Building the Sassafras Kitchen Table

In my last post, I went through the process of designing a kitchen table that will actually fit in our kitchen and still allow room for two adults to walk around one another. The material that I selected for the table was some sassafras that I had milled about three years ago.

Sassafras is a gorgeous wood for hand tool woodworking. It works like a dream and smells like dessert. The sweet-spicy aroma has permeated my shop for a couple of weeks now. I had one wide slab 3″ thick, which I sawed up for the legs, and just enough clear 4/4 material to make the top.

At this point in the build, the legs are roughly planed and square. Since the half-lap joinery demands that the legs be at their finished dimension, I went ahead and made the final passes with my smoothing plane.

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Sassafras is light and soft, but a sharp plane leaves a silky finish.

After planing to the finished size, the next step is to lay out the half-lap joinery. Curiously, to have the tops and bottoms of the legs fall along the same perimeter, you don’t cut the joints in the middle of the legs, but off-center by half the width of the legs. First, I mark out the proper width on the face with a try square and a marking knife.

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There was only one defect among the three legs – this knot. It fell just perfectly to be removed when I cut the joint. That’s when you know things are going your way.

Then I mark halfway through the legs along the edges with a marking gauge, and bring the marks from the face down with the saddle square.

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I deepen all of my scribed lines with a wide chisel  and pare out a chip to make a “track” for my saw to ride in. It’s like training wheels for your saw!

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After defining the kerf with the chisel, it’s time to get sawing. I use a carcase saw to make the “money” cuts that define the edges of the half-lap, and a box store ryoba to make a few kerfs in the waste to make it easier to chisel out.

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Some quick work with a chisel gets me close to the bottom.

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And then I dial that sucker in to perfection with a router plane. The router place can leave a surprisingly sweet surface if you just take a light shaving on the final pass.

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A nice, snug fit. Alright, two more to go!

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Three legs with the joinery complete. This was about as quick and painless as table joinery ever gets!

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And the moment of truth: Will the legs go together the way my Sketchup model says they will?

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Spoiler alert: Yes. Yes, they will.

I can’t complain about the fit of the joints, either.

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I find it worthwhile to take my time to do things right when I’m going to be looking at a joint every day for an unspecified number of years.

Up next: Finishing up the top!

7 thoughts on “Building the Sassafras Kitchen Table

  1. Pingback: A Riving Home
  2. Hi, you’ve made a great looking table base here with fine joinery. I’m curious to make my own but I would like to cut the base and top of the legs to create a small flat surface on each (I have kids and stability is a thing for me, also at 44″ long I think the overall height in my calcs came out at 31″. Cutting 1″ off top and bottom corners reduces it to 29″. I calculated assuming each leg leans at a 45º angle). In your sketchup model did you find this lean angle and if so was it 45º? Thus a 45º cut on the corners should do the trick?

    All I found to offer in return is a visual on how that first model is actually made 🙂


    1. Hi Nick. First, thank you! Glad you like the table. To answer your question, yes, the legs lean at a 45º angle. However, you should note that depending on how tightly you cut the joinery, the assembly may “sag” a bit when assembled – especially when the top is in place. I solved this by affixing the top to the legs with small pegs. However, if you plan to cut flats at the top and bottom, it may lead to inaccurate cuts if you don’t account for the sag. I would start by building the base with the corners intact. Assemble the legs, set them on a flat surface, and use a compass/dividers to mark 1″ from the floor on all three legs. Turn the base upside-down and do the same on the other side. This will give you precise marks for where to cut the corners so that all of the cuts will be co-planar. Hope this makes sense, and good luck!


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