Practice your mortise and tenon skills on this versatile project.
Whether you need a stand for a printer, a plant or your favorite lamp, this little accent table will find a home in any room and for many purposes. It measures 21 inches tall, with a 16-in.-square top. The aprons are detailed with a beaded lower edge, and the legs are secured to the aprons and rails with mortise and tenon joints, for durability. Aside from its functional appeal, this table will give you good opportunity to refine your mortise and tenon joinery technique. We used General Tool's EZ Pro Mortise and Tenon Jig to rout tenons on the aprons and lower rails. This all-in-one jig will also cut corresponding centered mortises, but since the mortises on these table legs are off-center, we opted for the router table instead.
The accent table requires the following parts, which you should cut to size as you build the project:
Four aprons — 3/4" x 2-3/4" x 12"
Four lower rails — 3/4" x 2-1/2" x 12"
Four legs — 1-1/2" x 1-1/2" x 20-1/4"
Top — 3/4" x 16" x 16"
Four wood buttons — 3/4" x 1-1/4" x 1-1/2"
Step 1: Mill stock for the legs, aprons and lower rails. Cut the legs and rails to length, but leave the aprons a few inches longer than necessary. This way, you can trim off any tearout or inconsistencies that may occur near the ends when beading the lower edges of these parts.
Step 2: Install a piloted beading bit in your router table, and adjust the fence so the bit's bearing is even with the fence faces. Close up the fence faces, if applicable, to minimize exposure around the bit. Test the setup on a piece of scrap first, then mill beading along one edge of each of the aprons (see Photo 1). Use a featherboard to keep the workpieces pressed tightly against the fence during routing. Once the beading is milled, cut the aprons to final length.
Step 3: There are any number of ways to attach a tabletop to a leg-and-apron assembly, but wood buttons are a time-honored approach that allow for cross-grain wood movement. Buttons have a rabbeted tongue on one end that fits into a corresponding groove on the inside faces of the aprons. We cut these grooves at the router table with a 1/4-in. straight bit raised 3/8 in. above the table. Locate the grooves 1/2 in. down from the top edges of the aprons and on the face opposite the beaded edge (see Photo 2).
Step 4: Typically when making mortise-and-tenon joints, the protocol is to cut the mortises first. Notice in the introductory photo of this project that the aprons and rails set back from the faces of the legs by 1/8 in., to create appealing shadow lines. To achieve this detail, install a 1/4 bit in your router table, and lock the fence 3/8 in. away from the bit (to account for the 1/8 in. reveal and 1/4 in. of shoulder on each side of the apron and rail tenons. Mark your leg workpieces for 1-1/2-in.-long mortises. Position the apron mortises 3/4 in. down from the tops of the legs; the lower rail mortises are 4 in. up from the bottoms of the legs. Cut the mortises in a series of deepening passes, raising the bit about 1/4 in. with each pass, until your mortises are about 13/16 in. deep. (The extra 1/16 in. of depth provides a reservoir for excess glue at the bottom of the mortise.) Cut all of the apron and rail mortises now (see Photo 3).
Step 5: Select your method for cutting tenons on the aprons and rails. Follow the instructions that come with General Tool's EZ Pro Mortise and Tenon Jig if you use it for your joinery. It features a clamping system for holding the workpiece in place, centering bars for locating the stock accurately in the jig and adjustable top guides for cutting tenons with the included router guide bushings and spiral upcut bit. Start by cutting 1/4-in.-thick, 3/4-in.-tall tenons on the ends of the aprons. Make them 1-1/2 in. long. Locate their "top" shoulders 3/4 in. in from the top (grooved) edges of the workpieces. This will leave 1/2 in. shoulders on the opposite ends, nearest to the beaded edge of the aprons. Make the tenons on the lower rails the same size as the apron tenons, but center them on the rails when you mill them to create 1/2-in. shoulders on both ends (see Photo 4).
Step 6: Ease the bottom ends and edges of the legs, all four edges of the lower rails and the bottom sharp edge of the aprons with a 1/8-in.-radius roundover bit in your router. Sand the legs, aprons and rails up through the grits to 180.
Step 7: You can now proceed to glue and clamp the table's lower framework. Do this in two stages. First, glue and clamp an apron and lower rail between two legs to form a subassembly. Make two of these subassemblies, and allow the glue to dry before proceeding. Once the subassemblies are dry, glue and clamp them together with the remaining two aprons and rails to complete the frame (see Photo 5).
Step 8: Glue up a blank of stock for your tabletop and trim it to final size. Ease the edges and corners just enough to soften them to the touch with a file, sanding block or a chamfering bit in your router. Now sand the tabletop's faces and edges to 180-grit.
Step 9: Make the wood buttons to prepare for attaching the tabletop. Start with two scraps of 3/4-in.-thick, 1-1/4-in.-wide scrap stock that's about 6 to 8 inches long. The length of these workpieces will allow you to mill the rabbeted ends of the buttons while keeping your hands safely clear of a dado blade in your table saw.
Step 10: Attach a long backup fence to your saw's miter gauge, and install a wide dado blade. Raise the blade 1/2 in. above the table. Clamp a stop block to your miter gauge fence so it will support the opposite end of your button workpieces when cutting the end rabbets. Adjust the stop block position so the blade will cut a 3/8-in.-wide rabbet shoulder. Mill a rabbet on the ends of each button workpiece, flipping the workpieces end-for-end against the stop block for each pair of cuts (see Photo 6).
Step 11: Drill a centered countersunk pilot hole through each button before slicing them off of the longer strips. If you use a fence on a drill press table, you only need to measure the hole location once. Position the fence and mark it so the ends of the rabbet tongues also locate the pilot holes where you need them. Bore the screw holes (see Photo 7), then crosscut the buttons to 1-1/2 in. long on your table saw or miter saw.
Step 12: Apply stain and finish to your table's framework and top now — it's much easier to finish these parts before the tabletop is fixed in place.
Step 13: Once the finish cures, center the tabletop on the framework, allowing for a 1-1/4-in. overhang all around. Turn the table upside down on your bench to install the wood buttons, one button per apron (see Photo 8). Notice that the aprons either cross the grain of the tabletop or are parallel to it. For the cross grain aprons, you can seat the buttons fully in their grooves when you screw them in place — the tabletop won't expand along the grain. However, for the aprons that follow the wood grain of the tabletop, leave about 1/8 in. of clearance between the rabbet shoulders and the aprons when attaching the buttons. This is especially important if you're building your table during the winter heating season. The top will expand across the grain with summer humidity, and those shoulder gaps will give it room to move.
Now, find a good spot and a handy purpose for your new accent table!