You can build your own antique-style farm table with hand tools and basic woodworking skills. The classic design uses traditional cabinetmaking skills, while the table itself is a popular style in country decor. Drawing the plans from scratch will give you practice for designing more complicated furniture.
At a minimum, you'll need to be able to cut a mortise, and tenon and peg joint. If you have the tools to join boards with splines, turn wood on a lathe or make a tongue-and-groove beadboard top, you can add a few fancier touches. A final coat of milk paint will turn your handmade table into a brand-new old-fashioned family heirloom.
Things You'll Need
- 4, 2-by-4 boards, 28 inches long
- 2, 1-by-4 boards, 30 inches long
- 2, 1-by-4 boards, 22 inches long
- 3, 1-by-10 boards, 36 inches long
- 2 1-by-2 boards, 19 inches long
- Small scraps of extra wood
- Measuring tape
- Hide glue
- Milk paint
Visit a few antique shops or look at images online of farm tables to get a general idea of the style and the construction. Pay special attention to the way the aprons (side rails) are joined to the legs and how the top is joined to the aprons. Each craftsman created his tables slightly differently, so you may want to copy one original exactly or incorporate elements of several tables in yours.
Calculate the dimensions of your table, using an original table or one that's a convenient size as a guideline. Measure the length of the legs, the length of the aprons including their tenons that fit into the legs, and the width and length of the top. A typical length for dining table legs might be 28 inches long, cut in a tapered shape from a 2-by-4.
Build a small tabletop that's 36 inches long and 28 inches wide using three 1-by-10 boards joined edge to edge. Your four aprons should be 6 to 12 inches shorter than the length and width of the tabletop. For a 36-by-28 tabletop, you might have two aprons that are 30 inches long and two that are 22 inches long. You'll also need a few smaller pieces of wood for cleats, buttoning or beadboard ends. Sketch out the plans, and purchase the necessary wood.
Cut the legs to length with a hand-saw. Create simple tapered legs from 2-by-4 boards by sawing down their length, beginning at full width and ending 1 1/2 inches wide at the bottom. If you want fancier turned legs but don't have a lathe, purchase them ready-made from an antique furniture restoration catalog or look for legs to recycle from old furniture at an antique or junk shop.
Cut two mortises in the top of each leg by drilling auger holes and chiseling out the remaining wood to make a square mortise. Cut corresponding tenons in the end of each apron. Insert the tenons into the mortises, drill holes for pegs, and assemble them with hide glue.
If the table legs are slightly uneven despite careful measurement, adjust them now. Set the table level on a smooth floor, measure how high off the floor the shortest leg is and mark a line that height on the other legs. Cut on the lines, and the table will sit level.
Saw three 1-by-10 boards 36 inches long, and glue them edge to edge to form a tabletop that's 36-by-28. Cut two 19-inch-long cleats out of 1-by-2 boards. Reinforce the tabletop by pegging or screwing the two cleats to the underside. If you have the tools and skill, join the boards with splines in the edges instead. You can also make a beadboard-style top by adding narrow boards along the ends of the 1-by-10 boards, to help prevent them from warping or cupping when the humidity changes.
Chisel several short slots into the inside of the aprons, fit small pieces of wood with tongues into them, and screw the pieces to the underside of the top. Since the top may expand or contract depending on the humidity, farm tabletops are generally attached by these tongues and slots, which is called "buttoning." The tongues can move within the slots as the tabletop expands or shrinks.
Finish with a coat of traditional milk paint or oil paint. You can purchase milk paint in easy-to-mix form, with powdered milk, lime and pigments pre-measured.
Tips & Warnings
- Traditional country furniture-makers used a mixture of woods, each chosen for their unique properties. You can make a farm table with hardwood legs for strength, while using a cheaper softwood like pine or poplar for the wide boards of the top.
- The original craftsmen often left antique farm tables bare on the top surface only, since hard use would soon wear off any paint. If you plan to use your table for traditional activities like kneading bread, paint the legs but finish the bare top with mineral oil or food-grade salad-bowl oil.
- "Tables: Outstanding Projects from America's Best Craftsmen"; Anthony Guidice; 2000
- "American Woodworker"; Colonial Tavern Table; Matthew Burak, June 1995
- "Woodwork Joints"; William Fairham; 1920
- "Popular Mechanics Wood Joints for the Amateur; February 1929
- "Modern Practical Joinery"; George Ellis; 1908
- Photo Credit table image by Lars Christensen from Fotolia.com
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