Machining the Aprons and Stretcher
Once again, it’s important to harvest parts with grain pattern and color as the primary goal. The aprons and the stretcher (pieces 2, 3 and 4) all have tenons raised on their ends. One face of each of these pieces is flush to the outside faces of the legs. I used a shop-made tenoning jig on the table saw to form all of these tenons (although you can use the method of your choice). I took my time here, marking them out carefully, noting which face would be the “show” face. Note that on the tenons inserted into the back legs, the ends are mitered (because of those intersecting mortises).
A Mid-course Correction
Once the tenons were formed, it was time to dry-assemble the underframes. There was a bit of adjustment to be made and, when I looked at the clamped-up units, I knew that I needed to add drawer supports (pieces 5) for the drawers to rest on as they slide. I made the supports and glued them in place, aligned with the stretcher. I also made the decision to attach the tops to the underframe with metal tabletop fasteners. This turned out to be a big mistake: unfortunately, when I looked closely at the dry-fit subassembly, I could see that the fasteners would be in the way of the drawers. The solution? Tabletop cleats (pieces 6) that run the length of each side apron. I drilled elongated holes in the cleats and glued them 1/16″ below the top edge of the aprons. They also had the added benefit of guiding the drawers accurately within the drawer cavity. I wish I could say that I had reasoned this out from the beginning, but that is not the case. Although I can’t be certain, the simplicity and elegance of these solutions cause me to think that they were likely a part of the original table’s construction.
With the dry-fitting and additional details completed, it was time to glue up the underframe. I used a brace in the drawer opening to help keep the parts square and true during this process. Once they were in clamps, I set them aside and moved onto the tabletops (piece 7).
The remarkable figure in the lumber was both beautiful and challenging to work with. I would need to laminate the tops using butt joints, so selecting and arranging the various pieces to look their best was fairly involved. The tops have a finished thickness of 1/2″, but my material was 3/4″ thick. I had intended to resaw the pieces to save some thin slices of the wood, but after face-jointing them, I felt there was simply not enough material remaining — so I ended up just planing them to thickness. It was frustrating to turn such lovely wood into chips!
After I glued up each top (slightly oversized in length and width), I used my old 4 x 24 belt sander to flatten each piece by sanding on diagonals until all of the glue joints were level with the face of the top. At that point, I cut the tops down to their exact size and then routed the soft bullnose on their edges. Because the grain was so wild, I shaped the end grain first, using a climb cut to avoid tearout. After routing, I hand-sanded the edges from 80-grit all the way through to 400-grit. Then I resumed sanding the tops up through 400-grit paper. When they were done, I took the underframes out of their clamps and, after taking a few minutes to lay out, drill and insert the tenon pins (pieces 8), I got busy sanding on the aprons. Just as an aside, the sanding effort on these tables, to get the results I was after, was measured in hours, not minutes.