End Table (pt. 1)


Eight years ago, Becky really wanted a new coffee table.  In my bachelorhood I had purchased the old coffee table with 2 “matching” end tables for $50.  They didn’t really work in our 1100 sq ft condo in the city.  In our suburban pad – comical.  Picture Lego dinner table in the middle of Staples arena.

So we went to Berkeley Mills, and Beck found a table she loved.   I’ll admit – it was beautiful…and $5,000.  For a table.  $5,000 table.  Seriously.


Here is a 10 year old *car* I just found when I Googled “$5000 car”. Its $4900, btw

So I justified buying some toys for the garage.  I already had a decent table saw (a contractor saw w/ good tolerances).  I bought a planer.  $500 in.  That’s 10% of the cost of the Berkeley mills table.  I’m ahead of the game.

Anyway, 2 months, lots of cursing and mallet-pounding later Becky has her coffee table.  See Joey below next to the object in question 8 years later.


…waiting for food to fall…

The table has been with us for years.  We taped “bumpers” on the corners when Emma was little.  When Ryan was a toddler we were experienced/tired parents so we just kept an eye on him.  Both kids teethed on it (I’ll remind them of that offense someday when they are changing my “Depends”) but it is now part of our home.

After I competed the table, Becky next request was naturally “….when do I get the end tables?”.   My promise was “next week”.

Fast forward nearly a decade, another kid…no end table.  Now I’m changing jobs and am going to steal a week to refurbish the workshop and make those end table(s).

Basic Design

Beck and I disagree, but with custom furniture I think it all should be custom – so I’m going to make only one.   The effort to make 2 vs. 1 is like an extra 25% – but I’m moderately confident in my position

I wanted the end table to feel like it is part of the same “set” as the coffee table.  The aspect ratio and other design elements would have to change, but not the basic “cherry frame with contrasting maple inside” idea.   The coffee table design (totally stolen from Berkeley Mills) was very rectilinear, so I’d have to avoid curves.   The basic idea was the have a single maple “box” in the middle of a cherry frame.  I thought it’d be cool to have the box appear “too deep” yet not reveal the maple when viewed from anything but a <45 angle.   I sketched some things on paper, tried to figure out either multiple dimensions (the “hole” is 2x the width of the sides), or creative use of the golden rectangle.  Rather than scan in these sketches, I’ve reproduced the basic idea in MS Paint:


Dude – what did you expect from an attempted isometric drawing in Paint?

Getting Started

I won’t show you the “before” and “after pictures of the garage.  Think “Hoarders” but with kid crap,  bikes, and camping gear.  Below is the wood, planed and joined sitting on plastic (at this point, scratches and dirt are the enemy.  I only put the wood on surfaces of plastic or cloth).


The cherry I planed until it had the ~ dimensions from my original sketches.  For the maple, I had to be more precise (more on that later).  I planed until it was clean/flat, then put the dado on the tablesaw and tried to match the thickness.  After one or two more passes (it is way easier to remove wood than tweak the dado shims), I had a dado cutting the exact thickness of the maple.


This really isn’t part of the discussion, but I just wanted to show off how huge the shavings pile was in the end

Right before I was about to cut the maple for the inner-box, it occurred to me to sand the sides.  It is way easier to do this when it is still  an 8′ board vs. a bunch of cut pieces.  Note I sanded vs. planed because I suck at finish planing.


Tip – make every fixed surface in your garage the same height – usually the height of the table saw. Then, you can do goofy things like shown above.

So I cut the 4 maple boards to a larger dimension than I’d need.   Dado time.  After the first cut, I used a scrap of the same maple to lock the two boards together.  The distance between the dado cuts has to be the same on each pair of boards in the box.  The scrap “key” is very handy.


Note due to the bevel (you’ll see shortly), the depth of the cut in each of the board pairs wasn’t the same.  Repeat and hope like hell you got the height right.  Even if you leave extra material, you’ll never get completely into the same slot on the dado.


Dead nuts!  Note “dead nuts” is a machinist expression I learned at my first job meaning “very precise”.   It doesn’t have anything to do with, as my kids would say, someone’s “ding ding”.


Now I have a box.  Kind of cool.  Time to remove ~ 3/4″ of the protruding arms of the box.


This is one of those tricky cuts where you don’t have a natural surface to butt up against.  It has to be eyeballed.   Note below I’m still using that scrap “key” to ensure the boards are perfectly aligned.


To keep the dado from tearing out the back on each pass, I had a sacrificial backing board clamped between the work pieces and the miter guide.   After a bunch of passes, it looks like that thing ‘Kicking Bird’ gave to Kevin Costner at the end of “Dances with Wolves”.


“…hmmm…but how does it smoke?” “I’ve never smoked it…”

Bunch more easy dado cuts (only one of the boards was a challenge to align), and we have our roughed box.


Below is the corner I was going for.  So far, so good.


Miter the corners.  This was also tricky to align, but if they aren’t exactly the same no one will really notice.  Note the sacrificial scrap under the work piece.


The basic maple “chassis” is shown below.  It was kind-of cool to be able to dry-fit it and pull it apart again.  Like Lincoln logs or something else Ryan would play with.  Except those cost $10 and this cost more in raw wood and took me 2 days.


Now its time to cut the frame pieces from cherry.  One more quick “measure-twice, cut once” exercise I somehow remembered to do:


Oh shi….

Somehow in all the excitement, I somehow measured the inside (or outside) of something and added 2x the width of the sides.    The cherry wasn’t wide enough to still accommodate my original design (“…hole is twice the width of the sides…”) but fortunately I had enough length to cover the perimeter.    So much for my “multiples of dimensions, golden ratio” flacknoge.


“Bill – you suck at this ‘pleasing design’ stuff” – Pythagoras