My wife has practical ideas about what makes a piece of furniture useful … “I have to be able to put my feet up on it.”
When a new couch and loveseat for our living room dictated a new coffee table to fit the L-shaped arrangement, she knew what was important. She often watches TV from that vantage point and wanted to be able to rest her legs on the table, in lieu of a vetoed recliner.
We have an eclectic mix of furniture styles in our home — mostly pieces that I’ve built. The common theme is simplicity and clean lines. Modern, Shaker, Scandinavian, Arts and Crafts designs — all with a minimum of ornamentation – share our space and aesthetic.
Clearly a light-looking turned-leg Shaker table or an airy Danish Modern design was not going to cut it. This piece had to be physically and visually substantial — it needed to support at least two pairs of feet and not move under the load — as well as not look so delicate as to discourage informal kick-back comfort.
An Arts and Crafts design seemed to fit all our requirements. The top could be thick enough to be substantive and the substructure could be constructed to suggest rock-solidity. We decided on a trestle design to maximize the visual weight of the support structure. Legs, rails, slats, beveled support beams … all were part of the A&C vocabulary I could use.
To keep the trestles from looking monolithic, I decided to use setbacks and shadow lines to break up the visual mass and give the eye something to play with. This, in turn, dictated making it from stock of varying thickness. For ease of measurement and construction as well as convenience in setting up all the mortise, tenon and groove locations, I decided to use multiples of 1/4″ for the setbacks and 1/2″ for the stock. So, 2″ legs, 1″ rails and 1/2″ slats would result in 1/2″ setbacks between legs and rails and 1/4″ between rails and slats. The beveled support beams for the top would be 1-1⁄2″ thick and continue the 1/4″ relationship to the top rails. The top would be 1-1⁄4″ thick, plenty massive for doubling as a footstool, but perfectly proportionate to the rest of the piece.
Now, designing with these thicknesses is easy enough; sourcing the stock is another matter, especially with the added consideration of using quartersawn white oak with its distinctive ray flake figure. The legs, for instance, needed to be 2″ thick and show quartersawn faces on all four sides; however, a quartersawn piece of oak will only show ray flake on two sides. Since a thick slab of plainsawn oak will show ray flake on its thickness, I didn’t need to find thick quartersawn oak — a thick plainsawn piece would provide quartersawn surfaces along its edges. And since I wanted to veneer the plainsawn faces, 2″ stock would have wound up too thick. Luckily, a better solution presented itself: I found some nice surfaced, 1-3⁄4″- thick plainsawn lumber. Resawing 1/8″-thick veneers from quartersawn stock and applying them to the flatsawn faces would result in 2″-square legs with quartersawn faces all around.
Likewise, I wanted 1″ quartersawn stock for the rails, and this is not a common finished size either. I could have milled 5/4 stock to 1″ finished thickness, but this seemed wasteful, especially since 1/2″ quartersawn stock is easy to find. I opted to build the 1″ pieces up from laminated 1/2″ stock and buy enough to make the 1/2″ slats as well. For the top, I definitely needed quartersawn stock, and it needed to be 1-1⁄4″ thick. Building up this stock would have resulted in very visible seams on the edges, so I decided to put all my milling time and energy into surfacing 6/4 rough stock down to 1-1⁄4″ for the top. My favorite lumberyard had a pallet full of 6/4 quartersawn boards; picking through them yielded two with good figure and enough width and length to make four 6″ x 40″ pieces to glue up into the 24″ x 40″ finished-size top.