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How to Design and Build a Wood Hall Table Project

DIY hall table finished with stain and spray lacquer in place in hallway


Always disconnect power before changing drill bits.

Table Saw:

1/ Maintain Concentration!

2/ Use a Riving Blade

3/ Use push sticks or feather boards

4/ Never place hands behind blade

5/ Wear goggles

For inquiries on furniture design and dowel construction please call Toll Free


New Design Feature for Building the Table Top:

The new hall table features another first by Dowelmax: three work pieces joined by one dowel. A series of 4 inch dowels are integral with the center panel and are used to connect the left and right panels at either side.

Diy furniture hall table top panel dowel joint

At the outset, I would like to make a few comments about the various types of joint systems used to build cabinets and furniture. Some will argue this is just a sales pitch, and this is partly true, however it's also my honest evaluation of these systems based on 40 years of woodworking experience, including extensive testing over the last 10-15 years.

I often make the comment: "I want to make furniture, not joints". Having said that, the end result has to be fast, accurate, strong and versatile.

In my opinion, none of the usual systems meet the forementioned criteria, with the exception of the multiple dowel arrangement. The multiple dowel system is the only system which in our tests has proven, over and over, to be stronger than the wood itself (oak).

The biscuit and pocket hole systems may be marginally quicker than the multiple dowel arrangement, however I wouldn't use either system for furniture or cabinet construction. Someone once said to me: "A biscuit joint is better than nothing". I can't argue with that.

The mortise and tenon systems are excellent, but not quite as strong the the M.D.A., and take an age to setup and complete.

Our tests reveal the loose tenon system attains approximately 50% of the strength of M.D.A. It's not as accurate, and one system on the market retails in excess of $1000.00

We fully guarantee our system, and will refund the purchase price if any of the foregoing can be disproved.

Overall Design Dimensions of the Hall Table:

Table height:     33 inches
Table depth:     15 inches
Table length:     54 inches

Designing and Building the Table Legs:

I began by cutting the 4 legs from a beautiful section of 2 inch x 12 inch cherry.  These are rough milled in the table saw to 1 5/8 x 2 ½ x 36 inches.  The width of 2 ½ is to accommodate the profile design at the foot.  Final finishing on the planer ensures that all leg widths and thicknesses are identical.

Since the legs are 1 5/8 inches square, I use the 1 5/8 inch template for the lower profile.

DIY hall table leg profile design template.

Before penciling the lower profile, cut all 4 legs to the proper length using the table saw sled.  These lengths should be virtually identical.  Mark out the lower profile using the template, then using a square, mark a horizontal line approximately ½ inch distant from the marked curvature. 

Mark a corresponding vertical line on the left hand side of the work piece as shown below.

DIY furniture leg design template

Place the marked work piece on the table saw adjacent to the saw blade and fence.  Using the vertical line as a guide, scribe a mark on the fence to indicate the end of the cut, to prevent fouling of the lower profile by the leading edge of the table saw blade.

Table saw cut for diy end table leg

Once the long cuts have been completed, trim the lower profile using a band saw.

I am not a great believer in the belt sander concept, I much prefer the 5 inch orbital sander, which is excellent.  However the belt sander is exceptionally useful in finishing the lower profile of the hall table legs (see photo).  This shows a front and side view of the lower profile.

DIY furniture hall table leg design shaed by belt sander.
When sanding the toe on the belt sander, hold the wooden work piece in a position parallel to the longitudinal axis of the sander, and rotate the work piece to attain the desired curvature.
Table lower leg toe detail.

Designing and Building the Leg Inner Verticals:

Like the small end table, the hall table is designed with 4 inner verticals.  These will be 7/8 x 7/8 x 29 ½ inches and the lower end is shaped in similar fashion to the lower profile of the legs.

Table inner vertical members attached to inside of table legs.

How to Design and Build the Hall Table Front Fascia:

The next step is the front rail, or fascia, comprising the single drawer.  Overall the design of the fascia measures 7/8 inch x 7 inch x 46 ¼ inch. 

