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A side table with a shelf

slifer round table finished

As a woodworker in New Mexico who got his start 20 something years ago I began building custom furniture at what turned out to be the tail end of the reign of the Santa Fe Style. That was fine with me. I built some furniture in that style, but I never really loved that stuff all that much. As the years have gone by I've seen the trend go much more into what the decorators call Transitional Style, a more eclectic mix of contemporary and older styles with maybe a little rustic thrown in for good measure. Personally, I've mostly liked my own designs to have one foot in the past somewhere while also feeling a little fresh and new, so that has worked out pretty well for me. (I'll admit that sometimes I can get a little wild and that's fun too.) Although I didn't design it, the side table I'm writing about here fits perfectly into the Transitional Style. Simple, relatively unadorned but definitely harkening back to something in the past. 

The table might be visually simple, but from a woodworking perspective there were a few tricky details that had to be dealt with - the curved border around the top, curved rails, with a small bead around the bottom and the little shelf that springs out of the legs. None of these required me to do back flips in the woodshop, but there was a little chin scratching involved in making the project go smoothly (and be done in 2 days, which was what I had budgeted for time).

Since it was going to take time for epoxy on the bent laminated rails to cure I started the project with them. Once I got them glued up I could move right on to other parts of the table and come back to the rails on day 2. With curved rails like this you have some options as far as construction goes. One alternative would be to steam bend them. That involves building a pretty stout jig to bend around, not to mention making a steam chamber. (Oh, and compensating for erratic spring back) Then in the end you have a wet piece of wood that has to be dried out before you can really work it - and definitely before you can finish it. There's also the consideration that some woods steam bend well, while others don't.

The route I chose was to do bent laminations. These can be multiple layers of solid wood (the more and thinner the layers the less the spring back), multiple layers of thin plywood, or a few layers of bender board or Kerf Core with veneers to match the rest of the table on the outside. Instead of spending the time to make up a big enough pile of 1/16" veneer to build up the thickness I wanted for the rails I just used some bender board that I had on hand. Bender board is a type of plywood that has all but one of it's plys going in one direction. This makes it very flexible in one direction, but stiff in the other. To glue up the curved rails I needed to start by building a form to glue them around. I wanted a form that was the right radius and that was long enough to make a lamination that was a little longer than 1/3 of the circumference of the table. I also wanted it to be wide enough to glue up all 3 sections of rail at once. That way I wouldn't have to wait for the glue to cure 3 times. 

Bending jig 1

To make the bending jig I started by using a pivot on my router to cut out a plywood gusset that was the right radius.

Bending jig 2

Then I used that as my template to layout 3 more gussets. 

Bending jig 3

I cut these out on the bandsaw.

Bending jig 4

Screwed them to the original template. 

top 7

And used my Shelix head with a bearing on the shaper to cut them to exactly the same size.

Bending jig 6

Bending jig 5

Notice the big handle screwed to the top. That helps to keep your hands away from the cutter when doing this kind of work. 

Bending jig 7

Once I had all of my gussets sized I nailed them to a plywood base. 

Bending jig 8

And skinned them with a layer of bender board. 

veneering 1

I resawed some 1/16" veneer on the bandsaw and thicknessed it in my drum sander.

veneering2

Then I used veneer tape to tape those veneers into sheets that were the width of 3 rails. 

veneering3

I used epoxy to glue up the laminations since it gives you lots of open time (an issue with water based glues here in the dry desert) and because it is highly creep resistant. 

veneering4

To keep the laminations in alignment with themselves and centered on the jig, I screwed them to the jig at the center before I started bending them.

veneering 5

I also covered them with plastic so that they wouldn't stick to the jig or the vacuum bag while they were being pressed. I popped the whole thing into the vacuum bag and let the weight of the atmosphere put equal pressure on all parts of the glue up. Then I moved on to making the top. 

