Introduction: Riven-Inspired Five-Sided Table W/ Reclaimed Legs
Third Prize in the
Beyond the Comfort Zone Contest
Who here has built a 4-legged table? That’s what I thought; ladi dadi everybody. Same with 3 and possibly 6, if you’ve used deployable legs to support extra leaves. What? You’ve got something wrong with 5? Although not often seen, a 5-legged table isn’t too difficult by itself but provides the opportunity to expand your skills.
I made a run through Myst and Riven recently and even after 20 years, I still find the artwork and style intriguing, not to mention the depth of the world imagined by Robyn and Rand Miller. Specifically, the numbering system in Riven along with their affinity for the base-5 system are unique and fairly well thought out. Since I’m working the early industrial look into the house and needed a table beside my armchairs, I thought it might be cool to sneak some gaming nerdiness in along with it.
The symbol will require a router/inlay kit which is pretty simple but I’d recommend some practice before committing to the final product.
And the legs? They’re busted-out stair/banister supports from a renovation. Something told me they’d come in handy. That’s where we’ll start.
Step 1: Building the Legs
I’m not suggesting that you should keep a supply of random stair parts lying around and I’m certainly not recommending that you procure them from your house. However, if you can reclaim some turned spindles that are relatively straight, you can save yourself a fair amount of work.
Mine came in two sizes: too long and way too long. I knew the table needed a final height of ~21-22”, so the legs needed to be about an inch less. Depending on the size of the skirt you’d like to use, stack cut the square ends on a miter saw. Mine were 4” for a 3.5” skirt. After that, mark all 4 at the 19” mark and cut the round ends on the bandsaw so you don’t kick anything up and make a mess.
Stand them all up and check the height. If any are too long or short, adjust as necessary.
Step 2: The Skirts
The length of the side skirts are directly dependent on the size of the top. To ensure you don’t cut something too long or short, I highly recommend building it on paper or in CAD first. I find MS Publisher to be great for building primitive shapes and getting sizes right.
I planned the top to be ~10” per side, so making room for the legs that put the skirts at ~7.5”. Rip the material for the skirts and resaw them to .5” thick to keep the weight down and use your preferred joining tool to attach them together.
You'll next need to miter them to match the pentagon top. With a raw angle of 18 degrees to cut the top, just double that to make the matching miters (My math says that's 36 degrees). The legs will be square on top so they'll just act as even spacers.
Since they’re fairly small, the Domino XL barely fit but I used the smaller bits and spacer from Seneca Woodworking to scale it down. However, a biscuit joiner would have been just as easy.
To add interest, I added a small bead to the lower edge. This was made with the top of a molding bit in my router table... Pro-tip, you don't always need to use the entire bit. We’ll see this technique come up again.
Step 3: Top Building
Time to get down to business! In order to not waste a ton of material (you’d need a 15.5x16.5” square to start from), I’ll be making the top from several glued-up boards.
The outside angle is 108 degrees, aka 18 for your miter saw. Mark that on an end of your first board and measure the leading edge down the front… leave a little extra for slop and continue the angle up the other side. I recommend cutting as you go so the top doesn’t become unmanageable.
For the last two sides, leave extra room to trim the glued-up block back. Once you’re happy, break out the joint-making apparatus of choice and glue the whole thing up. From there, trim the angled sides back on the miter saw. I suggest starting on the good side, trim to the right, rotate the block and continue all the way around.
If you want perfection, plot a circle in the center that reaches the edges and trim back to where it meets. Don’t go by measuring the outside edge since each time you make one cut, you change the adjacent sides. If you don’t mind imperfections of +/- 1/8”, get close and leave it go.
Step 4: Routing and the Inlay
If you’re not planning to add an inlay, feel free to skip ahead and I’ll see you at the end. If you want to take this on, keep reading.
The inlay kit is more for cutting butterfly keys to keep slabs from cracking apart. We’re making things a little more difficult here but that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
The inlay uses a small carbide bit along with a 2-stage brass bushing. You’ll first use the large bushing to cut the top and then use the small one to cut the piece that will be inserted.
Again, pull your reference material into Publisher and build a new version with primitives with the lines 0.25” inside where they were on the original. Print the pattern and use a scrollsaw to cut it out of .25” plywood.
Use heavy-duty double stick tape to attach the pattern to the tabletop… I stood on mine for about a minute to let the glue set up before continuing. From there, clamp the board to your workbench and use a plunge router loaded with the correct bit to trace the outlines… on the tabletop, DON’T LET THE BIT STRAY FROM THE EDGE! You’ll end up with a termite gouge that you’ll need to fill.
Scrape the pattern from the table and attach it to the inlay board with fresh tape (I used mahogany to compliment the walnut). Remove the outer bearing from the router and cut the pattern once more. You can cut it out completely in several passes or follow up with a scrollsaw if you’re careful… my case since the mahogany cleared 1.1” thick.
Drop a larger bit into your router and clean out the rest of the pattern on the table. I got within 1/8” of the sides and then cleaned up the rest with a chisel. Carefully sand back the inlay until it fits, then glue it in place.
The inlay will now be sticking out of the top. I used a hand saw to cut most of it away before cleaning up the remaining bits with a plane and RO sander.
From there, I went back to the router table and used another subset of a molding bit to get a table lip and bead on the edges… I also clipped the top corner off and needed to glue a new one on and try again. I’d suggest using a sacrificial backing board.
Step 5: Finishing and Assembly
Since the legs were painted before and are maple, they’ll need to be refinished. To create a base, I applied a layer of gray milk paint and followed up with two layers of kona/java gel stain. I put it on thick and didn’t wipe any of it off. This gave a little bit of texture and helped mask the fact they were recovered from the stairwell.
The top needed a bit more work. I used a few layers of filler and followed that with a thick layer of gel stain. With it still sitting on the top, I dropped a load of saw dust onto the top and worked it by hand into the crevices around the symbol. Carefully sand everything back and get ready for varnishing.
I glued the legs up with a band clamp and then used a wipe-on polyurethane through a spray gun to apply the top coat. Sand the top between each layer at ~400-800 grit to remove the last few dents and separations between the top and the symbol.
To attach the legs to the top, I used a ring of metal L-brackets on the inside to hold everything together. I did consider pocket holes through the legs but this ended up being just as easy.
And that’s it! Add some felt feet, grab your linking book/smoking jacket and head off to D’ni city!
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