We’ve been needing a new dining table for years. We bought our current one used, about 15 years ago. A couple of years ago my wife bought new chairs, all black and sleek and contemporary, to help with a style direction for a new table. So I designed this table to complement the chairs. It has a cherry top with black legs.
I also designed this table to be an approachable how-to project for anyone with a modest set of woodworking tools and a little bit of experience. There is nothing really tricky or challenging about this build, but it requires patience and attention to detail.
The top is made from plywood, so it will stay flat and smooth and you don’t have to worry about solid wood expansion and contraction. It is built using a torsion box construction. Strips of inexpensive 3/4″ (18mm) plywood are sandwiched between two sheets of thin, 1/4″ (6mm) plywood. There are a lot of advantages to this method of making a table top:
- The tabletop can be thick (1-1/4″, 3 cm in my case) without the need for thick lumber.
- It’s inexpensive. The only “good” plywood you will need is a 1/4″ (6mm) sheet for the top surface. None of the other plywood with show, so it can be a lesser grade. I used Baltic birch for the secondary surfaces and framework.
- Plywood doesn’t expand and contract like a solid wood top, so construction is simplified.
- Plywood creates a smooth surface so the table can be used for writing or other non-dining activities.
- The inner grid of 3/4″ (18mm) plywood strips makes the tabletop straight and flat, without any warping.
- Torsion box tabletops are much lighter than solid lumber.
Building the Tabletop
One of my absolute least favorite woodworking tasks is breaking down full sized sheets of plywood, especially the unwieldy 3/4″ stuff. I use a circular saw and a straight edge for the job.
Once all the pieces were cut, I glued 3/4″ (18mm) strips into a grid pattern onto a sheet of inexpensive 1/4″ (6mm) plywood. I also tacked these in plase with my brad nailer. The tiny holes don’t bother me since the will be on the underside of the tabletop.
Next, I applied glue to all the strips and attached a sheet of good, 1/4″ (6mm) cherry plywood. Specialty plywoods can be fairly expensive, but the thinner sheets aren’t too bad. A full sheet of cherry plywood cost me about $45. I cut this piece over-sized so I wouldn’t have to line up all the edges perfectly flush.
I didn’t want any nail holes in the top, so I used a combination of weights and clamps to ensure an even bond. To protect the cherry surface, I covered it with a sheet of Kraft paper, then set a couple of sheets of 3/4″ plywood on top. It looks goofy, but it worked!
Squaring up the tabletop
Once everything had dried, I needed to make all of the edges flush. To do this, I used a flush trim bit in my router. It has a bearing that rides along a reference surface (in my case, I based everything on the bottom sheet of plywood) and its blades cut everything above it to match.
To conceal the plywood edges, I cut strips of solid cherry lumber slightly wider than the thickness of the tabletop. Using my miter sled, I carefully cut 45 degree bevels on the ends of each piece. This was very time consuming because I wanted to make sure that each piece fit perfectly. That meant a lot of mirco-cuts, sneaking up to the exact lengths. Again, to avoid nail holes, I glued and clamped each edge strip into place one at a time. This took a lot of time and patience.
After the strips were all dry, I evened them up with my flush trim router bit, this time reverencing the top surface as a guide.
Then I sanded any irregularities to ensure that the edge banding was flush to the top. Be careful sanding specialty plywoods. The top veneer of cherry is paper thin and easy to sand through, leaving an ugly spot of the exposed material underneath.
Finally, I used a roundover bit to ease over the sharp edges of the top.
Making the legs
I used 2x4s for the legs. Since these were going to be painted, I didn’t need to invest in more cherry lumber. I used premium, properly dried Douglas Fir boards from a local lumberyard, though. The really cheap stuff at Home Depot is good for some things, but it is usually wet and has a tendency to warp.
I laminated these together to make thick posts. This is usually less expensive than buying 4x4s.
Once they were dry, I squared them up and cut them to length.
Tapering table leg is important to reduce the visual “weight” of the overall table and make it a bit more elegant. I used my Microjig Tapering Jig. It’s got a bit of a learning curve, but does a great job of making consistent tapers on the table saw.
I rounded over the edges and added a chamfers to the bottom ends of each leg.
Making the skirts
The skirts are what hold the legs in place and keep everything sturdy. I used strips of solid cherry lumber, rounding over one edge of each piece. I also added a decorative cove down the middle of each.
Assembling the table
I used my pocket hole jig to make pocket holes on the ends of the skirts, along the edges and on the legs.
Before screwing everything in place, I spray painted the legs black.
With the tabletop upside down, I screwed the ends of the skirts onto the legs.
Then I screwed this framework onto the tabletop.
Finally, I used my HVLP gun to spray about five coats of lacquer over all surfaces.
Contemporary Dining Table Woodworking Plans
- WWMM Contemporary Dining Table (pdf)
- Sketchup File
- WWMM Contemporary Dining Table METRIC (pdf)
- Sketchup File METRIC