This was supposed to be the easy part: I have the glass that I’m re-using from the original table top, and I’m building a new top around it.  The joinery is simple!  Half-laps using a saw and jack plane to join the boards, and rabbets using a plow plane along the inside to drop the glass into.

Only I wish it worked out like that.  The problem?  Well, first off, the boards for the front and back of the top were slightly shorter that what I needed.  So to lengthen the table, I could not do the direct half-lap; I needed some spacing built in.  See the image below for explanation – the arrows point to where the spacing is for added table top length (which completely complicates the joint).


Since this joint isn’t a quick fix, I pushed forward with the rabbets first.  The long boards were easy because I could plane the entire board.  But the short boards (the darker brown boards in the diagram above) proved a little trickier because the rabbets had to have stops; they could go no farther than where they met the lighter colored board.  So I chiseled out a small portion, maybe an inch or so, from each end to act as a “safety” to ensure I didn’t plow any farther than that.  And then I got to plowing the rabbets – but I noticed that for some reason, I kept making banana passes (ie, the middle of the rabbet was deeper than the outsides), and I just couldn’t correct it no matter how much downward force I used.  I was starting to put a LOT of muscle into it until I realized what was going on.  rabbet-noseThe blade wasn’t meeting the wood because the straight-edge of the plane was preventing the blade from doing so due to the raised surfaces.  That’s a mouthful, but the picture at right should sum that mouthful up.

So to correct this, I pulled out the jack-of-all-trades tool: the trusty chisel.

Honestly, the chisel can perform almost every task, by brute force, which any other tool can do.  About the only exception I can think of off the top of my head is sawing (as in re-sawing), but in some circumstances the chisel “chop” can replace a saw cut as well.  Of course, there are more refined tools out there that specialize in various tasks which, in turn, increase the efficiency and speed of your work.  But if you think about it, the chisel is much like the caveman’s club. Over the centuries, mankind eventually develops the spear which improves efficiency… then the bow and arrow… then gunpowder and guns… but when it just comes down to it and you just need to get the job done, mankind still falls back on the trusty caveman’s club.  Hell, if I’m not mistaken, police officers still use it regularly to this day!

So, it took me a little extra time cleaning up the first stopped rabbet with a chisel, as well as increasing the length of my stops on my other board.

halflapNow onto the half laps that I purposefully detoured.  The long boards were easy enough, because the cut was your standard half lap.  Just like cutting a tenon, the key is maintaining an accurate saw cut to your line on the cheeks, and then make the shoulder cut and clean with a plane as required.  A test fit (at left) with the glass shows that everything is lining up.

Using the thickness remaining on these pieces, I used a marking gauge to transfer that thickness onto the cross boards (the same ones I made the stopped rabbets on).  This is what I was dreading.  I tried to cut as much away as possible with the saw, and then it was back to my caveman roots using a chisel and taking on the remainder of the joint by brute force.  It was slow going and a little rough at first, but my work sped up by the time I was on my third joint.


bevelOnce they were cut, it was just a matter of fitting them together and continuing to clean out waste (with plane and chisel) until the two boards were mated relatively flat.  Some glue, clamps, and about 12 hours, and I had myself a table top.

If it’s exactly flat or exactly square, I really don’t care, as long as it holds things (they won’t slide off the table) and the glass drops into it accurately. I did, however, take a jointer plane, followed by a smoother, along each of the seams where the boards were mated to ensure an absolutely smooth transition from board to board.  Otherwise, I have a perfectly good table top where my beers and feet can rest.

Prior to setting this aside, I flipped it over and using my jointer plane, I beveled the underside edges (shown at right).

All that’s left now for the top is cutting four through-mortises into it.  But that will be the very last part of this entire build.  For now, it’s back to the base to finish the bottom shelf, cut the tenons into the posts, and do its final glue up.

Progress so far:

Table top


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  • Brian Eve

    Very nice. I love that you used a chisel rather than buy a new tool.

    • yeah, I do/ have a tendency to do the latter… but the chisel is just so versatile! It’s hard to justify anything else.

  • mike winslow

    Soooooo….. when do you become a “Master Craftsman”?
    You’ve certainly gone beyond apprenticeship, well into journeyman status. Good work! (except for mis-measuring in the first place)

    • ha ha – I think “Master” is quite a ways off! Master probably entails having this thing built in a single weekend!