Building the Hexagonal Cocktail Table #3: Legs

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Blog entry by Ron Stewart posted 12-28-2016 10:31 PM 875 reads 0 times favorited 0 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: The Top Assembly Part 3 of Building the Hexagonal Cocktail Table series Part 4: Final Steps: Top Trim, Shelf, and Finish »

The table’s legs are tall and thin, with a diamond shaped cross section. The outward-facing edges are beveled to 120 degrees to match the angles of the top hexagon’s vertex angles.

After puzzling over how to cut those angles, I found a simple solution: make each leg from two triangular prisms, each with a right-triangular cross section. Then I could cut each leg half with a single 30 degree rip on the table saw. I was able to cut all of the leg parts from a 3.5” wide x 0.75” thick poplar board.

This photo of the bottom end of one leg shows the two halves. The cut faces are in the center. I used painter’s tape and packing tape as clamps when gluing the two halves together. I cut each leg slightly long so I could trim the edges after gluing if they were slightly misaligned vertically.

The top 1/2” of each leg is cut into a tenon. The tenons were easy to cut using my crosscut sled. I set the blade height to 1/8” and adjusted the sled’s stop so the blade cut the leg 1/2” from its end. Then I kept sliding the leg slightly to nibble away the wood to form the tenon.

The back edges of the tenons fit into triangular notches in the top’s base plate. I also drilled a 1/4” through hole through each tenon to accommodate a dowel that I thought would strengthen the joint.

In addition to the tenon through hole, each leg also needed a stopped hole halfway up its back edge to hold a dowel that supports the table’s shelf. I worried a lot about how to drill those holes accurately (particularly the shelf holes, which cut into a near knife edge). Much like the top triangles, it turned out to be easier than I expected. I cut two V-shaped grooves in a scrap 2×4 to act as cradles, and that worked really well.

Attaching the legs to the top

With the legs finished, I turned my attention to attaching them to the top’s base plate. I thought this would be easy—just trace the leg tenons at the plate’s points, cut the notches with my jigsaw, use the holes in the leg tenons as a guide to drilling holes into the notches, and glue/dowel the joints. Boy, was I ever wrong.

My first problem was that not all of my V-notches were accurate. Some were slightly skewed, and some were slightly too deep. I was able to address those problems with careful sanding and shimming, but that didn’t end my problems.

The fundamental problem was that the joint was simply too weak. A 1/2” long tenon at the end of a 17” long leg glued to a 1/2” thick MDF plate just didn’t work (even with a dowel supporting the joint). The table wasn’t going to support its own weight, much less stand up to any sort of use.

So I devised a “solution”: longer, thicker 3/8” dowels where the legs met the underside of the top plate, either glued in place or reinforced with a thin block. None of it would be clearly visible under the top of the low table. Drilling the holes was a snap, but a quick test fit showed that this solution accomplished nothing. Well, that’s not true. The dowels acted like small angle indicators. Each should have pointed directly to the center of the top plate, but not all of them did. So they served to mock me.

I was close to despair. I had finished the hard parts, only to be defeated by these joints. I thought I might have to come up with an alternate leg design, with a thicker or deeper cross section, but I didn’t want to ruin the table’s looks. My wife had one last suggestion, one that I was trying to avoid. “Aren’t there some kind of metal pieces that will support the legs?”

I hadn’t wanted to resort to angle brackets, but I swallowed my pride and drove to Home Depot to take a look. Fortunately, I found some thin 1 1/2” black angle brackets with countersunk screw holes that I thought would work. I tried them on one leg, and they solved the problem nicely. But I had to accept one more insult for my lack of forethought. The brackets included 5/8” long screws that (1) poked out the other side of the top plate and (2) hit each other inside the leg. I was too stubborn to drive back to Home Depot to look for shorter screws, so I drilled every screw hole, drove a screw to tap every hole, and used the bolt cutter on my electrician’s multi-purpose pliers to snip the end off each screw (48 screws in all). It took forever, but it worked. The table was stable, and the angle brackets wouldn’t be very visible after I painted the table’s frame.

I left the useless outer dowels in place. I figured I’d just mess something else up if I tried to remove them.

My next post will cover the rest of the project: trimming the edges of the top, adding the shelf, and applying the finish.

-- Ron Stewart

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