Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Collapsible Camp Table

As Loni's husband and partner in all things crafty and historical, it is my pleasure to guest-write on the Clearwater Cottage blog. As Loni may have mentioned, we reenact the American Revolution. Among our camp equipment, we have for the last two years eaten off a picnic table that we had scavenged from a roadside while visiting friends in Santa Clara. Though by no means perfect, it had a simple design that approximated camp furniture of the Colonial era. However, since it was by no means new when we found it, it has finally given its last performance at a reenactment. The table still stands, but is too weak to travel to and from events, especially since it must be dismantled for transport.

A replacement needed to be built and here is what I made:

We researched documents and plans of period tables, and decided on constructing a sawbuck table with removable legs. I drew up my plans based on our research. 

One of the shortcomings of our first table was that it was an awkward size and shape when broken down to try to transport in our car. Beacause of this, I designed the second table explicitly to fit in the trunk of Loni's CRV. The top was to be 54" long by 34" wide, with legs 27" tall (a height based on our own kitchen table as comfortable for dining).

The top would be built of 1x12 pine planks, and the legs of 2x4 pine and fir posts.The tabletop would be made of three panels of 1 inch plank, and the legs connected by a beam of 1x6 pine.

The workbench for this project was none other than the original picnic table we were replacing in camp. It still serves us well on the porch, with the balcony railing to help support and stabilize it. This build was to be done with hand tools. Learning from trouble with a previous camp stool project, I acquired some C clamps to make cutting and mortising more accurate.

To measure and cut the angles of the crossed legs accurately, I created a jig where I used masking tape to mark out a 27" square on my deck. I then placed the lumber across the square at a diagonal, so that it extended out beyond the top and bottom of my square.

I used a metal ruler to trace the line across where the wood intersected the tape box. When I went to cut the legs down to size, I used my steel measure to keep my miter saw blade cutting the correct angle.

Checking to make sure the leg angles line up.

The next step was one of the most difficult parts to get right. I mortised the two legs together, cutting at the inverse angle to the corners, and removing the wood to half way through the leg beam.

Again, clamps made all the difference.

Not quite there yet... Gotta keep chiseling...

Deadlines fast approaching, I borrowed a friend's skill saw and tried to take a shortcut on the other side of the legs...

...and I seem to have earned some negative reenactor karma from this, as my cuts were faster, but not as accurate as my hand-sawn miters. Nonetheless, with the cross legs cut, I hollowed out a hole to mortis the cross beam through.

These were level when I cut the tops and bottoms...

Wiggly wabbly table top!

Lesson learned: if you start a project one way, see it though according to your plan. Changing methods does not get you done faster.

Needing a break from all this sawing, I switched gears and moved to finish the top of the table. I chose a color that I liked, using a Polyurethane varnish that could give the wood adequate protection from its intended use and simulate the looks of period shellac.

Between coats I let the stain/varnish dry, then lightly sanded it with fine steel wool. Then came the second coat.

The cross beam was cut to be the exact length between the support strips under the table top, so as to force the legs to butt up against the strips. The ends were cut down to fit through the mortis holes in the crossed legs. The table is held together here using C-clamps, to test stability.

Now you'll notice in the previous picture the table legs are being held in place with a C clamp.  This is not historically correct, therefore I simply drilled a hole through the part of the trestle that comes through the legs.    I cut a dowel down to a reasonable length and then shaved off part of the end of the dowel for a tight fit.

Here's a close-up:

Lastly the legs needed to be painted, color of choice: Ordinance Blue (at Home Depot known as St. Francis Blue by Valspar) 

See how well it fits in the car! Now we have SO MUCH more room for packing all of our other reenacting stuff!

1st official use of the table for the ladie's tea at Colonial Faire.

It can hold tons of food for all of those hungry reenactors.

My wife made me pose for this picture showing off my handiwork.



  1. Bravo, Ben! I still can't believe how much hard work you put into designing & physically making that table. But the quality is evident and shows even through photos! :) I'm sure it will last through many seasons.

  2. Collapsible Camp Table. As Loni's husband and partner in all things crafty and historical, it is my pleasure to guest-write on the Clearwater ...


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