As my final project in a furniture class, my (personal) goal was to make a practical piece of furniture, that wouldn't be impossible to move with.
While I wanted to invest in a good sized dining table, I decided the functionality of a dropleaf table suited my soon-to-be somewhat "nomadic" lifestyle.The ability to fold the tabletop down to a third of its size or have a nice big space to play board games or eat dinner sold me on the build.
As an additional challenge for this project, I decided to try a fake inlay technique using a stencil and Minwax "Gel Stain". You could easily take the steps of creating fake inlay and apply them to any furniture piece!
In this instructable, I am going to go step by step on the process of building a dropleaf table and staining/sealing the finished piece.
Note: While the steps in this process are not overly complicated, working with power tools/stains/solvents is dangerous and you should not be using them without proper training/safety equipment. Make sure any place you are working has proper ventilation. In any shop environment, it is your responsibility to work safely.
Step 1: What Are You Gonna Need?
For this project, I was able to complete it using these tools: (I'm going to separate the process into two parts, building the table and staining the table)
Building Your Dropleaf Table
- Poplar - In the middle of Ohio, poplar is usually about $1.70 a board foot at the local lumber yard, making it the most convenient wood to use in our shop. I will say though, poplar does not stain very pretty/consistently. If you want your finished piece to look expensive, I wouldn't use poplar.
- Table Saw
- Biscuit Joiner
- Power Drill/Driver
- Router with:
- Roman Ogee Bit (for Decorative Edge around table)
- Cove Bit (for one half of Rule Joint)
- Round Over Bit (for one half of Rule Joint)
- Dropleaf Hinges(6) -These are not sold at Home Depot/Lowes, you'll probably have to order them if you don't have a Woodcraft nearby.
- Biscuits (Size 20)
- 1/2" Dowels
- Steel Rod (to use as dowels for pivoting gate)
- Wood Glue
- C Clamps
- Pipe Clamps
- Sandpaper (120g, 150g, 180g, 220g)
Staining Your Dropleaf Table
- Desired Stain Color (I stained my table with Minwax Golden Pecan, then restained with a mix of Golden Pecan and Red Oak to create final color of the full table
- Clear Matte Glaze
- Desired Gel Stain Color (Minwax Mahogany Gel Stain)
- Clean, White Lint Free Rags (For cleaning or applying stain)
- Chip Brushes and/or Foam Brushes
- Steel Wool (0000)
- Vinyl or Acetate for stencil
- Masking Tape
I used a Cricut Vinyl Cutter to make my stencils for the table top, but it is totally possible to cut your design with an exacto and some patience.
Step 2: Starting Any Furniture Project
Find some inspiration.
Look through books of historical furniture, look at Pinterest, visit your grandma's house. Whatever it takes, just find a project that inspires you, because if you aren't excited to build it, why are you building furniture!? It's tedious and dirty and yeah, totally worth it.
I found my inspiration in various images and used elements from each to design my own table. The legs from one, the top from another, the joinery from a third.
Scale Up Your Project
Once you've found your inspiration, you either need to take your original image or a sketch you've made and scale it. This can be done by using a scale ruler and a photocopier (changing the size, until you image fits in 1/2" or 1'-0" = 1", etc) or by drawing your project on large paper, at exactly the size the final piece will be.
This means you need to know what size the project will actually be, I find looking at real furniture gives me a good idea of what size I want mine to be.
I personally used Vectorworks to scale up my drawing and printed the design for the legs at full scale.
Step 3: Laying Up Legs/ Lathing
In order to lathe, you need to create a blank. This is a block of wood longer than the final piece (by at least a couple of inches) and the thickness of the widest part of the finished piece on all sides. What this means, is you will probably need to lay up materials to create your blank.
In the shop I work at, we begin with rough cut lumber, which means the first step for us is always to plane the wood down until it is smooth.
Next, using the table saw and a chop saw, cut sticks of lumber to length, then paint wood glue on the face, place a matching stick on top, and clamp it until you think you cant fit another clamp. Repeat this process until you have all 8 legs clamped. Wait 2 hours to dry.
Cut the pieces so any seams are flat and chuck a leg on the lathe.
I used a duplicator, which allows you to make one piece then duplicate the shape over and over. But I think at a certain point it would be easier to just do each leg individually.
After carving the shape of each leg, make sure to use strips of sandpaper to clean the carved pieces. You can get your material extremely smooth before unchucking it.
Step 4: Cut Apron and Stretchers/Assemble Base Table
Four of the Eight identical legs are used to create a table, in the same way you would build any other table
Cut apron and stretcher pieces at the lengths you would like the final table to be, minus the thickness of the legs. (For example, if you want your table base to be 15" long, and your legs are 3" thick, cut your apron and stringer at 9")
Using a center finding dowel jig, drill two 1/2" dowel holes on either side of each apron and stretcher piece.
