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Attaching Legs to a Thick Table Top Without an Apron

ArtN's picture

I'm making a 7 1/2 foot by 3 1/2 foot dining table for a friend out of 10/4 Sapele and they want the legs attached without an apron flush with the sides and ends of the table.  The friends are both over 6 feet tall and wanted to not have an apron so they don't bang their legs constantly.

My thought is to glue a 1 1/2" dowel into the top of the table about an inch an a half (to create stability on one end) with the other end into the end of the 4"X4" legs about 3"-4" (again for stability) without glueing the dowel in so the legs can be removed if they ever move.  I would pocket screw the legs to the top on the inside so they won"t be seen, then attach approx 2"x2" cleats on the inside with countersunk lag screws as additional support.  Assuming I have the skill to get the dowels perfectly vertical (that's the first question the guy at the hardware store asked). Will this create enough support for the top?  I told my friends that there was no table dancing allowed with this design.

Any and all advice welcome.

swenson's picture

Forget the legs. (post #169386, reply #1 of 14)

Sounds like a trestle table would solve the apron problem.  Not sure why they want legs right up to the edges of each corner, not sure why they have problems with aprons.  I have lots of over-six-footers in my family and they don't have problems banging their knees on the aprons on my dining room table.  Make the table a little higher than normal.  Make curved aprons that are wider at the legs and narrow in the middle.  I still think the design with the legs at the corners will look strange.

Just random first thoughts to get things going.  Worth just what you paid for 'em most likely.  Good luck.

RalphBarker's picture

dining on the floor (post #169386, reply #2 of 14)

The design I'm picturing from my understanding of your description isn't going to have much rigidity, and could easily end up collapsing when any lateral stress is put on the top. The large dowels, I'm afraid, will compress/deform when lateral stresses are placed against the edges of the table, making the connection too loose.

The trestle-style design that "swenson" suggested overcomes that problem by creating strong leg assemblies at the ends of the table, supplemented with a strong center support that prevents racking end-to-end. A metal plate can be used to attach the leg assemblies to the top, as long as attachment holes are elongated to allow for seasonal expansion/contraction.

ArtN's picture

No dining on floor wanted (post #169386, reply #3 of 14)

Thanks for the replies!

They showed me some designs that are like this in magazines but of course the pictures in the mags don't show HOW they do it.  Or if it just looks like they are puting the legs on the corners without an apron and the apron was just hidden in the picture.

I can probably talk them into an apron if their choice is between a collapsing table and an apron.  I was taking the approach of "they are the customer and I'll try to give them what they want."  Sometimes the customer is not right though and my job is to give them a design that will not fall apart as well a what they like.  I like the idea of a curved apron but that gives me more challenges to get the curves right. Doable, just something I need to make sure I can do and make it look good.

If they end up accepting an apron (curved or not curved) what is the minimum thickness and height I could get away with?  

Also, originally we had talked about bringing the legs in about 3 or 4 inches and cleating on all four sides.  I saw a design that dado'd the cleats to allow for expansion but not sure that will solve the problem of lateral stress making the table wobbley without an apron.  It just may be that they will have to live with an apron because I'm 100% sure they want the legs on the corners.

My first table for my wife was an Ash tressle style table and she said it "turned out beyond my (her) expectations", maybe she's just saying that but it does look nice in the breakfast nook.

By the way, I took a waste piece of Sapele, sanded it down and applied Tung Oil and the wood took on a wavey sheen that took my breath away.  It will be a beautiful table when I get the legs figured out.  So far making tables has been a lot fun along with the cahllenges.

Thanks again for the replies.


RalphBarker's picture

Table design can vary (post #169386, reply #5 of 14)

Table design can vary based on likely placement and use. Occasional tables placed against a wall in an entryway, for example, often have rather elegant (dainty) designs because they don't encounter much stress beyond that of a set of keys and the day's mail. Dining, tavern and conference tables, however, need to withstand far more lateral stress, such as people leaning on them, pushing themselves away from the table, etc. As such, the leg/top joinery might face several hundred pounds of lateral stress - the weight of the top, combined with the weight of one or more persons vectored at an angle.

