134 – How to Build a Trestle Table (Part 1 of 3)

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This is the first in a 3-part series dedicated to the design and construction of a trestle table. But its not your everyday trestle table, since it will have a smooth sculpted look and will be used as a PC gaming desk. Made from solid Honudran Mahogany, it will only get more beautiful with time as it ages to a deep dark red color. And for the first time in a long while, I am knocking a “honey-do” project off the list. Nicole is thrilled!

Trestle Table Anatomy

Trestle tables consist of three primary parts: the trestle legs, the cross member, and the top. Although the concept and principles behind a trestle table are fairly simple, we shouldn’t let that limit us when creating our own unique trestle design. Personally, I admire the work of Sam Maloof greatly and my goal is to bring a little of his influence into this piece. Sam’s work always seems to have a certainly fluidity to it. He had a way of bringing two pieces of wood together so gracefully that it was difficult to tell where the joint was actually located. That’s what I am aiming for with this piece: a fluid structure where one part gracefully flows into the next. Perhaps I’ll make the guys over at the Maloof shop proud….or maybe just embarrassed. ha!

Function First

Although I have a very specific idea of how I want this table to look, I absolutely can not ignore the intended function. If you can believe it, my trestle table will be a gaming surface for Nicole and I. We are big PC gamers and we spend countless hours side by side in imaginary worlds enjoying various adventures, all while our real world counterparts are carefully balancing their computer hardware precariously on a rickety plywood desk. So this new table needs to be sturdy, spacious, and comfortable.

Start with a Sketch

Now that I know the functional and spacial requirements, I can turn my attention to the visual aspects of the design. During this phase, I don’t get too picky. I take a pencil to paper and just start drawing stuff. If I don’t like it, I just cross it out and try again. The idea here is to create the basic rudimentary form that will later be expanded upon and refined. This is really the brainstorming stage of the process. Once I find something that tickles my fancy, I try to recreate it on a larger scale on a piece of 1/4″ MDF. Once the design looks pretty good, I can cut my templates right out of the 1/4″ MDF board.

A Template for my Template

My first round of templates looked good to my eye initially. I used the templates to make a prototype and boy was I surprised at the results! The leg was just too thin and skinny. So literally it’s back to the drawing board, only this time I am using my first templates as the starting point. The legs need to be beefed up in all dimensions. Ideally, I would make a second prototype with my second design, but time is running short. My gut says I am close enough and the show must go on.

Leg Construction

I’m using Honduran Mahogany for the trestle table and the legs will be made by laminating two pieces of 8/4 stock to achieve the desired thickness. Once glued up and milled flat and square, I use my templates to trace the appropriate shapes onto the leg top and bottom blanks. The bandsaw does a find job of cutting through the thick stock and revealing the rough shapes.

Because this piece features some odd angles, a tool like the Festool Domino is going to come in handy. Domino joints are easiest to cut when the pieces are nice and square, so before doing any sculpting, I mark my Domino locations and create the mortises. The Dominos will be used not only for the cross-stretcher joints but also for the connection between the vertical leg members and the top and bottom of the legs.

Categories: Design, Projects

Comments

  1. Mark Taylor November 29, 2010

    I love it! I’m inspired to design a small end-table that will be of this design. I can’t wait for part 2.

  2. Andrew Raastad November 29, 2010

    Great video, learned a lot of techniques here, can’t wait for the next two. Never know, I might actually try something like this myself!

  3. Justin November 29, 2010

    Great! Always learn something new everytime I watch a video!

  4. Stephane D November 29, 2010

    Enjoy it!

    I Love this video. Can’t wait to watch the next one!

  5. Marty November 29, 2010

    After (finally) seeing a few episodes of Rough Cut and then watching your latest video, well…Russ Morash picked the wrong guy. Nothing against Tommy McDonald, who is a fine woodworker, but some people can teach and explain and some can’t. I know Tommy’s new at this but I go back to your very first videos and they STILL are better and more informative than Rough Cut.
    Keep doing what you’re doing Marc. It’s really starting to stand head and shoulders above other woodworking videos.

  6. Brian November 29, 2010

    Marc,
    Thanks for such a treat, after a long Monday I came home plopped in front of the computer and watched an uber long episode of the WW. It was about half way done and I checked the time because I thought it was almost over. Much to my surprise ONLY HALF WAY! w00t!
    Oh and by the way your wood is huge. The trestle table looks awesome and I love the thick legs. Two questions. Why the thick bandsaw blade when cutting the one curves? Do you clean your glue roller right away? Thanks again!
    Brian

  7. Another great video Marc. Looking forward to Part II.

    Did you know you can pop the stops off the top of the Domino? This way you can extend the height a little more than normal. I’ve done this quite often and it works a treat for those slightly hard to reach placements. Be careful not to extend it too far though!

