Step 2: Cut and prepare the pieces
Use a circular saw to cut the veneered MDF to size. Lay the sheet down on sacrificial lengths of 65 x 35mm pine, mark it to size, clamp a straight-edge guide to the sheet so that your saw will cut accurately and dead-straight. Check that the sheet is actually square already, and if there’s one good long and short edge you’ll only have to make two cuts. If all edges are damaged you’ll have to trim about 10mm off with your saw and straight-edge before marking and cutting to size. Cut the legs and rails to length with a mitre saw. Trim one end of each piece of timber square before measuring and cutting the parts. Every part should be straight, and have square ends.
You can leave the table top corners square, but if you have toddlers you can save their little heads from injury by rounding them. Trace around a soft drink can accurately on the corners, cut off with a jigsaw, and sand to produce a bump-free round corner. We selected MDF for the top because it doesn’t need to have a timber edge fitted to hide it. Although you can leave it square, it will look and feel better if it is moulded. There’s a wide range of router cutters available in many shapes that will look good on a tabletop. Select a cutter that has a guide wheel on the bottom, fit it in your router, set the depth and make the moulding in a well ventilated area (preferably outside). Use a sharp cutter and steady speed to avoid burn marks on the MDF edges. Push the router around the table in an anti-clockwise direction. If you use a sharp router cutter, and move the router at a steady speed you should not need to sand the edges except to remove sharp edges and the odd burn mark. Sand the top surface by hand with the grain with 280 grit sandpaper ready for it’s final finish.
Mark the legs and rails for the dowel joints as shown in the diagram. Although you can bore these holes freehand, a dowel jig will keep your drill perfectly square and keep the drill from wandering off the mark (this is common in radiata pine because there’s a huge difference in hardness between the growth rings). Drill the holes to a depth of 32mm (half the length of the dowels plus space for trapped glue and air). Use a sharp hand plane to make a small (5mm) bevel on the bottom edges of the legs. This helps to prevent chipping and splitting when the table is dragged along a floor. Sand the face and bottom edge of each rail, and sand the legs on all sides with 120 grit sandpaper. A belt sander is ideal as it will sand with the grain. Finish with 280 grit sandpaper and a sanding cork.