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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Built where it stands

Several friends have commented on or asked about the dining room table. "I bet that has some stories ... " Actually, not so many; it's only about eighteen years old. Or: "How did you do that?" It's very easy. Really. No, really.

In our case we got the idea by looking at a piece of two-by-ten in the yard (with a bit of grass growing out of it) and saying, hmm, this could be a pair of uprights. We didn't know terminology, but had both seen a table that we liked -- a quick Net search suggests that it is called a Trestle Base Table.

So we bought some two-by-eights, scrounged some two-by-fours and some three-inch lag screws, and proceeded as follows:

Sorry about the drawing; I never could draw with a cursor anyway! Click to see the lack of detail even bigger!

Okay: lay five two-by-eights, in the length you want (ours were eight feet) side by side on the floor, or maybe on a drop cloth on the floor. This is your tabletop, upside down. (!!)

Across each end, about eighteen inches to two feet from the end, set a piece of the same cut to fall two or three inches from either edge, centered. Bolt down to each two-by-eight beneath. Ours had half-inch heads and were tightened with a socket wrench. Your lag screw should tighten down firmly without penetrating to the floor, of course. (!!) You may want to pre-drill guide holes to start the screws.

Make the two uprights (of two-by-ten or twelve) by cutting them an inch-and-a-half shorter than the height you want for the top of the table. Bore holes through them with a 1.5 inch wood bit, lining up the holes so as to form a slot (use a chisel and mallet to finish the slot) at the same distance, say ten inches, from one end of each piece, through which you can slide a two-by-something brace, later (we used a found piece of two-by-six).

With the slotted ends up, snug the uprights against the inner edge of each of the end pieces and bolt them to these. Put your brace through. It should be long enough to protrude about six inches through each upright toward the ends of the table (but leaving leg room). We added a piece of one-by-eight down the middle, measured long, and malleted down tight against the uprights on their inner faces and then bolted on (with more lag screws), for extra strength.

With a level, line up four two-by-fours one by one across the ends of the uprights and bolt them on; these are your table's feet.

Flip the whole thing over. Almost done!

Make any adjustments now, until you are satisfied it looks like the table you want.

Now mark your brace along the outside edge of each slot. Pull the brace and clamp it on a work bench. Bore two holes through the brace from one edge to the other, down the center, with a wood bit, say 3/4 inch diameter, just nicking your slot mark about a quarter inch as you go.

Put the brace back through the slots, and with a mallet, hammer down a pair of dowels or tapered stakes at each end (we used cedar kindling from the wood box), thus pulling the uprights toward the ends and stabilizing the entire table.

You might want to stain and seal at this point. We did.

But wait! We made a mistake, which you can see if you look at our table up close and in person.

We used bought two-by-eights, and specified kiln-dried, but they either weren't, or were done very poorly. So they warped and twisted over the first few months of the table's life. To prevent this, find a couple of pieces of nice fir or something, one by 1.5 inches or so, cut to fit the width of the table, and attach these with a pair of drywall screws to the ends of each of the two-by-eights in the tabletop.

With enough clamping we could probably still do this. But we are awfully lazy old things. We call it a table, and nobody has contradicted us about that, so far as we know.

The shrinkage also spread the gaps between the planks. We chinked these with wood filler, but the children liked to peck at this with their knives and forks when we weren't looking, and so we never did get those gaps to look quite right. But oh, well. This is how you get a table that Has Character.

Built where it stands -- we spent about thirty dollars to make this family heirloom.
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