American Woodworker

Colonial Tavern Table

Build an Early American Classic Fit for Feasts or Family Repasts by Matthew Burak

Colonial American Tavern Painting

Table manners. Traditional proportions and details, along with an artificially aged milk-paint finish on the base, give this tavern table the appearance of a fine antique.

PHOTO BY PAUL ROGERS/STOttf. VT

I've always had an appreciation for archirccturc and furniture from before the Industrial Revolution, when woodworkers turned out crisp details and fine proportions using hand tools alone. When I moved from the West Coast to northern Vermont in 1979, my goal was to set up a custom woodworking business in an environment that favored restoration work and traditional design.

New England is a wonderful classroom for anyone interested in traditional building methods. Visits to the Strawbery Banke Museum, in Portsmouth, NH, Vermont's Shelburne Museum, and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts provided excellent examples of early American furniture. Historical associations like the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (141 Cambridge St., Boston, MA 02114; 617-227-3956) also contributed to my education. And I discovered some indispensable reference books, most notably Asher Benjamin's The American Builder's Companion. Wallace Nutting's Furniture Treasury; and the series, The Architectural Treasures of Early America.

I found the antique version of this table in the home of Wade Trcadway, a friend and fellow woodworker. Research revealed the well-worn piece to be a Colonial tavern table—a sturdy but elegant design that graced homes and inns during Colonial times. I liked the painted hardwood base, with its turned legs and well-proportioned aprons and stretchers.

The table's simple, three-board top, held flat with breadboard ends, rests on the base with distinctively broad overhangs at the ends. Its stance is sturdy but also graceful—yet another example of the well-resolved proportions used by Colonial furniture makers.

My version of the tavern table is faithful to the original in proportion and construction. The only change I've made is to raise the height slightly, recognizing that people are taller today than they were two centuries ago. My table has turned, William-and-Mary-stylc legs, but you can substitute other leg styles without compromising the table's traditional appearance. I've built versions of this table using Tuscan, Hcpplcwhitc and Queen Anne legs. (See phoro, above.) Til discuss the proportions and construction details in the text that follows.

Nice legs. The author uses a number of authentic />eriod legs in the tables he makes. The painted William & Mary leg was used in this dining table. To its left: three types of Country Sheraton legs. To the right of the blue leg: a Tuscan dining-table leg, a William & Mary coffee-table leg, and four Queen Anne legs. At far right: a Hepplewhite leg.

Design Guidelines

While tavern table height (the distance from the floor to the top surface) tends to stay in the 29 V4-in. vicinity, other dimensions can change. Let's think about the tabletop first. 1 don't recommend making a rectangular top for a dining table more than 36 in. wide. Anything greater than 36 in. and you begin to lose the ease of conversation that's often an important part of any memorable meal. Diners seated across from each other have to speak overly loud. If you need more surface area for holding serving trays and bowls, don't compromise the proportions of your tabletop; make yourself a nice sideboard or server instead.

The version of the table shown here will seat six people with plenty of room between place settings. For an eight-place table, 1 increase the length of the top to 100 in. I also increase the length of the base to 72 in. to maintain the 14-in. overhangs at table ends.

Although 1 refer to table size in terms of six-person or eight-person capacity, the nice thing about this table is that it offers an unusual degree of seating flexibility—a quality probably appreciated by tavern owners. Along each side, the tabletop overhangs the side aprons by about 5]/2 in. With the legs and aprons recessed to this degree, it's possible to pack quite a few diners along each side with little risk of bumping knees or chairs against the base. At each end of the table, the generous 14-in. overhang will accommodate the portliest of adults—or, in a pinch, two children.

When special occasions demand, it is possible to lengthen a tavern table by means of "company boards," temporary extensions supported by turn buttons and bv struts that extend into the end s aprons. (Sec top photo, page 32.) If you've ever noticed rectangular cutouts in a table's end aprons, this is what they are for.

Building the Base

As shown in Fig. 1, the base is an assembly of four legs joined by aprons and stretchers. Pegged morrise-and-tcnon

Assembling the stretchers. Burak glues a wedge in the medial stretcher tenon, which extends through the end stretcher.

FIG. 1: COLONIAL TAVERN TABLE

Oak Table Leg Stretchers
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