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Building a Semi Elliptical table with a Gilded top and curvy legs

Building a Semi Elliptical table with a Gilded top and curvy legs

This was a fun build that stretched many of my skills. Figuring out all the angles to produce the segmented edge along the top was a lot of fun. The gilding process for the silver leaf is something I plan on exploring more textures and colors in the future and using the spokeshave to shape the legs was awesome—definitely an underutilized tool in my shop.

Some of the specialty tools I used (affiliate links)
• SpokeShave
• Minwax Spray Poly
• WoodRiver Block Plane –
• Jet Parallel Clamps
• West Systems Epoxy
• Silver Leaf
• Bent Lamination Resin Glue
• Patina Book



Simi Elliptical Table

Today I’m going to be building a semi-elliptical table with a top that is gilded with silver leaf and held up by some sexy shaped legs.

I started out cutting a piece of plywood that will be the center of the table.  This part will be guild with the silver leaf.   I’m using plywood instead of solid wood because I don’t want to risk a solid center panel expanding and blowing out the segmented outer ring, I will build later.

I am using my elliptical jig of this; I will put a link to that video if you are interested in building the jig.

The first pass with the router was the outer ring; the second pass will be the actual shape of the silver-leafed portion of the table.

The outer ring will become a jig I use later to shape the segmented edge.

Since this is an ellipsis and not a perfect circle, each piece had to be cut at a different angle and length from the center of the table to the outer edge to achieve the ellipse shape.

I test fit each piece making adjustments to the angles as I went.  After a little back and forth, I had a nice half of an ellipse.

To glue the segments together, I used floating tenons, and some tape to hold it all together while the glue set up.

Because I removed a ¼” of material when I cut the outer ring template off it no longer fits tight to my inner circle

To compensate for this, I set up a collar in my router table and did a little math, so the distance between the collars to the router bit is the same as the diameter for the router bit I used to cut the template out.

Now when I ride the template along the collar, it will leave that extra material so it will fit tight to the plywood center.

I think with a little touch up that will fit nice and tight.

The back edge of the table will also be banded with Mahogany, so I ripped off a strip of the plywood to make room for the Mahogany.

Since the table has already been cut round it will be difficult to clamp the back tight across its length,

So I decided to do a spring joint.  I got my hand plane and took a few swipes out of the center, creating a bow in the wood.  Now when I put a clamp in the center, it will put pressure on the full length.

Now for the final glue up of the top, I put one floating tenon in the center mainly for alignment and a few across the back.  I added some clamps and tapped it in place.

The end segments are a little longer just for insurance to be sure I wouldn’t come up short.  So I took the track saw and cleaned up the back edge.

Now I am moving on to the apron, and I need to make a bending form to bend the apron in the same elliptical arc as the top, but set back about ¾ of an inch or so.

I rest my elliptical jig to cut an inset for the apron and table overhang.  I did a test fit to be sure it was the right shape with an even inset.

Then I cut out several more pieces, layering them on top of each other to build up the bulk of the form.

To be sure they were all flush with each other, I ran each layer across the router table with a flush-trim bit as I went.

I then cut the center of the jig out so I would have places to hook my clamps to and covered the whole thing with packing tape to prevent the glue from sticking to it.

Then I screwed it down to a scrap piece of plywood so I would have a flat surface to push everything to.

At the band saw I re-sawed a bunch of strips thin enough to bend around the form without cracking.

This type of glue has a fairly short working time, so to spread the glue quickly without the parts sliding around, I taped the ends together.

This glue comes as a powder that you mix with water, so I wore my respirator during the glue-up, so if I created a cloud of glue dust while mixing it, I would be protected and not be mixing the glue powder with my snot.

I poured it out and spread it around.

Once I was satisfied with the coverage, I stacked them up and started in the center, clamping it in place and worked my way around the form.  The plywood cauls you see me using are cut at the same shape as the outer diameter of the ellipse.  This ensures good even pressure all the way around and a smooth arc without any flat spot from the claps.  I covered how to figure out the outer diameter of an arch when building this type of jig in a past video.  I’ll drop a link someplace to that video if you are interested in checking it out.

Once it was dry, I pulled it out of the clamps and used the jointer to clean up one edge.

Then I cut it to width at the band saw.

I set it in place and marked it to length with my little square, and took it to the miter saw to cut it to its final length.

At the miter saw, I took my time to clamp it in position so it would cut at 90 degrees to what will eventually be the back.  Before making the cut, I took extra care to be sure it was clamp securely; this could be a sketchy cut if you are not paying attention.

I ripped the back to the width and set up a little prop to help me position the piece so I could mark the inside curve of the apron on the back piece.

At the miter saw I cut it pencil line width oversize, and then used the disk sander to shape the end to match the inner curve of the apron.

To attach the front apron to the back, I used floating tenons and did another awkward clamp job to hold it in place while cutting the mortises.

There was just enough spring in the arc to pull it over the floating tenons and clamp it in place.

The back was just a tiny bit proud, so I flushed it up with a few swipes of the hand plane.

