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Description of the process for making a typical oak coffee table as produced at my workshop.

Coffee table made from English oak.This page is particularly related to making an English oak coffee table such as the coffee table shown immediately to the left.
The other pages in this section are related to making wooden coffee tables generally. Please note that the processes for producing coffee tables, described here, relate to small workshops, as opposed to industrial production where different procedures may be applicable.
Other coffee table resources provided include a D.I.Y. project for making a pine coffee table and a Coffee Tables Blog

Gluing & Cramping up the Coffee Table Legs.
gluing & cramping up the legs
Making the Coffee Table Ogee Rails.
making the ogee bracketed rails
Turning the Coffee Table Legs.
turning the legs
The Coffee Table Base Glued up.
the base glued up

The Finished Tables Can Be Viewed Here: Coffee Tables 23

Selecting The Wood

The first process is to make a cutting list listing the sizes and quantities of the components of the coffee table.
For English oak coffee tables, the oak is collected as sawn planks, the whole width of the tree with the bark still on both sides. For the table top I would have selected quarter sawn planks with good figure, (see the link, "making the coffee table top", below).

Machining

First these planks would be cross cut to the required lengths.
They would then be passed over a rip saw to remove the wany edge, sap wood, and the splits that occur through the centre and ripped to the required width of planks. Mark each batch of planks with a description on the end grain at this stage, i.e. top, rails, brackets, legs, etc. They would then be planed on all sides with a planer/thicknesser.

Making The Top

The planks for the coffee table top would then be glued together with PVA adhesive. e.g. for a 600 X 600 mm chunky oak coffee table I would glue up four 175mm wide by 650mm long planks and cramp them together with sash cramps. After a couple of hours the coffee table top can be removed from the cramps and flattened, either by hand with a try plane, or by machine (panel sander), and cut to final size on a panel saw. Click making the coffee table top for more info.

Making The Legs

The coffee table legs would similarly be glued up, say three pieces 750mm long by 38mm thick by 112mm wide and when dry would be replaned and thicknessed to give a final cross section of about 100mm square. The legs would then be cut to final length, mounted on the lathe, and hand turned.

Making The Rails

For the coffee table rails Ogee brackets would be cut on the bandsaw and glued to the underside of the rails. When dry the rail is passed through a thicknesser to flatten and then cut to final length. Each leg is now morticed for a haunched mortice & tenon and each rail is tenoned for the same. The components are now ready and are sanded before assembly, first with a belt sander to 120 grit, then wet down with a damp cloth to raise the grain, then hand finished with 150 grit.

Assembling The Base

The base of the coffee table is now assembled and cramped dry, ( i.e. no glue in the joints), to check that the joints all fit correctly. This may seem tedious but finding out that something isn't right on assembly when the joints are glued and going off is not a situation you would want to find yourself in. The components are then knocked apart and the whole process repeated but with the mortices glued.

Fixing The Top

The top of the coffee table can now be fitted, with allowances made in the fixing for expansion and contraction across the grain. Click fixing the coffee table top for more info.

Finishing

The coffee table can now be stained with a light or medium oak stain if desired, (oil stains are the easiest to use and don't raise the grain like spirit based stain).
The coffee table is then finished with 2 thin coats of sand shellac sealer, rubbed down with 0000 wire wool between coats, and when dry, 2 coats of antique wax, rubbed in with 0000 wire wool and each coat buffed up after about 15 mins with a polishing rag.

If you are looking for more detailed information, it is worth visiting your local second hand bookshop. An old book can be just as useful for showing you how, for example, a haunched mortice and tenon is constructed, as a modern one. Over the years I have found some real gems at reasonable prices, full of all sorts of useful diagrams and information. I've listed a few of the particularly helpful ones in the 'Reading Sources' at the bottom of the page.

Researched & written by Nick at TheCoffeeTable.co.uk - Copyright © TheCoffeeTable.co.uk - Telephone: 01420 474862

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Reading Sources:

Carpentry & Joinery 1 - Brian Porter - 2nd edition reprinted 1991 by Edward Arnold, a division of Hodder & Stoughton.
This was the course book when I was at college and shows the basic woodworking joints and lots more info that could help you make your table.

Furniture & Furnishings A Visual Guide - Antony White & Bruce Robertson Published 1990, Studio Vista, Cassel, Villiers House, 41/47 Strand, London WC2N 5JE.
This book is packed with diagrams and hardly any text, a useful source of design ideas as well as showing joints, spindles, and much more.

Woodworking Technology - by Hammond, Donnelly, Harrod, Raynor. Third Edition published 1972 by McKnight & McKnight, Bloomington, Illinois.
Again plenty of diagrams but also plenty of text covering all aspects of joinery from types of wood and their suitable uses to finishing and finishes.

For lots of photographs of furniture from various periods of history try Millers Antiques Guide - published every year the current year's publication will be expensive, but again you can pick up an older one at a boot fair or second hand book shop for a lot less.

If you do want to use the web for collecting your information, I have provided a LINKS page which I will add to as I find more useful sites.

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