Lyre-Legged Table
Popular Woodworking|June 2021
Inspired by a striking statement piece.
By Dillon Baker

PROJECT #2107_

Skill Level


Time: 5 days

Cost: $350

One of the unique features of this table is its ability to be disassembled and tucked away. It's also very scalable. If the surface area (or lack thereof) is an issue, create a larger top and increase the length of the stretcher.

The inspiration for this project originated during a recent trip I took to visit my brother in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The activity list for such occasion typically includes a stop at the Milwaukee Art Museum, catching a show at the Oriental Theatre, and some social imbibing down by the lakefront. It wasn’t until recently (after partaking in the latter of the activities listed above) that I discovered an old palatial estate on a bluff that overlooked Lake Michigan. To my surprise, it turned out to be a place called “Villa Terrace,” a decorative-arts museum that was once a private residence belonging to a couple named Lloyd and Agnes Smith at the beginning of the 20th century. Known as Sopra Mare (“above the sea” in Italian) to the Smiths, this resplendent piece of architecture is extraordinary beyond description.

Before entering the house, you are led through a stone-walk courtyard surrounded by a vaulted loggia with two stories of Tuscan columns. Once you finally arrive at the main entrance, to the left, you are greeted by a black-painted bench with scrolling curved legs and stretchers. It was later I came to discover that the design element that initially caught my attention is known as a lyre arm. Although originally a classical Greek form, this element was incorporated into several different types of furniture throughout the 18th and early parts of the 19th century.

Other than the sensory experience involved in discovering something new, what originally stood out about this bench was its juxtaposition of style against the backdrop of stucco walls, tile roofs, and arched openings. Although baroque in design, it had an appearance of modernity within the contrast of its current setting. The body was painted, the top was modest in form, and the legs had style; to me, this was a combination that warranted further exploration.

1 This is the original lyre-legged bench in The Mercury Courtyard at Villa Terrace, that inspired the project.

2 Using the template, trace out the profile of the leg onto the blank. Notice that the joinery is established during this process.

3 A wheel marking gauge for layout creates a groove for the chisel to ride.

4 With sliding-bevel set to 5°, layout the mortise shoulders on the short stretchers.

5 With the marking gauge set, layout the joinery on all like pieces.

6-7 I used a 1 bench chisel to clean up the mortise faces followed by a 1/2 mortise chisel to pare the edges.

8 Use a Forstner bit about an 1/8 smaller in diameter than the width of your mortises. Leave the fine-tuning to the fine tools.

9 A stop-block attached to the drill press fence aids in repeatable and accurate holes.

10-11 To expedite the waste removal process, I cut the cheeks of my tenons using the bandsaw.

12 Cut the Ogee shoulder first. This allows for a relief when cutting the curve.

13 Cut as close to your layout lines as possible to decrease the amount of finishing work.

14 Cutting out the leg is done in several steps. Make relief cuts where there are tight radii, and work on a section at a time.

15 End grain is notorious for blowing out when coming in contact with a router bit. To remedy this, cut as close to your layout line as possible, thus leaving a minimal amount of material to be removed. Still unconvinced? Use a spindle sander instead of the router.

16 Creating a channel on the shoulder layout line allows the saw to move with accuracy and ease.

17 Restore confidence in your cut by using an angled guide block made of scrap wood.

18 The same method is applied to the structural shoulder to ensure continuity and to prevent any gaps between the joint(s).

19 Dry fit the leg assemblies before you commit to glue and clamps.

20 Since the T-nut inserts are press-fit, I applied epoxy to the recess to further increase their strength.

21 Use a dowel rod to install the inserts. This evenly distributes the blow as well as prevents any marring.

22 1/2 dowels were used to align as well as adhere the batten to rail.

23 Make sure the tabletop and the jig are clamped down tight to your work surface. This step is germane, as it ensures for a flat (not cupped) dado bottom.

24 If marks are left by the router bit, clean up the bottoms of the sliding dovetail using a router plane or sanding block.

25-26 Once the sliding dovetails have been created, you can sneak up on the fit of the dovetail batten using the router table.

27 Creating the half-lap joints with a dado blade is a quick and accurate procedure.

28 Since the table is designed to be disassembled; a firm, but not a tight, fit is desired. Remember, an additional finish will increase the thickness of the material.

29 Even without paint, the scorch marks left by the angle grinder add a warm contrast against the natural finish of the wood.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine