Porringer Table

As I get a little older, I get more sedentary. My wife says I’m just looking for more places to set a drink down. In that spirit, I decided to draw on my experience making period furniture to come up with a set of end tables for the living room — one with a poplar clover-shaped top, the other with a curly maple porringer top. These tables come from designs that are roughly 250 years old. This places them squarely in the country interpretation of the Queen Anne style.

According to Leigh Keno, a noted New York antiques dealer and a regular on PBS’s popular “Antiques Roadshow,” the term “porringer” is merely a convenient way for antique dealers to classify this type of table and probably has nothing to do with the way the table was used originally. Using the English word “porridge” (oatmeal) as the root word, the term is likely no more than 150 years old. “Porringer” is used today to describe a small soup or cereal bowl with a handle. Antique dealers most likely tried to use the name to pass off the round oversized corners — which were no more than a decorative element — as the accessories of a small breakfast table. That said, porringers in good condition will fetch thousands of dollars these days due to their rarity.

Making Aprons • These tables were made with simple mortise-and-tenon construction. Start by cutting the apron parts according to the Schedule of Materials. Next cut the 3/8″ x 4″-wide x 7/8″-long tenons on the ends of the aprons.

Making Pockets • The last thing to do on the aprons is to drill the pocket holes for attaching the base to the top. Do this on a drill press with a 1-1/4″ Forstner bit. Use a shop-built jig to hold the aprons in place for drilling.

Leg Blanks • Although the legs look complicated, they are not. The secret is an offset turning technique. First cut the blanks 1/8″ longer than in the schedule. This gives you some room to work with when turning the pad on the end of the foot.

Use a straight edge to make an “X” from corner to corner on both ends of the blank. This will aid in finding the center as well as marking the offset. Now, on the bottom of the legs, determine which corner will face out. On the bottom of each leg, measure 1/2″ from the center to the corner opposite the outside corner. This is the offset for the leg. Remember, the farther away from the center you go, the thinner the ankle (the area just above the pad) will be. Going any farther than 1/2″ is dangerously close to having a leg pop off your lathe.

Mark a line completely around the blank 6″ down from the top of the blank. To save time roughing the blank, lay out a 1-1/2″ diameter circle on the bottom of the blank. Set your jointer to 45 degrees. Using the circle as a guide, lower the infeed table to the point where you can take the corner off, leaving about 1/32″ to the circle. Go slow and joint to within 1/8″ of the line where the turning starts. Now mount the blank in the lathe.

After mounting a blank between centers with the top towards the drive center, cut a small kerf at the line where the turning stops. Don’t cut too far or you won’t be able to remove the kerf. With a roughing gouge and skew chisel, turn a cylindrical blank from the saw kerf to the foot. At this point use a skew chisel round the corners of the pummel, the square part of the leg, where it meets the turned portion. Repeat on all the legs and you’re ready to do the offset turning.

Turning the Offset • Before resetting the legs, measure up from the bottom 1/8″ and from that mark another 5/8″. Turn the lathe on and follow the marks around with a pencil. Take a parting tool and set it on its side. Cut a small incision at the 5/8″ mark . This creates a shadow line from which to begin the offset turning. Set the lathe for its lowest speed and reset the tailstock so the leg center is mounted in the offset mark. This might look like an awkward setup but as you remove material the leg will turn with more stability. Finish the straight part of the leg with a skew chisel and the ankle with a roughing gouge. Finally, turn the pad foot as shown in photo 5. Now is the time to sand the legs. Start with 120 grit sandpaper and finish with 150 grit.

Now cut the 3/8″ x 7/8″ x 4″ mortises in the legs, 5/16″ in from the edge and 1/2″ down from the top. Be careful when marking the locations of your mortises to make sure the turned feet face out. You’ll notice that the mortises meet slightly at their bottoms. Simply plane away a little of the tenon where they meet. Now glue the base together. Start by gluing the short ends together and then attaching them to the long aprons.

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