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Before Building a Coffee Table, Plan Your Project

Living Room Furniture Demands a Woodworking Design Plan

© 2011 by Magdalena Ehnes; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without written permission.

A boat on the ways inspired coffee table; photo courtesy Kelly Smith

When considering the interior of your home, there are many areas in which you can save money by rolling your sleeves up and getting down to a spot of DIY.

First, let’s look the living room or sitting room. As the room in which you’re likely to spend a great deal of your leisure time, as well as time entertaining guests, it’s important that you feel at ease with the look and feel of it.

A simple and effective tip for tackling your living room is to pay attention to the central or focal point of the room, which is usually the coffee table.

A modern coffee table can transform a living room, and most are not complicated to make, depending on the design, as long as you take your time and do it right. A lot of what you can accomplish as a woodworker depends on your ability and tool collection.

Furniture Design is the First Step

Before beginning construction, consider what wood species, finish, and design of coffee table will fit with the look of your home and your personality. If you opt for a wooden table, for example, make sure it is of a good grade so that it’s durable.

For example, consider the coffee table shown above. This one was designed and built as an abstract model of a fishing boat on the ways (where a boat is pulled from the water to make repairs). This is the late Keith York’s work.

York was a master carpenter as well as the owner of the Chagres Queen, a fishing boat moored at the Balboa Yacht Club in the Canal Zone. He even drug the cocobolo tree that he made it from out of the Panama jungle with his old Dodge pick-up truck.

And consider how you will finish it. Will you paint it, or stain and vanish it? This will affect the type of wood you choose.

Decide on Your Method of Joinery

This will help you not only to decide what materials to buy, but also whether you need to buy any additional tools. Of course, certain designs lend themselves to certain methods. For example, for the boat-inspired table at the beginning of this article, dowels are the best choice. Consider your options:

  • Dowels. This is old school. It is an effective method but can go wrong without a drill press and precise measuring.

  • Mortise and tenon. A very tight and secure joint (as well as decorative in all its variations), but you will need a jig for professional “looking” results.

  • Kreg K3 Master System. This is a very handy pocket-joinery jig. It makes angled blind joints that don’t require glue, so it is ideal for both new construction and lightning-fast furniture repair.

  • Biscuit joinery. This tool makes accurate, strong, and tight joints.

Design, Make a Cut List, Cut, and Assemble

Once you have selected your table design and are ready to begin, make a cut list of materials and shop for them. If you opt for pine, poplar, or red oak; and basic hardware; you should feel at home at Home Depot.

However, for a more exotic hardwood, and specialty hardware, you’ll have to go to a local specialty store or shop online at Rockler Woodworking and Hardware.

Once you’ve cut your components, now it’s time to begin assembly. Never just start screwing or gluing and clamping. Always dry-fit everything and make any adjustments needed. This is especially important with joinery such as mortise and tenon.

I would advise laying out all the parts in front of you on the floor and making sure you’ve got all the wood components and hardware you need. It’s better to discover that you are missing something vital before you begin than when you are halfway through the DIY process and knee-deep in the process!

Before you start, ensure you also have all the tools you need for the job. A keen DIYer will soon build up a collection of all the staple tools needed to complete any task. Refer to the instructions on any new power tool as you go and take your time. This way, you'll soon have a homemade coffee table that’s the pride and joy of your living room.

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