Project: Ginkgo Leaf Table

Project: Ginkgo Leaf Table

Although it’s my original design, the inspiration for this ginkgo leaf table draws heavily from Japanese influence. Tapered elements that are wider at the base, and rafter-like members that project through legs and posts, are common in Japanese designs — in both furniture and architecture. Other elements of the table, such as the solid panels with leaf cutouts, are reminiscent of Dutch designs dating back hundreds of years. I found that this table’s angled joinery makes it both a joy and a challenge to build.

Walnut leg for making a table leg
The author created 1-3/4″-thick leg blanks from two strips of 7/8”-thick stock glued together. He then planed the flattened blanks to 1-5/8″ square.

Mine is constructed from solid walnut lumber. If you’re fortunate enough to have 8/4 stock available, you can simply cut the legs from a plank of walnut. My best-looking stock was only 7/8″ thick, so I laminated leg blanks from two strips of wood.

Cutting notches in table leg with a tenoning jig and table saw
Using a tenoning jig and dado blade, form a 2″-deep x 3/4″-wide notch in the top of each leg. Cut from both sides of the leg to center these bridle joint notches.

Rip eight strips of walnut 1-3/4″ wide, and glue them together in pairs to make four legs. Once the glue cures, flatten and plane them to a finished size of 1-5/8″ square by about 19-1/2″ long (the legs will be trimmed to final length later).

Testing fit for table leg joinery
Plane a test board to 3/4″ thick, and use it to gauge the width of the leg notches. Incrementally adjust the rip fence as needed, and make more passes until the test board eases into the notch.

Leave their ends square for now, as the notch at the top of each leg needs to be cut before the legs are angled. Use a tenoning jig and dado blade to form those 3/4″-wide x 2″-deep notches at the table saw. I installed a 5/8″-wide dado stack and cut each notch in two passes, flipping the legs to opposite faces for the second cut. This centers the notches perfectly.

Trimming table leg joint with table saw
With the miter gauge swiveled to 5 degrees, trim the top ends of the legs. Remove just enough material to create the required angle.

Once the notches are completed, go ahead and miter-cut the top and bottom ends of the legs at a 5-degree angle. This operation can be tackled at either the table saw or on a miter saw. I chose to use a standard blade and my miter gauge equipped with a long auxiliary fence at the table saw.

Trimming table leg ends at table saw
Now slide the leg down the auxiliary fence and set a stop block to trim all four legs to the same length. Keep their orientation the same for this cut.

First, miter-cut the top of the leg, then slide the leg down the miter gauge fence, making sure to keep the leg in the same orientation. Set a stop block on the auxiliary fence, and trim the leg to a final length of 18-7/8″ (measured “long-to-short”).

Creating the Side Assemblies

Tapering jig for cutting table panel angles
A shop-made tapering sled handily slices the side panels to their 5-degree tapers. This one is guided by a wooden strip riding in the miter slot.

Next, glue up a pair of side panels from 3/4″ stock. Trim these panels to overall size. Their pleasant tapered shape is 5 degrees along each edge, so set a bevel gauge and draw layout lines to mark these taper cuts.

Cutting groove in table panel edge
Form stopped grooves in the side panels with a 1/4″-wide dado stack. Note the clamp on the rip fence here, acting as a stop block.

I used a shop-made tapering sled at the table saw to cut the angles uniformly. If your shop isn’t equipped with one, a circular saw with edge guide could also work fine. When you trim off these edges, be sure to save the offcuts for use as the table’s corbels.

Cutting stopped groove in table leg
Reset the rip fence for a centered cut on the legs, and make one stopped groove in each leg. A featherboard and push pads help control the cut.

There are a number of ways you can attach the legs to each side panel. Loose tenons or biscuits typically work well for this sort of application, as do splines and grooves. Dowel joinery would be problematic because it wouldn’t allow any adjustment to align the parts. I decided to go with loose splines fitted into grooves in the legs and panel edges.

Cutting and smoothing table panel decoration template
Shape the ginkgo leaf template with flat and round files. Make sure the stem portion of the design is at least 7/16″ wide.

To mill the stopped grooves, install a 1/4″-wide dado blade in your table saw. Start by setting the blade height to 1/4″, and position the rip fence for a centered cut on the panels. Clamp a stop block to your table saw’s rip fence to limit the length of cut to 15″, so the groove stops about an inch from the bottom of the panel.

