Trestle Table and Chairs

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Project by djg posted 04-13-2015 09:56 AM 2603 views 3 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

After sitting at a bar height table for 10 years (don’t know what we were thinking when we bought it!), I decided it was time for a new dining room set. The top is what we locally call red birch. I actually think it is is just the heartwood component of yellow birch. When finished with tung oil and poly it really brings out the red color tones. It almost looks like cherry. The bread board ends are pinned using walnut and a couple of dutchmen highlight some checking in the wood. The trestle is pine, painted in black milk paint and finished with poly.

After reading many books about the daunting task of chair building, I decided I would design and build my own chairs. I really wanted to break a chair down to it’s simplest components. The Welsh/Windsor stick chair seemed to be a good starting point due to it’s simplicity: 4 legs, a seat, no stretchers, and some sort of crest rail with spindles.
Peter Galbert’s blog is a great starting point for geometry. Once you have the geometry of projections figured out, the chair becomes quite simple. I chose the rake and splay of the legs based on how it looked visually on paper. Likewise for the back and the shape of the crest rail. The chair is made from birch. The chair seat is carved using a method described by Mario Rodriguez of the Philadelphia Furniture Workshop. All the back spindles where created using several veritas dowel cutters and a home built trapping plane. The crest was steam bend using some 14% MC birch obtained locally in central Newfoundland. The leg tenons where super dried using a sand bed kiln made from a slow cooker. The legs are glued and wedged to the seat but they are not tapered. I have talked with several windsor chair builders that have moved away from this methodology due to the fact they have never seen joint failure using round tenons. We’ll see what happens.

-- DJG

18 comments so far

View jdh122's profile


1282 posts in 4280 days

#1 posted 04-13-2015 10:20 AM

Very nice. I like the chairs a lot. I’m about to start my first Windsor and am still trying to figure out the angles and especially the contour on the seat carving. Interesting way to create the spindles – did you split the wood out of a log for the spindles and legs or use lumber? The wood I have for my chair is all going to come from some white birch logs I got in a local park. I’d rather have yellow birch, but have to work with what I can find.
If that’s a recent picture and your snow is all gone outside you’re fortunate. Here in NB I’m still neck-deep in snow and likely to have it on the ground until June.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View djg's profile


160 posts in 3625 days

#2 posted 04-13-2015 10:35 AM


Thanks. I spent a lot of time consulting with a local windsor chair builder. He rives this spindles from oak which he brings in from ontario. Green wood is the best way to go. However, good straight grain stock is a good alternative for both legs and spindles. I went to the local lumber supplier and picked out as many pieces of lumber as I could find with good quarter sawn edges. I roughly sawed most of the good straight grained stuff from the lumber using a band saw. Then finalized the size using a table saw and planer. From on of the spindles I made up template for the dowel cutters. I passed the square stock through 7/16, 1/2, 5/8” cutters using the veritas cutters and drill driver to give a spindle that roughly looked like a proportioned spindle. After that, I used an old plane to make a sort of trapping plane to further smooth the profile and make the diameter transitions flow from one dimension to another. The spindles were then brough inside to dry further so that they would be drier than the chair seat before I glued it up. The 3/8 tenons were then cut on the ends using a 3/8 veritas dowel cutter just before glue up.

BTW, those aren’t recent pictures of the table. We still have lots of snow….but we’re not up to our neck as we were last year. Nonetheless, I do expect snow on the ground till june give the rate at which its melting…..

-- DJG

View rdwile's profile


167 posts in 3575 days

#3 posted 04-13-2015 11:18 AM

Nice work David, The colour scheme is great, I am just finishing a set in the same colours. I agree 100% on the wedged round tenons as the way to go for chairs, maybe its not “traditional” but technically sound.

We are starting the melt here in Halifax, looks like we will be seeing the ground underneath by the end of the week.

-- Richard D. Wile, IG: @rdwile

View Shanem's profile


130 posts in 3929 days

#4 posted 04-13-2015 11:54 AM

Great job on the works. How long did it take to make all the chairs?

