All Glued up and No Place to Go

This morning, I spent a few hours in the shop fitting tenons for a coffee table and gluing up the base. Obviously, I need to make and install a web frame and the drawers (which, if everything is close enough to
square, will push/pull through from both sides). But I’m at a design impasse. I simply can’t decide what to do about the top. So read on, then please give me
your opinion in the comments.

Initially, I designed a frame-and-panel top, and I still
like the way it looks. But as my coworkers pointed out, one coffee spill or one crumbled cookie, and I was going to be very unhappy when the crud seeped under
the panel and got stuck (or worse, dripped down into the drawers). I could stick with this design and put a piece of glass over the top, but I just don’t like the look of glass on the top (though I could be

I have a wide enough piece of cherry with nice-looking
figure for a two-board glue-up, so I could just go with that, and add some kind of edge treatment – probably a simple ogee or bullnose. But I dunno – that
seems kind of plain, and I’m a mite worried about the panel staying flat because the temperature and humidity fluctuate wildly in my house (I’m too cheap to turn on the air-conditioning if it’s 85° or below, and in the winter, 60° is as warm as it gets).

Option three is breadboard ends. Maybe pegged. Maybe not. But, while I can’t articulate why, I’m not sold on that look for this piece.

So what do you think? And other suggestions are welcome.
(Caveat: I’ve been known to ignore good advice in the past.)

— Megan Fitzpatrick

• Assuming I figure out what kind of top I want to make, this coffee table will likely appear in a future issue of the magazine. But if you’re looking for table plans right now (or for an altogether different sort of table or aesthetic), check out “The Table Book,” in which you’ll find plans, cutlists and step-by-step instructions for 35 table projects, in a variety of styles and sizes. 

33 thoughts on “All Glued up and No Place to Go

  1. bob l.

    in remembering an episode from this old house norm made a kitchen out of cherry he used an inlayed top

  2. Rod


    I like the panels top from your Initial drawing of the top. You could lay some mementos or cool woodworking tools in the pockets. Then you could flood the top with bar top epoxy. I would take care of all your spill issues plus it would make for a great conversation piece



  3. Ed

    This is going to sound odd at first, but hear me out. I faced the same exact issue, and came up with 2 solutions. Both involved free granite. I went to my local granite countertop installer. They had a yard full of offcuts, and welcomed me to lighten their load by taking whatever I wanted. I use some for sharpening (couldn’t be flatter), and others for weight when I need a big glue-up.

    I had one series of pieces that were gorgeous. I had one cut into a top for the end tables, one cut into the top for a game cabinet (storing monopoly, etc.), and one cut into the top for the coffee table. I also could have used the huge pieces (too narrow for a countertop, luckily for me) as tile; placed within panels and epoxied around the edges where they marry up to the wood. Or, I could have just as easily used them as breadboard ends, or even as accents around the piece. The choices are endless, and the contrast is beautiful.

  4. michel chamberlain

    if you are really sold on f&p, i would suggest a veneered insert, with the gaps filled with epoxy, or ca, sanded smooth, and finished clear.

  5. E H

    Might seem like sacrilege, but how ’bout covering your frame and panel with some tempered glass with a bullnose? This is a practical treatment for a piece meant for real-world use. It shows off your technical skill, while keeping the crud out.

  6. Keith Wilson

    I agree, I think the solid top looks best. If a plank really wants to warp, a breadboard end won’t stop it. If you think it looks too plain, one possibility for decoration would be some simple inlay – perhaps a stripe of dark wood an inch or so from the edge as a border? It’s way easier than it looks; you can cut the groove with a router and edge guide, and if you hand-plane a slight taper on the inlay strips they’ll fit as tight as you like. I’ve done this with walnut on cherry several times, and it looks pretty good; understated but fancier than just a plain board.

  7. Charles Molnar

    Why not go with the solid top and just route in the look of your frame and panel top design. That is, faux frame and panel, then you can be a sloppy or clumsy as you like with no leakage paths to the inside.


  8. Fred Freitag

    I like the two piece glue-up myself. I think that it’s what looks good on the base, it’s the traditional top for that type of piece, that it will be easiest to maintain (considering the use of the piece), and last the longest.

  9. Matt Kleinscmidt

    How about a faux frame and panel top. Use a router and cut a frame and panel profile around the top. You could even lower the field of the panel with a router and an extended (very extended) base. Then use a chisel to clean up the corners. Then you would have a frame and panel without the frame and panel. You could even just run the router off of the ends and glue on a breadboard end that looks like a part of the frame and panel. If you make it from the same wood, it would blend right in.

  10. Greg

    I agree that you should stick with the original frame and panel concept. You may need to use a veneered engineered substrate so you can make the joints liquid-proof, but I’d be inclined to simply live with the risk of spills (how messy are you planning to be, anyway? 🙂

    One big advantage of f&p is that you can mount the top solidly to the aprons without worrying about wood movement.

  11. anon

    what about a 3rd "breadboard" down the middle to tie in the center divider for the drawers.

    Otherwise the comments for a veneered top might be right.

  12. John Walkowiak


    I like the frame and panel idea best, but to me the SU design using 2 panels looks like a screen door frame laying on top of the table. If it were mine, I would use 3 panels. It would then mimic a chest of drawers design where the drawers get smaller at the top, graduating from 2 to 3. To get around the possible problems with recessed panels, I would have the panels overlap the frame, such as on Roy Underhill’s tool chest. I have used this on a piece of furniture having a walnut frame and a cherry panel and it looks great. On your table they would not have to be T&G into the frame like the tool chest, you can attach them like a table top with wooden buttons or use the metal ones. This way makes finishing easier also, as the frame and panels can be finished and then assembled. If the panels expand and contract a bit it won’t be noticable.
    Good Luck!

  13. John

    I think this table is going to look great no matter how it ends up. I say go with your gut and send us the pictures when it’s done!

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