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Restrained magnificence in an American traditional.

Someday in your woodworking profession, you’ll wish to attain for the sky. Maybe you’ll have an urge to make an formidable piece of your personal design, or maybe you’ll want to stroll within the footwear of cabinetmakers who’ve gone earlier than and construct an American traditional. If you like interval furnishings, this desk is for you.

Our desk dates again to the early days of the American republic, when card-playing events have been typically hosted in modern properties. During the day, the desk was positioned in opposition to a wall, with the highest folded over. On the night time of a celebration, the desk was introduced out to the center of the room. The backs legs have been swung out and the highest opened up right into a full circle.

In the ornamental arts, the period of 1790 to 1830 is named the Federal interval. The demilune (“half-moon”) card desk turned an icon of Federal design, with cabinetmakers in every a part of the nation deciphering it in their very own approach. I’ve studied many Federal card tables and have come to want these made in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for his or her restrained magnificence.

This specific desk shouldn’t be a copy—it’s my very own design, based mostly on these Portsmouth items. Its technique of building and joinery are just like the tables in-built Federal-era outlets. While you’ll most probably use energy instruments to mill all the wooden and to chop among the joints, constructing this desk nonetheless requires expert work with hand instruments. Once you’re finished, I’m positive you’ll say with real satisfaction, “I made that!”

Portsmouth Card Table Cut List

Overall Dimensions: 29-1/2″ H x 35-1/2″ W x 17-3/4″ D





Th x W x L


Apron brick


Yellow poplar

7/8″ x 1-1/2″ x 5-15/32″ (a)


Rear fastened rail


Yellow poplar

7/8″ x 3-1/2″ x 33-5/16″ (b)





1-5/8″ x 1-5/8″ x 28″


Front veneer


3/32″ x 3-1/2″ x 19″ (c)


Side veneer


3/32″ x 3-1/2″ x 14-1/2″ (c)


Swinging rail, heart



7/8″ x 3-1/2″ x 8″


Swinging rail, finish



7/8″ x 3-1/2″ x 13-13/16″ (d)





3/4″ x 17-3/4″ x 35-1/2″

a) Quantity consists of about 6 further. Miter each ends at 9°.
The apron is 4 layers excessive, for a complete width of 3-1/2″
b) Includes two units of dovetails, every 9/16″ lengthy.
c) Length is approximate.
d) Includes 1″ tenon.

Fig. A) Exploded View

Fig. B) Apron Staging Board

Fig. C) Plan View

Fig. D) Dovetail Joints

Fig. E) Leg Gauge

Fig. F) Curved Rail Center Panels

Fig. G Leg, Front and Side View (under)

Fig. H) Rear Leg Joinery

Fig. J) Orientation of Leg Tapers

Fig. Ok) Bandings and Purfling

Fig. L) Swinging Rail and Knuckle

Fig. M) Top Layout

Build the apron

When most individuals first see a half-round card desk like this, they assume that the apron is reduce from one huge piece of wooden. “That wouldn’t really work,” I clarify. “It’s made from 50 pieces, not one.”

Those items are laid up like bricks in a wall (Fig. A). This method was employed by Federal cabinetmakers and remains to be the simplest approach for a builder in a small store to make one of these apron. Begin by milling the bricks (A). Cut each ends of every brick at 9° (Fig. B).

In order to construct the wall, make a staging board to information you (Fig. B). The board should be lifeless flat to forestall the wall from changing into twisted. I exploit a sheet of melamine; traces drawn on it are simple to see and glue received’t follow it. Using a trammel, draw a big arc on the staging board to point the outer perimeter of the wall. (Note that the radius of this arc is bigger than the arc of the completed apron.)

1. Glue up the curved apron by constructing a wall of overlapping “bricks.” The bricks don’t should be clamped—simply press down firmly and rub them forwards and backwards till the glue grabs.

Lay down the primary course of bricks contained in the arc (Photo 1). Butter the ends of the bricks with glue. If the bricks don’t match tight in opposition to one another, don’t fear. Small gaps are OK as a result of the primary supply of the wall’s power is its staggered construction. You don’t should clamp the bricks end-to-end.

Build the second layer of the wall. These bricks ought to overlap the decrease bricks about midway. Again, you don’t should clamp. Spread a beneficiant quantity of glue on a small portion of the decrease layer, then press firmly on every new brick and rub it forwards and backwards till the glue squeezes out and grabs. As you construct the wall, use a sq. to verify it’s plumb. Let the glue dry in a single day.

2. Saw either side of the apron right into a half-circle. Trim the ends of the apron on the bandsaw as properly.

Draw the surface radius of the apron on the wall (Fig. B). (I exploit a half-round MDF template.) Saw the wall on the bandsaw (Photo 2). Leaving a small flat spot or divot is OK—you may patch it later, if obligatory. Use a marking gauge to attract the inside radius of the wall and reduce this on the bandsaw as properly. If the outer floor of the apron is tough with tooth marks, easy it with 60 or 80 grit paper.

