If you're hosting a holiday meal, a big dining table is as much a necessity as extra silverware and a seating chart that doesn't cause a family feud. But a solid-wood table can be a four-figure investment, so we scoured the home store looking for materials to help us build one that wouldn't dry up our gift budget. With the help of This Old House general contractor Tom Silva, we designed a generous trestle table that incorporates some decorative flourishes without breaking the bank. The legs are simply newel posts that were cut to size, stabilized with feet made from corbels that have carved scrollwork details, and connected by a stretcher cut from a length of handrail. Stock lumber and molding finish off the top. Spend a weekend making it and we guarantee you'll get as many compliments on your newest piece of furniture as the food you serve on it.
Shown: 56-inch red oak newel posts, 10½-inch decorative whitewood corbels, and poplar interior stairpart railing; Lowe's.
Paint: Valspar's Deep Earth.
Build a Trestle Table
Dining tables are typically 28 to 32 inches high. Make yours lower (or higher) by cutting more (or less) off the ends of the newel posts.
Newel posts: 2 @ 27¼ to 31¼ inches, depending on desired tabletop height
¾-inch birch-veneer plywood tabletop: 1 @ 36 by 72 inches
¾-inch birch-veneer plywood leg plates: 2 @ 12 by 12 inches
Handrail stretcher: 1, cut to distance between the legs
¾-inch quarter-round trim: 2 @ 36 inches, mitered (from short point to short point)
¾-inch quarter-round trim: 2 @ 72 inches, mitered (from short point to short point)
⅝-inch dowels: 2 @ 2 inches
1x2s: 12 @ 8 inches
1x4s: 2 @ 30 inches, beveled (from short point to short point)
1x4s: 2 @ 66 inches, beveled (from short point to short point)
2x4s: 2 @ 30 inches
Download the diagram and cut list to build a trestle table.
Cut the Top and Legs
Use a circular saw guided by a straightedge to cut the plywood tabletop and leg plates. With a miter saw, cut the 1x2 cleats, 2x4 stringers, dowel plugs, handrail, and newel posts to size. If your miter saw can't cut all the way through the posts, cut halfway through them, flip them over, and finish the cut through the opposite side.
Drill Recesses in the Feet
Fit a drill/driver with a ⅝-inch paddle bit. Holding the drill at a 45-degree angle, drill two recesses side by side that penetrate halfway through the back of the long side of a corbel, toward the adjacent short side, as shown. Repeat for all corbels.
Attach the Feet to the Legs
Glue the short side of a corbel to the base of a newel post, flush with its bottom edge. Hold it in place by driving 3-inch deck screws through the top corners of the corbel and into the post (drill countersinks first, if necessary). Drive 8-inch lag screws diagonally through the corbel and into the post, as shown. Repeat for all corbels.
"For a stable table, make sure the corbels measure at least 10½ inches on the long side."
—Tom Silva, TOH General Contractor
Add the Stretcher
Drill pilot holes through the newel posts and ends of the handrail. Using the ⅝-inch paddle bit, drill 1-inch recesses on the outside faces of the posts, centered over the pilot holes. Hold the rail between the posts and attach it by driving 6-inch lag screws through the posts and into the rail.
Plug the Recesses in the Legs
Apply wood glue to one end of a dowel plug you cut in the first step. Hammer the plug into the recess you drilled on the outside face of the newel post, letting it remain slightly proud of the surface. Repeat for the second plug and post.
Attach the Leg Plates
Center the leg plate you made in the first step on top of the newel post. Use a drill/driver and 3-inch deck screws to secure the plate to the post. Repeat for the second plate and post. These plates will give you a bigger, more stable surface for attaching the leg assembly in the last step.
Attach the Cleats
Draw a guide line on the underside of the tabletop that's 3 inches from each edge. Secure 1x2 cleats on the flat along the inside edge of the line, using 1¼-inch deck screws. Space the cleats to leave enough room to install two 2x4 stringers between the spots where the leg plates will be attached.
Add the Apron
Miter the ends of the 1x4 apron pieces to size. Apply glue to the ends and top edge of each piece. Set them in place on the underside of the tabletop, against the outside edge of the cleats, as shown. Secure them by driving 2-inch finishing nails through the apron and into the cleats.
Insert the Stringers
Set two 2x4 stringers on edge between the spots where the legs will be installed so that their ends butt against the long sides of the apron. Secure them by driving 3-inch deck screws through the apron and into the ends of each stringer.
Trim the Tabletop
Miter the ends of the quarter-round trim to size. Secure the pieces to the edges of the tabletop, flush with its top surface, using a bead of glue and 2-inch finishing nails.
Position the Leg Assembly
Flip the leg assembly over and place it on the underside of the tabletop. Make sure the leg plates lie flat, without wobbling or rocking. The legs should sit an equal distance from the short and long ends of the table.
Attach the Leg Assembly
Affix the leg assembly to the table by driving 1¼-inch deck screws through the leg plates and into the underside of the tabletop. Use screws in all corners of the plates and at least one screw along each side. Fill all fastener holes and sand the table with 120-grit paper. Prime and finish with two coats of satin latex paint. Apply a coat of waterborne polyurethane to the tabletop for more protection.