5 Methods to Attach Table Legs: Mortise, Dowels, Pocket Holes & More

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Have you ever sat at a table that wobbles?  Perhaps a loose screw or two at the legs is causing that wobble, or the legs and apron were not well connected to the tabletop. 

If you’re a woodworking enthusiast looking to improve your own dining room table or another piece of furniture, like a chair, you can prevent issues by attaching the table legs to the apron using a “belt and suspenders” approach. This means reinforcing the joints and connections in two distinct ways.

Furniture making is about solid connections, proper joinery practice, and good materials.  We can help with some guidance to prevent that wobbling.

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Table leg attachment methods include Mortise and Tenon, Dowel Joints, Pocket Hole Joints, Corner Blocks, and Mounting Blocks. Each method offers varying levels of stability, aesthetics, and ease of use.

What is a Furniture Apron?

A table apron, also called a table skirt, is a wood panel that connects the legs and tabletop.  It is installed at a right angle to the tabletop on the underside and runs between the tops of its four legs. 

An apron is used to provide greater structural integrity and strength to a table or other piece of furniture.  It can also provide an aesthetic decorative touch to your piece of furniture.  Perhaps you’ve seen ornately carved aprons and noticed how they can add both value and beauty to a well-made table.

How To Assemble a Table With An Apron

Assembling a table with an apron requires selecting an effective joinery method for stability and durability. The chosen method is crucial to prevent wobbling and ensure the table’s longevity.

To guide your decision, we’ve compared the top table leg attachment methods below:

Comparison of Table Leg Attachment Methods

MethodEase of UseDurabilityCostAesthetics
Mortise and TenonModerate (requires precision)High (long-lasting joint)Moderate-High (due to specialized tools)Excellent (hidden joint)
Dowel JointsModerate (alignment crucial)High (with proper installation)Moderate (dowels and glue cost)Very Good (minimal visibility)
Pocket Hole JointsEasy (with the right tools)Moderate (depends on screw quality)Moderate (jig and screws cost)Good (hidden screws)
Corner BlocksEasy (basic installation)Moderate (reinforces structure)Low (blocks and screws cost)Fair (can be visible)
Mounting BlocksEasy (basic installation)Moderate (depends on block quality)Low-Moderate (blocks cost)Fair (can be visible)

Now, let’s dive deeper into each attachment method to understand its intricacies.

Mortise and Tenon

Mortise and Tenon Joint

We know that a mortise and tenon joint is the strongest joint you can use in assembling furniture.  In our previous article, we discussed the perfect tool for creating these joints – the Festool Domino. 

The mortise would be cut into the top of the leg, and a tenon created at the end of the apron.  Glued up, inserted into the mortise, and clamped, the tenon will hold the apron to the leg quite strongly.  Creating a mortise and tenon joint is a must-have skill in furniture making and is the best choice for connecting aprons to the legs.

ProsCons
Strong and durable joint that can last for generations.Requires precision in cutting and fitting.
Provides a seamless and clean look.More time-consuming compared to other methods.
Traditional method used for centuries.Requires specialized tools and skills.

Dowel Joints

Wooden Dowel

A second option would be to use dowels to join aprons to legs.  Holes would be drilled in both the apron end and the leg, glue would be applied, dowels would be inserted in the leg, and then the apron would be attached.  The number of dowels used would depend on the dimension of the apron and the size of the table you are making.

Dowel joints are also very strong, and some lab tests have suggested they are stronger than mortise and tenon joints.  If you have a dowel jig, it is probably a faster method than mortise and tenon joints.  However, if you are lucky enough to have a Festool Domino, the speed test is probably a wash.

The disadvantage of dowel joints is that the alignment of the holes is dependent on the use of an accurate jig.  Additionally, if you do not use enough dowels, you run the risk of shearing.  If you are likely to use dowels in your joinery, have a dowel jig handy.  They’re not expensive and will ensure the alignment is accurate.

ProsCons
Provides a strong bond when used with glue.Precision is needed to ensure holes align correctly.
Easier to align than mortise and tenon.Not as robust as mortise and tenon for heavy-duty uses.
Suitable for DIYers with fewer tools.Dowels can weaken over time if not installed correctly.

Pocket Hole Joints

A third option is the use of pocket holes and screws.  A jig is used to create holes in the apron (on the inside, so it is invisible), and screws are used to connect the apron to the table leg. 

