They range from very cheap to very, very, expensive and range in size from a tiny end table to an enormous oversized cocktail table. Whatever size, they are usually the wrong size!
Miss Ginger ran into this problem when looking for a sofa table to go behind a large sectional set in her family room... not really a piece she would have chosen, but it works in the room, is well-made, and paid-for: three important factors in Miss G's decision process. Since she couldn't find a sofa table to suit her, she had Boy G make one for her. She also needed a table for the embroidery machine in her craft room, and she was so intrigued by the process that she thought she would share it with you! These tables are made with dimensional lumber, available at Lowe's or Home Depot. The embroidery table is made of poplar, and the sofa table is pine, with edge glued shelving boards for the top.
Unfortunately, she didn't do as well as she intended at photographing the process, but she is going to piece it together so you get the drift. The photos are actually from both of the different tables, and are not sequential, so please bear with me!
This little workhorse is the tool that makes the process so easy. Called a "plate joiner" or "biscuit joiner", the machine cuts little slots into the edge of wood, creating a pocket for a manufactured "biscuit" of wood that multiplies the surface for glue to hold. This allows one to create solid furniture with butt joints, eliminating mortises and tenons and other anatomical nightmares that "ain't nobody got time for!" And the best news? They are not expensive! This one is a cheapy from Harbor Freight Tools that Boy G bought as an experiment to see how much he would use it. It works okay, but the the guide fence is plastic and flexes, causing some alignment problems. Plus, the motor is cheap and gets very hot, and the dust pickup is poorly designed.
As a treat, Miss Ginger is going to replace it for him with this one from Ryobi, that has a metal fence, an upright design, and a much larger dust outlet that can connect to a shop vac. Best of all? It's only $99! That's less than the cost of an end table at Ikea!
Using the biscuit joiner is a breeze. First, Boy G cut the 1x6 boards for the tabletop to the same length, and laid them side-by-side to make the dimensions of the table.
Once he was satisfied with the layout, he marked the boards to make the joints.
There is not a lot of fuss to marking the boards... just a straight line across the joint does the trick. They are spaced "eyeball even" along the length of the joint; the measurements don't have to be exact because everything is invisible when finished.
Each slot is cut by aligning the center mark on the fence of the tool with the mark on the board. Then start the motor, push the tool along it's track, and.....
voila! A straight slot, perfectly sized for your biscuit. The biscuits come in three standard sizes, and the machines have a simple dial to set the depth of the cut for the size biscuit you are using.
The biscuits are an engineering marvel in themselves. They are pressed from multiple plies of wood with a die that cuts them to shape, stamps them with an allover pattern of X's, and compresses the wood. The X's create more surface to catch more glue, and the plies are turned with their grain running opposite directions, making an extremely strong connector. Water-based wood glues make the wood swell, creating an even stronger bond. Truly, genius!
Here is the layout of the boards for the embroidery table, with the biscuits, ready for gluing.
You'll need bar clamps for edge gluing. They are relatively cheap, and their use is pretty straightforward. The bottom face slides up and down the track in little notched increments to the approximate width of the piece, and the the screw-handle tightens it the rest of the way. Use a scrap of wood between the clamp faces and your project to prevent dents, especially with soft woods.
Using carpenter's glue and a small brush, Boy G applied glue to the inside of each slot, and then to one half of each biscuit. Once all the biscuits were in place, he added glue to the other half of the biscuit, as well as all along the edge of the board, and into the slots of the board on the other side of the joint.
With all the glue in place, he used 4 bar clamps to pull it all tight- 2 clamps on the bottom, and 2 on top, to prevent curling. Using a damp paper towel, he wiped up the glue that seeped out, to minimize sanding later.
While the top was drying, Boy G cut the legs from 1x4 stock to the height he wanted, less the thickness of the top. He wanted a 35" tall table, and his top was 3/4" thick, so the legs are 34-1/4" long. Using a table saw set at 45 degrees, he bevelled the edges of the 8 pieces to make 4 legs.
The bevelled edges are glued together, and Boy G used painters tape to hold them tight while they dried, because we couldn't figure out a way to clamp them, and they won't bear any lateral force.
Here are the "bones" of the sofa table, showing how the apron is built.
Using the biscuit joiner, he created the 2 end pieces, using 2 of the glued-up legs and 2 short pieces 1x4. Once the glue on the end pieces dried, he used 2 long pieces to connect them, forming the front and back of the apron. Finally, he used four pieces of 1x4 at the ends, and again in the middle, to add stability and create a surface for connecting the top. For simplicity, he finished the top and the leg structure separately and joined them after they dried by driving a screw up from the bottom of the cross pieces into the bottom of the top. Store bought levelers protect the floor underneath and make it easy to correct any wobbles tiny cutting inaccuracies.
Because Miss G wanted the sofa table to look as old as the house, Boy G created a distressed finish by using 2 colors of stain and a couple of coats of polyurethane.
Minwax Wood Finish is Miss G's go-to product for all things wood. Boy G started the finish with a coat of Wood Finish in English Walnut. After that dried, he applied a coat of satin finish Fast-Drying Polyurethane with a foam brush. After the poly has dried, he used a chain and an old saw blade to distress the wood, effectively breaking the poly seal in various places on the surface. Next, he wiped on a coat of Wood Finish in Ebony, and immediately wiped it off with a clean cloth, leaving color only in the indentions created by distressing. Once the stain dried, he finished with a coat a poly, a fine grit sand, and a final coat of poly.
The finish looks ancient, even though this wood was on the racks a Lowe's just a few days earlier!
Looks pretty awesome, no?
And here is the embroidery table, which Boy G built to surround a rolling storage cart that can be pulled out for more work surface. It has a satin poly finish applied directly to the bare wood.
You can make this parson's style table to any size or shape you wish, and finish it however you want, for way less than $100 worth of materials in most cases!