How I built a Nakashima inspired live edge coffee table

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Blog entry by BenhamDesign posted 03-15-2020 06:10 PM 1254 reads 0 times favorited 0 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This build was inspired by one of my favorite furniture designers, George Nakashima. It is a live edge walnut slab that is joined to a walnut base using through tenons.
The base is assembled using a complex bridle joint.

You can watch how I built it YouTube Video or read about it below

Building a Live Edge Slab Coffee Table
Today I’m building this Nakashima inspired walnut live edge table.
Let’s get right into it, I’ve already milled and ripped the legs to their final dimensions, and now I’m cutting a bevel on the bottom of the legs so they will splay outward.
These legs are going to be attached to an arched base using a bridle joint. To cut the center notch on for the bridle joint, and to prevent tear out from the dado blade, I glued an angled stop block to my jig to register the leg against.
I clamped it in place, and since there is so much material to be removed I took it in several passes to get to the final depth.
This is also a very wide joint so after I cut the 1st pass in all the legs, I pulled apart my jig, and flipped the stop block around so I could cut the 2nd pass. By flipping it around instead of moving the fence over, I am ensuring that the joint is centered on the leg.
Moving on to the arched base, I used a thin strip of maple and bent it between a few nails to create the desired arched shape and trace onto the work piece. The arch is going to be attached to a Bezier curved trestle so before I cut the arched shape I am cutting the corresponding joint using a similar process as before.
I also want to cut the corresponding joints for the legs as well. To I am building a router jig around the leg to ensure I have an exact leg width. I clamped the jig down to my work piece and routed out the waste.
To transfer the location of the dado on the other side, I used my marking knife and a straight edge and just marked a line around the piece, Rest my jig and cut the other side.
I did a test fit, and it was a little too tight, I guess better to be too tight than lose, so I rest my jig eyeballing the amount and slowly snuck up on a nice snug fit.
Once I was satisfied with the fit, I took it to the miter saw, and cut the piece to its final length while introducing a slight angle or add a little visual interest.
Now moving onto the Bezier curved trestle piece, I played around in Sketchup with different curves until I found one I liked, I printed it out to scale, cut it out and traced in onto my work piece.
I used the same method as the arch piece to cut the joinery, and then cut the shape out at the band saw.
To smooth out the band saw marks, on the convex radius I used the disc sander, and on the concave curves I used the spindle sander.
Then anyplace that needed a little extra fairing of the curves, I used a flexible sanding strip and smoothed it out by hand.
This joint is part bridle joint part half lap, and since it was difficult to mark the exact depth of the half lap while it was square, and too dangerous to cut on the table saw. I marked it out and did the final cut by hand.
I did a test fit, and it was just a tiny bit too tight so I pulled it apart and paired off a little and tried again.
Perfect fit, I’ll just sand the bottom to match the radius of the curve after I assemble it.
I repeated the process on the curved trestle.
Then before cutting the legs to their final length I did a little math to figure out the angle they were coming off the arch so the top would site level.
Once I figured that out I cut them all to length at that angle.
The top is going to be attached to the legs using through tenons, so I set up a stop block so I could cut all the shoulders of the tenons to the same length.
Of course the shoulder on the opposing side needed to be cut from the other side of the blade. I did some careful layout and repositioned the stop block on the other side of the blade and cut the opposing shoulder.
I did the same operation when cutting the cheeks of the tenon away. I cut one side and then reset to cut the other. Accept this time instead of being opposing it just needed to be parallel so I just slid my stop block over the width of the tenon and I was set to go.
At this point I removed a fair amount of stock so it was getting sketchy to stand up in the table saw and have a good surface to reverence from, so I laid out the final cuts, and cut them by hand.
To help secure the tenons to the top, I am going to use some wedges, so I cut a couple of slots in the tenon at the band saw.
To prevent splitting the leg I drilled holes at the end of the slots to relive the pressure.
It is time to glue the base together, with five pieces and 4 joints, I wanted to make sure I had enough working time with the glue to be able to assembly all the parts as well as do any kind of adjustments to the legs that may have been needed to be sure the top sits level.
While that was drying, I turned my attention to the top.
The top of course was a bit too big for my planner so I flattened it using a sled and my router.
Once the top was flat, I went to work laying out the mortises for the legs. Since their isn’t much of a square surface to measure from, I just positioned the base where I thought it looked good and built a template around the legs. A little CA glue and ½” plywood worked out great.
Now with a little stubby pattern bit, I routed out a pocket on the underside of the top following my plywood jig,.
I transferred the center of the mortise to the face side using an 1/8” drill bit. I then flipped over the top and drilled a larger clearance hole for the router bit; the reason for the 2 step process was because I wanted to reduce the chance of blow on the face side. If the large drill bit blew out a big splinter it could have ruined the face side, or at least causing me to remove a bunch of material to get past that scar.
Now from the top side I used a larger pattern bit to finish removing the waste material.
Then I did the final cleanup by hand with a mallet and chisel.
Once the template material was removed it was time to do a test fit.
And of course the test fit was too tight so I did a little more hand work to strategically remove some more stock.
Once I was happy with the fit, I ripped some material for the wedges, tapered them at the disc sander and drove them home.
Once dry I trimmed off the excess and sanded smooth the sickout.

Thanks for checking out my work,
Brought to you by the design blog of custom made furniture maker Brian Benham

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