  8. Mike M (http://www.mmader.com) November 29, 2010

    Very informative video! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  9. Skee November 30, 2010

    Absolutely want some BBQ now! Very cool project, as always. Educational, entertaining, and inspirational. A pretty complete package.

  10. JC Kruger November 30, 2010

    Hello Marc, I am Brazilian and I admire your work always follow your videos here in Brazil. This was a great tip, will try to put in practice what I learned. Thank you and congratulations for their work.

    JC

  11. Gary November 30, 2010

    That’s a lot of mahogany!! Looks nice Marc, looking forward to the next video as always.

  12. A 1/4″ Wood Slicer? They don’t seem to make one that narrow, although Highland does sell other bandsaw blades.

    I have a 1/2″ on my saw, it’s a great blade.

  13. Bryan Huot November 30, 2010

    Its amazing the difference when you compare the prototype leg to the actual leg…nice work and can’t wait to see the sculpting!

  14. Marc, that looks great I can’t wait for the rest. Thanks for sharing.

    Scott

  15. Kevin November 30, 2010

    Great video, appreciated the cankle jokes.

    Were you using some sort of 1″ bandsaw blade when cutting one of those templates?

    Hypothetically, if someone didn’t have a Domino, what would you recommend to connect the leg pieces?

    •  

      Yeah that was a 1″ Resaw King. And sans Domino, I would say either loose tenons using the router for the mortises, or possible even long dowels. Integral tenons is also an option but the angles would be a little tricky to manage. Not impossible, but it would take some planning.

  16. Jeff F November 30, 2010

    My wife has decided that she wants me to built a bench for our kitchen table (for my little girls to sit on) and I think that this design will do the trick.

    Looks Great!

    Jeff

  17. Doug Massey December 1, 2010

    Another great video. I can’t wait for the next one.

  18. Kevin December 1, 2010

    That is stunning. As usual I can’t wait for the next episode. Now I need to go build something.

  19. Schmoll December 1, 2010

    I noticed when you where doing the glue up you matched end grain, smile on top of smile, I thought grain patterns where supposed to be opposite (ie. smile on top of frown). Def more pleasing to the eye if they are matched up. Have I been doing it wrong? I flip flop end grains when joining side to side too.
    Also, great video as always, makes me want to ask Santa for a Dominio, but need a router more:)

    •  

      I can’t say you are doing it wrong, but I don’t really worry too much about alternating grain. I will always align boards for the best looking grain. And in this case, I wanted the grain to follow the same pattern because I want them to appear as if they were one piece of wood. So it was vital to the visual effect of the piece. I think the concern about alternating grain for stability is a bit overblown.

      • Schmoll December 1, 2010

        Although maybe not wrong, many a project would have looked much better if just glued up to the eye, and not so concerned about splitting afterwards.
        Thxs

  20. Devin December 1, 2010

    One little thing I noticed during this video was the quality of Festool tools. I don’t own any, but I have never owned a jigsaw that can handle 8/4 Mahogany. It just attests to the Quality of that tool. Great video Marc.

  21. Mike C December 1, 2010

    Marc-

    Awesome video, as always. Man, that’s a lot of mahogany – it looks beautiful. Just curious, about how many board feet did it take when all was said and done? Definitely looking forward to seeing what finish you choose.

    Thanks!
    Mike

  22. Abel December 1, 2010

    Well well, very interesting, but is still a bit far from my skill. Hope to see the rest of the videos and give it a try someday.
    Thanks

  23. tony December 1, 2010

    Great video!! planning a small table and this build is perfect!! ( I will scale it down, though)thanks marc. Another awesome project. BTW, love the t-shirt!! where can I get one?

  24. Ben December 2, 2010

    This is one of the longest videos I think I’ve seen here! Can’t wait for more…

  25. Kevin December 3, 2010

    As usual, loved the video!!! You are the best of the woodworking podscasters out there dude!!!

  26. Matt December 4, 2010

    Loved the video, can’t wait to see the next

  27. Chris December 5, 2010

    Very well done! Looking forward to part two, though I do have a concern; if you and Nicole spend so much time gaming in the evening, when will you ever have children to pass your trade onto! Is all your work custom or do you do any production work?

    •  

      haha well Nicole and I may never have children, so I guess I’ll have to settle for passing the craft onto thousands of strangers. :)

      Pretty much all of my work is custom. I am not a fan of production work.

