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I'm hoping this question is okay to ask here!

I'm trying to build my own table and am stuck figuring out a safe/sturdy way to create it so that I will be able to unfasten some screws or something and remove the central top panel of the table so that it can be replaced with a different panel while still ensuring that it is durable enough to use like a normal table.

My current design is basically a picture frame with legs, the central panel would be about 1-3/8ths thick and have 4-8 extra blocks along the edge underneath with Cam Connectors inside securing the central panel to the frame. Is this something that is durable/strong enough to withstand normal use? I'm still fairly new to woodworking and I've only seen Cam Connectors used in some of my Ikea furniture so I thought I'd ask. Advice on recommended joinery for the frame corners is also welcome!

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  • I think this is going to depend to a degree on what you think is normal use for a table, but I don't see any reason that cam connectors couldn't be used if that's what you decide to go with. They're plenty strong. And some tables/worktops which have removable/replaceable insert pieces they just sit there under their own weight (resting on a rebate shoulder), with no fasteners at all. – Graphus supports Monica Mar 22 at 20:02
  • Re. the frame corners, you could go with the simplest option which is basic mitres and just reinforce the glued joint, e.g. using nails, screws, dowels or corrugated fasteners AKA wiggle nails. Keeps the basic joint very simple and straightforward to cut and then you add a lot of strength. Just to note however, if the insert(s) you intend to make are solid wood you shouldn't frame them, because the field of the table will expand and contract through the seasons so it'll be a sloppy fit sometimes and too tight others (and even possibly too wide to fit at all during the dampest months). – Graphus supports Monica Mar 22 at 20:06
  • What is the overall dimensions of the table? A top that is 1-3/8 thick is fine but it cannot span very far without support from more substantial frame connected to the legs. A sketch of the basic table design would help a great deal. – Ashlar Mar 22 at 20:33
  • I will update with a sketch once I'm able, but I was thinking fairly small, like coffee table size. The inner panel would be a square 20-24" x 24" or so. – Karoly S Mar 22 at 21:08
  • Can you show a diagram of what you mean? Even a fast isometric drawing would help. – jdv Mar 22 at 21:27
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As sketched I think cam connectors would work here, as long as the centre of the table isn't subject to excessive weight in use. But I think there's an easier way of doing what you want, and it would allow the insert to be placed and removed far more quickly.

You can achieve the same result more easily by just having the insert sit on a 'shelf' all round. This shelf can be a rebate formed in the frame or you can use built-up construction and tack on strips underneath which many would find simpler to do. This also means the frame members can be thinner wood, for a possible significant saving in materials cost. The strips don't have to be the full length of each side, so you wouldn't have to mitre their corners or worry about getting them to exact length for a neat fit.

Advice on recommended joinery for the frame corners is also welcome!

You could go with the simplest option which is basic mitres and just reinforce the glued joint. Mitres that are glued only are quite weak (although that can be improved on by good glueing technique) but they can be reinforced by various simple means, e.g. using nails, screws, dowels, or corrugated fasteners AKA wiggle nails.

This method keeps the basic joint very simple and straightforward to cut while ending up strong enough to last in use. My personal favourite here for reinforcement would be through-dowels as I like how the exposed dowel ends look, but the joint may actually end up being stronger than if screws were used similarly since they are going into end grain*.

Can't ignore wood movement
Regardless of the details of the built do bear in mind my previous Comment about movement in solid wood. Even if you carefully select quarter-sawn material to make the panel you're likely (i.e. in most species) to get enough expansion and contraction through the seasons in a panel 20-24" wide for it to be an issue, unless the climate is unusually stable where you are.

This isn't just that you'd have a sloppy fit sometimes and a tight fit others. If the panel is sized to fit well initially and it subsequently expands by only a fat 1/32" / ~1mm (which is a conservative assumption) that would be enough to prevent it being placed, or if in position to jam so tightly it couldn't be removed.

But if you make the insert from plywood or another manmade board you avoid this issue entirely. This is actually the only stable way to make any sort of picture-framed table (inless the effect is achieved by veneering).


*See Endgrain screw withdrawal force for a bit on this.

  • This was my first thought as well. Used to have a coffee table with 2 glass inserts that each sat in a rebate. When the oldest son got to about 2-3 years, he discovered he could crawl under the table and push the glass up with his back - that's when the glass came out for his safety. The whole table got kicked to the curb (for taking up too much room) shortly after that... – FreeMan Mar 27 at 20:23

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