Take two 1/2" dowel points and transfer the placement of the dowel holes to each leg, then drill 1/2" holes half the length of a dowel.
Use wood glue generously on each dowel and pieces to be joined together. Use bar clamps to get pieces to fit snug together. Gluing the short sides of a table first make it a less unwieldy process.
After 2 hours you can unclamp, the repeat the process to create the full table base. Along with clamping at each joint, clamping the entire piece to a table on two sides, forces it to dry flat.
Step 5: Build Gates
Choose a width you would like your pivoting gateleg to be, it needs to fit between your legs and not be longer than the dropleaf when extended. Once you've chosen the width, repeat the previous steps to join together the legs to create two individual gates.
Once dry, you can take measurements off the finished table, to figure out where to cut your gate so it will fit. One side will want to sit inside apron/stretchers and the other wants to be the same length as your legs, but with halflaps cut in, so it can hold the leaf up, while also sitting flat with the legs when folded. (I think this is much easier to understand by just looking at the pictures)
On the side that is cut to fit inside of your apron/stretchers, ream a hole and epoxy a steel pin on one side to create a pin hinge. Ream a hole on the apron and stretcher in the spot you want the leg to pivot from. Place the leg in one hole, and pour mixed epoxy into the hole on the other side of the leg, place the second steel pin in, being careful not to get epoxy on the outside of the leg. (You only want epoxy on the gate leg, not at all on the apron/stringer)
Step 6: Table Top
While waiting for your legs to dry, its a good time to start working on the tabletop.
This tabletop is built in three pieces. I took rough poplar boards, planed them down and biscuited them together to make three board at 19"x 38"x 3/4". Two were set aside for the half circle "leaves" and the final piece was the static tabletop. Once your pieces are dry, using tramel points, draw a half circle on the face of your leaves and cut them out on the bandsaw, Keeping the pieces separate from the beginning, means not needed to figure out how to cut a 36"diameter circle in half.
Gateleg Hinge/ Route : This is what I am trying to describe in the next few parts
In order to have your pieces fit together, you need to use a dropleaf hinge. 3 per leaf.
First you need to create a rule joint with the table pieces that are joining. The tabletop's long edges should get a 3/4" roundover and the half circle's long edges should get a 3/4" cove route. The remaining unrouted edges of all of the pieces can get a matching decorative route, as they will not be important to the mechanics of the table.
Your dropleaf hinges should be placed on the underside of the table so it is offset to the center of the joint, not at the spot that they meet on the bottom side (this spot is shown on the gateleg hinge/route image I linked to)
Using a palm router or dremel with a router head, inset your hinges so they do not stick out from under the tabletop.
Attach the three pieces together to test fit your rule joint.
I kept my three pieces separate for staining/sealing, because it is very hard to flip over when hinged together.
Step 7: Stencil/ "Fake Inlay"
The most important part of this step is to make a test piece! Stain colors are never consistent, and you may have loved the look of it one one piece of wood, but it can look totally different on a different type of wood.
Find a stencil you like (mine was found at http://www.stencil-library.co.uk/), scale it to the size you need(I was able to scale mine in photoshop), and cut it out. You can buy premade stencils, cut them with an exacto, or use a vinyl cutter to make stencils quickly
Take all of your wood pieces and get them sanded to at least 220 grit, then wipe them with a clean rag so they are ready for stain.
After sanding a sample piece, attach your stencil to the sample piece, as well as your final pieces. My stencil cutter only cuts up to 12"x24", so I had 9 stencils in total to apply. Once you place them where you want them, place masking tape over any edges or seams and use an old credit card to squeegee the stencil in place.
I then used matte glaze and rubbed it onto every exposed edge of the stencils in order to "seal" the edges of the stencil. This prevents major bleeding and makes the lines really crisp when you take the stencil off. After 10 minutes, you can apply the gel stain. I applied it with a rag, making sure to always work with the grain of the wood. After I had covered the whole section in gel stain, I took a second clean rag and wiped the stain off, again with the grain of the wood. The stencil should be removed immediately after wiping. Repeat this step with every piece you want to use a stencil on, then wait 24 hours before doing anything else.
After 24 hours, you can stain the whole table as you would with your desired oil stain. I tried to keep my stain for the whole table a little bit lighter than the stain I used for the stencil. Wipe your stain as you go! If you dont, it will never dry.
Finally after another 24 hours, use a foam brush to apply polyurethane. Wait 3 hours after first application and lightly sand with 0000 steelwool. Clean the surface again, then apply a second layer of poly. You can repeat that step as many times as you think necessary.
Step 8: Attach Your Tabletop and Enjoy Your Table!
Once dry, screw your leaves back into the hinges and flip your table legs on top of your table.
Use angle irons to attach your tabletop to the apron.
Get a friend to help you flip your table around and now you have your very own dropleaf table!