Coffee table for my nephew

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Project by Derek Cohen posted 01-14-2019 02:11 PM 2113 views 7 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This was the model for the coffee table my nephew chose when I offered to build them a wedding present …

The joinery challenge involved the rounded corners shaped from through dovetails, mitred at each side. Parts of the challenge was to have accurately cut and fitted dovetails in hard Jarrah (no compression) as the outside would be removed in the rounding process.

The other challenge was the splayed and angled legs with mortice-and-tenon joinery.

There is a full build history on my website, with several chapters. Just scan down to “Another Coffee Table”:

One chapter I will single out is on mitred through dovetails, which are then rounded:

Let’s see how we did ….

Before the coffee table was assembled from the parts, I was mindful that it would be shipped from Perth to Sydney (which is the further than New York to LA). The main concern was that the container might bounce (be dropped or be handled roughly), and the weight of the heavy Jarrah top coming down on the splayed legs might cause them severe damage. (I am not concerned about the strength of the legs for normal home use – the construction is strong. More shortly).

So, I build a table out of MDF that could be placed under the coffee table, and would take all the weight …

The top and base were connected with steel angle brackets …

Part of the strength in the splayed legs comes from the corner brackets, which act to lock in the mortice-and-tenon joinery by preventing movement. These steel angle brackets further lock in the base from any possible twisting.

The brackets are angled to 10 degrees to match the inside of the rails …

Incidentally, the best, and cheapest, anvil is this section of steel angle, the insides of which are lines with Hard Maple scrap, and then clamped in the leg vise over a leg ….

The finish for the wood – Fiddleback Jarrah for the top of the carcase and the drawer fronts, and Jarrah for the base of the carcase and base/legs – was chosen for durability. It needs to be capable of resisting water marks and heat, and still have a natural appearance – not a sit-on-top finish, such as a poly or varnish. Most oil finishes are not durable enough.

What I went with in the end was Evolution (satin), a hard wax oil by Whittle. This is a floor finish, and in the examples I saw it looked more like a waxed oil finish. The reports and reviews were highly favourable. I must say, after using it, I was completely sold. It is fantastic! The surfaces were sanded to 400 grit (Abranet), and then two coats were rubbed on with a micromesh cloth, 8 hours apart. Any residue was removed immediately. There was no grain raising that I could detect, however I did rub down the first coats with 400 grit grey mesh.

The drawer case was waxed (only) with Lincoln Furniture Wax. This is a shellac-based wax. The inside of the drawer was finished with Ubeaut Hard Shellac diluted 50% with methylated spirits (alcohol). All of the above are Australian products. The interior of the drawer was lined in leather, which was waxed with Renaissance Wax.

This is a close up of the Evolution. It is so much nicer in the flesh. Silky …

OK, to the coffee table …

The front, with the drawer (and the agonised-over-drawer-handle-pull-whatever) ..

The colour, figure, and those rounded dovetails look fantastic …

Other end …

The rear has a closed panel. At the start of the project I had planned to make the drawer run all the way through, and open from each side. On reflection, this created more problems than it was worth, and so the one side was closed in with the same panel used as a drawer front …

The Jarrah base and splayed, tapered legs …

Finally the drawer …

The drawer stop used was the same design as used in the Apothecary Chest. This is adjustable, which enable the position of the drawer front to be fine tuned …

The 10mm drawer sides are Tasmanian Oak, which I find great for this purpose as it all comes quarter sawn. It is a moderately hard wood (by Oz standards). Plywood was used for the drawer bottom, as it was inset in grooves and covered in leather. Jarrah cove moulding was made to finish.

Inside there is an inscribed brass plate for remembrance …

Thanks for all the contributions and discussion along the way.

Regards from Perth


-- Buildiing furniture, and reviewing and building tools at

14 comments so far

View JayT's profile


6439 posts in 3499 days

#1 posted 01-14-2019 02:37 PM

Beautiful work, Derek! That Jarrah is lovely (love the color variations), and very hard to work, I’ve heard. True to the inspiration design, with a much nicer result.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View swirt's profile


6823 posts in 4260 days

#2 posted 01-14-2019 03:06 PM

Nice build Derek. Your tape tricks for old eyes are great, and much appreciated. Outstanding as always.

-- Galootish log blog,

View EarlS's profile


4818 posts in 3636 days

#3 posted 01-14-2019 05:51 PM

Your version is much nicer looking than the “original”. The wood selection is exceptional. Plenty of pictures and explanation as well. I’ve been waiting to see the finished version based on the discussion on the furniture forum.

It was well worth the wait.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View pottz's profile


21375 posts in 2272 days

#4 posted 01-14-2019 05:56 PM

wow thats a gorgeous table,i really love your dovetail work on the table and drawers.the wood is beautiful,great craftsmanship.

-- working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

View kaerlighedsbamsen's profile


1385 posts in 3001 days

#5 posted 01-14-2019 06:22 PM

Wow what a great looking table! It looks better than the original, the lines are crisper, the propotions more in balance, the finish is great and the details of the drawer is superb. By far the best project on LJ in a long time.

-- "Do or Do not. There is no try." - Yoda

View ohwoodeye's profile


2710 posts in 4441 days

#6 posted 01-14-2019 06:54 PM

Very nice build….......what a pain to ship.

-- "Fine Woodworking" is the name given to a project that takes 3 times longer than normal to finish because you used hand tools instead of power tools. ----Mike, Waukesha, WI

View Ryan Sandler's profile

Ryan Sandler

47 posts in 1743 days

#7 posted 01-14-2019 09:40 PM

Very nice table. I know from some experience that making perfectly fitting dovetails to be rounded over is not easy—yours came out much cleaner than my feeble attempt!

View McaroJCC's profile


42 posts in 1215 days

#8 posted 01-14-2019 10:56 PM

The wood is gorgeous! And those round-over dovetails…wow! Beautiful table, man. Nice work.

-- MCaro, St. Charles, MO

View therealSteveN's profile


9253 posts in 1862 days

#9 posted 01-15-2019 12:12 AM

Nice work Derek, and such a good write up. Seeing it along the way enriches the appreciation.

Thanks for posting.

-- Think safe, be safe

View AJ1104's profile


1400 posts in 2947 days

#10 posted 01-15-2019 01:56 AM

I love the table. Great design and build. !

-- AJ

View CL810's profile


4202 posts in 4276 days

#11 posted 01-15-2019 03:58 AM

Well done sir!!

-- "The only limits to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - FDR

View Ivan's profile


17060 posts in 4155 days

#12 posted 01-15-2019 07:32 AM

I like that retro style….drawers look awesome too.

-- Ivan, Croatia, Wooddicted

View Steve's profile


112 posts in 4262 days

#13 posted 01-15-2019 07:47 AM

That’s phenomenal. The dovetail-joints look surgically precise. Beautiful work.


View builtinbkyn's profile


3031 posts in 2228 days

#14 posted 01-18-2019 02:50 PM

Beautiful work Derek. Your nephew should be blown away by your efforts.

-- Bill, Yo! Brooklyn & Steel City :)

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