In order to ensure clean lines, I build the fascia from 4 panels, i.e. an upper and lower rail, and 2 inserts left and right.  The upper and lower rails are designed to protrude 1/8 inch at each face, therefore the rails are 7/8 thick and the inserts are ¾ inch thick.  Full dimensions are as follows:

Upper rail:        7/8 x 1 x 46 ¼ inch
Lower rail:        7/8 x 1 ½ x 46 ¼
2 inserts:           ¾ x 4 ½ x 12 1/8 inch long each

Refer to photograph and please note prominent or raised portions of upper and lower rails.
Front fascia of table with upper and lower rails and left and right inserts.

95% of the multiple dowel joints created by Dowelmax are referenced from the front of the work piece.  This ensures firm clamping on the rear of the work piece, negating problems with indentation (from the clamp disc).

On occasion, it is preferable to reference from the rear of the work piece, since the rear faces are all flush, and the prominent areas are at the front section.  Referencing from the rear negates the use of spacers in this case.

Joining these 4 pieces by doweling is a simple matter, and can be done in 2 ways, i.e. (1)  make sure that rails are identical in length, then reference from the extreme ends working towards the centre, (2) place and clamp the assembly together (see photo), inscribe a fine line at the corners of the inserts as shown.  These will be the reference marks for Dowelmax (DMX) (note:  when referencing DMX to the scribed line, the line must always be on the surface which is to be drilled.)
Pencil marks for reference surfaces to guide placement of Dowelmax for alignment and drilling of dowel joinery holes to connect table front fascia members.

Reverse the assembly, and scribe √ marks on all reference surfaces, and X on the surfaces to be drilled.

It will of course be understood that this whole process of building the table fascia could be simplified by designing all surfaces, i.e. rails and inserts, flush at the front face.

We recommend 4 dowels for each joint.  Reference DMX to √ marks as normal, drill 4 holes using distance gauge to spread dowel bores.

To join the 4 fascia work pieces, I use a small artist paint brush, slightly less than 3/8 inch diameter, and coat the inner periphery of all the holes, the flat surfaces, and the dowel surfaces.  These 4 joints can be joined simultaneously.  The photo shows dry fit assembly using aluminum dowels (for display purposes only)
End table front fascia dowel joints detail

How to Build the Table Front Framework Section:

Lightly sand all legs and verticals and prepare to join the fascia panel to the inner vertical and each leg.  Use 6 dowels to join the fascia, inner vertical and leg, and 2 additional dowels to join the inner vertical to the outside leg.

In this particular case, referencing can be accomplished either from forward faces or the rear faces.  Since many of the rear faces are flush, I elected to reference from the rear.

I created flush faces between the 2 fascia rails and the inner vertical, and then created 1/4 inch offset (or relief) between the main leg and inner vertical.

I used a rather unusual system for joining these 3 components.  With the upper joint, I through drilled the inner vertical using a backing piece to avoid tear out, and using longer dowels, I joined the fascia to the inner vertical, and then the main leg, using 1 longer dowel in multiple form.

I intentionally left the length of the fascia panel slightly oversize, to facilitate dressing of the 2 ends following joining of the 4 components.  Make sure to measure out from the drawer opening, i.e. 12 1/8 inches on each end to provide an overall length of 46 1/4 inches.

The next step is to join the fascia panel to the inner verticals and legs on each end.  The inner vertical will be flush with the upper and lower longitudinal rails of the fascia and Dowelmax will be set to provide a relief, or offset, of approximately ¼ inch between the front face of the leg and the front face of the inner vertical.

In 95% of all cases, or possibly more, we reference DMX from the front faces, however with this particular design, most of the rear faces are flush, therefore I elected to reference from the rear faces.  A word of caution**  DMX is designed to reference from the front and clamp from the rear, consequently indentations from the clamp discs will not be visible.  When referencing from the rear and clamping on the front face, if a softer wood is used, it may be advisable to use a soft pad (I did not find this necessary with cherry).

Building the Hall Table Rear Frame Section:

I next prepare the longitudinal back plate which measures 7/8 x 7 x 46 1/4 inch.  This component will also be used to support the drawer guide arrangement at its centre.