Routing table panel design through template
A plunge router removes the waste inside the leaf cutout in a multi-step process.

Complete all four grooves this way, before adjusting the rip fence for a centered cut on the legs. Each leg receives one groove, also approximately 15″ long. Make some spline stock to fit these grooves, and test fit the legs with the side panels. Don’t glue the side assemblies together just yet, as we have a couple more steps to complete first.

Bushings and bit for routing table panel decoration
The author used two guide bushing sizes and a 1/4″ spiral bit.

A template is useful to make matching ginkgo leaf cutouts that dress up the side panels. I made a full-size template for them from 1/4″ plywood. Lay out the ginkgo leaf shape on the template using a set of French curves and following the gridded Drawing. Cut out the template’s shape with a jigsaw or scroll saw, and refine it with files.

Completed table panel design and template
Start with a 7/16″ bushing installed to rough out the inner waste material in several clockwise passes. Then switch to a 3/8″ guide bushing with the same router bit for a final cleanup pass. The resulting shape needs very little sanding.

Once the template is complete, clamp it to a side panel, and rough out the shape with a router. I used two different router setups to cut out the leaf shapes. My first was a 1/4″ spiral bit paired with a 7/16″ O.D. guide bushing.

Routing table panel mortise
A router equipped with an edge guide and 1/2″ spiral downcut bit handles the mortises. After the through mortises are cut from the outside face, flip the panel over and extend the mortises on the inside face (shown here).

Make several clockwise passes to remove the material, increasing the depth of cut with each pass. This will invariably leave some lines and ridges, so there’s one more step to clean up the cut: I switched to my 3/8″ O.D. guide bushing and made one final clockwise pass around the template cutout. This left a nice clean surface that only required some light hand sanding.

Cleaning out table panel mortise with a chisel
Chisel the corners of the four through mortises square. Make these cuts into the outside faces of the panels to reduce the chances of chipping the mortise edges. That damage would show after final assembly.

Through mortises in the side panels for the lower shelf come next, and that’s another job for the router. Carefully lay out the mortise locations on both faces of the side panels. Outfit your router with an edge guide and a 1/2″-dia. spiral bit, and cut just short of your layout lines. I plowed the 3″-long x 1/2″-wide mortises into the outside face first.

Then maintaining the same edge guide settings, I flipped the side panel over and extended the mortises to an overall length of 7-1/2″ (I trimmed the material between the mortises to a depth of 1/4″ on the inside face as well to preserve the strength of the panel). Finish the job by squaring up the four mortise ends.

Adding glue to table panel to attach legs
Glue a pair of legs to each side panel using splines. Note the panel offcuts temporarily attached with painter’s tape to act as clamping cauls.

At this point, all the joinery for the side assemblies is complete. Go ahead and sand all the parts you’ve made, and glue a pair of legs to each side panel with the splines installed. Use your panel offcuts as clamping cauls when you bring each side assembly together.

Attaching corbels to table legs with biscuits
Then glue the offcuts to the legs to act as corbels.

Once the glue sets up, trim the panel offcuts to a length of 12″, and install them as corbels — one on each leg. I used a pair of #20 biscuits to center and attach these corbels on the leg. Align the corbels flush with the top of the legs, and glue them in place.

Making the Shelf

Cutting tenons for table shelf with table saw
Once the shelf’s long tenon thickness is established with a dado blade and miter gauge, turn the shelf on edge to cut the end shoulders.

Glue up a panel for the shelf, if you’re working with narrow stock, then cut it to 9-1/2″ wide and 15-3/4″ long. Now switch to a wide dado stack, and install an auxiliary fence on your miter gauge so you can raise a 1″-long tenon on each shelf end.

Cutting center portion of the table shelf tenons
Next, lower the blade height to 3/4″ and turn the shelf on end to divide the tenons. Test the tenons against the mortises frequently, aiming for a snug fit.

Make multiple passes until the tenons ease into the mortises from the outside face. Once the tenon thickness is established, turn the shelf on edge and raise the dado blade to a height of 1″ to form its outer shoulders. Finally, turn the shelf up on end, lower the blade to 3/4″ and make side-by-side cuts to separate each long tenon into two with a 1/4″-tall shoulder in between.

Notch cut into side of table shelf with router
The shelf receives a V-notch detail on both long-grain edges. Here a template is clamped beneath the shelf, and the shape is routed with a 1/4″-dia. flush trim bit.

