Italian-Inspired Table

I built a table like the one in [Sketch of Italian-inspired table, front view]this sketch.

In the introduction to the "Library Table" episode of The New Yankee Workshop, Norm Abram took his viewers inside Wirthmore Antiques, a shop in New Orleans, to show them an attracive table made of walnut. Norm said the shop owner had found the table in the French Riviera city of Nice but that it was believed to be of Italian origin. The 19th-century piece had four tapered square legs and a single drawer spanning the full width between the front legs.

Norm then proceeded to build his version, a cherry table that shared only a few basic elements (namely that it had four legs, a top, and drawers) with the antique-shop specimen. In fact, the project summary on the show's Web site refers to it as a Shaker table. That's fitting for Norm's version, and even the Italian table in the antique shop reflected Shaker simplicity in its styling.

I liked the look of the antique-shop specimen better, though, and walnut is one of my favorite materials, so I decided to design and build a table that closely resembled that piece.

The original piece has a rectangular footprint, but the spot where I need the new table requires a square footprint, about 30 inches on a side. That spot makes access to a drawer impossible, too, but I'm giving it a drawer anyway, because the table will certainly find its way to a different location someday.

To make the top, I used Jesada's Reverse Glue Joint Bit to help with the panel glue-up. I had at one time posted a review of my experiences with the bit, but as Jesada has ceased to exist, I've removed the review. The summary of the review was that the bit cut well but yielded a profile that was too tight with just one pass.

My usual router-table router is the Porter-Cable 690, but the big glue joint bit needs a slower rotation speed than the 690's 23 000 RPM, in the name of safety, as well as a tad more horsepower. So I enlisted the variable-speed 7529, the only other choice that was handy. But for the router table, you can do better. Fine adjustment of the router height is simply too difficult with the small adjustment knob, the resistance of the plunge springs, and the weight of the tool. Since then I've acquired a Porter-Cable 7518 for the router table. Much more pleasant to adjust under the table.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Sure, we all know that one. How about this: Do the math twice too!

I originally planned for the 30-by-30 top to have breadboard edges, each 1-1/2 inches wide. Well, now each one is 2-1/4 inches wide. Don't forget your tenon widths!

Filling Glue Joints

When I glued the top together, I was left with several small gaps between some of the boards because (1) I didn't joint the edges perfectly because I did not have a jointer at the time and (2) the glue hadn't been applied quite thick enough in these areas. The gaps were extremely narrow, but since I plan to put a gloss finish on the table, and a gloss finish demands a smooth surface to start with, they had to be filled.

To remedy the problem, I applied blue masking tape as close as I could to each side of the gaps without actually covering them. I then applied glue (dark wood glue to match the walnut) to the cracks and gently spread the glue into the cracks with a scrap of wood as a spatula.

When the glue began skinning over, I carefully removed the tape and left the remaining glue in the cracks to dry. After giving the glue plenty of time to dry, I sanded the small ridges flush.

Practicing The Finish

"If you don't practice on scrap, you'll surely be practicing on your project." (Paul Radovanic)

While slowly making progress in the construction of the table, I also practiced finishing techniques on scrap lumber. I've come to the conclusion that orange shellac over boiled linseed oil is the finish God intended for black walnut. [The top during finishing] The top displays a gorgeous, deep golden glow.

Norm finishes these things in thirty minutes. This one took me thirty weeks, it seemed.


Chuck Taylor -- (Copyright) -- (Contact)