In Projects

We may receive a commission when you use our affiliate links. However, this does not impact our recommendations.

Making the Holes

Cut the adjacent shoulders and cheeks in the same manner. I'm using a combination blade here, which leaves a corduroy-like finish on the cheeks. Because of that, I've left the tenons oversized and will use a shoulder plane to pare them to fit.

Cut the adjacent shoulders and cheeks in the same manner. I'm using a combination blade here, which leaves a corduroy-like finish on the cheeks. Because of that, I've left the tenons oversized and will use a shoulder plane to pare them to fit.The next step is to find where you want the mortises to be on the legs. First determine the orientation of the legs (best faces out), then use the illustrations to mark the mortise locations. The mortises can be 3/8" wide, and that's fine, but to be honest with you, I had a 1/2" mortise chisel in my mortiser, so that's where they ended up. I cut the mortises 1-1/16" deep to allow an extra 1/16" for glue squeeze-out. Cut the mortises, then be sure to clean the chips out of the bottoms so the tenons will seat properly. Filling the HolesI cut my tenons on the table saw with a single combination blade. If you have a dado stack on hand, use it. A dado stack will allow you to cut your tenons faster. Because my mortises are 1/2" wide, all of the shoulders on my tenons are 1/8". This makes it unnecessary to change the blade height when moving from face to edge shoulders. Because the top rails all are at the same height on the legs, the tenons will bump into each other before fully seating against the leg. Take a minute to miter the ends of the tenons on the top rails so they can meet without interfering with the fit. Because the lower rails are staggered in height, this isn't a problem. One of the most visible details on the ottoman is the shallow bevel on the leg tops. You could make the cuts using a table saw or miter saw, but I took advantage of a benchtop disc sander that let me fine-tune the bevels as I went.

With all the tenons cut, test-fit the ottoman. Assemble both ends, then insert the longer rails between the two assemblies. The tenons should require a little wiggling to slip all the way into the mortises, but you shouldn’t have to bang on them with a hammer. Check to be sure that all the shoulders fit flush against the legs without any gaps. When all the joints are acceptable, go ahead and disassemble the frame.

Topping the Legs
When laying out the mortise locations on the legs, you will probably notice that the top rails will sit 1″ short of the tops of the legs. Don’t freak out – you didn’t do anything wrong. This extra space leaves room for the upholstery material and space for you to bevel the tops to dress them up a little.

Dig through your toolbox for a combination square or other similar tool that will help you mark a line 1/8″ down from the top of the leg on all four faces.

Then set your disc sander’s table to a 12° angle and, using a miter gauge on the sander, slowly bevel the tops of the legs on all four sides. This will leave a 1/4″ x 1/4″ square at the top. This bevel is a great detail.

Steel Edge or Mineral Grit?
Now is the appropriate time to smooth the wood to the surface finish that you prefer. While we’ll often just tell you to sand through grits from #100 to #220, there is another option here.

Because of the possible dramatic effect of the grain in the quartersawn white oak, preparing the wood to best present the grain is important. When you sand wood you effectively tear the ends of the fibers to smooth the wood surface. This leaves a feathery end to the grain structure and can obscure the grain pattern and affect the way the wood takes a stain.

A better method for this project is to cut the ends of the fibers using a hand scraper or scraper plane. With a little extra effort (and a lot less dust) you can leave crisp ends on the fibers that will really let the ray flake pop when you add the finish.

Ready for Assembly
With all the pieces test-fit and sanded (or scraped), you’re ready to put the ottoman together.

Just as with the test run, assemble the ends first, applying glue to the inside of the mortises, lightly covering all four walls. Applying the glue to the mortise rather than the tenon will keep glue squeeze-out (and clean up) to a minimum.

With the ends assembled and clamped, go ahead and insert the long rails and clamp them as well. You’re nearly done.

A Bunch of Pegs
The last detail before finishing is to peg all the tenons. I use 1/4″ red oak dowel stock for this step. You can use white oak, but the white oak dowels are harder to find at the store, and the red oak makes the pegs stand out a bit more on the leg once color is applied.

Chuck a 1/4″-diameter bit into your drill and use a drill stop collar or a piece of tape to make the 1″ depth necessary to drill through the tenon and into the opposite wall of the mortise.

Mark all the peg locations, then start drilling. You can peg the holes as you go (add the glue to the hole, not the peg) or wait until all the holes are drilled before starting to glue.

Cut all the pegs 1/4″ longer than the depth of your holes. Then, when the peg is fully seated in the hole, trim the excess with a flush-cut saw with little or no set to the teeth. If you don’t have such a saw, slide a piece of cardboard under the blade to keep from scratching the face of the leg.

Do a little more sanding or scraping around the pegs and you’re ready to break out the dye.

Color Me Nutty Brown
As mentioned, quartersawn white oak can be amazing to look at, but a finish designed to enhance the wood helps a lot.

I use a water-based aniline dye to put the first layer of color on the wood. Because the dye is water-based, it will raise the grain when applied. So to prepare the wood for finishing, I first wipe down the entire piece with a damp cloth (just water) then hand-sand the piece with #220-grit paper to knock off the burrs.

Next, add the aniline dye and let it dry overnight. Then it’s time for a coat of brown glaze. The glaze is a stain, but it’s the consistency of thin pudding and will lay on the wood and fill the grain slightly. Let the color infuse the grain, but be sure to wipe off the excess or it will hide the wood.

Let the glaze dry overnight again, then you’re ready for your favorite clear, protective top coat. With a project this size, I often use lacquer in a spray can with good results. The rest is upholstery. Use the story below to help you through these steps.

Then you’re ready to put your feet up and relax. PW

Click here to download the PDF for this article.

David Thiel is senior editor at Popular Woodworking.

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

Recommended Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search

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).Mark each of the pieces as either inside or outside, as well as the ends that will need rabbet cuts, to avoid making mistakes once you're at the machine.