Outdoor Coffee Table – Tabletop

Outdoor Coffee Table – Tabletop

This week’s post is all about building the table top for my outdoor coffee table. The design calls for seven slats of 1”x4” cedar, spaced about ¾” apart from one another. Each slat will be attached to the legs via mortise and tenon joints. Similar to what I did for the dining table, the coffee table will use a breadboard concept. However, there are a couple of differences in this build.

The legs themselves are the breadboards for the coffee table. This means I’ll need to route the mortises directly into the top 2”x4” of each leg. The other difference is that the top slats have space between them. This means that wood movement isn’t as large of a concern as the dining table. Because the sides of each slat are not constrained against one another, they can expand side to side freely. Practically, this means that I can pin each slat directly in the middle without expanding the pin hole for movement. 

With the plan established for the joinery, the first step in making the tabletop was to cut the seven slats. I made sure to cut each slat an extra 4” in length, which allows for a 2” tenon on both sides of the slat for the joint to the leg. One of the lessons I learned from my dining table build was just how precise these lengths need to be in order to avoid gaps between the tabletop and the breadboard (or legs in this case). To help the precision, I used a stop block on my miter saw fence to make each of the seven top slats the exact same length.

Evenly cut slats! With them pushed up against a straight backstop, I could tell that I did a fairly good job of keeping them the exact same length.

With the tops cut to length, it was time to route the tenons on each one. This is another point in the process where precision is key to avoid joint gaps in the final product.

To help achieve uniform lengths on each slat, I set up a router jig to cut all seven slats at the same time. It may look a little janky, but it worked fairly well. Because I made sure to make each slat the same length, I could set an end block to push them up against and clamp them into place. I could then set a straight edge (piece of trim) at the right distance from the end for my tenons and know that it was uniform across each slat. The weights and cinder blocks were useful for keeping each piece flat and in place. I’m definitely learning that you can never have enough clamps in woodworking.

More clamps necessary, but this setup worked well enough for this project.

With the jig set up it was smooth sailing. I had to do both sides of the slats, and each side had to be routed on both the top and bottom to leave the tenon in the middle. After routing I made sure to sand each tenon to smooth out any inconsistency from routing. I took ⅓ of the thickness off of each side for the tenon. With a ¾” slat that left a tenon that is ¼” thick. That is a slightly delicate tenon, especially with a softer wood like cedar, but it should be sufficient for what we’re using it for. I just need to remember to not throw my feet up on the table next to my morning coffee.

One side of tenons routed and sanded.

With the tenons cut, I could work on making the mortises and table legs. But that’s a story for the next post!

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