The outside edge was a little rough, so I spent some time with a flexible sanding strip to smooth it out.

Then it was time to glue the apron to the top.  That board standing up there is just temporary to help get it lined up without smearing glue all over the underside.

Moving onto the legs, I sketch out the shape I liked on some plywood.  The legs are curved and angled at the top and bottom, so I used the laser on the saw to line up the cut with the pencil line.

Then I cut the curve out at the band saw being sure I left the line, so I had room to clean up the saw marks left behind.  I used the disk sander to smooth out the outer curve, and the spindle sander to smooth out the inner curve.

The final fairing of the curve was done by hand at the bench.

I milled up some wood for the legs and ripped them to rough width at the table saw.

Using my plywood template, I traced the leg shape onto the blanks, while positioning the template, I tried to make a note of grain direction, so when it came time to shape the legs, I would have fewer problems with tear-out.

I used the same laser technology to cut the legs to length at the right angles, and the band saw to cut off the majority of the waste.

I taped the template back on and with a flush-trim bit it the router table, cleaned them up.

Since the legs protrude past the top of the table, I cut an undersized notch out at the band saw and then used a chisel, block plane, and rasp to match the curve of the top and apron.

I just took my time test fitting as I went, until I was satisfied with the fit.

The whole process was a bit of a Zen meditation session, so it didn’t take terribly too long.

Once I was happy with the fit-up for all the legs, I cut the final tapers on the band saw.

Before it is all said and done, I am going to do a ton of shaping by hand on the legs, but to save me a bunch of time, I removed the sharp edge of legs with a round-over bit.

The legs are going to have a little cloud lift detail on the back edge as it meets the bottom of the apron.  To be sure they all stop at the exact right spot, I clamped a spacer to the end and routed along the edge until the bearing hit the spacer.

I don’t think it gets any better than that.

I want the legs to have a pillowed front as they taper down to the bottom, so to help them all have the same shape, I cut a template the shape I wanted and traced it on the tops of all the legs.

Then I just eyeballed a line down the center, so I know where the top of the pillow should feather to.

I clamped it up in the vise and went to shaping it with the spokeshave.

I started at the top and worked my way down.

Someday if I do more of this type of legs, I will build a proper shaving horse to hold the workpiece better, but all you can do is work with what you got.

I periodically lined them all up so I could compare their progress and adjust the ones that didn’t match.  When doing handwork, this is an excellent way to help them all come out the same.

Once I was done shaping the legs, I clamped them in place and drilled for dowels.  They will be pinned in place from behind using dowels.

I glued the dowels in place, cut them to length, and did a test fit.

Before adding the glue, I masked off the apron to reduce the chance of squeeze out staining the wood.  I spent all that time perfectly fitting the legs to the curve of the top and apron. I didn’t want to risk screwing it up by trying to sand or scrape off dried glue.

I used a slow set epoxy to do the final glue-up. I wanted to be sure I had the extra time to be sure each leg fit tight and was clamped securely in place.  There is nothing worse than glue tacking up before you have everything dialed in.

To prep the top for the silver leaf, I mixed up a slurry of grain filler to fill all the pours in the wood.  The silver leaf is so thin that any imperfection in the surface below will show through.

Freshly milled Mahogany is often light in color and takes some time to darken up to that rich color we all love, so to help it along, I dyed it with a custom blend of general finishes dye stain.

I also stained the top, when I silver leaf it, I am going to leave intentional cracks in the leaf, so the wood shows through, I am not going for a distressed look, but an aged but well cared for look, something that has traveled and seen the world.

To get a clean edge between the segmented Mahogany, and silver leaf, I used pinstriping tape to tape off the radius, and then covered the rest with blue painters tape.

I used the spray on ploy as the gilding adhesive, even though it the can says fast drying, it’s not really; it stays tacky for quite a while, at least long enough for me to get the silver leaf stuck to it.

Removed tape as started applying the leaf.

When I applied the leaf, put them down in a random pattern. If I were to line them all up, I would risk having a square pattern show up in the finished product.

Now I am filling in the areas that I missed and deliberately poking at the leaf to create cracks for the wood to show through to give it that aged look.

I used some compressed air to clean out any leaf that got in the grain of the segmented edge.

Now to patina the top, I’m mixing up a solution of potash.  I weighed it out and ground it up so it would dissolve faster.

I’m not going to go in-depth with the exact proportions of this solution but will put a link to the book I used.  I think from a safety standpoint; everybody should study the book to know what is going on, what kind of chemical burns you can get, and how to dispose of any unused solution safely.  Everything should be Walter White approved.

So I am set up outside and have crumpled up some tissue paper to create a texture on the surface.  Some areas of the crumpled up paper will hold more chemicals than others,s and some areas will contact the silver leaf longer, creating a pattern on the top.

Then once I am happy with the color, I will seal it in with a clear coat of varnish.

Thank you for making it to the end of my video, If you are interested in what goes on in my shop be sure to give me a follow on Instagram, and of course, like, subscribe and hit the bell to be notified when the next video comes out.

I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.