I'm designing a red oak table with 3" thick legs. I haven't found anywhere local where I can source 3" thick red oak boards, and the cost would probably be prohibitive anyway. So I thought I'd make them out of some leftover plywood that I'll have from the tabletop.

Here's what I'm thinking of doing:

enter image description here

The core could be two 1.5" strips of plywood glued together, two solid oak boards, or a cheap piece of 2x2.

I'm pretty new to woodworking, so I'm not sure if I'll run in to problems with this design. I know that getting the miters and the gluing perfect will be difficult, I'll have to do several test runs with scrap wood first (if 'difficult' is a understatement, let me know).

I found this site that describes an almost identical process, so it seems doable at least, though they're using solid wood in that article.

I own a table saw, miter saw, and router, but I don't have a jointer or planer.

Will these legs be durable if made this way? Does it matter if I use softwood for the core, or should I stick to oak core? Is there a better or easier way to make thick oak table legs without access to thick boards?

  • 3
    Hi, welcome to Woodworking. This is perfectly viable, and you don't even need to fill the middle (at least not fully). Plenty of stuff build roughly like this is hollow, and by not having a core you don't have to worry about a very slight size error preventing all the mitres from being able to close up tightly. You might plug the bottom and top of the 'tube' to provide a stronger foot, and more secure fitting of any apron elements. And yes, softwood would be sufficient for these plugs (or a full-length core if you want to go ahead with that).
    – Graphus
    May 6 at 18:43
  • 1
    Do you have enough scrap to maybe do a couple of practice cuts to ensure your setup will cut long mitres like this with sufficient accuracy? Even on a good saw the scale might not be quite accurate enough that you can absolutely trust the 45° tilt on the blade. Oh and quick check, just in case it's not obvious, the veneer of the plywood leftovers does run in the right direction yes?
    – Graphus
    May 6 at 18:45
  • 2
    Keep in mind that, after assembly, if an edge of a hardwood leg is dented it will will not be very visible since the underlying wood matches the grain and density of the surface. A dent in plywood corners would more likely show a visible defect since the interior ply layers are not as hard and so will not resist damage as well and will be different in appearance due to the different wood types. I would not do this for a project where appearance really counts.
    – Ashlar
    May 6 at 19:39
  • 1
    What Ashlar says is absolutely right, but the same can be said of a lot of furniture (not all modern by any means) where a coloured finish is used over a paler wood. I believe this is now very common in "Cherry Finish" furniture in the US for example (which typically has little to no cherry in it), and it was done routinely back when MCM American stuff was new, so at least as far back as the late 50s. This is basically why Scratch Cover was invented :-)
    – Graphus
    May 6 at 22:46
  • 1
    If your tablesaw test cuts don't go well, the router, a guide, and a chamfer bit will work well. It's just slower. May 7 at 4:26

In my experience getting nice miter joints would be the most difficult way to get these. if done well, likely the 'prettiest' way to do it. I also think trying to get have it 'filled in' with the center core would raise the difficulty, since with a hollow center you'd have more wriggle room to try and align your miter cuts. In and out back and forth etc.

The 'easiest' way in my opinion would be to just laminate your 3/4" boards together, face to face until you reach desired thickness (4 for 3"). (and in the middle you can get away with lower quality faces since you won't see them). Clamping them good and tight many, wouldn't be able to tell the difference between glued up boards and a single 3x3.

In theory you could even glue up 2 or more legs at once with wider boards (6.5 or 9.5") etc. then cut them down. However the wider the surface you try to glue face to face the more 'pressure across the face you will need, ie not just around the edges. There is a name for the cross pieces (they are slightly convex) to push pressure across the whole face, just don't remember what that is right now.

But laminating the legs to desired thickness is perfectly reasonable and doesn't require much more material (after all the mitering) and is certainly much easier to get right and look nice. (IMO)

ETA if only veneer is available, can try doing butt joints (in circle) then you will only have 1 narrow face to use veneer strips on on each side of the leg. this might be a satisfactory alternative to the miter joints. certainly easier.

  • I thought about doing that, but since it's plywood, I wasn't sure how to go about making the faces with the ends look pretty. I know there's iron-on veneer, but I can only seem to find rolls of it in narrow strips, and I don't know what trying to glue 4 strips next to each other would end up looking like
    – Chris.B
    May 7 at 20:06
  • ah, yes, read veneer, and then I thought I saw real wood in there somewhere, laminating the veneer not so much
    – bowlturner
    May 7 at 20:12
  • @Chris.B Added a little more.
    – bowlturner
    May 7 at 20:18

That is a lot of miters to match up. I did it the lazy way, I used 4 X 4 oak cribbing. It is used by trucks and RR to secure loads . I friend was able to get me a couple of new ones with no holes . I ran then through a planer ; getting use of a planer is the catch. I think it could be done on a joiner ( I have a 6" but never ran anything that big through it ).

  • If the OP can source the 4x4 cribbing he has a table saw, so this would be a snap — no jointer or planer required, like this. If he didn't have a TS he could use his router by making a sled something like this.
    – Graphus
    May 7 at 19:44
  • That's interesting. I can't think of anyone I know who might have some of that. Is it something I can buy for cheap somewhere?
    – Chris.B
    May 7 at 20:02
  • Another thing I wasn't sure of, how stable would a table leg made from a single solid board be? As in, is it likely to warp or twist more than a leg made from several boards glued together?
    – Chris.B
    May 7 at 20:04
  • I also made a bunkbed , the corners are each two 1 X 4 oak with mitered corners. Has not warped in 30 years. May 8 at 0:39
  • Thanks, that's good to know. I'm going to ask a separate question about that since I'm confused about when warping will or won't happen
    – Chris.B
    May 8 at 2:46

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