Kreg Pocket-Hole Jig 720PRO with SK04 Pocket-Hole Screw Starter Kit

This also creates a strong connection for your table.  Because screws are used, the joint does not require a glue-up or clamps, and you can continue on with the project without delay.

The process is both easy and quick, and pocket hole jigs are not an expensive addition to your equipment inventory.  They’re more expensive than a dowel jig, but if you want your shop projects to have joinery options, you’ll want to have a pocket hole jig handy.

ProsCons
Quick and easy to make with the right tools.Requires a specialized jig and screws.
Hidden from view, providing a clean finish.Not as strong as traditional joinery methods.
Adjustable and easy to disassemble.Over-tightening can strip the wood.

Corner Blocks

Corner blocks are beveled on each end and run between aprons at each corner of the table and connected to the aprons on each end using a pocket hole joint.  As an added measure, bolts are used to connect the corner block to the leg itself.

Earlier, we mentioned the “belt and suspenders” method of connecting aprons to legs, and here we are at the suspenders.  The combined strength of a mortise and tenon joint, a dowel joint, or a pocket hole joint, along with the use of corner blocks, will hold the table legs in place solidly, and your table is not likely to wobble even a little. 

ProsCons
Provides additional support to the table.Can be visible, affecting aesthetics.
Easy to install without advanced skills.Not as strong as integral joinery methods.
Allows for easy disassembly and adjustments.Requires additional hardware.

Mounting Blocks

Table Legs

If you have ever purchased a pre-fab table kit, then you know what a mounting block is.  You attach one to each of the four corners of your tabletop using screws, and in the center of the block is a screw hole.  The legs that came with the kit have a bolt installed part of the way into the leg, and the exposed portion of the bolt is then screwed into the mounting block. 

Remember, though, that the use of aprons adds to the structural integrity of a table, especially with the strength of the three joinery methods discussed above.  While the aesthetic function of aprons can certainly be ignored, the strength of the table and its resistance to wobbling should not be.  The fastener method of the pre-fab table kit is more apt to become less stable over time.

ProsCons
Offers a solid connection between leg & top.Can be visible, affecting aesthetics.
Suitable for tables without aprons.Requires additional hardware and precise alignment.
Easy to install and allows for adjustments.Not as robust as some traditional joinery methods.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can You Make A Table Without An Apron? 

Yes, it’s possible to create a table without an apron. However, for larger tables like dining room tables, aprons add structural integrity and reduce wobbling. For smaller, decorative tables, an apron might not be essential, but for functional pieces, it’s recommended to use aprons combined with a strong joinery method for optimal stability.

Which table leg attachment method is the strongest?

The Mortise and Tenon joint is traditionally considered one of the strongest methods due to its interlocking design. However, the strength of any method also depends on the quality of craftsmanship and materials used.

Can I use multiple attachment methods for added strength?

Yes, combining methods like the “belt and suspenders” approach can provide additional strength and stability. For instance, using dowel joints in conjunction with corner blocks can reinforce the connection.

Are specialized tools always required for these methods?

Not always. While some methods, like the Mortise and Tenon or Pocket Hole Joints, require specialized tools, others, like the use of corner blocks or mounting blocks, can be done with basic tools.

How do I choose the right method for my table?

Consider factors like the table’s purpose (dining, coffee, side table), the weight it will bear, your woodworking skills, available tools, and the desired aesthetics.

Can I easily disassemble the table if I move homes?

Methods like Pocket Hole Joints, the use of corner blocks, and mounting blocks allow for easier disassembly. If you anticipate moving or disassembling the table frequently, choose a method that offers this flexibility.

How do I ensure the table doesn’t wobble after attaching the legs?

Ensure all legs are cut evenly, the floor is level, and the attachment method is executed precisely. Periodically check and tighten any screws or bolts, as they can loosen over time.

Can I switch attachment methods after assembling the table?

While possible, it’s recommended to plan ahead and choose the best method initially. Switching methods later can weaken the wood or leave visible holes and marks.

We found a helpful video for you that discusses and displays the attachment of table legs to aprons:

Just like both a belt and suspenders will keep your work pants up in the shop, the use of a strong joinery method coupled with a corner block will keep your table from wobbling.

Go the extra step and get a long life out of that beautiful dining room table in your home.

Please leave a comment to join the discussion