I added a V-notch detail in the long edges of the shelf to echo the ginkgo leaf motif. You could make a template for pattern routing these notches, or simply make the cuts at the band saw and sand them smooth. Use a file to refine the point of the “V” here the bit can’t reach, if you rout these notches.

Using bar clamps to help assemble base for ginko leaf table
Clamp the side assemblies together with the shelf using parallel clamps. The middle clamp bears on a wooden block to direct pressure between the tenons. Use just enough pressure to close the joints.

You’re rounding third now and on the home stretch with this intricate little table! For the final glue-up, bring the two side assemblies together with the shelf. Small blocks may be helpful to direct clamping pressure between the protruding tenons. Ease the edges of the clamping blocks to avoid denting or damaging the side panels.

Cutting notch in table stretcher with dado blade
Make a centered notch in the stretcher rails with a dado blade. Since the edge of this part receiving the notch has already been angled, it’s important to hold the rail flat against an auxiliary fence.

Next up, make the two stretcher rails that will nestle into bridal joints atop the legs. These 3/4″-thick rails are 2-1/8” wide x 24″ long.

Test fitting stretcher rails on table base
Test fit the stretcher rails in the legs’ bridle notches. The stretcher rails project 3-15/16″ beyond the legs, so make sure to center the rails for the next step.

The only wrinkle here is that the top edges of the rails need to be angled to sit flush with the legs.

Cutting angled notches in table rails with dado blade
Tilt a dado blade to 5 degrees to cut opposite-facing notches in the cross rail. Use a full 3/4″ dado stack plus a .004″ shim to ensure the parts will come together without a wrestling match.

So tilt your table saw blade to 5 degrees and rip the stretchers to width as needed until the parts fit. Then crank the blade back to 0 degrees and cut the cross rail to size.

Forming Half Laps and Adding the Top

Fitting cross rails into ginko table assembly
Since the rail joinery is angled, the parts won’t drop right together. You may need to use a clamp, reversed as a spreader, to gently flex the stretcher rails apart to ease the half-lap joints into place.

Go ahead and install a 3/4″-wide dado stack so you can form the table’s half-lap joints. Set the blade height to about an inch, and cut a centered notch on the top edge of each stretcher rail. Now two complimentary notches need to be formed in the bottom edge of the cross rail. For this part of the half-lap joint, tilt the arbor on your table saw to 5 degrees, and make the two opposite-facing notches. To locate these notches correctly, install the stretcher rails on the table legs and measure directly from these parts. Use a bevel gauge to mark the exact location of the angled notches.

Planing angles into ginko table rails
Tidy up the tapers on the ends of each rail by making repeated passes with a block plane. Hold the plane at a skewed angle while making these smoothing passes to minimize tearout.

While the cross rail is still a loose component, drill it for the figure 8 tabletop fasteners. You’ll also need one centered and two elongated pilot holes for screws at each end. Then you can create tapered ends on all three rails. Mark a line that leaves their ends about 7/8″ tall. Cut these angles at the band saw, and plane them smooth.

Attaching walnut tabletop to table base
The solid walnut top is attached with figure 8 fasteners to allow for seasonal movement. Three screws through the cross rail offer additional anchor points.

If the half laps fit together correctly, you’re ready to permanently attach them with screws and glue. Countersink and pre-drill the stretcher rails for #8 x 2-1/2″ screws, driven into the legs from the top. The cross rail can be attached in a similar fashion to the stretcher rails with a pair of #8 x 1-1/2″ screws.

All that’s left to make is the tabletop. It starts out as a 22-5/16″-wide x 26″-long panel. Lay out a curved treatment along its edges with a bowstring, so the ends of the tabletop are reduced by the curves to 18-1/4″ wide. Band saw these barrel-shaped curves and sand the top smooth. Round over any sharp edges, and give the table a final inspection with a shop light to check for any imperfections.

Applying stain to ginko table tabletop

As far as finishing goes, I often use a medium color “fruitwood” oil-based stain on walnut projects. While some may argue that walnut doesn’t need stain, I find that it darkens the wood in a pleasant way and tends to unify the parts. If you choose a liquid stain as opposed to a gel stain, the natural grain of the walnut won’t be obscured. After the stain on my table dried overnight, I sprayed on a top coat of pre-catalyzed lacquer in a satin sheen. Attach the top with figure 8 fasteners to allow for seasonal movement, and this Asian-inspired side table is ready to display your favorite vase.

Click Here to Download the Drawings and Materials List.

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