Lee Valley & Veritas
Woodworking Newsletter
  Volume 8, Issue 1 - September 2013    
Make a Train Table
A few years ago for Christmas, I made my daughter a 17" tall play table with a raised lip around the edge to keep toys on the surface. It was a rush job, started and completed in a single day a week before Christmas, and it was devoid of style. I had a few ideas to make it a little nicer, so when I was approached by a relative to make one for her son, I jumped at the chance.

I started this project as I do most, with the legs. I chose rift-sawn 8/4 walnut, identifiable by its straight grain running on all four sides, and end grain running diagonally corner to corner. It's difficult to find this in wide boards, so I usually rip a length from the edge of a plank. I crosscut this three times to provide four blanks. One benefit to this method is that streaks of color in the long grain strip show on all four legs. I chose a distinct grain line as a reference and drew a line parallel to it, the same distance apart on all four legs for consistency.
The line marked parallel to the grain
I bandsawed to the line, straightening the grain so that it ran parallel to the sides of the leg and perpendicular to the floor.
I jointed this face, and it became my reference for the rest of the milling process.

Normally I would cut the joinery next, while the leg is square. This time, however, I wanted the rails to follow the taper of the leg so I did the shaping first. The taper is subtle, 1/4 " over the length of the leg.
  The edge cut parallel to the grain
The subtle taper on the leg
Editor's note: In the following three photographs, the guard has been removed for clarity.
The two outside faces are tapered. The inside face goes up and to the fence and then down and to the fence. Doing it the other way would result in a tapered face being referenced against the jig base for the second cut and would throw off the angle.
The tapering jig
I am comfortable holding the stock on the jig by hand, but using a toggle clamp is recommended. The thickness of the jig base plus that of the leg was more than the capacity of my saw, so I used a block plane to make quick work of the remaining waste. I cut the mortises parallel to the tapered front face. These can be laid out and cut by hand, drill press or mortiser using one of the wedge off-cuts to lift the leg perpendicular to the tool. I am fortunate to have a Leigh jig, which references from the top face.
Cutting the mortises   Completed mortises
The rails were made from the remainder of the plank that the legs were sawn from. Again, I paid attention to the grain and centered the parts as symmetrically as I could. The grain was oriented with the arcs pointing up, mimicking the final shape and showing book-matched grain on the top edge.
Grain selection
I cut the tenons next. The stock was too big to finish using the jig, so I shaped it to remove the excess material.
Cutting the tenons   Completed tenons
Using the box to lay out the curve   Cutting the top curve
Next I laid out the arc on the rail stock.   I bandsawed the top to the line.
Cutting the rabbets
While I still had a complete reference edge, I cut a rabbet for the inset top. Cutting it after the top had been roughly shaped ensured that it was deep enough to completely hide the plywood edge.
Cutting the bottom curve
I bandsawed the bottom arc.
Transferring the bevel angle
Dry fitting the rails to the legs showed where the tops of the rails met the legs and made it easy to find the correct angle at which to trim them.
I cut the tops of the legs to match the arc of the rail. The tops of the side rails were angled to match the angle of the leg tops on the end, and vice versa. In my case, the side-rail arc matched an 81° cut to the top of the leg. To ensure the joint looked correct, the tops of the end rails needed to be cut to match. I used the leg to set my bandsaw table.
Sawing the arc on top of the leg   The finished curve
The top arc was sawn again at this angle, with the rail face down and the blade just inside the wood. I tried to take off a minimum amount of material while still maintaining a full-width cut.   A spokeshave did an excellent job of cleaning up the cut and truing the surface.
The final assembly
I glued up the long sides first. A clamp across the bottom of the legs ensured squareness.
The corner detail
After the glue set, the assembly was complete. I reinforced the joinery with corner blocks. This is a good idea anytime, but it's essential on children's furniture.
The finished table
I cut a piece of 1/2" Baltic Birch to fit the top. I'm proud of this design. The grounded appearance of the tapered legs is a nice partner to the airy arches.
Text and photos by Darnell Hagen

Darnell Hagen got his start in woodworking in high school shop class. He has been working wood for over 10 years, for clients during the days, and for himself on evenings and weekends. He likes the fact that there will always be a new skill to learn and a new technique to try, and that mastery of the trade will take a lifetime to achieve.
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