nails driven into the end points of the curve (in the apron waste area). Rip the long aprons to final width, but don’t cut the curves yet.

Draw the long apron curves by flexing a strip of thin plywood or hardboard between two nails driven into one of the apron workpieces. Then gang-cut both curves at once with the aprons taped together.

The tenons on all four aprons match, so you can machine them consecutively with a wide dado blade on the table saw. Set the saw’s rip fence so the blade reaches the tenon shoulders, and use the miter gauge to support the workpieces from behind while you cut the tenons. (Test the setup on a scrap first.) After you’ve cut away the initial waste for all eight tenons, raise the dado blade to make the deeper end shoulder cuts, they’re 3/8 in. wide, not 1/4 in. like the others.

Use a dado blade in a table saw to cut tenons on the ends of the aprons. Set the rip fence to index the tenon shoulder cuts.

Now you can cut the long apron curves. Hold the aprons together with a strip of double-sided carpet tape, and cut both curves at once with a jigsaw or band saw. Sand the curves smooth.

Sand the legs and aprons to 180-grit, and test the fit of the tenons in the mortises. The parts should slide together without force. If you need to improve the fit, use a file or sharp chisel to adjust the tenon proportions a little at a time. Then glue and clamp the legs and aprons together to create the lower framework. Make the six inner cleats for attaching the top, and fasten them to the aprons with glue and countersunk No. 6 x 1-1/4-in. flathead wood screws.

Build the top frame
The tabletop is essentially a mitered frame-and-panel assembly similar to a cabinet door. A groove around the inside of the frame houses a tongue on the center panel. The panel is intentionally undersize in width and length to allow for wood movement and create a 1/8-in. decorative reveal inside the frame.

Make the tabletop by first ripping and crosscutting the short and long frame members to size. Joint the long edges of these parts smooth. Next, cut a centered 1/4-in.-wide x 3/8-in.-deep groove along one edge of the four frame parts for the center panel. You can make the grooves on a router table using either a slot-cutting or straight bit, or you can cut them with a dado blade in a table saw. An easy way to ensure that each groove is centered is to make it in two passes, flipping the workpiece from one face to the other before making the second pass.

Mill a centered groove along the edges of the tabletop frame workpieces with a slot-cutting bit mounted in a router table.

Once you’ve milled all of the grooves, carefully cut the frame end miters to 45 degrees. (Test the saw’s angle setting by first cutting a scrap.) Be sure the lengths of the short and long frame parts match after you cut the angles. Use a biscuit joiner to make centered slots in the ends for installing a single No. 20 biscuit across each miter joint. If you don’t have a biscuit joiner, you can use dowels or splines. Sand the frame parts smooth.

Align and strengthen the top frame miter joints with No. 20 plate-joining biscuits. Cut the slots with a plate joiner.

Make the center panel
Cut the center panel to size, and use a rabbeting bit mounted in a handheld router to mill the centered tongue around all four edges of the panel. Rout all around one face; then flip the panel and rout the other face to create the tongue. (Check the bit settings first on a scrap.) The tongue should fit easily but not sloppily into the frame grooves.

Mill a centered tongue around the edges of the tabletop center panel with a router and piloted rabbeting bit.

Sand the panel thoroughly, and apply finish before assembling the frame. This way if the panel shrinks because of changes in humidity, bare wood won’t be exposed in the reveal area.

Assemble and finish
Slip the center panel into the frame grooves and spread glue carefully into the biscuit slots and along the mitered ends. Keep the glue out of the center panel groove so the panel will float freely after assembly. Insert the biscuits and use a strap clamp to pull the assembly together.

Apply finish to the center panel, then glue the tabletop biscuit joints. Keep glue out of the grooves so the panel is free to expand and contract.

After the glue dries, adjust the panel in the frame so the reveal is even on all sides. To keep the panel from slipping out of position, drive a single 5/8-in. brad through the short frame pieces (centered and from the bottom) where the tongue and grooves overlap.

Complete the tabletop’s construction by easing the outer edges with a 1/8-in. roundover bit mounted in a router; then sand the edges before finishing. I used a mixture of water-base brown and red aniline dye to evenly stain the mahogany and then applied a coat of dewaxed shellac to seal the piece and enhance the wood grain and color. For improved durability, you can apply several coats of oil-base varnish over the shellac. If you’re working on a tight deadline, however, you can simply use conventional wood stain and varnish.

Once the finish has cured, all that’s left is to join the leg assembly to the tabletop. Drive six countersunk No. 6 x 1-1/4-in. flathead wood screws through the cleats and up into the tabletop frame, and your gift is ready to wrap.

Drive a countersunk 1-1/4-in. flathead wood screw through each cleat to attach the lower frame to the tabletop.