Introduction: Modern Cafe Table - Small Round Table
In a world of tiny (insert thing here) movements, why not bring back the tiny table? I remember in college I had a tiny breakfast nook table that essentially was my headquarters in my largely empty apartment. It gave me a place to eat, a place to hang, and a place to pour my first few glasses of that delicious brown elixir I came to love... whiskey. This modern cafe table unfortunately isn't staying with me, but it is a great idea for the modern home. Even if you have your own large scale dining table, this is a great addition to a sun room, foyer, patio, or whatever extra space you have that needs a little table top surface area for your beverage of choice and chill. I managed to use very limited stock to do this 30" wide table, which makes it extremely practical and cost effective. In this day of thriftiness, I hope you manage to do the same.
Hardwood 5/4 stock (I went with ash but any hardwood will do. I also had (3) six foot long 5-6 inch wide boards.)
Impact Driver and Drill
Plunge router or trim router with plunge attachment
Round Over bit (1/2 inch round over, shank size your choice)
Spiral UpCut Straight Bit
1 1/4 inch screws to mount the base to the top (I prefer with a star drive.)
Scrap 1/4 inch plywood, half the length of your table's diameter
Hand Planes (or if you just want to sand forever you can do that too)
Card Scraper (see above comment)
Oscillating Spindle Sander
Measuring devices of any kind: rulers, square, story sticks, your foot
Pure Tung Oil
Boiled Linseed Oil
Some sort of board joining alignment device (Domino, biscuit joiner, doweling jig, hell even pocket holes placed out of the way of the circle cut will work)
Clamps (ALL THE CLAMPS)
Wood Glue (your favorite brand)
Brad Point drill bits
Taper/Straight Line Rip Jig
Tenon Jig (There's other ways to add some of these bevel details, this is how I did mine.)
Coffee and Whiskey (*Optional*)
Step 1: Roughing and Milling Down Stock
So to get started I’m just breaking down my lumber, in this case ash, down to rough size and then squaring off the edges and ends on the table saw. It’s already planed s2s, surfaced on both faces. I prefer to get my lumber s2s because the lumber yard's planer is far wide and nicer than mine. It's less work for me and frankly is worth the minimal up charge.
I use the taper jig as a straight line rip jig, so I find having manageably sized pieces helps make this process a lot smoother. If you want, you can get s4s lumber which will take this entire step out of the equation and save you tons of time and effort in prepping for the build.
For the table top, I took everything down to about 33 inches just so I had a little room to work out a circle.
Step 2: The Table Top: Glue Up and Surfacing
I'm trying to arrange the boards in a pattern that appeases the eye but is also resistant to cupping over time. I’m looking for the smiley face frowny face on the end grain while also having good grain selection on the surface. Now this is kiln dried lumber, so the movement should be minimal, but the idea is that instead of having all your end grain facing in a similar orientation, which could cause a cup over time, alternating the grain will force the table to stay relatively flat by having the cups cancel each other out. I've never actually had this problem on any table tops I've done. But with that being said, this is a common practice and I'm not about to test fate.
Then I’m just marking out a couple triangles for alignment purposes and marking the location for my dominos in the glue up. A key here is to make sure to keep your dominos inside the ultimate circle you're trying to create. If you're too close to where the router bit is going to cut, you're going to end up with exposed tenons and well... good luck fixing that.
Now I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again for those who haven’t been listening, you don’t need a domino for my builds. A biscuit joiner or doweling jig for alignment purposes is just fine. Hell if you’re careful enough a pocket hole jig could get these boards together, just make sure to lay everything out so you don’t hit any screws. In all honesty, on a table top this small, pure glue without any alignment aids could also work as well. just make sure that your glue up is "toight like a tiger" (tight) as they say.
With the domino I like to use the normal setting for the tenon side and the wider mortise setting for the mortise side so that it allows me some wiggle room during the glue up.
This isn’t a terribly stressful glue up with only a few panels. I just make sure to wipe off most of the squeeze out with a wet rag after everything is clamped and have a couple basic F style clamps to keep things flat on the ends where there's no dominos. Caul strips, 2x4's covered in packing tape, would also be effective here in case you're low on clamps.
I wax the bottom of my jack plane with some paraffin and plane diagonally to hit any of the high spots and level everything out. Then I tune my card scraper and scrape before using my smoothing plane. Using the card scraper between a jack and a smoother helps me take out some of the harsh diagonal lines to allow my smoother to do it’s job a lot easier. It's a bit of an unorthodox move, something you won't see a lot of traditional woodworkers do, but in my experience, having those smoother transitions helps the no.4 reach down to the workpiece to be able to pull the shaving it needs to.
