Drop Leaf Table #1: An Old Drop Leaf Table

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Blog entry by Tom posted 11-20-2019 07:04 PM 587 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Drop Leaf Table series Part 2: Building the Frame »

My wife and I found this old drop leaf table at a local antique fair. I thought it was a nice size for a breakfast nook or a sitting table in the office. I was intrigued because it was obviously quite old and showed signs of being made with hand tools. I don’t know what wood it is made from, maybe just pine. It uses swing arms to support the table leaves and the drawer is nicely dovetailed. I could see gauge marks, hide glue and roughly sawn stock on the underside.

The table had lived a long life and had some repairs. It seemed that the top had a piece inserted with tongue and groove, perhaps because it broke from pressure on the swing arm. The drawer knob had been replaced with a rather old and crudely cast brass pull. The legs had loosened up over time and it looks like cut nails were used across the tenon to reinforce it. The top was screwed through into the top of the legs to help hold it down and maybe as more reinforcement for the frame. The screws and nails were patched over and the whole thing was re-finished to help hide the repairs.

I decided to remove the top so that I could shore up some of the problem areas a bit more, but also to understand the joinery. I used an oscillating saw to cut the screws holding down the top. I also removed the original screws in the rails which were set into chiseled notches in the old tradition. Although a couple were loose, I could not separate the mortises due to the nails that were added. There is some irregularity in the M&Ts as one shows on the top of the leg, while the others do not. The drawer rails appear to be a bridal joint on the top rail and I assume a M&T joint on the bottom rail.

Here are the tops of the M&T legs. You can see the tenon show through the top on one leg and nothing on the other. I think it was originally built this way, so maybe it was done quickly or by an apprentice. Seems like a mistake to me.

The drawer rail joints seem to have held up well and are quite tight.

On the underside of the rails, you can still see the mortise gauge marks in several locations.

Lastly, the hinges were installed in the traditional way using saw cuts and chiseling. The hinges were set with a variety of screws, some with points and some without. Maybe it was repaired this way or they are really old pointless screws, I don’t know.

The drawer is nicely dovetailed and slides on rails that are attached with cut nails.

I plan to remake this table as a learning opportunity. I will use only a limited kit of period hand tools. Stay tuned. :)

-- Tom

7 comments so far

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


16261 posts in 3183 days

#1 posted 11-21-2019 12:12 AM

Very nice pics and story, it felt like I was there as you were taking it apart!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View lightweightladylefty's profile


3448 posts in 4277 days

#2 posted 11-21-2019 06:15 AM


We’re looking forward to accompanying you on your adventure!


-- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

View shipwright's profile


8414 posts in 3363 days

#3 posted 11-21-2019 05:03 PM

What a great project and what a fine old table. Will you be using hot hide glue?

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Sylvain's profile


899 posts in 3064 days

#4 posted 11-22-2019 03:15 PM

Pointless screws.
They might have cut the points to avoid them poking through the surface. they seem of a larger diameter. maybe the original ones (with point) were loose.

-- Sylvain, Brussels, Belgium, Europe - The more I learn, the more there is to learn

View Tom's profile


88 posts in 456 days

#5 posted 11-22-2019 03:35 PM

Pointless screws – I agree they are probably cut off. That said, I think the repairs are actually quite old, so it could be that they used whatever they had around the shop.

Hot hide glue – Probably not on this first attempt. Maybe on the top glue up. I did consider the liquid hide glue in a brown bottle. We shall see…

-- Tom

View stefang's profile


16875 posts in 3899 days

#6 posted 11-23-2019 01:07 PM

This looks like a well made table and might even be a genuine antique. I doubt it is made of pine. Maybe it’s cherry. Well worth restoration in my opinion. I would point out that I am no expert or anywhere near that, but it might be worth your time to have someone who is have a look at it.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Tom's profile


88 posts in 456 days

#7 posted 11-23-2019 01:47 PM

Mike – I agree the it is genuinely an old antique table. We probably should retire it from daily use, which I might do if my remake turns out nice. I also think it is probably something other than pine. Maybe cherry or even mahogany. I need an expert to determine though, I’m not good at identifying wood in old furniture.

-- Tom

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