Traditional Methods for Attaching Table Tops

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Forum topic by Kacy posted 01-28-2010 07:39 AM 69492 views 8 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Kacy's profile


101 posts in 4547 days

01-28-2010 07:39 AM

Topic tags/keywords: tables attaching traditional

I was wondering if anyone had some insight into how table tops were attached to the aprons and/or legs in the days before metal fasteners were widely available. I know that there can be serious issues with seasonal movement, depending on where you live, but it seems like this was even a bigger problem a few hundred years ago in the pre-ACzoic era. I’m building a few small side-tables with hand tools, all mortise and tennon, and would really prefer not to pocket-hole the top.

-- Kacy, Louisiana

16 replies so far

View PurpLev's profile


8654 posts in 5111 days

#1 posted 01-28-2010 07:50 AM

there are always the wooden version of the table top fasteners, cleats and the likes.

other than that, you could mortise the legs into the top – but that usually refers to through wedged mortises. another option is to use housed sliding dovetails

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Edziu's profile


151 posts in 4513 days

#2 posted 01-28-2010 07:51 AM

I have a few suggestions.

1. Look into table-top fasteners from Rockler. They make a few different ones, all of which are 100% hidden from normal view.

2. After looking at those fasteners, you might choose to make them out of wood. Put a 1/4 inch groove down along the inside of the apron, and then make wooden tabs, similar to Rockler # 34215, but out of wood.

But remember, you are not locking the top to the legs and aprons, you are simply keeping the top flat, and on top of the legs and aprons. The top MUST move freely.

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

7230 posts in 4657 days

#3 posted 01-28-2010 08:09 AM

Greetings Kacy:..... When I attach a table top to the aprons and legs, I use a method called ” figure 8’s”. It’s a metal fasterner ok, but shaped like an “8”. You use a 3/4” Forstner bit and countersink the hole just deep enough for the figure 8 to sit down in (just below the top of the aprons). Screw it into the apron, but not too tight, so it can move a little. Put the top on, get it all lined up like you want it (with a little over-hang , if desired), and screw the other part of the 8 into the top….. no glue needed here. Depending on how big your table is will determine how many 8’s you use. One note…. you could glue long-grain to long-grain, but not long grain to crossgrain…it’ll split sooner or later. But with the figure 8’s, you won’t have that problem, and they are completely hid from sight. You can find these in woodworking magazines. I use #8×1/2” good.

-- " There's a better way.....find it"...... Thomas Edison.

View MrHudon's profile


114 posts in 4672 days

#4 posted 01-28-2010 03:27 PM

Wood screws have been around since the 15th century, you can always hand cut your own like they did in the early days : )
Like Edziu’s #2 idea above you could make a wood cleat and glue it just to the table top instead of screwing it ?

-- Mark,

View UncleSnail's profile


54 posts in 4502 days

#5 posted 01-29-2010 08:05 AM

I am a novice so I am going to Ethan Allen instead. Love this site. Dale

-- Dale, Michigan, [email protected] objects scare wife scares me too.

View art3427's profile


5 posts in 5225 days

#6 posted 01-30-2010 11:33 PM

I get a lot of my ideas that way. That is, I visit a high end furniture showroom and see how those makers are putting thiongs together.


-- art johnson

View brunob's profile


2277 posts in 5632 days

#7 posted 01-30-2010 11:44 PM

I make my fasteners out of wood. Fit in a groove in the apron.

-- Bruce from Central New, if you'll pardon me, I have some sawdust to make.

View Kacy's profile


101 posts in 4547 days

#8 posted 01-31-2010 02:24 AM

Thanks for the tips, everyone. Still not sure which way to go, although I think I am leaning towards a wood-based solution.

-- Kacy, Louisiana

View CaptainSkully's profile


1615 posts in 5021 days

#9 posted 01-31-2010 03:48 AM

Years ago, Norm made his own wood clips that fit into long grooves on the inside top of the rails. These screwed in and secured the top nicely. They allow for wood movement and you can make everything but the drywall screw. You can even run the groove out the ends of the aprons if the die into the table legs. I made a coffee table and two end tables using this method and it was at least as good as the figure eights.

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 5337 days

#10 posted 01-31-2010 06:32 AM

I make my own wood “buttons” for every table top. Here is one example in my blog.

I start by making dados in a series on my router table:

I also pre-drilled holes on the drill press and then cut them apart on the R.A.S.:

I used my palm router to make slots for the buttons on the inside of the apron:

These buttons will allow the wide top to expand and contract in changing moisture conditions over the next ten-thousand or so years (I expect this to last a few generations)

The buttons installed:

-- Happy woodworking!

View a1Jim's profile


118321 posts in 5039 days

#11 posted 01-31-2010 06:46 AM

Most of these methods will work fine Just make sure you don’t glue or screw it down solid or your top will crack.
Nice photo layout Blake and good technique too.


View Kacy's profile


101 posts in 4547 days

#12 posted 01-31-2010 07:48 AM

I wonder if the buttons could be successfully pegged to the top instead of screwed?

-- Kacy, Louisiana

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 5337 days

#13 posted 01-31-2010 08:34 PM

No, they shouldn’t be pegged. They need to be held down tightly. In fact, there is a tiny between the button and the table top until the screw is tightened… this way it pulls tightly on the apron.

And besides, the other reason for doing it this way is that the table top can be REMOVED for repair, storage, transportation, etc.

Whats wrong with a screw anyway? Traditional fine woodworking has been utilizing screws for over a hundred years. You could get a more traditional slotted “wood screw” if you prefer.

-- Happy woodworking!

View Waldschrat's profile


505 posts in 4898 days

#14 posted 01-31-2010 10:08 PM

I think if you are looking for tradition and long lasting, go with purplev. The buttons are cool and everything but nothing beats a sliding dovetail… it will last hunderds of years, not wear out, and has been around centuries longer than screws and buttons method (although ther sn nothing wrong with them), the sliding housed dovetails is simply the best “traditional all wood” solution to keeping a table flat and attaching it to something, especially if it should not be seen from the sides or top.

-- Nicholas, Cabinet/Furniture Maker, Blue Hill, Maine

View Kacy's profile


101 posts in 4547 days

#15 posted 02-01-2010 03:28 AM

Thanks for the suggestions, guys. Incidentally, there is nothing wrong with the screw, but I thought I would try to do it entirely in wood for the challenge of it. I think I will look at the sliding dovetail, which I’ve used in other situations, but never to attaching a table top.

-- Kacy, Louisiana

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