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!