Attaching the top of a small coffee table

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  • #553581
    Phillip Hill

    I’m designing a small coffee table, about 30 in square and about 18 in. high. The legs are 3 in solid wood (possibly turned), a drawer in one side, a shelf below about 2 in. off the floor. The top will be solid wood made from laminated boards about 1.5 in thick. The problem is, how to attach the top to the frame without resorting to pocket holes (which I hate). My initial idea is to cut a rabbet along the top edge of each of the aprons into which I would glue and screw a strip that protrudes to the inside flush with the top of the aprons and use this strip to screw through and into the bottom side of the top. Am I making this too complicated, over thinking it or ???

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  • #553585


    You could do what you first thought of, however the traditional way of attaching table tops to side aprons, allowing movement and avoiding the risk of the top splitting, is to use Table Buttons, sometimes called ‘Turn Buttons’:
    Here’s a link to some detail:

    An alternative to each button having its own pocket as shown in the link is to run a groove along the inside of the apron -the important point is that the fixture, whatever it is, allows the wood to move as it adjusts to seasonal changes.

    Good luck



    (mistakenly posted this earlier to a wrong thread — here goes)

    I’m no expert, but in the past I have used clips and figure eight connectors (links below) to allow movement,43715,43726&ap=1,41306,41312,50311

    You could also make wooden cleats that work like the metal clips in the first link.




    Hi Phillip. By “pocket holes” I assume you do not mean Kreg Jig type pocket holes, but rather the sorts of “pockets” Paul demonstrates in his video about making a small table? There, he cuts little slots in the apron and attaches a “turnbutton” which is screwed in to the table top and which has a part that slides into the slots in the apron holding it tight but allowing for wood movement. That is very standard, though he also has a video showing a second method. In that video he dismantles a table he bought somewhere that does not use turnbuttons. It too cuts a sort of “pocket” into the apron. The screw goes through that pocket and into the table top. Expansion and contraction is allowed for by using and oversized screw hole through the pocket. Check out that video.

    If I understand it, what you describe will probably work well enough, but has a weakness. You want a strip glued into a rabbit around the edge of the table apron through which a screw passes into the table top. Clearly, to allow for expansion and contraction you would have to leave the screw hole in the strip oversized. Fine, but I can think of one weakness. The rabbit that holds the strip to the apron is not a very strong joint. If someone lifts the table by the top, all the weight of the table aprons and legs pulls down on that rather weak joint holding the glue strip to the apron. The strength all comes from the glue and is not held by anything “mechanical.” Maybe someone else would know whether modern glues can hold well enough for that.

    Phillip Hill


    Thank you very much for the responses. The “turn button” thing is much better than mine. Looks very workable for me. Now I think I can finalize the design etc and get started.



    [quote quote=553590]Thank you very much for the responses. The “turn button” thing is much better than mine. Looks very workable for me. Now I think I can finalize the design etc and get started.[/quote]

    With Buttons it’s important to ensure that the grain in the button is aligned so that the tongue part is at right-angles to the apron that it enters.

    If you have access to Paul Sellers’ videos going back, he made a small table project a couple of years ago using these buttons and he shows how to mass-produce them quite easily from bits of scrap wood.

    Good luck.

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