After the glue is dry, finish sand the entire base, then lay out the holes for the cherry pegs. Any dark hardwood will do for the pegs, but cherry sands smooth and the end grain stains a dark color. Drill a 1/4″ hole 1″ deep. Follow suit with 3/16″ and 1/8″ bits, creating a tapered hole. After shaping 16 square pegs (tapered on four sides to a point), tap one in until you feel and hear it seat. The sound of the hammer hitting the peg makes a distinctly different sound when it seats. No glue is required for this as you are running a peg completely through the leg. It won’t be coming out anytime soon. Cut the pegs, leaving 1/32″ showing and sand until it is a rounded-over bump. Drill 1/4″ holes into the pockets from the top of the base for attaching the top.
Make and Attach the Top • The top is the easiest part, but it can make or break the whole project. Wood selection is key. One hundred years ago, you could get extremely wide, highly figured curly maple at a low price. Amazingly most old porringers were one- or two-board tops. That’s clear-figured wood 10- to 20-inches wide! Regrettably, those days are gone, and you will have to make do with the painfully high-priced, narrow lumber you get today.
Poplar is easy to get in a decent width and length, but I had to try the Amish sawmills in eastern Pennsylvania to find a retail source for decent curly maple (see the Schedule of Materials for one such mill). I managed to find decent 4/4 that’s about 7″ wide and a nice piece of 8/4 for the legs (I wasn’t sure how thick the legs would be when I started so you could probably get away with 6/4 for leg stock).
The tops for both types of tables are the same size. They just require a different edge pattern. For the porringer top, lay out a 15-1/4″ x 25-1/8″ rectangle in the center of the top. Make a pattern for the top with 1/4″ plywood as you did with the aprons. When you lay the inside corner of the pattern over the outside corner of the drawn rectangle, the outside of the radius should just touch the edge of the top. Trace the pattern on all four corners and jigsaw the top out.
For the “clover” shaped top, things are easier. Make a pattern and trace the double radius on all four corners. When you are done cutting the shape of the top out, chamfer the edges.
Chamfering the edges lightens the overall look of the table, and the chisel work underneath has a very sculptural feel. Before chamfering, use a marking gauge to mark a line that is half the thickness of the top on the entire outside edge of the top. Next, use an adjustable square to mark a line around the underside of the top. For the porringer the measurement is 1-1/2″ and for the clover use a 2-1/4″ line.
I chamfered the edges with a power planer. It’s a tool used mostly by carpenters to remove material from doors when fitting and installing them. And in that role, this tool is unequalled. Finish sand the top to 150 grit.
The last assembly chore is to screw the top to the base. Begin by laying the top upside down on a blanket. Center the base on the top and screw it down with #10 x 1-1/2″ wood screws.
In finishing the clover table, I sprayed on a custom-mixed aniline dye followed by three coats of clear finish. This turned the poplar to a mahogany-like color.
The porringer was a different story. To begin with, I hand scraped the top with a Stanley #80 cabinet scraper. With the lack of abrasive sandpaper 250 years ago, this is how the old tables were made ready to finish. Scraping with a properly prepared scraper blade will show up as rows of slight depressions (1/32″ deep) with ridges about 2-1/2″ apart. I stained the wood with aniline dye and then applied one coat of boiled linseed oil and finished the table with four coats of dark shellac. This imparts a nice honey brown color to the curly maple and is easy to repair. Now where did I put that drink? PW
Jim Stuard is a former associate editor for Popular Woodworking.