This kitchen booth is all about craftsmanship, an inimitable quality that results from meticulous planning, skillful work and unwavering attention to detail. From the mortise-and-tenon joints to the careful chamfering on the legs, the table-and-benches set is a gleaming example of how a well-crafted furnishing can transform a room.
Most kitchen booths (or breakfast nooks, if you prefer) rely on cabinetmaking techniques. This booth is predominantly a woodworking project. Capable of comfortably accommodating six diners (or seven if you pull up a chair), the table attaches to the wall like a built-in at one end, but the benches are movable and freestanding.
The legs, trestle and rails are made from solid cherry held together with mortise-and-tenon joints for high strength. The bench seats are cherry-veneer plywood. The plastic-laminate tabletop adds color and texture and provides an easy-to-clean eating surface.
Although we describe this booth as a testament to craftsmanship, it is also proof that furniture conceived in a joint effort doesn't necessarily look as if it were designed by committee. Former Editor Dan Cary did most of the research and planning to create the basic footprint and proportions for the booth. Former Art Director Mike Anderson applied his creative skills to Dan's plan and conceived the strong stylistic and visual elements. And Club member and professional furniture maker Vern Grassel of Minneapolis, MN, crunched the numbers for the cutting list, designed the joinery, drew the working plans and did most of the actual building of the project.
Solving design problems
A kitchen booth is typically built to fit a specific space. But our design team didn't face any space limitations, so we began by discussing the things we don't like about other kitchen booth designs. Here is a brief list (along with our solutions):
- Problem 1: That "Happy-Meal Feel" - Dining booths evoke images of fast-food containers or thick puddles of pancake syrup under your elbows. The seats tend to be uncomfortable, and the tabletops are frequently flimsy. Solution: Design carefully and use fine woodworking techniques and hardwood.
- Problem 2: Access Denied - The only thing worse than sitting in an uncomfortable booth is trying to get in and out of it. When the benches and table are fixed in place, the design must allow just the right amount of space for easy access while maintaining dining comfort - a difficult proposition. Solution: Attach one end of the table to the wall so the legs or pedestal on the open end can be less obtrusive, and make the benches freestanding and movable.
- Problem 3: U-G-L-Y - Whether they're in homes, restaurants or sports bars, typical booths leave a lot to be desired from an aesthetic standpoint. Solution: Keep it simple. Avoid the temptation to incorporate bookcases, finials, appliques, cup holders or under-bench storage for your antique duck decoy collection. Feel free to borrow from existing design styles. (Our bench features Shaker and Mission design elements.) Above all, design a booth you like, it will be around for a long time.
When we think of woodworking, we tend to focus on finesse: lovingly paring a tenon with a chisel or plane until it fits the mortise with absolute precision. But in reality, during any major woodworking project you'll likely spend more time feeding raw stock into a planer than cutting joints. For this booth, we planed more than 150 bf of cherry to thickness.
TIP: Dimension all the 1-3/4-in. stock, then the 1-1/2-in. stock, then the 3/4-in. parts. This requires planning but is ultimately more efficient.
Once you've planed and squared up the stock, cut each part to length. Remember to allow for the length of the tenons where necessary (see drawing and cutting list in the PDF, below). All the legs in our table and benches have the same taper, so we made a custom taper jig and used it to make each cut (photo 1).
After planing and jointing the stock to thickness and width, cut the legs to length; then cut matching tapers in each leg using a taper jig and table saw.
The medium density fiberboard (MDF) substrate for the tabletop can be cut to size at any time, but it's best to wait until you're ready to attach the filler strips, edging and plastic laminate because the edges of MDF are easily damaged. Also, wait until you've glued and assembled the bench frames before you cut the seats to size - that way, you can check the dimensions of the actual openings before you cut the plywood.
Machine the slats and fillets to thickness and width on full-length stock using production-style techniques. Crosscut the slats to uniform length using a stop block on a power miter saw. Using a router and piloted chamfer bit, cut the chamfers for the top edges of the fillets on the full-length stock. Then trim them to length on a miter saw, making sure the fences are adjusted to provide backing on each side of the cut.
Using templates and jigs
The best way to ensure uniform mortise-and-tenon joints is to create templates for mortising guides. Using 1/8- or 1/4-in. hardboard, make a separate template for each type of part (see templates in the PDF, below). If you're planning to cut with a guide bushing and straight bit, allow enough clearance for the bushing when laying out and cutting the template. If you're using a top-piloted straight bit, make the guide holes in the template match the finished mortise dimensions. (This is a more difficult technique because most of the waste needs to be removed from the mortise with a drill first.) Templates that fit over the edge of a workpiece should have stabilizer sides to create a span equal to the thickness of the workpiece.
Carefully clamp the correct template onto each workpiece; then cut the mortises with a plunge router and a straight bit with a template bushing or a top-mounted pilot bearing (photos 2 and 3). Before cutting the tenons, chamfer the bench rails and table legs (photo 4). This way, if the chamfer bit gouges or rounds over the end of the workpiece, the defect will be in a waste area. The bench sides are easier to chamfer after assembly.
Clamp the template for the correct leg in position and cut the mortises using a straight bit with a bushing collar or a top pilot. The half-size mortise hole seen on the long leg template is to guide the bit when mortising for the smaller front-rail tenons after the sides have been assembled.
The insert pieces seen on template No. 3 are to be inserted in the mortise holes for cutting the half-size mortises in the top of the table foot.
Using a router with a piloted chamfer bit, cut 1/4-in. chamfers in the edges of the front and back seat rails and the table legs, supports and trestle.