Lay out all 5 rear components together, i.e. 2 – legs, 2 – inner verticals and longitudinals, back plate
Dowel joint reference marks and connection edges between table front fascia and inner vertical and table leg.

Mark all reference surfaces with √ marks and X’s.  Pay particular attention to both inner verticals.  Lower dowel holes are NOT through holes, and also have to be drilled from inside.  (Mark X at lower face to be drilled).  One joint incorporates three components, therefore mark 6 √ marks and 3 X’s.

Another thing to consider when drilling the lower holes on both inner verticals, since the work piece is 7/8 thick, we have to reduce the penetration by adjusting the drill collar stop.  I intend drilling 5/8 into the inner vertical and 7/8 into the leg (total 1 1/2 inch).  We could also drill 5/8 into both work pieces and shorten the dowel to 1 1/4 inch.

While on the subject of drill collar settings, for convenience, I have 4 oak blocks set up with 4 drill settings, 5/8, 3/4, 7/8, and 1 inch (see photo).  Set drill to block depth then align trailing edge of cutter helix with centre line, then fasten Allen screws tightly on centre.

Design and Build of the Table Transverse Panels:

The 2 transverse end panels or rails, are designed with a raised portion at the bottom (for cosmetic reasons, and not absolutely necessary).  Overall the dimensions are 7 inch x 10 inch.   The upper section is ¾ inch thick and the lower 7/8 inch thick

I leave rail length at 10 1/4 to permit dressing of ends after joining.  Alignment rather than strength is required in this case, so I used 1/4 inch dowels to join the work pieces.  Again, I can reference from the front or rear face, however the front face is stepped so it is simpler to reference from the rear faces.

Begin at either end.  Place reference marks (√ marks and X’s).  Set distance gauge at 2 5/16 inch, clamp, drill 2 holes and use distance gauge to drill 2 additional holes.

During the building process, I discovered that the 7 inch x 46 1/4 inch back plate had developed a fairly large curved sweep, which was not acceptable.  Fortunately the curve was simple rather than compound, and not wanting to scrap a good piece of solid cherry, I corrected this problem by cutting 3 – 1/2 inch slots to relieve the stresses, then screwed and glued a 1 inch x 2 inch strongback to the top section.  It worked beautifully and the strongback can also be used to join the lower framework to the top upon completion (see photo). The added support and slots are internal and won’t be visible following asssembly.

Stress relieved hall table cherry back plate member with 1x2 strongback.

Please note:  I am not a proponent of biscuits or screws in furniture construction.  I adamantly refuse to use biscuits under any circumstances, but will use screws to secure a framework to table top, or to secure face mouldings, but not in the actual build structure.

When partially built, the transverse rail looked too plain, so I decided to add a small cosmetic rail to the design along the bottom edge. The bull nose rail (shown separate) was glued and pinned as shown.
Hall table transverse rail with added cosmetic "bull-nose" rail.

Building the Table Transverse Rail to Rear Leg Connection:

Abut the transverse rail and rear leg.  Pencil in √ marks and X’s (reference from top).  Reference from front face of leg and drill using 5/16 inch spacers.  Again the transverse rail is flush at the back face, so I referenced from that face.  Thickness is ¾ inch, so no spacers are required to centre.

Incorporated in the design are 2 small transverse rails at the lower section of the left and right legs.  These rails measure 7/8 x 2 ¼ x 10 inch.  The rails are in line with the upper transverse rails (use 5/16 inch spacer) and the lower edge is positioned 5 ½ inch from floor.  Since the rail is 2 ¼ inch thick, measure from bottom of leg 7 ¾ and scribe line.  Abut DMX to scribed line, place distance gauge in last hole of upper rail and butt rod to face of DMX guide block.

Drilling of multiple dowel bores on hall table legs to join lower transverse rails.

Drill bores 1, 2 and 3 and use same setting for remaining 3 legs. 

As stated the design incorporates 2 lower transverse rails each measuring 7/8 x 2 ¼ x 10 inch.  For ends, mark √ marks and X’s as required, and drill 3 holes in centre of ends (remember the rule for centering – 7/8 ÷ 2 = 7/16 – 3/8 = 1/16th) so we need to use 1/16 inch spacer to centre.
Drilling of multiple dowel bores in end of lower transverse rails to join with table legs.