View djg's profile


160 posts in 3625 days

#5 posted 04-13-2015 11:55 AM


Hey Richard, thanks for the feedback. Hope things are good in Halifax. The thaw started here a couple of weeks ago. I can see grass and the willows now have buds. Maple sap is flowing also! Temperatures have a long way to go yet before all the snow disappears.
WRT round tenons, just another detail, There is an interesting article (quite old) about round tenons in round holes. the article is in FWW I think. The article is called The Dowel Joint: Why round tenons fall out of round holes, and the elastomer compromise by R. Bruce Hoadley. It s a great article. In this article he shows where the joints are most likely to fail. This is usually in the direction of largest mismatched shrinkage. This is why you should always orient the end grain of the leg so the radial direction (less shrinkage) is matched to the long grain of the seat and the tangential direction is matched to the tangential grain of the seat. This way you have the largest mismatch along one seat direction, the direction which is wedged. the wedging may also do more harm than good in some cases. Wedging does two things. First, It expands the joint. The result is a joint that has compressed the fibers on the tenon and some on the seat. Beyond a certain compression, the wood doesn’t ever relax back to its original shape so as the chair expands or contracts under humidity, the effect of the wedge may actually act to open the joint too much under drying. Small wedges are sufficient. Larger wedges may not be better.

-- DJG

View djg's profile


160 posts in 3625 days

#6 posted 04-13-2015 12:00 PM


the chairs took a long time. Building 1 chair is fun. Building 6 is torture…somewhat. On an off, it took about 1-2 months with a couple of hours here and there in the evenings. There is alot of planning with chairs. I ensured my legs and spindles were stored inside the warm house before and after making them. Just a small fluctuation in humidity made the 3/8 tenons bind in a 3/8” hole. I also had an old slow cooker filled with sand that I used to super dry the ends of the spindles before making the round tenons.

-- DJG

View kimosawboy's profile


183 posts in 4434 days

#7 posted 04-13-2015 02:23 PM

I’m not sure if its the simplicity of the chairs (as you say) or the Trestle table design….but everything comes together really nice.
Sometimes stripping things back to the basics is the way too go. Less is more at times and you proved that with you dining room set, great work.
G Vavra

View david38's profile


3518 posts in 3806 days

#8 posted 04-13-2015 04:05 PM

looks great

View kaerlighedsbamsen's profile


1392 posts in 3176 days

#9 posted 04-13-2015 05:05 PM

Like your work a lot. Especially the chairs catches my interest. More “airy” and stricter lines that most you see.
Have looked at Peter Galberts stuff as well but his models are much more oldschool to look at. I allso feel that windsor chairs is a large task. Yours make it look easy.

Would you perhaps care to share a few measurements and angles?

Thanks for sharing!

-- "Do or Do not. There is no try." - Yoda

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4329 days

#10 posted 04-13-2015 07:44 PM

You have done a fine job on this table and chairs.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Woodbridge's profile


3755 posts in 3881 days

#11 posted 04-13-2015 09:26 PM

Both the chairs and table look great. I really like the look of the Welsh style chairs, simple but elegant. Yours have a very pleasing lightness to them, but I’m sure they are very robust.

-- Peter, Woodbridge, Ontario

View Mean_Dean's profile


7057 posts in 4610 days

#12 posted 04-14-2015 12:04 AM

Well, that’s a great looking dining room set! I’m sure you’ll have many fine, happy meals around it!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View CL810's profile


4298 posts in 4451 days

#13 posted 04-14-2015 01:37 AM

Beautiful design – great craftsmanship!

-- "The only limits to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - FDR

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17825 posts in 4081 days

#14 posted 04-14-2015 01:42 AM

Awesome, DJG. And chairs, too? Just… wow…

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

View djg's profile


160 posts in 3625 days

#15 posted 04-14-2015 09:35 AM

@Woodbridge and @kaerlighedsbamsen

I think I achieved what I set out to do: Create a somewhat traditional table with a modern look and simple chairs without all of the decorative elements of a windsor but will good proportions, interesting angles and simple lines. Some elements of the chair were originally designed around the golden ratio. For example, the ratio of the height of the (crest to seat) to (crest to floor) was about 0.6….but something looked off when you stood to look at it. I found this out on my mock up. I often find this: what looks good on paper doesn’t look good necessarily in practice. Although I haven’t researched it, I am thinking that perspective somehow plays a role. Reminds me of a documentary that I once saw on the Greek’s use of optical refinement in building their structures…..My chair seat template seems to have dissappeared. Its in the workshop somewhere. If I find it, I will put it up on the site.

-- DJG

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