Typical aprons are in the 2 ½ to 4 inch range (wider generally being better, 4" being fairly standard for a 30" high dining table), allowing for strong M&T joinery in both directions. The apron also allows the stress to be spread across a larger area of the top-to-leg-assembly area. But, the 4" apron width is based on a typical top thickness of 1" and an assumed chair seat height of 18". With a 2" finished thickness for your top, you might need to adjust the apron width to allow sufficient vertical leg room. With heavier legs, a thicker apron, say 1 ½" instead of the usual 3/4" might compensate to some extent for it being narrower, say 3" instead of 4".

In the final analysis, it's a balance between appearance and function.

jfsksa's picture

my 2 cents (post #169386, reply #4 of 14)

I like the idea of doing things differently and a nice thick table top certainly does not need an apron for strength.  You might consider using a corbel to substitute for the apron.  This achieves the same lateral stress support, but avoids knee knocking and might make a nice framing effect when viewed from the side

frost's picture

I'd agree that aprons would (post #169386, reply #6 of 14)

I'd agree that aprons would still work as even in 6 footers, their legs from the knee down are not that much different and thats what fits below the table. 

But, if they want that look, it can be done.  You do have beefy legs at 4" square.  Could you find a way to inset a large L Bracket?  I'm thinking at least 12inches.  Two  on each leg at right angles would do.  Rout out for them and then cover with wood on the legs, just inset them on the table top.   The brackets that run accross the grain would have to have slotted holes to allow for expansion.  You could try this out on some scrap and test for strength first.


Good luck

DonStephan's picture

This will be a large, heavy (post #169386, reply #7 of 14)

This will be a large, heavy table with a beautiful wood, so I would not want to stray from tried and true design.  With so much imported wood I'd like to see it made for decades at minimum.  To maximize its attractiveness I'd suggest rift grain pattern for the legs and a significant effort devoted to board matching for the top.  Given the dimensions and weight of the eventual top I'd suggest keeping the arch as flat as possible, and raising the overall table if needed - it could always be cut down to the standard 30" when the kids inherit it.  Besides making a strong connection with the legs, the end apron members lend support to the table's width.  Gravity and items on the tabletop will pull down on the centerline of the tabletop, trying to break the glue joints and split the boards lengthwise.  Dowelsl, metal brackets, and corbels are create very interesting looks, but may not provide much center support.  If the customers are dead set against an apron, I'd suggest a trestle design or pedestal, and politely decline to build otherwise in the interest of maintaining friendship.  Just my two cents.

VAM's picture

Here is one way (post #169386, reply #8 of 14)

I don't know what pictures they saw, but if they were of Pasons tables here is a link with a method of construction you might be able to adapt.

ArtN's picture

Almost done (post #169386, reply #9 of 14)

I talked with some woodworking guys that I know and we had a lively discussion with multuiple suggestions.  I kept with the customer desire to have the legs on the corner without an apron and I discused the options with the customer.  Metal brackets; customer didn't wan't metals brackets, corbels; OK but only if you have to and they need to be clean lines, Dowels; agree would compress after a while and be too loose.

One of the guys who has been doing everything wood from house building to pen making came up with the idea of a Newel Post (sp?) with a hanger bolt.  We talked some more and I liked the idea and so did the other guy, a cabinet maker turned wood seller.  So, I did a test leg and attached it to an 8 foot piece of wood of same material as the table.  I used one 4" (1 1/2" into the table top) Hanger Bolt in the middle with four 1/2" Oak dowels each leg.  2 dowels on each outside edge one inch in from the edges.  I used a jig with holes drilled on my drill press so they were nice and square/plum to make sure all four corners and the legs were the same.  This worked quite well.

After installation of the test leg I held the leg on a 45 degree angle and put all my weight on it.  I'm 190 pound and was on my tippy toes and the leg did not budge or sepatate from the "test top" at all.  I flipped the piece over and pushed and pulled on the leg while standing on the test top and it didn't move at all.  I slept on it and decided that was the way I was going.  Additional thought was that if the legs does get loose over time they can tighten the hanger bolt.

The table is done now except for applying a few coats of protectant and it looks pretty nice.  I'm confident that this will give them the look they werre expecting while still providing ample strength in all directions. Time will tell.  Thanks for your input, I learned a few things along the way....especially that a table that looks like something is probably built a different way...i.e. the Pasons Table link.

Thanks again!!



