So, the legs.
In a previous blog I began a project to build a table for our new TV. Our failing eyesight required us either to give up watching Only Connect, or to upsize our screen so that we could once again read the clues on The Walls. So far, I have talked about how I turned a nice piece of cherry into a shelf and table-top. Now I need some legs for those pieces to stand on.
As I mentioned, I have a pair of nesting coffee tables that I was using as a style guide for this TV table. The coffee tables have quite distinctive leg shapes – on each side of the table were two wooden pillars connected to a shaped brace at the top and a shaped foot at the bottom, like a joined up roman numeral II. I couldn’t copy these exactly as my TV table would be narrower, but proportionally taller than the two originals. I decided the best way to design was to trace the profile of the originals and then gradually adjust their shape until I had templates that would be suitable for the new table. In the figure below, the top templates show the shapes of the original pieces, the bottom ones show the shapes for the new table.
With the sketches completed I could take the dimensions for the wood I would need. Once again, I headed to Oxford Wood Recycling to see what they had. I found some pieces of Ash that looked nice and that should complement the cherry.
The ash strips were sawn but not exactly square, so I began with a session of sanding to clear the roughness and splinters, and then planing to get them square and true. Then I could transfer the templates onto the wood to mark how they should be cut.
At the time I didn’t have confidence in my chiselling ability, so I got most of the shapes formed using a hand-held jigsaw. I then got busy with a sanding block and polished and polished the curves until they were equal shapes and sizes.
I then had to figure out how to assemble the legs so that they would hold the table-top square, flat and stable, without wobbling or rocking. I decided to do this by working on the table upside down.
I began by devising a smooth surface that measured flat with a spirit level. I then worked on the top of the table-top so that it would sit comfortably and cleanly on this surface. I could then check the bottom of the table-top with the spirit level and work on that to ensure it too was flat and even. Now I could rely on measuring pieces relative to the bottom of the table.
I took the top braces for each leg and positioned them on the upside down table-top. The first quick check was to make sure they didn’t rock, or show any gaps where they came into contact. Then I took two identical wooden strips to make a visual guide to see when pieces were parallel. I marked coloured dots along the top of one of the strips.
I then laid these strips down on the work along the lengths of these braces, and crouched down to look down the length of the table so that the strips were both at eye level, with the coloured dots at the top of the strip that was furthest away from me. Then with one eye open I moved my head to adjust the view so that the dots were just about to disappear behind the closer strip – rather like watching the last moment before sunset.
The idea was, if one dot disappeared while the others remained visible, that would mean that my two pieces were not parallel. I’ve recreated this test in these pictures. For the one below I’ve inserted a piece of wood to give an exaggerated uneven effect.
With this method I was gradually able to work away at the tops of the braces and the underside of the table-top until I was happy that the braces’ bottoms would be parallel with each other and with the table top.
I then worked on the four wooden pillars to make sure these were all the same length. Some sanding and planing let me get them to all match, and I used the same technique of viewing the dots on strips of wood to ensure that the bottoms of the pillars would also be parallel.
Lastly, I repeated the process with the feet pieces, checking to ensure that when the whole leg structures were assembled, the bottoms of these feet would be parallel with each other. (I realised that I would have a little bit of a get-out here because I could always plane bits off the feet once assembled if the table happened to rock at all.) A quick mock-up of the legs showed me I was good to go.
The legs would need to be joined together securely. I intended to glue and screw the pieces, to create a tight and firm bond. This required holes to be drilled into the brace and feet pieces. At the same time, I drilled additional holes in the brace pieces to attach the legs to the table-top.
Holes were drilled with a fairly deep countersink. This was so that the heads of the screws would be well hidden, and also so that I would not need to use long screws – I tend to think that long screws would be more easily bent if the table were knocked. This should explain why some holes are bigger than others in this picture; the bigger holes have to accommodate the screw heads.
Now I can glue and screw, clamping the legs to a flat board as I went, to ensure they were secured without skewing.
And so my Legs were ready, and I could begin the final table assembly. I shall talk about this in the next blog post.