How to Design and Build the Table Lower Shelf:

All multiple DMX joints are guaranteed as strong if not stronger than a comparable mortise and tenon, or your money refunded.

Next, prepare the lower longitudinal shelf which measures 7/8 x 6 x 48 ¾ inch.  Leave slightly longer to allow final adjustment.

DMX is fast, accurate and versatile.  It is also straight forward to use, but you must (a) concentrate, (b) always mark your work pieces, and never ever reverse the reference process.  Case in point:  the lower longitudinal shelf is 6 inches wide and fits in the middle of the two transverse rails.  Therefore begin by placing the two rails together with √ marks to top and faces positioned as in table assembly.
Reference check marks on opposing transverse rails to guide placement of Dowelmax.
Rotate both outward from the centre
Reference X marks to show face location of dowel bores on transverse rails.
The shelf width is 6 inches, and the transverse rail is 10 inches, therefore in centering shelf on the transverse rail, a 2 inch space exists at each side.  Ensure that the rails are aligned exactly and scribe a line over both components.
Reference line marked with set square to show location of edge of shelf when centered.
The transverse rails are face joints and normally we would convert DMX to the 2nd configuration, however in this case the work pieces are only 2 ¼ inch wide, so we can use a ¾ inch spacer (centering rule 2 ¼ ÷ 2 = 1 1/8 – 3/8 = ¾)  and use DMX in its normal configuration.

How to Design and Build the Hall Table Top:

The hall table top measures 15 inch x 54 inch.

The top is also stepped, so that when placed on the table framework, it will overlap the edges of same.  The inner thickness is 3/4 inch and the outer 7/8 inch. 

I am not too keen on a simple planked top, and like to crisscross the strakes in a pre-determined manner.  This is of course entirely optional and not absolutely necessary.  The preference is up to the individual craftsman.

See plan view for my table top below:
Plan view sketch of table top with dimensions.
Begin with the 2 outer panels, i.e. 9 1/2 x 9 1/2 inch.  Mill 2 work pieces 3/4 x 4 13/16 x 9 13/16.  These are oversize to facilitate final edge dressing after joining.  Set work pieces together, pencil √ marks and X’s as required.  Set distance gauge to 3 1/2 inch.  Install and clamp DMX, drill #2 guide hole.  Insert distance gauge and then drill guides 1 and  5.
Drilling of dowel bores in section of outer panel of table top.

The centre panel is next.  Make up from 2 work pieces 3/4 x 4 13/16 x 24 1/8 inch.  Place work pieces together, pencil √ marks and X’s.  Set distance gauge at 8 3/8 inch.  Clamp DMX to align drill guides 2 & 3, install distance gauge in last hole and drill holes 4 & 5.

After clamping work pieces together, use straight edge to ensure surfaces are parallel.

Mill 2 transverse cross members 3/4 x 2 1/2 x 9 5/8 inch (length is oversize).  Place all 5 work pieces together and pencil reference marks.

Design and construction layout of panels for diy hall table top
When I am doing multiple joints, I substitute numbers for √ marks to avoid confusion.
Diy hall table top panel joint surfaces

Also note that the grain for all panels is in horizontal attitude.  Reference and clamp DMX, and drill suitable sequence of holes using either distance gauge or index pin.

In the case of the 2 transverse cross members, note these are 2 1/2 inches wide, so drill completely through, using a back piece to prevent “tear out”.  Then glue the inner periphery of the holes and insert 4 inch dowels.  In this manner the dowels become integral with the cross members with 3/4 inch of dowel protruding from each edge.
Diy furniture hall table top panel dowel joint

This allows 3 work pieces to be joined using 1 set of dowels.

For ease of assembly and in order to prevent distortion, glue and clamp one side only, in this case the right hand panel, the cross member and the centre panel.  Following clamp process, check top face by straight edge and adjust clamps as necessary.

Once cured, dress the front and rear edges to provide a width of 9 ½ inches.