Cut the tenons on a table saw using a tenoning jig (photo 5). Round over the square edges of the tenons with a block plane, file or rasp. Test the fit of each mortise-and-tenon joint, and pare back the tenon as needed until you can fit it in place snugly without great force.
Make the shoulder cuts for the tenons with the workpieces flat on the table saw table; then use a tenoning jig to guide the workpieces when making the cheek cuts.
The slats in the sides and back of the benches fit into 3/4-in.-wide x 5/16-in.-deep grooves. Cut the grooves in the rails using a dado-blade set mounted in a table saw. The groove should stop at least 3 in. before the front end of the top bench rails.
Assembling slats, fillets and joints
Assemble the bench sides first. Carefully test the fit before you begin gluing: The glue cures quickly, so you'll have little time to make adjustments once you've started. (For a longer open time, use polyurethane glue.)
Apply glue to the tenons forming the two front joints on each assembly (working on only one assembly at a time). Begin filling in fillets and slats, starting with a fillet. Make sure the parts are seated cleanly in the grooves. The fillets should be fastened with a small amount of glue and a pin nail or brad (photo 6). Take care not to slop glue in the areas where the slats will seat. (You want them to remain free-floating.)
Glue the mortise-and-tenon joints at the fronts of the side assemblies for the benches. Install slats and fillets in the grooves before gluing and clamping each complete side assembly.
Once you've reached the end of the slat-and-fillet line, apply glue to the exposed tenons; then fit the back leg onto the assembly. Clamp the assembly, making sure the joints fit together cleanly. Do not overtighten the clamps.
After the glue in the side assemblies has dried, lay one assembly flat on the floor, with the mortises facing up. Insert the correct bench rail into each mortise. Check the fit; then (without gluing the joints) insert fillets and fasteners into the facing grooves, as with the side assemblies. Work your way from bottom to top in a ladderlike manner. Once the slatted back is complete, glue and clamp it together with the side assemblies (photo 7).
Install the slats and fillets between the back rails. Then assemble each bench by gluing the rail/side assembly joints and clamping.
Attach seat cleats at the sides of the seat-board opening in each bench assembly. Check the dimensions of each opening; then cut a cherry plywood seat board to fit. Attach solid-wood edging to the front edge of each seat board using biscuits and glue (photos 8 and 9). Fasten the seat boards with No. 10 x 1-1/4-in. wood screws driven up through the cleats (photo 10).
Cut matching biscuit slots in the front edges of the seat boards and in the 1-1/2 x 1-1/2-in. edging strips.
Glue and clamp the strips to the seat board, checking to make sure the tops are level.
Attach the seat cleats to the side assemblies; then fasten the seat boards to the cleats with No. 10 x 1-1/4-in. wood screws.
Assemble the table base, attaching the wall cleat to the inner tabletop support with No. 10 x 2-in. wood screws and glue. With the trestle in position (and the profiles cut), glue the tops of the table legs into the mortises in the outer tabletop support (photo 11). Then glue the table foot onto the tenons at the bottoms of the legs.
Attach the wall cleat to the end of the trestle and capture the other end of the trestle between the table legs to complete the assembly of the table base.
Attach 2-1/2-in.-wide filler strips cut from 3/4-in. MDF to the underside of the tabletop around the perimeter and midway running from side to side (not front to back). Then fasten solid-wood edging to the fronts and side edges of the tabletop substrate, using pin nails (or biscuits) and glue. Sand the joints in the edging smooth and flush with the surface of the substrate.
Carefully clean the tabletop surface before applying a layer of contact cement to it and to the underside of the plastic laminate. Let the contact cement dry; then apply a second, lighter coat. Once the glue is dry, lay several pull sticks (1/2-in. dowels work well) across the surface of the tabletop to prevent the glued surfaces from touching while you position the laminate. Carefully place the laminate over the substrate. Beginning at one end, remove the pull sticks one piece at a time and press the laminate downward (photo 12). Roll with a J-roller from the middle toward each edge to set the laminate and to remove air bubbles. Continue working toward the opposite end.
Bond plastic laminate to the tabletop substrate after you attach the tabletop edging. Insert pull sticks between the laminate and top. Withdraw the sticks in order as you set and roll the laminate.
Use a router and a laminate-trimming bit to remove the excess plastic laminate from the substrate. Then carefully chamfer the edges on the sides and front. (Leave the back edge square.) Clean any contact cement from the laminate surface or the edging with mineral spirits or lacquer thinner.
Using a router and piloted chamfer bit, cut chamfers in the inside edges of the slatted opening in each bench side assembly (outer side only). Fill any nail holes or gouges with stainable wood putty; then sand all of the wood to 150 grit. Apply your choice of finish - we wiped on three coats of clear tung-oil varnish.
Before installing the table, find two wall studs in the installation area and attach the wall cleat to the studs with 1/4 x 3-in. lag screws and washers (photo 13). If the studs aren't in a suitable location, use four toggle bolts instead. Make sure the top of the wall cleat is level with the tops of the tabletop supports.
Use two 1/4 x 3-in. lag screws driven into wall studs (or use four toggle bolts) to attach the wall cleat that supports the end of the table.
Center the tabletop over the wall cleat and position it so the back end is flush against the wall. If the wall is not flat, you may need to scribe the end of the tabletop to fit tightly against it. Attach the tabletop by driving No. 10 x 1-in. wood screws up through the nosing of the cleat and into the bottom of the tabletop.
Finally, position the benches on each side of the table. If you have a delicate floor or want to be able to slide the benches in and out of the booth area more easily, attach furniture pads to the bottoms of the bench legs.