Introduction: How to Make a Modern Oak Coffee Table

About: Maker and engineering student from Germany, mechatronics enthusiast and woodworker. I love arts and gathering new skills, that's why I'm here.

When I built my old coffee table from a big oak slab, I made a functional and sturdy substructure from softwood. This worked for a few years now, but I feel like it doesn't really suit the beautiful tabletop. Time for something new. As my woodworking skills have improved since, I tried to build something more sophisticated. The design is inspired by this video - you should check out the channel if you are interested in classical japanese woodworking.

I had several things in mind when planning this project: First of all, I wanted to make the table all from oak and give it a light and elegant look. Furthermore, it had to be possible to disassemble the table with little effort. And finally, my plan was to build the table in a classic style without any additional connection elements like screws. This means that all parts are just put together loosely and then fixed using wooden wedges and dowels - completely removable.

Since I designed the table in a CAD environment, I can supply you with detailed construction drawings - feel free to use them as they are or adapt them as you wish. I would love to see your take on this design!

One more thing: I ordered the instructions sorted by parts in feet, legs and tabletop carriers. However, since these all must fit together, I always used the already finished parts as a guide for their counterparts. Of course you can build one piece after the other - if you are precise enough, you will not have a problem to fit them together. It depends on your preference how you do it.

Step 1: Preparing the Wood

After gathering all supplies, we need to prepare the wood by breaking it down to the exact dimensions we need to work with.

As I bought unfinished lumber for this project, I used a jointer/planer to bring the parts to the desired thickness. A jointer is a great machine that can take a lot of work from your shoulders - and is way too massive and pricy for most hobby workshops. If you own such a machine or have access to one (maybe in your local Maker Space), use it to cut the parts to their exact size. If not, you will either have to adapt the plans to the pieces you have or ask a carpenter to prepare the parts for you. Or you do it the classic way using muscle and a hand plane.

Make sure the pieces are square and then cut them to length. I used a miter saw, but as always you can use the tool you prefer.

Finally, mark out the cuts you have to make. Use my plans or make your own, but be accurate and double check every line. I like to mark hole positions with a steel needle as this guides the drill tip on the first few millimeters.

Step 2: Making the Feet

Let's begin by making the feet pieces, since these are quite straightforward to build. I started by chamfering the sides, which in hindsight only made it harder to fix the workpiece to my workbench, so I advise you to first cut the tenon in the middle. Be sure to cut it clean and rectangular. This is done by making a row of cuts across the area you want to remove and then getting rid of the material by using a chisel. Clean the surface with a bit of sanding paper.

To chamfer the sides of the foot piece cut the rough area away with a handsaw, then use a block plane to even the surface and work down to the exact dimensions.

Step 3: Making the Tabletop Carriers

The tabletop pieces are similar to the feet but come with slight differences: They are shorter and have a tongue on the upper side that will later slide into the grooves in the tabletop. A router table is suited for cutting those.

What is a bit tricky about these parts is the tenon for the leg piece. Since the leg itself is tapered, also the cutout has to follow its shape. You have to be precise to mark the cuts as you need them and then slowly fit the pieces together. Use the same method as before to shape them, and after cutting them to depth, slowly adapt the width of the gap to the required dimension. Be sure to work evenly on both sides so that you don't end up with ugly gaps.

Step 4: Making the Legs

The task of shaping the legs is a bit more tedious, since you work across the grain and need to remove fairly large amounts of material. The top and bottom edge get cut out to fit the feet and tabletop pieces. Keep an eye on the dimensions, work slowly, avoid tear-out and test-fit the parts more than once. You want those to sit tight, but without tension.

The cutout in the middle will hold the middle piece that serves as a connector for the two side pieces. Since it is rather wide, you can remove some material first using a large drill. Be careful to drill straight downwards, since a slight shift might damage the backside visibly. A drilling jig helps, you can get the plans for mine here: 3D Printed Drill Stand. After pre-drilling use the chisel again to clear the cutout.

The leg thins from the bottom to the top. Make this cut at last, the same way you already did for the other pieces.

Step 5: Making the Middle Piece

The middle piece has two tongues on its sides that we will shape first. Same as always: First the handsaw, then the chisel. Cut the tongues to length, width and thickness, plane the surface and chamfer the edges.

Then mark the cutout for the wedge that will connect the middle piece to the legs. These markings require some thinking and precision. Be sure to let the cutout sit slightly behind where the leg will be, so that you can clamp the pieces together to tension the construction. Pre-drill the cutout and then carefully fit it to the slope of the wedge.

Finally, chamfer the edge of the middle piece to make it more appealing.

Step 6: Making the Connector Pieces

Now we go for the pieces that hold the table together. We need eight dovels to assemble the leg pieces and two wedges that connect these to the middle part. All of the parts are made from dark walnut that makes a nice contrast to the oak wood.

Let's start with the dovels. I cut square stripes and then used a cord drill and sand paper to "turn" them round and to the size I need. Can't recommend that. Lucky you, if you have a lathe in your workshop. Make sure to keep them wide enough for a tight fit. Assemble the leg pieces, drill the holes and put the dovels in.

The wedges are straightforward and should not pose a problem if you made all other pieces. I found it the easiest to cut the slope with a handsaw since the parts are quite small.

Step 7: Cutting the Grooves in the Tabletop

This part was a bit scary for me as I did not want to ruin my old oak tabletop. But when putting a bit of effort and thought into this step, it isn't that critical. Carefully take all measures and countercheck the spacing of the legs so that it will fit the grooves. Then install a router rail (or a straight piece of wood) as a guidance and cut the dovetail groove into the plate. It will be slightly visible from one side, so decide where to put it. Do not make the slot too wide since the table will lose stability otherwise.

The last parts to make are the covers that you can slide into the open groove to hide the slot. A blockplane is suitable to make them sit tight and flush to the surface.

Step 8: Surface Finishing and Final Assembly

Congratulations, you arrived at the last step and your new piece of furniture is almost finished. All left to do is sanding all surfaces. Remove all markings and give them a nice, smooth touch. Apply Danish Oil or a similar surface finish to all parts and let them dry.

And now: Assemble the table, sit down and reward yourself with a coffee.