  28. Daryn December 6, 2010

    I love the work and the thought process. What I would like you to through out there every once in a while is what all the wood for a project cost you. Now if you get a great deal from some sponsor that’s fine, all I would like to know is how much wood you had to buy at the local going rate. This will let me know if I can even think about trying to replicate something you are doing and if my local hardwood seller is scamming me or giving me a decent deal based on where I live and how far they have to transport it. Just to let you know I am in cold sunny Saskatchewan, Canada which is about 6 hours north and slightly west of Minot, North Dakota. No we don’t ride dog sleds and live in igloos but I do make trips to Home Depot and other major box stores in our fine city. Sadly we only really have one hardwood dealer that I have found so far, so without traveling great distances I pretty much have to pay what they charge here. Any help in this area “wood” be greatly appreciated.

    •  

      Well the problem with this project is that I completely over bought. I originally expected to use one thickness material but then decided after the fact to change gears and try something else. So i have a LOT of extra money in my materials that most folks wouldn’t have (about $1000). I would suspect that someone could build this table for $600-$700 at pretty reasonable prices, but remember that what is reasonable varies widely.

  29. Ben December 7, 2010

    This looks like an amazing table. I very much enjoyed your explanation of the animal claw/talon inspiration for the design of the feet and legs. How’s it holding up to the first 24 hours of the Cataclysm expansion?

  30. Tim December 9, 2010

    Excellent videos once again Marc, I really appreciate the detailed explanations, video clarity, humor, and finesse with which you do put all of this together! That 40 minutes flew by and I found myself bummed that the second video wasn’t out yet;). Who’d a thunk woodworking videos could be this entertaining…Thanks again!

  31. medfloat December 10, 2010

    Marc,

    Did you consider a bridal joint for the legs and base before settling on the domino’s? Would the bridal joint coupled with dowels make the leg as stable as the domino’s? Nice video.

    Dan

    •  

      I think a bridle joint would not only be stable, but significantly stronger. It would also be significantly more complicated and time consuming. :) I’m also not quite sure how the bridle joint would look in terms of grain flow.

  32. jason December 10, 2010

    yeah, i bet with cataclysm out this week, we’re gonna have to wait a while for part 2 :P..

  33. lynxsg December 11, 2010

    Marc,

    I think a 5-pin arrangement made with Dowelmax would be an ideal ‘leg’ joint for those of us who have Dowelmax. No problem with the 10 degree surface.

    As with the Domino joiner, Dowelmax joints can be made before the feet and legs are cut from the blocks.

    Steve

  34. John Leonick December 13, 2010

    I enjoyed the video. I understand how you determined the look of the legs, but do you have a method to determine the size of the legs relative to the porportion of the table. For instance; will the spread of the legs be wide enough to prevent the table from being unstable? Thanks, John

  35. BoredCutter December 13, 2010

    Excellent video, Marc.

    Your joinery with the Festool Domino looks like it will be very strong.

    We were just wondering, did you use the “tight mortise” setting throughout the sequence of Domino mortises, or did you use the middle “looser tenon” setting on the tool once the inital and end mortises were created?

  36. wow! thank you mark. in a naive sort of way , i wished the internet was like this presentation. the sharing of information. without the “STRINGS”.
    marks gifted teaching style is a pleasure to watch.
    by the way, i really do like powermatic ads on the side

  37. Stephen L August 25, 2011

    I watch these videos and see some of my future. I have been fighting the Canadian government for 18 years to get my life back. The scum bags put me in jail for a crime I did not commit. It cost my lady and I 3 business and everything we had.
    The trial starts in October and goes for 10 weeks. We will win but is sure is stressful. Then we move on in our lives. I going to build an engine that will change the rules. I’m also going to build us a beautiful home in the Greene & Greene style.
    It sounds crazy I know but with the engine I’m going to build I can change the world. That is if the powers that be that don’t like change don’t kill me first. We will see.

    Thank you for your videos they help keep me from going totally crazy and give me hope for a better future.

  38. Dieter Mayr March 12, 2013

    Hi Marc,

    I just wondered, when you cut the template on the table saw, you lose 2 times the blade thikness in hight of the legs.
    Did you take account of this when you prepared your template material?
    Of course, 2 cuts don’t make a noticable differnce at the hight of the table, but for me with a professional mechanican background 6mm (1/4″) are definately a lot of meat ;) .

    As seen in the last video of this series can be seen you put the table on a floor with tiles, and in a corner of the room. Im my house the floors are never that even that I could place a piece of furniture without laying some pieces of thin material under feet to make it stay stable. How do you deal with that, or are you in the envying position to have a flat floor ?

    Greetings from Salzburg / Austria

    Dieter

    •  

      Hi Dieter. The blade thickness was indeed accounted for. If I remember correctly, the bottom and top template received the “loss” of material and the vertical leg template was true size.

      As for flatness, we just might be lucky. The table needed no assistance in sitting nice and stable on the floor. If it had, I might just fold some paper and slide it in under the feet.

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