How to build a wooden table

If you’re just getting started in woodworking or have been at it awhile but haven’t built anything other than small projects, learning how to build a table can take your craft to the next level. Tables are relatively easy to design and build, and they usually don’t require a lot of expensive tools that the average do-it-yourselfer doesn’t already have. In this article, you’ll learn about the tools and techniques you need to build any kind of wooden table.

Table Anatomy

A table is one of the easiest woodworking projects to build, and is essentially just nine pieces of wood: a top, four legs and four apron pieces. The apron, also known as the skirt to some woodworkers, joins the legs together to form the base.

Table Joinery

Joinery is an important consideration when building a table, and you have several good options that will allow you to build a strong piece of furniture. To join the legs of your project to the apron, you can use pocket screws, dowels, biscuits, metal brackets or mortise-and-tenon joints. You can get metal brackets for $5 or $6 online, which are easy to install. Choose dowels, biscuits or mortise-and-tenons if you have the appropriate tools (dowel jig, biscuit joiner, small router) and the patience for more difficult joinery. Once you’ve decided on one of these options, you’ll need to figure out how to attach the tabletop to the base. You can use metal “z”-shaped fasteners, pocket screws, or make your own hardware. The metal “z” hardware is an inexpensive and easy choice that allows for the natural expansion and contraction of solid wood. Don’t use pocket screws with a solid wood top; they don’t let the wood move and might cause your top to crack.

Tabletop

MDF, plywood and solid wood are all viable choices for a tabletop. If you use MDF, plan on covering the edges with some kind of veneer tape. You can then veneer the top or paint it. Plywood will also need to be edge-banded, but it can pass for real wood if you do a good job staining and finishing it. Solid wood is probably the most attractive and durable material for a tabletop, but it’s more expensive and requires more skill. To make a solid wood top, you’ll have to glue several small boards into one big one, and then plane/sand that big board to a flat, uniform thickness. A belt-sander is a must-have for this kind of top. If you make your tabletop out of solid wood, you’ll be able to route a decorative profile into the edge, which is a nice way to add some special details to your work.

Tools for Building a Table

You don’t need many tools to make a sturdy table: a circular saw, miter saw, small router, dowel jig, drill/driver are about it. A jig saw will come in handy for circular tables.

Table Plans

To get you off to the right start, here’s a set of table plans you can adapt to your needs. If you build the project according to the dimensions provided, you’ll end up with the perfect end table. But don’t feel confined to the plans. Use them as guides for your own ideas.

Parts List

  • (1) Tabletop @ ¾” x 18” x 18”
  • (4) Legs @ 1-½” x 1-½” x 17-¼”
  • (4) Aprons @ ¾” x 3-1/2 x 13-½”
  • (4) Tabletop fasteners

If you own a jointer and planer, you can buy rough-sawn lumber and prepare it to the dimensions above. But we’ll assume you don’t own one for the purposes of this article. If that’s true, just pick up S4S lumber at your hardware store or home center. You should be able to find sizes for the parts list with no problems.

How to build a wooden table

Step 1: Make the Legs

If you buy 2×2 lumber, making the legs is as simple as cutting them to length on your miter saw. You can add a taper to the bottom of the legs to make the project a bit more elegant. That’s easy to do with a jig saw. Just measure up from the bottom of the leg about 4” and make a mark. Then make another mark about ¼” – ½” from one of the face. Connect the marks with a pencil line and cut along the outside of the line with your jig saw.

Step 2: Make the Apron

Get 1×4 lumber from the home center for these parts and you won’t have to do any ripping or planing/jointing. Unless you want to cut an arc into the apron, just cut the pieces to size on the miter saw and you’re done.

Step 3: Cut the Joinery

Now’s the time to mark your table parts for the joinery. It’s a good idea to hold mating parts up to each other so that you can mark them at the same time. For example, hold an end of one apron up to the leg it will be connected to and draw a short line on both parts where you’ll cut a biscuit slot or drill a dowel hole.

Cut a groove along the top edge of the aprons for the table hardware. Consult your hardware instructions for the exact location.

Step 4: Add Chamfers

Nothing makes a simple table like this stand out like a nice chamfer on all of the exposed edges. Install a chamfer bit in a small router and route all four long edges of the legs and the bottom edge of each apron.

