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Easy End Table

This elegant little end table is a great starter project. It's built with off-the-shelf lumber, and simple construction methods, but the end result a welcome addition to any home.

This project was designed to not require a large assortment of tools. In fact, a table saw was the only large tool used in building this table. A drill, a sander, and a miter saw were also used, but the drill was the only mandatory other tool. This project is small enough that you could sand it by hand, removing the need for a sander. Also, all the miter saw cuts could also be made using the table saw.

The joinery was accomplished using a pocket-hole jig, which makes for quick and simple joinery. However, a biscuit joiner, or a dowel jig, could also be used, with just about the same ease of construction. Or, you could even drill and use screws, and then plug the holes with wood plugs.

The final requirement was that all the lumber had to be easily available from a store. There is NO planing or jointing or resawing of any kind required to build this table.

The first thing I had to do, therefore, was visit my local big box lumber store and check out the available kinds and sizes of lumber. I made many notes on thicknesses and sizes and prices. I then went back home and thought and dreamed and imagined and doodled and eventually put this together in Sketchup.

Here is a 3D view from Sketchup of the design that I created, staying within the requirements mentioned above. Just because I had to stick with store-bought wood, and costs were keeping me to basic pine, did not mean that I had to produce a boring square clunky ugly project. I was determined to add some flair. By mixing a painted base with a natural-finished top, and by adding a simple little taper to the bottom of the legs, and by adding a cluster of dowels along the sides to give a hint of Mission styling... All of these features work together, I think, to produce a simple yet stylish project.

Here are a few more views of the plan:

It is sized to either work as an end table or a bedside table.
As I mentioned above, all the lumber in this project came from a local big box home centre store. The top is a pre-glued laminated pine panel, which are commonly available in several sizes. This allows us to build the top from "one" piece, and removes the need to glue up stock ourselves. The legs and stretchers come from 2"x8" pine boards (which are really 1-1/2" thick, which is exactly what we want). Note that this was not construction lumber! Choose the straightest clearest pieces you can find. A few tight knots are fine. For one thing, the base is being painted. But also, the longest piece is only 21" long, so with care you should be able to cut around most knots.

Laminated panels come in various sizes. A 14"x24" piece is required for the top, so choose accordingly. Take your time and sort through the pile to find one you like, taking into account the number and placement of knots, as well as the grain pattern of the pieces making up the panel. Use the table saw to crosscut it to 24" and then rip it to 14" in width.

(Pictured here is a sample of a laminated pine panel, it is not an actual photo of the top being constructed.)

As a brief aside... here is a close-up of the top today. The top is now almost five years old and has developed a nice patina of warmth and age. The top is a honey golden colour, and there are varying colours depending on the grain and other factors. Contrast that with the plain white look of the panel above. This is the sort of thing you have to learn to bear in mind as you work with wood -- to visualize what the piece will look like when finished.
Lay out your legs and stretchers on the 2x8 lumber, avoiding as many knots as possible. Crosscut the legs to 21-1/4" long, and then rip them to 1-1/2" wide. The result is legs that are 1-1/2" square. Next, crosscut four stretchers to 18" long, and two at 8" long, and rip them to 3" in width.

Before going any further, cut out the taper at the base of each leg. First, position the legs as they will be arranged in the finished table, and put identifying marks on each of them, so that you can preserve this arrangement. On the two outside edges of each leg, make a mark 1" in from the outside corner. Make another mark 3" up from the bottom, and connect the two marks. This should define the angle of the taper. Using a jigsaw (or a bandsaw or the miter saw) cut along the two lines to taper the legs. (SEE DIAGRAM)

Now would be a good time to sand all the parts, before any pieces are glued together. Start at 80 or 100 grit and proceed to 150 grit sandpaper.

(Pictured: Underside of the top, showing the pocket holes -- these are normally hidden.)

