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The most straightforward way to attach legs to a table is from the edge:

  • Only perpendicular drilling.
  • Tabletop face remains intact.
  • Legs are further apart so the table is less likely to tip over.

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I wanted to read on the subject before attaching the legs, but I did not find a single article or photo.

It seems this method is quite unpopular (or maybe I am incompetent at googling).

I remember seeing at least one such table a long time ago, so it is not complete nonsense.

Why are table legs attached from the bottom in almost all cases? Are there some considerations when attaching legs from the edge?

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  • 1
    If you were to rough draw, even in Paint, what you are thinking it would be easier to provide information.
    – David D
    Sep 21, 2022 at 15:25
  • @DavidD I just found out that Google Slides is surprisingly good for this. Sep 21, 2022 at 15:45
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    It's not very strong. There's no in-built support for the tabletop (both actual support, and a means to help reduce a tendency to bow). And go back far enough and this is impossible — screws are relatively recent and metal fasteners were in some periods prohibitively expensive anyway. Until steel mass production, which roughly coincided with commercial screw production on a large scale, you just wouldn't see this done routinely. And the table exactly as in the drawing is just not a good way to build tables normally (although probably perfectly adequate for many coffee tables or side tables).
    – Graphus
    Sep 21, 2022 at 16:52
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    @Graphus what you just wrote would be better off as an answer, than as a comment. But given your reputation, you probably knew that already ;-) Sep 22, 2022 at 12:23
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    @JulesKerssemakers, yes I'm aware (and this has been highlighted to me multiple times previously). I know it's frowned upon on SE but I chose to deliberately do this some years back once it became clear that I was the only one answering well in excess of 95% of the posted Qs.... I will generally expand such a Comment to an Answer if no Answers at all or no suitable Answer is posted in the days that follow.
    – Graphus
    Sep 22, 2022 at 20:37

2 Answers 2

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Why are table legs attached from the bottom in almost all cases? Are there some considerations when attaching legs from the edge?

Attaching legs to the edges of a table top would provide very little sideways support for the legs, while also applying tremendous force to the edge of the top. In order to keep the table stable, the legs have to be able to resist the forces that happen whenever someone pushes sideways on the table top, or accidentally kicks one of the legs. The sort of joint that you're proposing can't do that nearly as well as more traditional joinery.

Also, having the legs attached beneath the top is arguably more aesthetically pleasing. The lines of the table edges aren't interrupted by the legs. Many tables have edges that have some sort of profile beyond just a vertical edge, and that would be impossible with the legs attached to the edges.

In most wooden tables, the legs are joined to vertical apron or skirt pieces, often via mortise and tenon joints. Often, that joint is further reinforced with a bolt through a corner block. With two joints, one in each of two directions (left/right and front/back, say), the height of the apron (typically 3x or more taller than the thickness of the top), and the mechanical strength of a mortise and tenon joint, the leg is held firmly in position. Add to this the fact that many tables also employ stretchers, i.e. pieces that connect the legs to each other some distance below the apron, and you have the kind of strength that keeps a table feeling solid even when a 200+ lb person leans against the top.

The apron also serves as a way to connect the table top to the base. Steel clips, figure-eight connectors, or wooden blocks can can be used to firmly attach the table to the base in a way that still permits the top to expand and contract seasonally.

I don't think that the benefits of attaching the legs to the edge of a table are very compelling. Screwing fasteners into the bottom of a table top isn't at all difficult, and it leaves the visible surfaces (top and edges) exposed and undamaged; there's little concern for the bottom of the top, since that's normally unseen, and indeed that surface is sometimes left unfinished and often used for stickers, brands, etc. The legs may be further apart, but except for very narrow hall/glove/sofa tables, most tables are more than wide enough to already be quite resistant to tipping.

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In addition to Caleb's excellent points, an additional drawback to edge joined legs is that all of the weight on the table is borne by the fasteners and a thin strip of wood (left in the top above the fastener) instead of being transferred directly to the leg.

For a look at the kind of fasteners needed to support that kind of weight, look at a deck. The ledger board (holding up the house-side of the deck) is attached to the house structure with multiple 3/8 - 1/2" lag bolts (or newer "structural screws" that are thinner than the equivalent lag bolt but many times thicker than a "standard" woodworking screw).

Granted, a deck has to hold many people (and sometimes a hot tub), while your table only has to hold up a couple of drunken friends who rudely decide to sit on it, but there's still a lot of weight relying on the shear strength of a couple of screws at each corner with very little wood above them preventing them from tearing out.

An edge join into a (nominal) 1" table top would leave somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/4" of wood above the screw. That will easily tear out if a 200 lb person were to sit on it, very easily if he were to "drop" on it and not sit gently.

You mention an added benefit of extra stability. Unless the table is extremely narrow, it's unlikely that mounting the leg to the edge of the table top would add enough extra width to significantly alter the stability of the table. Even if you did, the issues noted in Caleb's answer would probably offset any stability gains anyway.

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