Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tables Refreshed

Some time ago I did a little research into period tables (Table) and I had a link to a page that is currently not easily accessible.  I wish to remedy this by taking the information from the Wayback Machine and bringing it back to life.  On the Middle Kingdom's Order of the Laurel Page for Master Charles Oakley, who the author of the following piece, he indicated the following:
"As always, all plans and articles are copyright free for SCA and personal use"
Taking him at his word, I am republishing his article "The Most Simple Period Table I Could Make", so that it can be found by search engines once more.  If the author or representative objects to this publication, please, feel free to contact me to remove it.  As always, enjoy!

The Most Simple Period Table I Could Make:
by Master Charles Oakley

Well... it's been a while since I've had the time to sit down at the ol' scribe's desk and write up yet another "Spiffing up your campsite" article. The purpose of these articles is to pass along ways of adding to the look and feel of the Society by incorporating into our encampments various items of furniture that have strong ties to "period" items... if not outright reproductions (of sorts) and that are, more or less, transportable. As always, if you find value in this, share it with your friends.  

One of the things that every good encampment needs is a table. Varieties of tables exist or can be seen in illustrations and paintings throughout various periods and cultures but most are a lot more elaborate than most people want to build. However... during a broad span of medieval history there existed a table so simple that anybody could build it and so portable… well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words so let me present you with some pictures.

The above illustration comes from a 15th C. manuscript titled "How a Man Schall be Armyd at his ese when he schal fighte on foote". Now the table is pretty well displayed but it is missing a couple of important pieces of information such as "just how many legs do the 'trestles' have... 3 or 4?" Interestingly this isn't a really big problem. Tables of this sort could have either 3 or 4 legs... but this one appears (to my eye) to be of the 3 legged variety. What can be clearly seen is that the trestle has two front legs made of flat pieces of wood broader at the base and tapering toward the top. These set into to fairly thick slabs of wood. It does not appear (another missing piece of information) that the legs go through these boards and so, it may be assumed, are set into pockets chiseled underneath them. A single broad plank is laid across the trestles to complete the table. The plank does not appear to be fastened to the trestles in any way.
So... what are we looking at? Six legs (flat boards), two flat boards that the legs fit into and one long flat board that makes the table top... 9 boards. How hard could this project be?
Step the First:

Gathering your tools. This is the easiest part. At a minimum you will need:
  • A saw
  • A hammer (preferably a wood mallet)
  • A mortising chisel...
Now, if you really want to get fancy and do things like round the edges of the boards, remove saw marks and stuff like that, you can add a medium to fine toothed rasp to the pile...
Step the Second:
Well, to start off with you'll probably want to decide just how big you want your table to be. Now, for me, I've got this plank of cottonwood out in the corner of the shop that's 15.5" wide by 48" long...  but, if you don't happen to have such a plank sitting around, it is fairly easy to edge join two narrower boards together to make a wide board... or you skip all that doweling and edge gluing stuff and simply get a couple of flat boards and lay them side by side.

Let see... you'll also need three boards 32" long by 1" (or there about) thick by about 7" wide. These will be cut to make the six legs for your table.

You'll need a couple of boards about 17 - 18" long by about 2" thick (the ol' 1.5" stuff works well but if you can find some real 2" boards they work better) by about... oh, say, 7" or so wide. The length of these boards should be an inch or two more than the width of your table top. These will be the top of the trestle that the plank top will rest on.

You've probably noticed that these dimensions aren't particularly exact. That's because it isn't really necessary. Make the table size according to what you need. There really is only one critical dimension in this project and that will be noted in a following step. The picture shows one completed trestle. Although the legs look straight they are actually tapered from bottom to top. 

Step the Third:

Take one of the 32" boards and lay out a line that runs from 2.5" from one end (along the line of the width of the board) diagonally across the length of the board to a point 2.5" from the other end (along the line of the width of the board. (Aw, heck... look at the picture in Shop Note 1). Cut the board length wise along this line... You now have two legs. Repeat this process on the other two 32" boards. [You should now have six legs. If you have any more or any less than this number you have done something seriously wrong and should start reading through these instructions again...] You may use the rasp at this point, assuming you chose to use a rasp in the first place, to round the edges and smooth the saw marks on the legs.

Step the Fourth:

  Take the 2" material and lay out lines where you plan to cut the mortises that will hold the legs of your table. The mortises should be laid out in a pattern similar to that in Shop note 2. The easiest way I've found to mark the mortises is to set the end of the leg on the board where you want to go and, using the edge of the mortising chisel, scribe around the leg. This is that critical measurement I told you about... the better the mark and the closer you can cut to it the better the leg will fit and the less "play" you'll have in the legs of your table. Then, using the mallet and the chisel cut each mortise to a depth of about 2/3's of the thickness of the material. When you're cutting the mortises the cuts should be made in a two step process. First, cut the mortises with straight sides to the appropriate depth. After the mortise has been cut, angle the long inside edge of the mortise back so that the base of the mortise is larger than the top of the mortise. Shop note 3 shows the first step as dashed lines and the second step as dots. This angled cut will allow the leg to kick out at the base and spread the weight better. The angled cut should only go back about a quarter to 3/8".
Step the Fifth:

O.k... assemble the table. 
Hummm... good question. I've never actually seen the underside of a table constructed this way. All of the pictures I've seed show flat legs disappearing under a thick plank or a table top of some sort... so the details of how the mortises are cut is really the only piece of conjecture. The angled undercut on the base of the mortise comes from my own experimentati on. I found that the undercut adds a small amount of rigidity to the structure (if the mortises are cut tightly to the leg). Taking a small (matching) wedge shaped piece off of the end of each leg where it inserts into the mortise will also help a bit. Ya' know... looking at the picture, I think I need a longer table top... wonder what I have laying around in the other corner of the shop???
Have fun... make stuff -

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