Lay out the stretchers and mark which will be the top and which the bottom stretchers. Drill two pocket holes in the end of each stretcher. It would be a good idea to offset the holes in the short stretchers, so the screws won't interfere with those in the long stretchers where they enter the legs. Also, drill pocket holes along the inside top edge of the top stretchers, for attaching the top to the table later on. Take care with your pocket hole depths, as the holes for attaching the top need to be shallower than the ones for the legs. Take the time to first drill test holes in scrap pieces to see how things will go together, and to verify depth settings on the jig.

The next step is to drill the holes for the five spindles. Mark the hole locations very carefully in all four stretchers; two holes centred 5" in from each end, two holes centred 7" in from each end, and one hole centred 9" in from the end -- the centre of the board. Use a Forstner bit and carefully drill a 5/8" diameter hole 1/2" deep at each location. It is important that all holes be the same depth.

Cut ten sections of 5/8" dowel to 11" in length. Cutting dowel can be tricky, as the dowel can easily turn while cutting. Use another piece of wood to trap the dowel and help keep it immobile. I happened to have some U-shaped wooden track from a previous project, which worked well. Use a stop (see the photo) when cutting the pieces, which helps make sure all of the dowels are the exact same length

Wipe some glue inside each spindle hole, insert the spindles and clamp the stretchers together. Measure from corner to corner and make sure that the stretcher assembly is square!

Once the two side assemblies are dry, proceed with putting together the base. I recommend first attaching the two short stretchers to the legs, and then the two long stretcher assemblies. If the long stretchers are attached first, as I mistakenly found out, then it is very difficult to fit in a screwdriver for attaching the short stretchers, as there is only 8" of clearance between the sides.

To hide the pocket holes, dab some glue in each hole and insert a pine pocket-hole plug. Once dry, cut or chisel flush, and sand smooth. After finishing, the holes will almost disappear.

In this photo the table is assembled, but the pocket holes in the lower stretcher have not yet been filled. Note that you only really need to fill the pocket holes in the upper stretcher, as the pocket holes in the top stretcher are never seen, unless you turn the table over.

Another view of the completed project, before any finish was applied.


The top is finished with several coats of wipe-on poly. Sand very lightly with 220 grit sandpaper between coats.

Waterbased finish will raise the grain, which is why you must sand between coats. The first coat of finish is the worst, since the grain on the bare wood raises so much. After the 2nd coat, there is very little roughness, so just a light touch with the sandpaper will knock down any rough spots. After the final coat I sometimes let it harden for a few days, then dribble on a few drops of water and buff/sand it with a 3M Scotch-brite pad (or similar product) The water lubricates the pad a bit and helps take away any dust that is raised from polishing. After that wipe it dry.

The base of the end table is painted. Start with a coat of primer, followed by two or three coats of latex paint. Water-based paint will raise the grain just as other water-based finishes do. Therefore a light sanding after the primer coat is recommended to knock down the grain. Allow the paint to fully cure and harden (for a few days) before attaching the top.

That is about all there is to building this table. A few more photos and notes follow...

Here is a close up of a foot, showing the slight taper.
Here is a closeup of the dowels. Once finished, it is impossible to tell how they are attached to the stretcher.
Here are a couple 3D views, with the dimensions noted on the diagram. You can adjust any of the dimensions to suit your own needs.

Note that there is NO ALLOWANCE made for joinery methods in these diagrams or dimensions. That works fine if you use pocket-hole joinery, as I did. If you decided to use mortise and tenon, for instance, you will need to adjust the length of your stretchers.

Parts List:

Part Size (TxWxL) Quantity
Top Panel 11/16" x 14" x 24" 1
Leg 1-1/2" x 1-1/2" x 21-1/4" 4
Spindle (Dowel) 5/8" diam x 11" 10
Long Stretcher 1-1/2" x 3" x 18" 4
Short Stretcher 1-1/2" x 3" x 8" 2

Historical Note:

This project was designed and built in 2008. An article about it was published in the Winter 2009 issue of Canadian Home Workshop Magazine. I also produced a very brief web page at the time, so as not to compete with the magazine.

The magazine has since ceased publication, so that link to the magazine will probably disappear at some unknown point in the future.


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