Ten years ago, I had an idea involving four 2-1⁄2″ x 17-1⁄4″ scrap blocks of maple that were left over from a previous project. That project, a dining room table entitled “Dinner Music,” incorporated many of the details that inspired this coffee table. I call it “Dinner Music II: the Aftermath,” because it represents the natural progression from an evening meal to the couch.
The coffee table has one thing its predecessor didn’t: a glass top, something I couldn’t afford at the time. A custom-shaped piece of 1/2″ glass with a 15″ hole cut in the middle just wasn’t in the budget.
But back to the legs. I was sitting there at my bench looking at these nice sticks of maple, and I began to wonder what it would look like to form adjoining radii, constructing them in a manner not unlike cabriole legs.
It’s a technique where you trace your pattern onto adjoining leg faces, starting by making a cut through one face to form the profile, then reattaching the waste wood with double-sided tape, rotating the leg 90°, retracing the shape and cutting the adjoining profile. In this case, the technique revealed an interesting and cool compound shape. It’s fun to do, but, as with traditional cabriole legs, be sure to complete your joinery first — it’s easier and far more precise that way.
I quickly settled on the shape of the legs and found a nicely figured maple board sized perfectly to make the ends and sides (which form the apron) of the table. I also had a nice stash of purpleheart lying around, and this helped hatch the idea of constructing a decorative cruciform shape that would present a “woven” appearance, but without actually weaving it. I just love making more work for myself, especially when it comes to joinery.
While the shape of each leg was very simple, it also needed to be precise, so I included making a leg template in the design process. I used a stick compass to make the curves for the legs, and in doing so I was quickly able to see that normally shouldered tenons (with the tenon in the center of the 3/4″ apron boards) would project beyond the leg curve.
So I decided I would offset the apron tenons flush with their outside faces (called a barefaced tenon), locating their inside faces flush with the inside corners of the legs. This construction would form a clean, simple detail when seen through the glass top. I then shifted the mortises on the legs down about 1-1⁄8″, the thickness of the purpleheart leftovers that would become the cruciform centerpiece. With the construction details determined, I moved on to the machining steps.