Step 3: Table Top: Cutting the Circle
On the bottom of the table, I’m screwing in this circle jig that’s made from some 1/4 inch ply. I’ve got a straight up cut spiral bit in my plunge counter and I like to take 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch passes with the router at a time. You can sort of tell by the general feel how it’s going to behave. If you’re feeling too much resistance take a lighter pass. I also like to vacuum out chips between passes to prevent build up which is going to keep your bit from bending and warping.
If your top is any thicker than this, I suggest using a jig saw to rough out the circle after you max out your straight bit. Then you can come back with a flush trim bit and clean up the jigsaw edge.
And once you get through to the bottom, you’ve got a circle.
Save your off cut from the circle. We'll get to that later.
Step 4: Building the Pedestal Base
For the base, I’m going to have to glue up stock for the entire pedestal since I don’t have thick enough stock. This glue up is for the pedestal post itself and I’ll trim everything to final size after the glue up. Of course, if you get thicker stock, that'll save you time, but probably not be as cost effective. I went with 2 1/2 inches square as a final thickness for the post.
Nothing goes to waste and the curved off cut we saved from the circle will be a support for the top. I trimmed one side square and the other side at a 30 degree angle just to add a little angular accent to the support.
With all these glue ups, including the base of the pedestal, I like to use hand planes to shore everything up since I don’t have a ton of good flush trim bits for my router. I’m going from a no.8 jointer to a low angle jack, and then to the no.4 smoother. This also forces me at the glue up to try and keep all my grain running in the same direction which in my opinion helps from an aesthetic point of view.
To add some extra details I’m going to use the tenon jig to bevel the toes of these feet. Then I’m using a half inch round over bit to further add some more detail. That detail is going to be moved to the entirety of the base to lighten the look and soften the corners. Then more marking for dominos which is how everything is going to be attached to the central post.
The table top supports are only getting one domino at the top for alignment and then I’m going to rely on the edge grain glue connection for the rest of the length.
As with most builds, I'll dry fit everything with all the tenons prior to a final glue up to make sure everything is seated correctly.
Step 5: Sanding, Glue Up, and Table Top Alignment
After the dry fit everything gets taken apart and sanded. I’m starting with the inside curves of the table top supports on the oscillating spindle sander. With my random orbital, I like to cheat a bit and throw it in my vice jaws, almost like a disc sander but more sketchy. I like to take everything to 320 and then hand sand to 400 before gluing up. Because I started with the hand plane I start my sanding at 220.
To aid in install alignment for the top, I’m drilling a 5/8 mortise to accept a 1/2 inch dowel from the base into the center point. For most hole drilling I prefer a brad point bit just because it helps prevent lateral slippage. The 1/2 bit and the 5/8 forstner both have brad points which help with alignment. To be clear, this mortise and tenon isn’t for any strength at all, it’s for pure alignment and the oversize allows for wood movement over time. Other than gluing the tenon into the base, the receiving mortise will take no adhesives.
I’m also going to hit the whole underside of the table with a rounder to lighten the look.
As far as the glue up itself, this one is a bit more stressful than the table top. If you're not super confident with your assembly time, I would encourage using a 2:1 epoxy as your adhesive and have some acetone to clean up your squeeze out. That will maximize your working time and actually help lubricate all your joinery for easier assembly.
Step 6: Mounting the Table Top and Finishing
I’m using wood buttons to mount the top to the base. The premise behind these is a domino mortise cut into the base, and the button having two surfaces, a side that fits into the mortise, and a surface that is thicker which touches the bottom of the table top. The button is cut a bit narrower than the mortise to allow for lateral wood movement. I've used these on a ton of builds and love them. Figure 8 fasteners, z clips, or skirt washers are also valid attachment techniques.
Then to finish: I’m using the maloof finish but instead of equal parts poly, tung oil, and linseed oil with a splash of mineral spirits, I’m going a little heavier on the poly since the table top is going to see a lot of use. It’s going to get about five coats over three days and won’t be fully cured for almost a week. After that I hit it with a blend of beeswax, tung oil, and boiled linseed oil in equal parts. I lay that on thick and wipe off excess and that'll take another day or two to get a decent cure.
Step 7: You're Done. Rejoice.
That's it. You're done. Rejoice. Enjoy a beverage, hard or soft, of your choice. As I said, this was a client commission and I’m really happy with how it turned out. The cathedral grain with the ash is really something spectacular to see. I’m such a big fan of these curved off cuts and the ability to make a single small table out of very limited stock, keeping the price point very affordable. And as you can see, puppy approved.
Most of all, this piece is large enough to be functional yet small enough to be something that can be added to almost any space, either as an accent or as a primary functional table.
Thanks for checking out my article! Be sure to watch the YouTube video, tag me in your iterations of this build, and let me know what you think!