Building a Slab-topped Sofa Table

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This massive table is stylish and functional, but thick stock requires solid joinery. Find out how this table was made by viewing the how-to video, reading the step-by-step instruction and studying the technical drawings.

Working with very thick stock requires a bit of thought (and muscle). Most circular saw blades or even table saw blades can't cut completely through a 3-1/4" piece of wood. I liked the really extra-thick stock for the tabletop, so I used a two-step cutting process there. But for the legs and undercarriage, I chose to use lumber that was slightly thinner, so I could accurately cut the pieces to size using my circular saw and a straightedge. This table is made from ash lumber that I got at a local sawmill. It was quite a truck full (Figure 1).

Ash lumber Figure 1.

Start out by selecting the tabletop portion of the lumber and cutting it to length. Then decide if you'd like to keep the bark on the waney edge. The word "waney" is a term that describes the live, or bark-covered, edge of a board. In this case, I decided that the bark would make the table almost impossible to clean, so I chose to remove the bark using a drawknife. It worked surprisingly well.

Planing the top smooth was the next task. I ended up using a hand plane, but a handheld power plane would have been just the ticket. Once that was done, I set the top aside and started on the legs.

The legs are 27" long, 6-1/2" on top and 9-3/8" at their base. I used a template (Figure 2) to mark out the legs on my stock. I tried to avoid knots and voids in the legs, but when working with a limited amount of material, as I was in this case, sometimes you just need to make the best of things.

Leg template Figure 2.

As you can see in Figure 3, there were a couple of bad voids that needed to be dealt with. To do that, I used Bondo® tinted with colorant. I used black to mimic a nice, tight knot. Before I mixed and applied the Bondo filler, I put a thin coat of shellac around the voids and knots (Figure 4). The shellac kept the dark Bondo from staining the wood. When I sanded everything down later, I sanded through the shellac down to fresh wood. I was very pleased with the results.

Knots Figure 3.

I cut out the legs using a circular saw with a straightedge, and then cut the legs to length on the chop saw. When that was done, I marked out and cut the loose tenon mortises on the ends of the legs.

Bondo Figure 4.

Next, I went back to the tabletop to locate the legs on the underside of the top. The first step in this process is to mark a centerline the length of the tabletop. Then, as shown in the drawings below, mark a spot 9-3/8" in from each end. At that point, lay out lines at 45 degrees from the centerline. I cut a jig from 1/2" MDF to help with this step. Next, mark two lines parallel to the centerline 1-1/8" away. This is the space (2-1/4") between the legs. Where those lines intersect with the 45-degree lines is where the corner of the leg is located.

Place a leg onto the tabletop in position, and mark around the leg. Transfer the position of the mortises when you do. Extend those lines and bisect the rectangular leg mark-out to locate the mortises. See the drawings for details.

Chop the mortises into the tabletop. Leaving the tabletop as it sits, dry fit the legs in place using the Domino loose tenons (Figure 5). Now you can move on to the stretchers.

Glue leg Figure 5.

Miter the stretchers to fit between the legs. Cut the miter so that there is sufficient material cut off to make the faux stretcher ends. Doing it this way will keep the grain patterns in the stretchers and the faux stretcher ends perfectly matched.

Cut the faux stretcher ends to length, and then cut the mortises into the faux ends and the stretchers, as shown in the drawings. In these pieces, I used 100mm Domino tenons cut in half, so the mortises only needed to be about 25mm deep. Use the stretchers and the faux ends to transfer the mortise positions onto the legs. Cut the mortises and then test fit the remaining pieces onto the table assembly. Make any adjustments to how the pieces fit together that may be required, and then it is on to sanding.

I used a pattern-routing bit to clean up the ends of the tabletop where my two circular saw cuts did not match perfectly. Then, sand all the pieces of the table up through the grits until you get through 220-grit. When that is completed, it is time to glue the table together.

I did not clamp the legs in place; I just applied glue to the loose tenons and ends of the legs, letting the weight of the legs (which is considerable) do that job. I applied glue to the stretchers and the faux stretcher ends and put them in place, then wrapped a band clamp around the whole leg assembly and pulled it together (Figure 6).

Band clamp Figure 6.

After the glue had cured, I removed any squeeze-out and then broke the edges of the table with a piece of sandpaper. Applying the finish was next.

I used amber shellac and regular shellac mixed half and half right out of the can. The color popped the grain of the ash lumber and built up a film coat quickly. After two coats of that mixture, I wiped a final coat of oil-based polyurethane on the table to increase the durability of the finish. With that, the slab-topped sofa table was done.

Then I just needed a couple of strong young people to help me move it into place!

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