DESIGNING A WOODEN COFFEE TABLE - Design 1 - Forms & Functions, Top & Base.

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Forms & Functions of the Coffee Table Components.


In the vertical plane, the wooden coffee table top is the most rigidly constrained component as it obviously has to be A, flat, and B, level to perform its designated function. One property that can be varied is the thickness which you can use to create a sense of delicacy or of chunkiness.
In the horizontal plane, however, there are far fewer functional constraints, so the coffee table top could be square, oblong, circular, oval, or almost any irregular shape you chose to make it as long as it provided a sufficient area to put coffee cups down on. With a square or oblong table top the corners can be rounded off or bevelled to lesser or greater degrees to add interest and also to make accidental bumping into the corners less painful.

Other variations to the top can include:

  1. Plain boarded top, (the coffee tables I design usually have this), consisting of a number of boards glued on the edges and cramped together.
    With a larger table I will use biscuit joints along the edges to strengthen the joint and hold the boards level.
  2. Breadboard ended top, this has a cross member at either end of the coffee table top to hide the end grain, I do not use this method as it contains contradictory grain directions which could lead to splitting as mentioned in: fixing the top.
    It is possible to obtain timber which has had; the sap content driven out of the cells and replaced with a chemical which prevents the timber from being hygroscopic, ( having the ability to absorb moisture), and this would probably be the best to use for this type of design.
  3. Framed top, as in coffee table design method 3 (see link below), where the coffee table top is constructed from a frame jointed with mortise and tenon and rebated to take another material, usually glass.

In addition, the coffee table top can be enhanced with a moulding routed on the edge for a more traditional look.


The main function of the base for a wooden coffee table is to provide a level support for the top, it is more important to support the width fully than the length because of possible movement across the grain as described in: fixing the top. The base of the coffee table gives more freedom for completely different forms as it can be designed to achieve the above function in a number of different ways as you can see from the coffee tables linked to below.
The traditional design is to have a leg in each corner joined together, with mortise and tenon joints, by four horizontal rails at the top like coffee table Design Method 5.
In coffee tables Design Method 4 and  Design Method 6 the base has gained an additional function of storage underneath the table and an additional structural need which is to support that storage as well as the top.
Coffee table Design Method 3 demonstrates how the legs and rails can become much slenderer if you have the extra rails at the bottom for added stability.
Coffee tables Design Method 1 and Design Method 7 rely on central pillars rather than a leg at each corner for support.
Coffee table Design Method 2 moves away entirely from the idea of supporting the table top on legs. Notice that the top is still supported across the width but at only two points along the length.
To sum up, you can make the base in any shape you can come up with provided it is securely jointed, stable, level, and supports the width of the coffee table.

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