Transforming table, pt. 2: Round tenons made easy

With the corners doweled and the sides drilled for the big spindles, we are ready to make tenons on those spindles. But how to do that without owning a lathe? There is a super-easy way, using any small router, mounted upside down under a piece of plywood or MDF. I had never tried it before, so I was happy to see how well it worked!

Tenon, by the way, is just a traditional word for any narrowing of a board or round piece so it will fit into a square or round hole in another piece, called a mortise. This creates a hard shoulder on the tenoned piece, which bumps up against the side of the mortised piece and makes this interlocking joint even stronger.

That little shoulder is important here. If you just drilled 1 in. holes in the sides of this table, and stuck the 1-in.-dia. dowels through, there would be nothing to stop those sides from collapsing inward. Hence the 7/8 in. holes and the need to make 7/8 in. tenons on those 1 in. dowels.

There is no way the sides will slip by those little shoulders. And as you’ll see later, when we pound wedges into the ends of those tenons, there will be no way the sides can pull off the tenons either.

Traditional joinery at its simplest! You can do it!

So let’s make those tenons. Here’s a great method anyone can handle.

Start by making the V-block you’ll need. Use a board at least 1-1/2 in. thick and about 5 or 6 in. wide (like a piece of 2×6) and make 45-degree cuts partway through it as shown so a V-shaped piece of waste pops out.
Now let’s make a simple router table (if you don’t already have one). Drill a big hole through a piece of plywood or MDF for the router chuck to fit through.
Then use holes in the router base to screw it to the big panel.
Now flip over that panel, clamp it to your workbench or work table, load any kind of straight bit in the router, and then line up the V-block on top as shown.
Before making the tenons, you’ll need every dowel to be cut to the exact same length. Make them a little longer than the exact dimension so some extra tenon will stick out each side of the table. You’ll see why later. Notice that I used a simple stop here to guarantee uniform lengths.
Now the magic happens. Set up a simple fence on the table to limit how far forward the dowel can travel, and raise the router bit until it is just past touching the dowel. Now with the bit spinning, you can rotate the dowel in the V-block as you advance it toward that fence, forming a tenon on the end!
You’ll get a sharp, square shoulder on the tenon on the first pass, but the tenon surface will be a bit rough. To smooth it, plunge the dowel forward and back, rotating the tenon a little bit between each plunge.
The last step before assembly is sawing the tenons for the wedges. I like using a basic pullsaw you can get at any home center. You can also use your V-block to hold the tenon vertical. Just eyeball the tenon to center the cut, and stop a little short of the shoulder.

One thought on “Transforming table, pt. 2: Round tenons made easy

  1. Definitely an all time favorite technique of all time for this week! I’ve thought about using the table saw for this, but this is a lot safer and less scary. Keep up the good work!


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