Step 5: Sand and Finish the Base Parts

It may seem odd to do any finishing before assembly, but it’s much easier to do it now than after the project is assembled. Sand your parts to whatever grit you prefer. #180-grit is good for most finishes. Cover the joinery with masking tape to protect it from the finish. Then apply paint or stain and oil/varnish. Once it’s dry you can move on to the next step.

Step 6: Assemble the Base

After you’ve finished the base parts, apply glue to the joints. Clamp the base together and allow the glue to dry.

Step 7: Make the top

To make a solid wood top, glue several narrow boards into a wide panel. Apply an even bead of glue to the edges of each board. Place the boards in the clamps and align their faces so that they’re as even as possible. You’ll have to plane or sand everything flush when the glue is dry, so avoiding any large discrepancies will save you a lot of work. Remove the panel from the clamps when ready, sand it and cut it to size with your circular saw or table saw.

You can cut a piece of plywood to size and apply veneer tape or solid wood edging for a simpler top. Once the tabletop is done, sand and finish it before attaching to the base. Make sure to chamfer all of the edges if you make a solid wood top.

Follow the tabletop fastener instructions to connect your top to the base. That’s all there is to it. Use these plans as a basis for all sorts of tables, including desks and dining tables.

Build Your Own Router Table Fence

A fence is the heart of a capable router table. Whenever you’re making joinery or creating decorative moldings, your router table fence is the key to producing accurate work. Below, you’ll find several tips that will help you select or design a router table fence that meets your needs.

Router-Table-Fence

A Solid Fence is a Low-Cost Option

Most factory-built router table fences come with a split design, which means that the faces on either side of the bit are independently adjustable. This is a great feature, but for simplicity, you can build a solid fence with a small cutout for the bit. Although it’s not the ideal fence for something like door making, it’ll work just fine for moldings and profile routing.

A Split Fence is More Versatile

Use Low Friction Material On the Face of Your Router Table Fence

If you work with bits of different sizes, you should consider a split fence for your router table. For safety’s sake, you always want the opening of your fence to be as tight to the bit as possible, and a split fence can be quickly adjusted to fit the cutter you’re using. This kind of fence is a little more difficult to build than the solid type, but worth the extra effort. When feeding stock through the router, a fence that’s built with some kind of low-friction material will make the work much easier. Plastic laminate is a common material for router table fences, as is UHMW. If you’re going to build your own fence, take a look at UHMW, which is a super-strong, low-friction plastic that can be worked with standard woodworking blades and bits.

A Good Fence Includes a T-Track for Accessories

To get the most out of a router table, you should have the ability to attach hold-downs, feather-boards and other accessories to it. Factory built router tables and fences usually come equipped with t-tracks that will accept a wide variety of different jigs. You can use t-track in a home-built fence by cutting an appropriately sized slot (measure your t-track before cutting).

The Fence Must Be Square

An Easy to Lock Fence is a Must

The most important thing to keep in mind when building a router table fence is that it absolutely must be square to the table top. If it’s not, you’ll end up with joints that don’t fit properly. Cut your fence parts carefully and check them with a square. There are several ways to lock a fence in place when you get it where you want it, but some are easier than others. The more you use your router table, the more you’re going to want it to be easy to lock into position. You can cut slots in the fence and install t-nuts in the underside of the table for a simple but fast locking mechanism.

Micro-adjustment Adds Precision

The best and most expensive commercial router table fences are micro-adjustable, which means that they have a device that allows you to move the fence in or out in very small increments (think 1/64” or smaller).  Incra fences are well known for their micro-adjustment features, and although they can be pricey, they’re some of the best fences on the market. You can build a simple micro-adjustment into your fence with a t-nut and a bolt.

Buy a Fence if You Don’t Want to Build Your Own

If you don’t feel like building your own router table fence, you can buy a good one from a woodworking supplier. Commercial fences range from less than $100 to more than $500, depending on materials and features. Here are three of the best commercial fences on the market.

MLCS Woodworking 6” Split Fence #9762

Peachtree 24” Deluxe Router Table Fence

This entry-level router table fence is 6” tall, which is nice when you want to route a piece of material on its end and need the support of a big fence. It’s a split fence and is easy to lock in place from above the tabletop with two threaded knobs. This fence is also equipped with a t-track and includes a guard that can be installed over the bit to protect you from accidental contact or errant wood chips. Peachtree’s router table fence features a t-track, split design, and a quick locking mechanism. The faces are made of MDF with an aluminum l-bracket at the back for support. This fence should fit any standard router table, but you’ll have to drill the appropriate holes to mount it.