Level the highest and backside surfaces of the apron with a No. 7 or No. Eight aircraft, ensuring the surfaces stay parallel and sq. to the surface face. Cut the ends of the apron to size (Fig. B) utilizing the bandsaw.

Make the apron joints

3. Saw rabbets on each ends of the apron to obtain the again rail.

In order to affix the rear fastened rail (B) to the apron, reduce a shallow rabbet into every finish of the apron (Photo 3). Use a dado set and help the apron with an extra-tall fence. Raise the dado set to 7/8″, the thickness of the rail.


Next, lay out and reduce bridle joints within the apron for the entrance legs (C). I’ve discovered that one of the best ways to do that is to make two gauge blocks (Fig. E) which are the identical width and thickness as a leg.

4. Make a gauge block for laying out the bridle joints that join the entrance legs to the apron.

Cut a deep notch in every gauge block on the bandsaw, then chop out the waste (Photo 4). Mark either side of every gauge block to point how far the entrance of the block ought to overhang the apron bricks (Fig. E).

5. Use the gauge block to put out the joints. To orient the block, line up two overhang marks with the entrance of the apron.

Mark the situation of the bridle joints on the highest of the apron by measuring from every finish of the apron. (Fig. C). Place a gauge block on these marks, line up the overhang marks with the entrance of the apron and draw across the finish of the block (Photo 5).

6. Cut kerfs on either side of the apron utilizing the bandsaw or a tenon noticed. Clean out the waste with a chisel and a shoulder rabbet aircraft.

Use the bandsaw or a tenon noticed to chop the surface edges of the bridle joints, then make a collection of cuts throughout the joints to make it simpler to pare and aircraft away the waste (Photo 6).

7. Test the match of the bridle joint with the gauge block. If the joint is just too extensive or too slender, let it’s. Later on, you’ll mill the precise leg to suit.

Mark every gauge block as representing the left or proper leg, then check the match of the joint as you take away the waste (Photo 7). Make any obligatory changes to probably the most accessible a part of the joint. If the leg’s width doesn’t match, use a aircraft to slender the gauge block; don’t reduce the shoulders of the apron. If the notch within the gauge block is just too slender, maintain planing the apron; don’t attempt to widen the notch. Make positive the entrance overhang of the block stays right.

8. Cut massive half-blind dovetails to affix the again rail to the apron. Card tables of the Federal interval have been moved round rather a lot, so robust joinery was important.

Next, flip your consideration to the rear fastened rail. First, measure the space between the ends of the apron, inside face to inside face. Add the lengths of two units of dovetails (Fig. D) to calculate the entire size of the rail, then mill the rail to last measurement. Lay out and reduce dovetails on each ends of the rail, then place the rail in place on the apron and scribe across the dovetails to put out the sockets (Photo 8). Saw and chop the sockets; then glue the rail in place.

Veneer the apron

9. Prepare extra-thick veneer for the apron. I make it myself by gluing standard-thickness veneer (and banding) to a flat board first. Resawing this board yields extra-thick inventory.

Veneering a curved floor with a posh sample of shapes, inlays and bandings has at all times been a formidable problem, however I’ve found out a simple strategy to do it. (For full data on this, see “Veneering on the Curve.”) Here’s the quick model. You put together a flat board first, then glue the assorted components of the design to it, one by one, and degree them off. Then you resaw the entrance of the board, eradicating a bit about 3/32″ thick. The ensuing veneer remains to be versatile sufficient to bend across the apron, however thick sufficient to span over any slight imperfections within the apron’s floor with out leaving telltale depressions or shadows within the completed piece.

10. Glue the veneer to the apron utilizing a caul made out of bending plywood and glued-on blocks. The extra-thick veneer will type a easy curve even when the apron has a small flat spot.

Start veneering the apron by making use of the items (E) that span the back and front legs (Photo 9). Cut these items so that they overhang the tip of the apron and the bridle joint by about 1/8″. To guarantee sufficient and even stress, use a clamping belt made out of bending plywood and glued-on wooden blocks (Photo 10). Glue on the middle panel (D, Fig. F) in the identical approach, then trim off the overhanging parts.

Make the legs

11. Trim overhanging veneer on the bridle joints. Make the legs and match them to the apron.

Mill all 4 of the desk’s legs, leaving them sq. for now. Cut notches within the two entrance legs, then match them to the apron (Photo 11).

12. Cut mortises within the two again legs—they’ll be linked to rails that swing out from the desk. These legs additionally require recesses as a way to wrap across the apron. To rout the recesses, butt the legs collectively (12B).

Cut mortises within the two again legs to obtain the swinging rail ends (G, Fig. H). In addition, rout a recess in every leg so it will likely be capable of cowl the tip of the apron (Photo 12). Square the corners of the mortises and recesses.