ArtN's picture

JS,   I attached a couple (post #169386, reply #11 of 14)



I attached a couple of photos of the finished table.  If you look at the leg near where it is attached to the table there is a hole.  The hanger bolt (can be bought at any hardware store) has a screw on one end and a bolt on the other.  Using a jig I drilled a pilot hole into the table top then I screwed it into the table top. Then I drilled a hole in the center of the top of the leg with the same jig flipped over to mirror the positioning on the table bottom.  I drilled another hole on the corner of the leg, I used a jig to hold the leg at 45 degrees and drilled it with my drill press and forestner bit (1 1/2") about 1/2 way through the leg.  You'll have to some figuring to get the right distance.

I put the leg on the hanger bolt, attach a nut and a special curved washer and screwed it down tight.  Before that though I added four 1/2" dowels to stop it from spinning and add extra lateral strenght.  For the dowels I used the same jig as when I drilled the pilot hole and hole in top of leg.

I still don't think I am explaining this well but if you go to a big box store like Menards they will have Newel Post bolts and if you read the directions plus my explanation you might be able to figure out what I did.  I don't have any detailed pictures of the jig or the test leg but can do that if you need more.



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RalphBarker's picture

finished table (post #169386, reply #12 of 14)

First, the table looks great.

Next, I understood your explanation perfectly. Or, at least I think I did.  ;-)

Finally, time will tell, I suppose, whether the attachment method is robust enough for the users of the table.

SilverJS's picture

Art, Much appreciated - (post #169386, reply #13 of 14)


Much appreciated - and the table indeed looks absolutely fantastic!  How did you stain it - spray-stained, I'm guessing?

I think I understand what you're saying - drill a hole in the table top to screw the "screw" part of the hanger bolt into; then, drill a corresponding hole in the leg for the "bolt" part of the hanger bolt.  What I DON'T understand, however, is the other hole in the leg, and the 45-degree part.  What I'm GUESSING you mean is, that you drill a *horizontal* hole (horizontal when the table is upright in its normal, completed position) at one of the corners of the leg (hence the 45 degrees - holding the leg so that its corners are at the top and bottom, and drilling through that).  Is that right?

If so, the only thing I still don't understand is what purpose that horizontal hole serves.  Again, I'm guessing to actually attach to the bolt part of the hanger bolt - because so far, the top part is screwed into the table top, but nothing holds down the bolt part in the leg!

And you lost me with the curved washers too.

Sorry if I seem a bit retarded - I really want to understand this well, because this is VERY close to what I want to do!  As an aside, I've included a screen capture of my Google Sketchup sketch of my proposed table - quite similar, but 6' X 3', with 5"-square legs.  (Ignore the purple dot...)  1.5"-thick top, with another 1.5"-thick "apron"-ish thingy at the bottom, that is more there for visuals than for any structural integrity.  Legs stick out 1" on each side.  It would be more difficult to secure the legs to my design than to yours, however.

Anyhow - if you have the time and inclination, a few more pictures of the attachment, or of the test jig you built, would be immensely useful to me, yes.  =)  How rigid is the final product?  Also, how thick did you say the top was?  Was it 2.5"?

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ArtN's picture

When you say, "If so, the (post #169386, reply #14 of 14)

When you say, "If so, the only thing I still don't understand is what purpose that horizontal hole serves. Again, I'm guessing to actually attach to the bolt part of the hanger bolt - because so far, the top part is screwed into the table top, but nothing holds down the bolt part in the leg!" you are exactly right.  To really understand go home depot or menards and ask for a newel post bolt and they will give you a package that shows pictures.  Just apply what is happening there to the table and you will have it.

Also, I felt I could get away without an Apron or Stringer or Skirt, or whatever it is called because I had a 2.25" thick table of really hard wood.  I would not have done that with a table of 1.5".  I think there would be too much flex over a 6' distance.  You may be asking the wrong person thopugh as I posted on "new to woodworking" for a reason..

For staining I wiped on a Minwax stain that had Polyurethane already in it, I think it's called Polyshades.  Then I brushed on three more coates of Polyurethane with a realy, really good brush.  I tried using a foam brush and it failed miserabley and I had to re-do the top, TWICE!  Twice because I'm too cheap to learn the first time that is was the brush that caused the streaks and puddles.

I'll see what I can do about picture for the test leg and jig.

Saville's picture

No Apron? (post #169386, reply #10 of 14)

I thought most people didn't wear aprons in the shop any more. I think you can probably build a great table with or without a nice frilly flower-print apron :)