Woodpeckers Single Offset Super Fence; $300 and Up

For woodworkers with big budgets, Woodpeckers makes a premium quality fence with the fit and finish one can only expect from a top dollar piece of equipment. It’s built from premium-grade materials and includes all the features in the previous two fences, like t-track and a split design. Plus, Woodpeckers makes an optional micro-adjustment mechanism for super precision.

Building Your Own Router Table Top

There are plenty of good router table tops available from woodworking suppliers, but they can be fairly expensive. If you already have some basic woodworking tools, you don’t need to shell out several hundred dollars for a sturdy table; you can make your own. Use the tips below to build a top that meets your needs.

Router-Table-Top

Build a Thick Router Table Top

A good router needs a sturdy top, which should be anywhere from 1-1/8” to 1-1/2” thick. The thicker your router table top, the less likely it is to sag. This is important for precise joinery work like lock miters or dovetails, because errors of even 1/64” can cause big problems.

Choose a Flat Material

Consider Phenolic or UHMW

Even thick materials can bow or cup, so be sure to select the flattest stock available from your home center or lumber supplier for your router table top. Often, you’ll find this at the very bottom of a bunk, where the material on top has kept it flat and dry. Don’t be afraid to dig through a stack to get to the good stuff; it’s worth it. Although they’re much more expensive than MDF or particleboard, hard plastic sheets like phenolic or UHMW make excellent router table tops that will last longer and provide better performance. UHMW is an ultra-low friction material that will allow your parts to slide effortlessly across the table top. Phenolic is commonly used for commercial woodworking fixtures, but will definitely cost more.

Use MDF or Particleboard Instead of Plywood

You’ve already learned about the importance of choosing a flat material for your router table top, and MDF tends to be the flattest sheet good you can buy. Particleboard is also a good choice, but either one will almost certainly be flatter than a typical sheet of plywood. The faces of these materials can be somewhat rough, so you should plan to laminate them.

Laminate Your Table Top

Band the Edges for Extra Durability

If you’re going to build an MDF or particleboard top, you should adhere a sheet of plastic laminate to the top surface to reduce friction and protect the top from moisture. You can buy a 4’ x 8’ sheet of Formica or other brand of plastic laminate from your home center. Spray a thin layer of contact adhesive on the back side of an oversized piece of laminate and the top face of the MDF or particleboard, let the glue get tacky, apply the laminate and trim away the excess. Raw MDF or particleboard edges are ugly, but they’re also fragile. The last thing you want in a shop fixture that you’re going to use as much as a router table top is a weak edge that’s prone to chipping or breaking. Apply PVC edge banding or t-molding to all four edges of your top with contact adhesive.

Cut a Recess for Standard Router Insert Plates

A router insert plate makes it easy to install a router in your router table, so your table top should have a cutout for a standard insert plate. You can find the dimensions for the cutout in any woodworking supply catalog that offers inserts. If you prefer, you can even make your own insert out of ¼” acrylic or another flat piece of plastic like phenolic.

Make Your Top Removable

Add a Miter Slot for Versatility

Sometimes you need an extra sawhorse or workstation in your shop, and by making your top removable, you can use the stand when the need arises. Drill four matching holes in the underside of the top and the stand. Then place removable dowels into the stand and drop the top into place. With a good router table, you can make all sorts of joints, but you’ll often need an accessory like a coping sled or miter gauge. To accommodate jigs for door making, joinery and other tasks, cut a miter slot a few inches from the front edge of your router table top. It should span the entire length of the top and be open on both ends so that you can slide jigs into it.

How Much Will It Cost To Build a Router Table Top?

No matter what material you choose or how you go about building your own top, you’ll undoubtedly spend less than you would on one that’s commercially made. A flat, sturdy top should cost you between $40 and $200. To stay at the lower end, build your router table top out of MDF and plastic laminate

Don’t Forget About the Fence

Router table plans

No router table is complete without a good fence, which you can make yourself or buy from a retailer. Take a look at the fences online and in woodworking catalogs to see how they connect to a router table top. Some require holes or slots in the top, and you’ll have to cut those yourself. You can find some plans on the following pages.

