Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition

Precision with Hand Tools-Building a Small Table


Precision with Hand Tools



Hand tools open up new vistas of efficiency, accuracy, and enjoyment for every woodworker, even those with modest skills. This is a class to ramp up your hand tool skills — smoothing surfaces, jointing edges, fitting joints, working to a pattern, cutting beads and a whole lot more. We’ll link those tasks to building a fun little table with lots of design possibilities.

We’ll use machines lightly where they work best — bandsawing legs and cutting mating mortises and tenons — but otherwise work by hand through a range of typical tasks hand tools do best: flattening, truing, shaping, and smoothing surfaces to a polish.

We’ll talk about ways to integrate hand tools in your process, sharpening, tuning, and lots about design and detail.

We'll be building a small side table as it's an ideal project to hone some skills and try out some new design ideas.


You have 2 choices for materials: 

  1.  Bring your own, milled and partially sized to the cutlist. You can use cherry, walnut, alder, or Douglas fir. If you want to use something else you must contact me for an okay. 

    There is not a great deal of wood involved, and perfect wood is not necessary, but being friendly to hand tools is.
  2. The school will provide you with a kit in cherry. If you would like us to prepare the stock and have it ready when you arrive please select the materials deposit during registration. We will contact you before we order the wood to confirm the pricing. We plan to do this one month before the class. We want to make sure the leg blanks will be stable by the time class starts. The school provides the materials at cost with a labor charge and a small administrative fee. We expect the kit to cost less than $150.

The Cutlist

From Garrett:

The place to start is a basic design. We’ll be building small tables, so sketch out some ideas but don't go beyond a top about 14" wide and 24" long. I suggest you splay the legs about 2-3°, or whatever looks best to you (looks better than square, and is more stable). Look at my Fine Woodworking article on a similar table from Jan/Feb 2004. (Just ask and I can send it to you.) There are lots of places for playing with design so don’t be put off this table might be too simple; it wont be.

This table looks good in any wood, even combinations of compatible woods such as cherry for the aprons and top, walnut for the legs. My only caution is to choose something friendly so that the work is less about dealing with a wood challenging to plane or chisel, and more about exploring design, details, and what your tools can do. Cherry, walnut, butternut, fir, birch, figured maple if you want a challenge — they’re all good choices. I like the natives, and the dust is generally less toxic.

For the cockbeads, if you choose this path — the small beads applied to the bottom of the aprons — I would use something harder and with a pleasing color contrast. I like rosewood, ebony, walnut, maple, 1/8" - 3/16" thick, the length of each apron, and about 1" wide. 

Some pre-milling is fine. Plane the aprons to thickness, rip them to width, and leave them long. Same for the top, but keep it a little thick and large, and if you are using two pieces, DON'T glue them together yet.

Rough cut the legs if you wish and leave them long too. There are some advantages to waiting, as I explain below.


You can design your own leg, but I suggest one tapered as per my article. It’s much easier than you might think to work with a continuously tapered leg. I make my tables about 27” high, so finished legs about 26” + long. In rough form keep them closer to 28 or 29” long. 

They taper from 1-3/16" at the top, so your stock should be a minimum of 5/4 thick. A little thicker wouldn't hurt, but it's more expensive.

Simplest would be to bring a rough milled blank 6" wide, 5/4 thick, and 28” long works. Higher table = longer legs. I wouldn't go beyond 30". Extra wood for mis-cuts or an extra leg is a good idea.

Look for a blank that's rift sawn, i.e. the growth rings are at 45° to the surface. They won’t all be but chose this over flat sawn (parallel to the surface) or quartersawn (90° to the surface).

I'll show you a fast and efficient way to cut legs. If you do anything, cut out your legs roughly and slightly oversized. Remember, 1 - 3/16” is the minimum at the top. They taper to whatever you like. If you want to learn to shape curves, you might consider curved legs. We should talk before you launch into this.


3/4  - 13/16" thick, (2) 8" long, (2) 11" long (for the table I'll be building), a little less than 4" wide. These have angled cuts on their ends eventually, for the splayed joints. Leave them long if you are not sure of your table's size.


12 X 18 is a nice proportion for a small side table. Same thickness as aprons okay. If you make a larger top, then the aprons need to be that much longer as well, or you'll have a wider overhang. How much overhang do you like?

 The top can be made from two pieces, which gives us the chance to talk about edge jointing and gluing boards. Just hold off on gluing them.

Questions? Just ask Garrett


If you are planning to bring your own tools, which we recommend reading Garrett's Tool List.

You are welcome to use the school's tools. Each workbench is equipped with a set of Lee Valley / Veritas tools and has a good selection of teaching hand tools. However, you will learn a lot more if you bring your own tools and learn to tune them under Garrett's watchful eye.


Eagerness to learn, just above beginner to more advanced skill level, so familiarity with hand tools. This class should not be your first time working with hand tools.

Students who have taken the Hand Tool Heaven class, Working with Planes or the Hand Saw Essentials and Hand Plane Essentials classes in our Basics Of Woodworking program will find this a great class to add joinery skills to their repertoire.

Class Information and Registration

Class runs from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday in Building #315.
Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the School.
Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 10
Cost: $ 825
Optional Kit Deposit: $ 80

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or, if the class is full, sign up for the wait list.