I’ve been doing woodwork as a hobby now for a number of years. I’m not a professional and all of my knowledge has come from reading lots of books and watching lots of internet videos. Slowly but surely I have built up a working knowledge and also a small arsenal of tools.
My first serious woodworking project was way back in 2011. I had just finished reading a great woodworking book called Cabinetmaking: A Foundation Course by John Bullar, which taught me a lot of useful woodworking skills. It also had a few projects in it which progressively increased in difficulty and technical skill. One of the early projects was a simple oak stool, which incorporated a mortice and tenon joint called a bridle joint to slot lengths of wood together. At the time I was considering building a new telephone-table for in our hall, and so I decided to try and modify the original design of the stool and build a table instead.
Even though the book had a pretty good plan and description of the project, I still decided to use my own skills with 3D modelling to re-build the project on the computer. That way I could get the new measurements correct. Also I realised that there were a couple of ways I could build the table by changing the direction of the cross beams and so modelling on the computer helped me to decide which would look best.
Once the design was decided I bought some wood. For this project I only needed a relatively small amount of timber, as you can see from the picture. I did also buy a pre-planed plank of oak which I intended to use for the top, but for some reason forgot to photograph…you’ll see it later anyway 🙂
At this time I didn’t have much in the way of fancy tools and so I had to try and cut the pieces by hand. Cross cutting the boards was actually pretty easy, but rip-sawing with the grain took quite a bit of work…still nothing wrong with a bit of graft every now and again!
With the pieces cut I next had to think about how I was going to plane and thickness them. At the time I only had a few hand planes, and so I started to plane the parts down by hand…
It didn’t take long for me to realise that I would still be working by next Christmas if I was going to do it all manually…so I had to bite the bullet and buy a power planer/thicknesser. It was probably one of the best decisions I ever made in terms of my woodworking tools. Although the machine I bought was only small, it rattled through the parts in no time. I also used it extensively during construction of The Cot Project.
It wasn’t until this point in the build that I realised that I had miscalculated the requirements and that in fact I was a length of timber short. So in true DIY style, I improvised an extra length of timber by gluing together a couple of boards (actually a pair of salvaged oak drawer fronts) and cutting it down to size to match the other boards.
I stored all of the wood in the house for a few weeks to allow it to acclimatise to the humidity and temperature. This way any moisture still remaining in the wood would be expelled and prevent any expansion later on once the joints had been made.
With the parts cut to length and thicknessed perfectly I could start on the joints in earnest. The nice thing about bridle joints (and most other mortice and tenon joints for that matter) is that you use the thickness of one piece of wood to mark up the positions where you cut. This means you’re not relying on a ruler for accuracy but instead you know the sizes will be perfect. So once marked up I simply started by cutting the shoulders of each joint with a fine handsaw.
Next I used a sharp chisel to chop away the waste a bit at a time. Its important not to take too much in one go here as its easy to split the timber along the grain.
With the majority of the waste removed I used the chisel to pair away small amounts of waste until the joint was flat and smooth.
This process was repeated on the opposite side of the joint to complete the bridle tenon. The next stage was to cut the ends to match. Again the shoulders were marked up using the other piece of wood as a guide and then cut with the hand saw. The I used a mortice chisle to chop away the waste and keep the edges nice and flat.
Then it was just a case of rinse and repeat until all joints were completed.
With all the joints cut it was time to do some test fitting. I was a bit concerned about the quality of the fits, but in general they actually fitted together really well as you can see.
The next part to do was the top itself. As mentioned earlier I had bought a pre-planed plank of oak for this and I just needed to cut it in half and edge joint it using glue and clamping pressure.
Now with everything built, it was over to the sander for smoothing. When I sand I normally draw a load of pencil marks on the wood beforehand. Then I just sand it until all the pencil is gone. That way I know that the surface is flat. I used an orbital hand sander and quite a few sanding sheets, going through 120 and 240 grit to get a nice smooth finish.
For the top I sanded it flat and also used a hand plane to cut a small micro bevel on the edges which I think looked quite good.
Because the top was going to be screwed to the framework, I drilled some holes through the framework to allow the screws to go through.
With everything ready all that was left was the final construction. For the framework I simply applied glue to all the joints and clamped them all together over night. The top was simply screwed into the framework using the pre-drilled holes.
And that was that! You can see from the pictures that the construction was simple but looks pretty good in our hall as a telephone table. All in all I was very please with the result. We still use this table now several years later and I like it because it reminds me of those early days of woodworking.