I use pine because I like it and it's nice to work with and you can either stain or paint it. I like the knots. If you are going to paint, you can use poplar which is very smooth and doesn't have knots.
My wood starts like this, it's called rough and comes from my local lumber warehouse which is not anything like Home Depot or Lowe's.
I have to run the wood through a jointer and planer and table saw to get it to the size I need. You may be able to find wood already planed and ready to go, which eliminates a lot of steps but means you have to get the sizes that are available. My rough pine is dried to about 8% MC, which is really important for furniture that will be in your house, but that topic is another blog post for the future.
Here's a basic drawing
The four legs are about 1 5/8" square and then tapered after. They are about 24 1/2" long. You may wish to use dowels to join them to the aprons, or you could alternatively use tenons. If you are using dowels as joinery, you put two dowel holes in each leg and two dowel holes correspondingly in each apron.I prefer the traditional way, which is sliding dovetails. When you use sliding dovetails everything slips together like puzzle pieces and is very sturdy. For sliding dovetails, you make the dovetail groove in two adjoining sides of the legs from the top of the leg for a length of about 3 1/2". This is called a stopped groove and is done with a dovetail bit in a router. I find it much easier to first use a straight bit and make a straight groove where the dovetail groove will be. This leaves far less wood for the dovetail bit to hog out. Do your dovetail groove before you put the dovetails on the end of the side pieces.
This photo shows eight legs with
their dovetail grooves:
A leg on the table saw ready to be tapered:
(saw blade, leg, tapering jig, fence)
The four side pieces are aprons (or skirts) and are about 4"wide x 9 1/4" long x 3/4" thick. Use the width of the previously made dovetail groove as a sample for your dovetail width that you will put on each end of the aprons. I purposely make my dovetails too large to start and 'sneak up' on the correct size. You don't want it to be too loose in the dovetail groove on the leg, nor too tight. The ends of the bottoms of the dovetails need to be cut off so that when you slide it into the groove it covers the end of the groove. This is why your groove is shorter than the full 4" width of the aprons.
Here is an apron (upside down) with the dovetail end trimmed:
Here are two of the aprons sitting in a leg:
On the inside of the apron 3/8" down from the top edge, you need to make a kerf on the table saw to hold the Z table fasteners that will hold the top on. I get mine at Lee Valley, you can see them here:
If you want, you can put a beadboard edge at the bottom of the aprons. This makes it look a lot nicer than a straight piece, but it's not necessary. The beading is done with a router bit in a router hanging in a table with a fence that you run the apron upright (vertically) against. After a good sanding of all pieces you can slide the aprons into the legs with a little glue. If you put too much it will just come out the top of the groove and make a mess. You really don't need a lot because the dovetail does all the work, it really can't pull out.
This shows the beaded apron in the leg:
The top is square, 16" x 16" and about 1" thick. I use widths of pine glued together edge to edge to make up the wider piece I need. Usually about 4"-5" widths are okay. If you have them too much wider they can warp. Make sure the edges are completely smooth and perpendicular to the faces before gluing to get the flattest top you can. Use clamps to hold this for a few hours. Bessey clamps are nice. I love clamps, all kinds of clamps except those spring clamp things which I find don't have any holding power. Always make this piece a bit larger than you need and then trim to final size and sand smooth.
This table has painted and distressed legs and aprons, the top is stained and distressed. I painted the legs and aprons with black exterior acrylic paint and then distressed it by rubbing with sandpaper along the edges. At the places where the wood showed through I rubbed on the same stain that was going on the top. The top is stained with gel stain. Other stains go blotchy on pine and some other woods. I have had great success with gel stain and the brand I use is Flecto Varathane which comes in many shades and is also mixable, so you can make your own colour. (Don't ask me how I know this, but it's best to make sure you make enough of your own colour, just in case you run out and need more.) After staining the top, I beat it a bit with a screwdriver and some other things I found in the shop. Then I took some of the paint and painted it into the distressed depressions with a small paintbrush. Everything got at least five coats of wipe-on polyurethane. It goes on nicely, but is very thin so it needs a few more coats than the brush-on poly. *Always test your poly over your paint first. I have had interior acrylic paints which are not compatible with the poly, and I found out the hard way.*
When everything is dry, turn the table upside down and attach two clamps to each apron with screws. You cannot glue the top to the apron and legs, this is why you need these. Wood moves with the seasons, if you just glue it or screw the top on, it will crack. The clamps allow the top to expand and contract with the seasons. Now that is really another blog topic.... wood moves and many people do not realize that.
Underneath the table:
Another lamp table I made has stained legs and aprons and a tiled top in a wood frame. The possibilities are endless. And who says the top has to be square? How about shaped like a flower or any other shape and painted?
Hmmmm... so many ideas, so little time!