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I'm building a small computer/writing desk. It will have a solid top, so I'm figuring out how to attach it to the frame to allow for wood movement.

I planned on using tabletop fasteners (Z clips), but I've run into a possible snag. The design only has aprons on the long sides. The short sides have stretchers a foot or so down from the top. So the only place I have to attach the fasteners would be on aprons that are running parallel to the boards in the solid table top, which wouldn't allow expansion along the width, right?

Any suggestions on how to attach this tabletop?

Topless frame

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    Adam, a concern was raised below about the potential for racking with this design but if the joinery is good and tight (which it certainly looks like it is from the photo) then you shouldn't have much to worry about. And the attachment of the top itself adds a surprising amount of resistance to racking. – Graphus Aug 13 at 8:30
  • Yeah, I think it'll be alright for my purposes, but we'll see how it goes when I get it glued up and put a top on it. – Adam Endicott Aug 13 at 14:30
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I wouldn't use Z-clips, they allow minimally for movement in the orientation needed here. Instead you want my favourite metal tabletop fastening option:

Expansion plate

These are retailed under various names, I know them as expansion plates but they now seem most commonly sold as stretcher plates. As you can see they have slots in both of the orientations needed for use on the side-to-side or back-to-front apron pieces, and unlike other designs they work equally well in either position.

If you have difficulty finding these locally* a basic right-angle steel bracket/mending plate could easily be modified to work in the same way, by filing or grinding one of its screw holes into a short slot.


*I don't know why these are less common as they're cheap (approximately 15-20 cents each here) and are the simplest to install of all tabletop fasteners since they require no groove or rebate/rabbet to be cut into the aprons. Maybe it's because they're relatively large (e.g. 38mm wide, ~1.5") and are felt to be unsightly, but who looks under a table?

  • That looks like exactly what I need, thanks! I found some on Amazon as stretcher plates, looks like they're shipping from the UK. Just to clarify, looks like the slot side goes on the tabletop , and I'd only attach a screw in the slot running perpendicular to the grain direction, right? – Adam Endicott Aug 13 at 14:29
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    Yes that's dead on. Only one thing to be careful of in terms of installation and that is the height they're installed on the apron piece, just ensure they're not a smidge too high. You can go for flush, but just a fraction below the top of the apron is about perfect. – Graphus Aug 13 at 16:27
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    Is that so that the top ends up resting on the apron and not on the bracket? – Adam Endicott Aug 13 at 16:35
  • Yup, if it was any bit higher than the top edge of the apron it would act as a stand-off. Also by being a tad lower when the screws are tightened it acts to draw the top down tightly (this same principle holds true for all types of tabletop fastener, including wooden buttons). – Graphus Aug 13 at 21:43
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In general, you need to protect against movement a) when it occurs against something that does not move similarly, and b) where there are distances perpendicular to the grain (wood won't expand much along the grain, only across it).

An example of a) would be long grain lying atop a crosswise frame member, and a (counter) example of b) would be long grain lying atop a longwise frame member.

If the grain in your table top is oriented to the long dimension of your table, you can secure the top along one side (screw up into the bottom of the table, use a cleat, etc) and then use something like your Z clip along the other side.

  • Thanks for the response! You're right, it wasn't a very good description. I've edited the post to add a photo of the frame without the top. – Adam Endicott Aug 13 at 2:07
  • This is a good answer. I took the liberty of editing out some it that was actually more of a comment (asking for clarification) than "pure" answer. Especially since the OP updated his question to address your comments. – Greg Nickoloff Aug 13 at 2:18
  • That’s a beautiful base. But don’t you think it has almost no resistance to racking? I would worry it would crumble if someone leaned on it. But that’s not your question. As is, there would be so much flex in the base there’s no way the top would split... there’s no “a)” force. Just screw it on, you’ll be fine. – Puddles Aug 13 at 2:45
  • Thanks! I can't take credit for the design, as I ruthlessly stole it. Good question about the flex, I'm not sure. This is actually a prototype, so if it's not stable enough I'll go back to the drawing board. – Adam Endicott Aug 13 at 2:49
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You might be able to use "figure eight" table top fasteners. You put the screws in just tight enough to hold the top on, but loose enough to allow for movement in the plane of the table top.

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