Saw tapers on all 4 legs (Photo 13). Each leg is tapered on two sides, however in several methods—there are two “rights” and two “lefts” (Fig. J). As you may see within the illustration, the again aspect of every leg is tapered. None of the entrance sides are tapered. The “right” and “left” orientation of the legs refers to their sides. I like to think about it this manner: The sides that face the middle of the desk, going across the apron, are those which are tapered. All of this may be fairly complicated, I do know, so don’t underestimate the necessity for excessive care at this stage. Mark your legs rigorously, stroll away, then come again the subsequent day and ensure the format is right. Shading within the waste areas earlier than slicing will provide help to visualize the proper association of the tapers.

13. Taper the within faces of all 4 legs. You’ll additionally taper one aspect of every leg—however proceed rigorously. Two legs are tapered on the left aspect; the opposite two are tapered on the appropriate aspect.

Finish the legs by including their banding, stringing, bellflowers and inlay (Figs. G and Ok). Note that the ankle banding goes all the way in which round every leg, and that the again sides of the legs don’t have any stringing or different ornament on them.

Make the swinging rail

Mill the middle (F) and ends (G) of the three-part swinging rail to last thickness and width. Cut the middle part to actual size, however go away the tip items 1″ further lengthy for now.

The knuckle joints that join these elements permit the again legs to swing out and help the highest. As you open every leg, the knuckles on the swinging rail stick out. They’ll bump right into a cease, limiting the quantity that the leg can swing to 45°. I’ll present you ways this works as we go alongside.

14. Saw knuckle joints for the 2 swinging rails which are joined to the again legs. Make the outer cuts on the tablesaw. Remove a lot of the waste on the bandsaw, then chop out the remainder.

First, lay out the knuckles on each bit (Fig. L). Carefully mark out what’s to be eliminated and what is going to stay on every half. Make all the surface cuts for the bearing surfaces on the tablesaw, standing the items upright. Remove a lot of the remaining waste on the bandsaw (Photo 14), then chop to the shoulder traces. Your purpose is to make a reasonably tight match between the fingers, so the legs received’t swing loosely when the desk is moved.

15. The swinging rail pivots on a metal pin. The pin is positioned in order that the knuckles on the pivoting aspect mission by 1/8″ when the rail is opened at 45°.

Chamfer the ends of the rails by making bevel cuts on the tablesaw. Assemble the knuckle joints and drill holes for the pivot pins (see Sources, web page 47). Cut the pins further lengthy, to make it simpler to take away them throughout building, then insert them within the joints. Open the joints and guarantee that the knuckles on the tip rails mission about 1/8″ (Photo 15).

16. Notch the rear fastened rail reverse the purpose the place the knuckles will stick out. This notch acts as a cease for the swinging rail.

Next, make the stops. They’re merely notches reduce into the again fastened rail (Fig. C). Place the assembled swinging rail on the fastened again rail. Open every knuckle joint 45° and mark the place the protruding fingers contact the fastened rail. Remove the swinging rail and aircraft 45° notches within the fastened again rail, utilizing an angled board as a information (Photo 16).

Place the assembled swinging rail again in place, mendacity flat, and observe how lengthy the tip rails should be—together with their tenons—so the again legs will mission past the apron by the correct quantity (Fig. C). Disassemble the swinging rail, reduce the tip rails to size, noticed tenons on their ends and glue the rails to the legs.

There’s yet one more step: slicing rabbets on each ends of the apron to obtain the again legs. Reassemble the swinging rail yet one more time and clamp it to the fastened again rail. Butt the again legs as much as the apron and lay out the rabbets. Unclamp the swinging rail and reduce the rabbets by hand.

Add the highest

Make the 2 halves of the highest (H) with similar curves (Fig. M). Glue in a small line of purfling throughout the higher and decrease curved edges of each items. Clamps aren’t obligatory; tape will do.

Join the halves with card desk hinges (see Sources). When laying out the mortises, ensure that every hinge’s knuckles protrude by 1/32″. This will be sure that the 2 halves clear one another when the highest is opened.

17. Fasten the highest to the bottom. Glue the rear legs to the swinging rail, then clamp this meeting to the desk.

Rout slots alongside the within fringe of the apron and again rail to obtain desk high clips (see Sources). Clamp the swinging rail, with the again legs connected, to the again fastened rail. Fasten the highest to the bottom (Photo 17).

18. Swing out the rear legs 45° and open the highest. Make positive the highest lies flat on each legs. You might should unclamp and modify the place of the swinging rail to realize this.

Turn over the desk and swing out the again legs. Open the highest and relaxation it on the legs (Photo 18). Check that the highest lies flat and contacts each legs. If there’s an issue, unclamp the swinging rail and modify its place.

19. Once you’ve made any obligatory changes, fasten the middle portion of the swinging rail to the desk.

Once all the pieces is sweet, screw the swinging rail in place (Photo 19). Cut the pivot pins to last size and peen over their high ends so that they received’t slip out some day, a few years from now. Yes, this desk can be treasured for that lengthy!

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