The design called for a round border around a round panel. Because of the effects of seasonal wood movement on solid wood, the panel on this top needed to be plywood. Otherwise it would eventually have problems as it fought against the border. 

top 1

I used my router to cut out a round top.

top 2

Then I reset it to cut out a template for the border sections that fit against the curve of the top panel.

top 3

Since there were going to be 6 sections to the border (to line up with the 3 legs) I set up my panel saw to cut a perfect 30 degree angle on the sections. 

top 4

There was a little trial and error, but I eventually got a nice fit between all of the sections

top 5

Then I laid my top panel on the border and traced around it. That gave me the location of the curve to line up my border template. 

top 6

I bandsawed each section close to the template.

top 8

Then flush cut them on the shaper. It looks big and scary, but since the Sheelix with it's angled cutters, cuts with a true sheering motion, much like a spiral router bit, it doesn't have a tendency to grab or tear. It's really smooth, much nicer than a router. You still wouldn't want to stick your finger into it. 

top 9

To keep the sections in alignment and help with gluing strength I used Dominos in the joints.

top 10

top 11

top 12

top 13

Once again I used epoxy. With all of the surfaces that needed to be buttered up with glue it would've been almost impossible to get everything together before a water based glue started to set up. The epoxy is also slippery so it makes complicated glue-ups like this slide together and seat really nicely. A ratchet strap makes a perfect clamp. 

top 14

With the glue set up I used the same pivot hole on the bottom of the table top to cut the outside of the border parallel to the center panel. 

 legs 1

Since the table was alder there was plenty of defect to work around in the stock. I used my leg template to locate the best spots to cut the curved legs from. Then I bucked up the stock and cut it 4 square. 

legs 2

 I wanted to get the joinery for the shelf in the right place while the stock was square, before I cut the curves on the legs. I used this attachment on the Domino to center the mortises on the legs. 

legs 3

legs 4 

With the shelf mortises cut I could proceed to bandsaw the leg shape. I used the fence to cut the straight cut at the top of the leg and freehanded the rest of it.

legs 5

legs 6

tapering leg 1

By placing the top of the leg on the outfeed of my jointer and making a couple of passes on each side I cut a sweet taper on the legs.

tapering leg 2

My Festool sander has two settings, one for a random orbit pattern and the other just rotary, which makes it pretty aggressive. With the sander set to rotary I was able to go from the bandsaw straight to the sander with 80 grit. From the 80 I could go right to 150 and be done with the sanding. That's a huge time savings over spoke shaving or pattern shaping. 

rails 1

By now the glue had cured on the rail lay-up.

rails 2

I cut a nice straight edge on the rail panel with my jointer.

rails 3

Then ripped the individual rails out of the panel on the table saw. 

joinery 1

I put each leg up on the top and drew it's location so that I could use the drawing to mark the length of the rails. 

joinery 2

joinery 3

joinery 4

With the rail on the slider on my panel saw, I could set it with it's face flat on the table right at the blade and make it's radial cut for the leg joint. 

joinery 5

Then I set up the Domino and cut the mortises on the ends of the rails and on the legs. This is the kind of situation where the Domino excels. You could set up and cut this as a traditional mortise and tenon joint, but it would take way longer and any extra strength you would get for all of your trouble would be unnecessary. I love the Domino. They sure aren't cheap, but I save lots of time with it. 

joinery 6

 joinery 7

At this point I was able to dry fit the table so that I could fit the shelf to it. 

shelf 1

Once the table was clamped up I cut out a cardboard template of the shelf and fit the 3 flats where it met the legs. I used that to mark my shelf panel. 

shelf 3

I pared to the line, cut my Domino mortise on the flats and did my final shaping and sanding. 

bead 1

The last step before sanding and glue up was to make the bead detail for the bottom of the rails. This was decorative, but it also served to hide the edge of the plywood on the bottom of the rails. I had a router bit to cut the bead, but if I wanted to cut the 1/8" bead on 1/8" stock there was nothing for the bearing to rub on. To get around this I cut the beads on thick stock that I had cut the radius on and then I bandsawed the bead strip off of the thick piece.

bead 2

bead 3

bead 4

bead 5

bead 6

With the little beaded strips made I could glue and pin nail them to the bottom edge of the rails then cut off the overhanging ends with a hand saw

bead 7.

bead 8

Then flush up the back side with a flush cutting router bit.

bead 9

After sanding all the parts it was time to glue up. Epoxy again made the job smooth and relaxing. There's no reason to have stressful glue-ups. You just have to use the right glue. 

glue up 1

glue up 2

glue up 3

Back from the finisher and on it's way to get crated and shipped.

finished

As a custom furniture maker I love the challenge of figuring out how to make ONE of these and still compete with the higher end pieces made by the dozens in factories. You have to be able to problem solve on the run and be as efficient as possible. It also helps to have spent 20 years investing in the best tools you can afford. Every piece is different and complete with it's own challenges. If I were cranking out the same thing day in and day out I would get pretty bored. 

You can see other custom side tables I've made on my gallery.