Mill the rear longitudinal insert, ¾ x 2 ½ x 48 ½ inch (slightly oversize), pencil in √ and X’s as required.  Calculate distance gauge setting and drill sequence of holes along both work pieces.

How to Build the Hall Table Top Mitered Sections:

Once cured, the ends of the table top are dressed to accept the three mitred sections.  As it stands, the top is now 12 inches in width and therefore too wide to dress using the table saw sled.  I used an aluminum fence and router bit. Clamp the workpiece to your work bench before beginning the router cut.

Edge of  diy furniture table top dressed by router and fence.

In this process it is essential to square the fence with the longitudinal edges of the table top. 

Mill the three mitred sections:  2 – 7/8 x 3 x 15 ½ and 1 – 7/8 x 3 x 55 inches.

*For newer participants, always work against the router rotation and never with rotation.

To prepare the mitred rails for assembly, reference from back edge using short mitred section.  Mark √ and X’s as required.  Clamp DMX and using distance gauge or index pin, drill required sequence of holes on both work pieces.
Since it is preferable to have one dowel placed in the mitred portion, we have to ensure that all dowels are placed in the same axis.  I have devised a method which has proven successful every time.  Dry fit the mitred work piece to the table top, reference from top surface and hold DMX firmly against the table top edge as in photo.
Miter joint design for diy furniture table top.

Remove drill collar and drill using guide #2 to depth of 3 5/8th inch.

Set longitudinal mitred section alongside table top.  Leave 3 1/8 inch overlap each end for mitre.  Mark position on edge.  Mark √ and X’s on surfaces.  Set distance gauge to maximum.  Clamp DMX to marked line and drill required sequence of holes on both work pieces.

To drill hole required for mitre, dry fit table top and front rail, install 50% of dowels only!!  Align and clamp DMX to inside edge of long mitred rail.

DIY table top miter dowel joint construction details.

Drill guide #2 penetration in wood work piece is approx. 2 ¾ inch.

Dry fit (separately) all three mitred rails and mark fine line to indicate inside of mitre cut. 

I use table saw mitre gauge with added hard wood extension to cut mitres.

Begin with the long work piece, cut 45 degree mitres at ends. Before cutting mitres, route outside edges of mitred work pieces.  I used a Lee Valley window sill profile, which really enhances the rails.

Miter table top edge profiled with windowsill router bit from Lee Valley
Before gluing the mitre rails, dry fit the front legs, verticals and drawer panel to obtain accurate length of structure.
Dry fot of front legs and inner verticals to drawer panel to obtain accurate overall length using universal tape gauge.
Length (using the UTG) is 51 ¼.  Table top length is 48 inches, difference is 3 ¼ inch, therefore we have to recess end mitres by 1 5/8 inch (to overlap lower framework).
Recess on underside of diy hall table miter top to overlap and engage lower framework.

Follow similar procedure with long rail.

In my experience, it is best to finish with a miniscule protrusion at the mitre “heel” when cutting and dry fitting the work piece.  Dry fit and clamp.  Next cut mitres on short work pieces.  Do several test cuts adjusting mitre gauge as necessary to attain perfect fit before final cut at mark.

NOTE:   When cutting the 45 degree mitres on the long section, be particular but not too particular.  This is because the required adjustment for the angle can be made on the short pieces.  Having said that, remember that the further you are out on the relative 45 degree’s, the greater the discrepancy on the routed profile.

There are a number of surfaces I like to add a bit of interest to, and to that end I use a carbide tipped 45 degree chamfer bit.  The first items are the four legs.  I route the outer corner of each leg, 6 inches from the lower end and 8 inches from the top.

Routered edge design of hall table leg
The second items are the two lower transverse rails, 1 ½ inch in from each end.
Routered edge design of hall table lwer transverse rail.
DIY hall table lower rail routered edge profile design.

Re-Design of the Table Lower Shelf:

At a later stage I decided to alter the design of the lower longitudinal rail.  It was too plain and non-descript.  However I had already drilled the six holes in the two transverse rails so that could not be changed.  Therefore I cut 2 – 4 inch sections off the rail, made a small template in a contour I liked, marked the shape on the 4 inch sections and cut the profile on the bandsaw.

