Trestle Table

A look at a sawhorse style trestle table for reenactment use.

One of the projects that has been on my to do list for some time is a trestle table to replace the table I currently use. Not a particularly difficult task, just one I kept putting off. With the “Intro to woodworking classes” I have been doing online it seemed a perfect time to do so.

The specific video for this project is here

If you do a search for trestle tables on the internet you will find two main types of table displayed. The first is the type where a table top is supported by two pillars, often with a connecting beam parallel to the table top, the second is the type this article is about. The three legged or sawhorse style of trestle as depicted above. The picture above is from The Saint Thomas Guild site and depicts a 15th century table found in the Bruges museum in Belgium.

I used this table as my starting point. For experienced woodworkers this table is pretty straightforward, triangular front, horizontal top bar and an angled back leg. I decided for the level I was aiming my class at I would make it a little simpler. This is what I can up with.

These trestles were made from reclaimed oak. I purchased a bunch of rough oak that had been used as dunnage for rebar some time ago and pulled it out for this project. The beams were roughly 4×4 and planed down to finished size of a bit over 3×3. Based on that I dimensioned my table. I wanted a finish height comperable with my modern dinner table which is 32″, minus the 3/4″ for my intended table top I found my height to be 31.25″.

My pieces are all based on a true 3×2 except for the top bar which is true 2×2, and the pieces holding the front legs together is nominal 1″ Using a CAD program made short work of my layout. Wanting a minor angle of 9 degrees throughout made it easy to work with, most of my thicknesses meant a 5/8″ difference from one side to the other equaled the 9 degrees.

I milled up a total of 6 3×3 pieces for the legs, 2 2×2 pieces for the top bars, and a strip of 4″x1″x4′ oak for the front connections. First I took the top bar and measured back 2″ from the end and marked a 3/4″ section on both sides. This section would be where I removed 1/4″ on either side to thin the bar to 1 1/2″ to fit the top slot of the front triangular legs. I moved to the back of the bar and on the same sides a the front I measured in 4″ from the back and then a 2″ section. This section is angled towards the front at a 9″ angle to accept the tilted rear leg. From this area I removed 1/4″, like the front, for the rear leg to seat into.

Front legs, top bar(side view), and back leg.
Front legs, top bar (top view), and back leg.

From there I moved to the back. The back leg was also relatively straight forward. I needed a trapezoid 3x2x2’7″ with a 9 degree slope on top and bottom and a 2″x1.5″ slot cut in the top of the wide face.

Back leg , wide view

Back leg, side view

Once I had these two pieces and they fit together nicely it was time to tackle the front.

I started with the top and bottom connector bars out of the 1″ oak. The top connector was cut to a rough blank 7 1/4″ wide by 4″ tall. I cut the ends off at a 9 degree angle to give me a trapezoid 4″ tall with a bottom 7 1/4″ wide and a top 6″ wide. A notch 1 1/2″ wide by 2″ deep is cut into the center of the piece to hold the top bar. A 3/4″ set back is marked from the angled ends on both sides and both faces and then trimed down to a true 3/4″ thick tenon to connect with the mortice in the legs.

Top connection

Creating the tenon like this is not critical, if you chose to instead leave the piece full thickness you can easily do so by making the mortice appropriately large to fit. The benefit to the thinner tenon is it allows the shoulders to mate well against the legs and will hide any issues with the mortice becoming irregular.

The bottom connector is similar to the top but is easier. There is no center notch cut. You will need a piece 1′ 2 5/16″ long by 4 wide. You will again cut a 9 degree angle on the end giving you a top dimension of 1′ 1 1/16″. Trim the thickness of the end to for a tenon following the method you used for the edges of the top piece.

Top and bottom connections pegged and glued in place.

The last pieces will be the front legs. The legs will be mirror images of each other. On the inside face of the leg at the top measure in 1″ and layout a mortice that will be flush with the top of the leg and go down 4 1/16″. The width of the mortice will be equal to your tenon. You can use your tenon to trace around to mark your mortice. The mortice will be 3/4″ deep and the connection should fit snuggly. Once you have done the top, move to the bottom. My preference is to do both top mortices and fit the legs and top connector together. You can then use your bottom connector to lay out where it will go by setting the tenon on the face of both legs and sliding up until both side seat firm. Mark that as the top, measure in 1″ from the face of the legs, thickness to the specific tenon and cut your mortice.

These mortices will be a little tricky. Unlike most mortice and tenons they are angled so that the connectors are parallel to the floor. You will need to cut the top and bottom accordingly. You can, if you wish, trim the tenon to make it fit but the joint will be stronger if you make the mortice precise.

Now all of the pieces should be cut, a dry fit will revel any spots that need to be worked on for a tight fit. Once you have done all your fine tuning its time to glue everything together and clamp it until the glue sets. As you might notice you have two angled sides which make clamping difficult. There are a few ways to address this.

First method is not something I have a lot of experience with. You can cut wedges that will by attached to the legs with hot melt glue to create flat places for your clamps to attach. As I have said, it’s not a method I have tried but there are a number of videos out there that advocate the practice. After the joints are dry, you knock the wedges of, smooth it over and move on.

A second method is to attach blocks to a flat surface, like a piece of plywood perhaps. Angle the blocks so that your leg assembly will touch both sides of the blocks with a third bar at the parallel with the bottom of the connector pieces. You can then use wedges to between the bottom of the feet and the third bar to force the assembly up and in to put equal pressure all around.

A final method is to use the dowels to hole it together and the glue as a second string or back up method. lay out your dowel holes on the legs, drill them out being careful to remain square and plumb. Fit the top and bottom rails in place and mark where the dowel holes are. Drill holes in the top and bottom rails but offset them about 1/32 of an inch closer to the shoulder of the tenon. The slight offset will act as a drawbore to snug the pieces in tight. Glue everything up and drive your dowels. Flush the dowels with the surface, let the glue fully dry, sand, plane, scrape, or otherwise bring your final appearance to your preferred state and apply finish.

Clickable pdf drawings of the plans below

I hope these images will help and can be read. If you have any difficulties please let me know in the comments or at AMRWoodCraft@gmail. com


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