Detailed Table Leg Construction Methods for Every Skill Level

One of the most common questions that arises when building a new table is How do I attach the legs of the table to the top?

It’s a crucial question to answer before beginning a project because it affects the design, strength, and complexity of the table. To reduce some of this stress, we’ve compiled information on table leg joinery methods that suit all skill levels that you can use or (easily adapt) to fit your exact design aesthetic.

Most table leg joinery methods can be classified by whether or not they have aprons. Aprons, also called skirts, are boards that comprise the base of some tables, and which connect the legs to one another. Tables with aprons tend to be a bit more complex and time intensive to build than apronless tables — but there are benefits and styles that come with each.

Note: for each method to attach table legs to tabletops listed below, we have included a recommended tool list. Each tool list is designed for the installation of the bases only, assuming that the base is already assembled. For a more detailed account of the tools required to actually build the bases, refer to the in-depth guides for each method.

For Apronless Tables

Screw and Bolt-On Table Legs

These legs screw or bolt directly into the tabletop, and have grown enormously in popularity in the last five years. Typically, screwed or bolted legs are made of metal, and they’re perfect for beginners since they only require a drill to install. The most common type of legs used in this category are hairpin legs and flat steel bar legs.

TOOLS SKILL LEVEL (INSTALL) SKILL LEVEL (BUILD)
Drill, screwdriver, combination square (recommended) Beginner N/A

Design

These types of table legs are best suited for designs that draw attention to the tabletop. This is why you will typically see hairpin or flat steel bar legs used with wooden slabs or reclaimed wood: the combination serves to highlight the natural or aged beauty of the wood.

Method

Building furniture using these legs is as simple as it gets. First determine where you’d like to place the legs. Using a square or a steel rule, align the brackets of each leg so that they are square to one another. Mark the location of each screw, then pre-drill each hole. Finally, screw each bracket to the tabletop by hand.

Cleat-Attached Table Legs

These table legs are attached to the tabletop via a cleat. Cleats are usually screwed to the underside of the tabletop and contain a mortise, to which each leg is fitted. Cleats come in straight, angled, and splayed varieties.

TOOLS SKILL LEVEL (INSTALL) SKILL LEVEL (BUILD)
Drill, screwdriver, combination square (recommended) Beginner Beginner to advanced

Design

These legs are commonly associated with mid-century, modern table designs. Use them if you want a clean and simple design that takes very little installation time. Cleat-attached table legs are a good alternative to hairpin legs if you prefer to build an all wood table.

Method

Determine where you’d like to place the legs. Using a square or a steel rule, align the cleats so that they are equidistant from the table edge, centered, and squared. Mark the location of each screw. Pre-drill each hole. By hand, screw the cleats to the tabletop, alternating sides as you screw. Fit each leg into the cleat’s mortise, following included instructions.

Trestle Base Table Legs

While the first two attachment methods (direct screw on and cleat attached) are quintessential modern designs, a trestle base can be adapted to fit nearly any style — and when built correctly, is nearly bombproof.

TOOLS SKILL LEVEL (INSTALL) SKILL LEVEL (BUILD)
Drill, screwdriver, combination square (recommended), ratchet and socket set Beginner Intermediate to advanced

Design

Though most commonly associated with farmhouse tables, one of the great things about trestle bases is that they can work with almost any design aesthetic. Common styles of table that utilize trestle bases include traditional, rustic, and modern.

Method

There are many methods by which to attach trestle bases to tabletops. For simplicity’s sake, we’re going to focus on the easiest method: attaching the trestle base to the top using bolts and threaded inserts.

First, center and square the trestle base to the table (use clamps if necessary) and use a brad point bit to mark the locations of the threaded inserts in the top. Then, drill the holes for the inserts and install. Finally, bolt the base to the top.

For Tables with Aprons

Though there are many ways to construct a table with an apron, we’re going to focus on just two.

Mortise and Tenon Joints

Mortise and tenon joints have been used by woodworkers for thousands of years–and there’s a good reason why: they’re simple, strong, and extremely versatile. Typically, tenons are cut at either end of the apron, which then slide into a blind mortise that’s cut into the leg. A corner block is usually fitted in each corner that connects each apron to provide added rigidity and support.

TOOLS SKILL LEVEL (INSTALL) SKILL LEVEL (BUILD)
Drill, screwdriver, glue, clamps (bar clamps or pipe clamps) Beginner Advanced

Design

Since mortised and tenoned table bases are more of a joinery technique as opposed to a style, they can be used to suit nearly any design sensibility. However, there are certain furniture styles that use mortise and tenon joinery to showcase the craftsmanship and skill that went into making the piece. These joinery techniques include through mortise and tenons, wedged tenons, and bridle joints.

Method

Assemble the base in sections, beginning with the long sides of the table. Spread a PVA glue (for example, Titebond) in the mortises of two table legs. Insert one of the long aprons and clamp for a minimum of 30 minutes. Once both long sides of the table are glued, glue both short sides at the same time. Leave clamped overnight. The next day, mark the locations of your corner blocks, drill pilot holes, and attach.

Now that the base is assembled, you can attach it to the tabletop. The simplest way to do this is to use a cleat or a corner iron that connects the apron to the tabletop at a 90 degree angle. Whichever you choose to use, the method is the same. Mark the location for each corner block (one on either side of the table legs). Drill pilot holes into the apron and tabletop and screw each block or bracket in place.

Pocket Holes

Though chided by some in the woodworking community as an easy option to mortise and tenons, no one can deny the ease and construction strength that pocket hole joinery offers.

In table base construction, pocket holes essentially serve the same function as blind mortise and tenons. However, instead of connecting to one another via mating parts, the apron is connected to each leg with screws using pocket holes drilled into the apron at an angle (typically 15 degrees).

TOOLS SKILL LEVEL (INSTALL) SKILL LEVEL (BUILD)
Drill, screwdriver, glue, combination square (recommended) Beginner Intermediate

Design

Many of the designs that work with mortise and tenoned table bases also work with bases joined via pocket screws. This method isn’t quite as versatile since it relies on the screws to be hidden on the inside of the apron.

Method

Using a combination square, mark the distance from the front of the table leg that you would like the apron to be. Do this for each leg. Then, following the pocket holes drill a pilot hole into each leg, marking the location of each screw. Finally, screw the aprons to the table legs, starting with the long aprons and ending with the short ones. After the base is assembled as one large piece, mark the locations of the corner blocks, predrill the holes, and attach at each corner.

To attach the table base to the top, follow the instructions detailed the mortise and tenon section above.