Mike’s Contemporary Cocktail Table

About 4 years ago, maybe longer, I saw a show on TV–one of those non-network stations–where a woodworker made a piece of furniture that looked nothing like the “Norm”. In fact, the show made the execution appear simple, elegant, and mindless. I immediately wanted to make the coffee table. Alas, I lived in a 1850s era home that was in constant need of TLC and all spare time was dedicated to repair and maintenance.

Just under 2 years ago my wife and I moved to the country, to a 150 year younger home. I suddenly realized that I had time to build something superfluous (well by my previous standards). I started looking around for projects and advice on the internet and stumbled upon “The Wood Whisperer”. As a side note, its a great site, maybe you’ve heard of it, if not, it’s worth checking out. This site had a ton of links to David Marks’ website which, at the time still had links to the DIY network clips.

I realized David Marks was the woodworker I had seen on TV. His approach seemed simple and straight forward: mill, bandsaw, rout, sand, glue, and finish. With all those jigs he used, how could one go wrong? David made it seem as if the project practically built itself.

Before I could blink, all the Woodworks’ videos were removed from the internet, but at least I could still look through DJM’s website at the finished project photos. I found the photos of his Contemporary Cocktail Table and loved it! I taught myself the steps by reading (TWW site and FWW), listening to podcasts and watching videos. Well, that and constant home repair helps to familiarize one with tools.

Armed with a bit of knowledge, DJM’s awesome project and Sketch-up, I jumped right in. This is my first piece of fine furniture. It took almost 3 weeks to build plus sketch-up planning. I did the rough milling at a friend’s house and the band-saw and router work in my basement. The legs and aprons are cherry. The edges of the rough board went to the legs (rift) and the rest went to the aprons. The joinery is hand cut mortise and tenons. The top is 3 pieces of lacewood veneer. The back side is cherry veneer. I edge banded the top with thin strips of Wenge cut on the table saw and mitered on my chop saw. I sanded to 320 and finished with a 1/1/1 oil, mineral spirits and varnish basement blend.

The Table was presented to my sister as a house warming gift and she loved it! Now that the whole family has seen it…well let’s just say the requests are still coming in.

I sure have learned a lot. A lot more than expected! As can be seen in some of the photos:
1) Always glue up the legs before chisel work for the top begins. I had blow out on one corner of a leg where the inset is because the grain was unsupported.
2) The inside shaping of the legs should have started 2/3 the way up instead of only 1/2 way up for more elegant curves.
3) Veneers are impossibly thin and leave nothing to sand. I just barely exposed the plywood substrate on one corner and was unable to completely flatten/clean up the veneered top.
4) Sap wood – Come on man! Always popping up where I didn’t expect it. There must be an art to board selection that only experience brings.
4) What the heck is up with snipe? Getting rid of it is the equivalent to snipe hunting in boy scouts. I wasted a ton of time futzing and in the end had nothing to show for it. I learned to make my pieces longer than needed and just cut the snipe off.

Thanks for all the information. I couldn’t have done this without the online community!


  1. Aaron Edwards May 21, 2013

    Brilliant. Wow, well done, that is so good, that you have been able to focus, learn and apply what you have learned. The top is such a nice piece, wow.
    Great stuff, I am inspired.

  2. TennesseeYankee May 21, 2013

    Nice legs!

  3. John Wisehart May 21, 2013

    Great looking table Mike! The curves look perfect. A tip with snipe that I’ve found helpful when I didn’t have extra wood to cut off: cut 2 strips of plywood straight on a tablesaw that are the same thickness (or slightly thicker) and about 12″ longer than your board. Lay your board on a flat surface and glue the strips on either side so that about 6″ is sticking out on either end. Send that assembly through your planer and when the strips have been planed down to the thickness of the board, they will absorb the snipe and you can just cut them off when you have gotten it to the desired thickness.

  4. Jeff May 21, 2013

    What an amazing looking table! I love the combinations of woods! They complement each other well!

  5. Brian Belgard May 21, 2013

    I can’t remember if cursing is allowed on here, but oh well. That thing is *&@$%ing cool! Simple elegant design that’s well executed.

    Great work.

  6. Mike May 22, 2013

    Looks awesome, a very ambitous first project. Personally, I don’t mind a bit of sapwood, as long as it in a place that makes sense. I see some at the edge of one of your legs, and I think that is fine. If you like the look of lacewood but don’t want to deal with the veneers, try quarter sawn american sycamore. It has a very distinct grain pattern and is relatively cheap so you could use solid stock. Or just get a David Marks monster bandsaw and saw your own veneers :) But first you need a torsion box fence and a resaw jig. Then it is so easy.

  7. Mike Finnefrock June 20, 2013

    The sun finally poked through the clouds so I dragged out my last two tables. I modified the patterns from the cherry tables to give more curve and take away some meat.

    Here’s a link if anyone’s interested in looking: https://picasaweb.google.com/mfinnefr/Woodworking02?authuser=0&feat=directlink

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