Hall table longitudinal rail modified with end section profile cut with bandsaw
Using 2 – 2 inch dowels each end, I then joined a partially chamfered longitudinal rail measuring 7/8 x 3 x 40 5/8 inch to the 2 profiled ends.
Lower rail dowel for hall table closed.

How to Design and Build the Hall Table Drawers:

I began the single drawer by constructing it from ½ inch faced plywood.  I am not a proponent of plywood unless for drawers, but in this particular case it was not too successful.  I am trying to do something absolutely unique, I would speculate that it has probably never been done before, however I may be wrong.  I want to mitre the two front corners and insert 5 mahogany dowels each end.  These will protrude at 45 degrees and therefore leave an ovoid footprint when finished.  I used cherry and the front and rear drawer panels measure 5/8 x 4 3/8 x 21 15/16 inch.  The side panels measure 5/8 x 4 3/8 x 9 7/8 inch.  Using the router table, I milled a recess at the bottom edge of each panel to accept the bottom plate, which will be faced plywood.  The recess is 5/16 x ½ inch.  The two front corner joints are 45 degrees.  I designed an accessory which attaches to the angle clamp bracket (not yet in production, but relatively easy to make).
Dowelmax 45 degree angle joint accessory used to create mitered corners for hall table drawers.
Carefully cut the mitres, then install the accessory with a suitable sized backing block.  The reason for this is two fold:  (1) to position the bores as close to the inner corner as possible (for greater strength) and (2) to reduce tear out when drilling completely through the mitre.
Drilling of miter joint for hall table drawer.
The completed joint is shown in the photo.  Note the accuracy and my assertion that strength of joint is a function of geometric design and accuracy.
Detail of hall table drawer miter joint made with Dowelmax.
Having finished the drawer assembly, I must admit it is much more satisfying and aesthetically pleasing to construct the drawer from solid cherry rather than plywood.  Having said that, if I tackle a project with several drawers, I’ll probably revert back to plywood.
Additional detail for mter joint made with Dowelmax for hall table drawer.

How to Design and Build the Hall Table Drawer Panel:

The drawer panel is 7/8 x 4 ½ x 22 inches, outer face bevelled for width of approx. 5/8 inch.  It is not entirely necessary, but I like to add a bevelled plate to the face.  It adds to the finished product.  Plate:  3/8 x 2 1/8 x 18 ¾ inch.
Hall table front fascia panel design.

How to Prepare and Stain the Hall Table:

My preference is to completely dismantle the dry fitted table and then prepare, stain and finish the various components separately.  All pieces are sanded progressively 150 – 220 – 400 grit.  The only wood I have found which does not need to be pre-treated (before stain application) is oak.  The cherry I am using requires surface treatment to prevent blotching.  I mix 3 parts methyl hydrate to 1 part shellac.  Then apply mixture to each face using a small paint brush and cloth.  Work with the grain.  I left the pieces overnight, then applied the stain.  I wanted a deep rich dark tone so I mixed one part gel espresso with 3 parts dark walnut.  Again, I left the completed pieces overnight, then applied a second coat.

After the first coat of gel stain had been applied to the table top, I was disappointed in the result, it was blotchy.  The darker the stain, the greater the likelihood of this happening.  It was not evident in the smaller pieces, but the top is larger in area.  I decided on a drastic step.  I sanded the top (not the edge profile), taped the edges, then re-applied the 3:1 preparatory mix.  I then applied the dark walnut as a first stain application.  It was good, but obviously it was several shades lighter, this, I had anticipated.  I left it 24 hours to cure and dry, then applied the 3:1 gel stain mix on top of the surface I now considered sealed to a greater degree.  It worked beautifully!!  However in the case of the top, I may have to apply another stain coat of the gel mix to get the required depth and dark shade.

I made up a simple adjustable stand with which I could centre and rotate the pieces.
Stain application stand used fall hall table leg staining.
TIP:  There is not much point in cleaning a brush (bought at the dollar store) coated in stain, however since I’ll be using the same brush for a week or so, I don’t clean it, but wrap it in saran wrap and reuse it several times.