Serpentine Table

I make a leg template on thin plywood (right) and trace the pattern on two adjacent sides of the leg blank (left). I then band saw the piece to shape (center).

I make a leg template on thin plywood (right) and trace the pattern on two adjacent sides of the leg blank (left). I then band saw the piece to shape (center).

This table might look like a snake in the grass, but with a good band-saw blade and the right patterns, it’s actually quite the charmer.

The idea behind the serpentine aprons and drawer front is to enhance the grain of the wood, making the piece look fancier than it really is. You want the highlights, shadows, reflections and wood grain to bring out its inner beauty, so one of the most important steps in creating this piece is wood selection. I typically use walnut or cherry and select my boards for good figure.

Here’s the project in a nutshell: First cut all your parts to size. Then make the patterns for your front legs and the front and side serpentines.

With those patterns in hand, the actual construction isn’t difficult. Saw the curved side aprons and legs to shape, then screw the legs and side aprons together. Saw the curved front pieces and complete the table base by attaching the side assemblies to the back (with biscuits) and front rails (with mortise-and-tenon joints).

Then it’s a simple matter of building the drawer’s web frame with screws and then the drawer itself. Finally, shape and attach the top – I’ve even got a trick for making the serpentine top match the base. It’s all pretty simple with the patterns and construction drawings provided here.

Start With the Legs
When selecting your leg stock, look for the most attractive grain (the straighter, the better) for the two front legs. The simple back legs are for balance and are 1-3/4″ stock that I’ve tapered to 1″ at the bottom on the two insides.

Next, either trace your pattern onto two adjacent sides of the leg blanks or make enough copies so that you can affix them to the sides (making sure the patterns face the correct way). Band-saw one face, then tape the pieces back on so you can cut the curves on the adjacent face.

Once the curves are cut, I smooth the legs on a stationary belt sander, which is where I do most of my shaping.

I’ve added an extra-wide table to my sander so the legs can stay horizontal while being shaped on the sander, which I lock in the vertical position. After you’ve sanded the legs most of the way, you’ll need to get all the nooks and crannies by hand.

After the legs are completely shaped, cut the 3/8″-wide mortises to accept the tenons on the top and bottom front rails. I do this on my drill press with a 3/8″-diameter drill bit, overlapping the holes. Sit the legs on a block and drill the overlapping holes. Each finished mortise should measure 3/8″ wide, 1-1/2″ long and a tad more than 1/2″ deep.

(Note that the mortise for the top drawer rail is 7/16″ from the top of the leg to prevent you from blowing out the mortise wall during assembly of the base.)

The Side Aprons
The word “serpentine” simply means curved, and that’s all you’re doing here. Choosing plain-sawn wood with smaller growth rings for the side aprons, as well as the front rails and drawer front, will yield the best-looking results. (More dramatic grain or upward sweeping grain at the bottom of the rail is the most pleasing.)

To save your nice wood for the surfaces that show, the side aprons are laminated to their 2″ thickness from two pieces that are face-glued together. You need your side aprons to be extra-thick to ensure they can be joined solidly with the legs.

Once the glue dries, bevel the ends of the aprons at 41° using your miter saw or table saw. Next, affix the curved pattern for the side aprons to your wood and cut the curves (look at the bottom of this article for the full size patterns) and sand them to their final grit.

To attach the aprons to the front legs, you’ll want to cut a screw pocket on the backside of the apron. I use a stepped drill bit designed to be used with pocket-hole jigs in my drill press. Simply clamp the apron to your drill-press table, tilt the table 41° and drill the pocket hole. (The other option is to keep your drill-press table flat and tilt the apron 41°, which I don’t recommend.)

I use this same setup to drill the pocket holes that attach the aprons to the back legs. The only difference is that you’ll make your hole on the back side of the leg and later plug the holes with a matching wood before finishing.

(Tip: You don’t have to use pocket screws for this operation. Common drywall screws drive and hold just as well for me.)