You Can Buy a Good Top Online

In case you’re wondering what a good factory-built router table top costs, take a look at the Kreg PRS1025. It includes an aluminum t-track, insert plate and several round plastic inserts to accommodate bits of different sizes. It is a great deal.

Router Edge Guide

There are many useful router accessories on the market today. Take a look at a woodworking catalog or website and you’ll see tons of jigs for cutting circles, making shelf pin holes, building cabinets and everything in between. You can probably live without most of these items, but there’s one accessory you should definitely own: a router edge guide.

What is a Router Edge Guide?

An edge guide attaches to your router and allows it to follow straight or curved edges. It’s helpful for many different tasks like mortising, routing grooves and creating joinery. You can do these things without an edge guide, but you’ll usually have to build jigs or fixtures.

Router-Edge-Guide

Route in Straight Lines

Whenever you need to route a v-groove, bead or flute in a narrow board, a router edge guide is an ideal accessory and will help you get the job done quickly. You can make a few marks to indicate your cuts, adjust the edge guide so the bit is positioned properly and you’re ready to route. There’s no faster way to route in a straight line.

Cutting Curved Shapes

Some edge guides can follow curved shapes, which is helpful for things like routing channels in cutting boards or inlays along the edges of a curved tabletop. Many of the guides that router manufacturers offer can only follow straight edges. For curved shapes, look for an edge guide with radial bearings.

Router-Edge-Guide

A Good Edge Guide Attaches Quickly

The way an edge guide attaches to a router is an important consideration. The faster you can attach the guide, the more likely you are to use it. Few things are more annoying than a jig that takes too much time to install, so get an edge guide that connects without the need for wrenches or screwdrivers.

Router-Edge-Guide

Buy or Build an Edge Guide with Durable Materials

Edge guides can be made from a variety of materials, including steel, aluminum, acrylic and UHMW plastic. When shopping for a guide or building one, think about how often you’ll use it and how much abuse it’s likely to take. A steel guide isn’t going to break easily, but might be too expensive if you don’t think you’ll use it more than a few times.

Being Able to See Through the Guide Helps

It’s important to be able to see what you’re doing when you’re using a handheld router. That’s why some router edge guides are made from clear acrylic plastic. You can tell when you’re approaching a pencil mark that indicates a stopping point with this kind of base.

Laser Sights Provide Pinpoint Accuracy

Sometimes there’s a bit of guesswork involved in setting up an edge guide. It can be difficult to know exactly where the router bit’s edge will be in relation to the guide, which can be a big problem for mortises or other joints that require pinpoint accuracy. Fortunately, some guides are equipped with laser sights that eliminate this problem.

LED Lights Help You See What You’re Doing

You already learned about the importance of see-through materials, but frequently there just isn’t enough light in the shop to see your layout lines. That’s when it’s nice to have an edge guide with a built-in LED light. Just flip the switch to illuminate your work and avoid costly mistakes.

An Offset Design Prevents the Router from Tipping

Have you ever tipped your router accidentally when making a cut near the edge of a board? It happens, and it’s a sure way to ruin a work piece. To combat this problem, some manufacturers offer edge guides with offset baseplates that almost guarantee you won’t tip the router.

You Can Build Your Own Edge Guide

The great thing about building your own edge guide is that you can incorporate just about any feature you want. If all you plan to do is route straight lines, your guide doesn’t have to be anything more than a piece of ¼” material with a block of wood underneath. But you can make your guide adjustable, add bearings so that you can follow curves, or design it so that it can double as a circle-cutting attachment.

Check Out These Factory-Made Edge Guides

Some router manufacturers, like Porter Cable, offer their own edge guides. They’re usually simple accessories that will only work with straight material. Take a look at the following two edge guides if you want something more capable.

OnPoint Router Base Plate from MLCS Woodworking

This is an edge guide and then some. It’s made of 3/8” thick acrylic that can take a real beating. It also includes a laser sight for accurate positioning, LED light so you can see your work, radial bearings for routing curved parts and an offset design to prevent tipping.

Milescraft 1223 Router Guide Kit

The Router Guide Kit from Milescraft includes an edge guide, circle compass and an offset base. What else could you possibly need? It fits most popular routers, even the big 3HP models.