On-Demand Folding Table

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This article is from Issue 20 of Woodcraft Magazine.

It’s easy to imagine this table brimming with enough snacks to last you through the big game on TV. But it can also be a great helper in the workshop, holding tools or materials to keep your workbench clutter-free. Best of all, the table folds in a flash so it doesn’t take up valuable space when you’re not using it. Making one table is a good idea, but building a set of four—or more—multiplies their value throughout your house.

Start with the legs and cleats

1 RIP BLANKS 1½" WIDE for the legs (A) and cleats (B) from ¾" stock. Referring to Fig. 1, mark the finished length of each piece with a 60° angle. Use your mitersaw or table saw to make the angled cuts. Set up a stop block to ensure identical lengths. 

2 MARK THE RADIUS on the opposite end of each leg (A) and cleat (B) with your compass. As you do that, you’ll also be marking the center point of one hole in each piece. Measuring from the end of each leg (A), mark the center point of the second hole.

3 DRILL THE HOLES with a ¾" brad-point bit chucked into your drill press, as shown in Photo A. With a fresh backing board under the workpiece and a moderate feed rate, you’ll virtually eliminate tear-out. (See the Convenience Plus Buying Guide for ordering info on a brad-point bit as well as a Forstner bit, an excellent alternative.)

Clamping a stop block to the drill-press table makes it easy to position parts for identical hole location.

4 Referring to Fig. 1, MEASURE AND MARK THE HOLES in the edge of each cleat (B). At your drill press, drill and countersink these holes. See the Convenience Plus Buying Guide for a smooth-cutting single-flute countersink for #10 screws.

5 CUT THE ¾" RADIUS on each leg (A) and cleat (B). Use your bandsaw to cut just to the waste side of the line, and smooth the radius with your disk sander.

6 ROUT 1/8" ROUND-OVERS along the edges indicated on Fig. 1.  Be sure to round over both faces of each piece. Note that there’s no round-over along the edges of the cleats (B) that will be next to the top (D). For maximum convenience and control, chuck the round-over bit into your table-mounted router. Sand the legs to final smoothness and slightly ease any edges without round-overs.

“You may be tempted to call this a TV snack table, but the basic design of this project goes back over 200 years. It was commonly used as a bartering table at the rendezvous of the fabled Mountain Men, who spent their lives hunting, trapping, and living off the land. Continue the legend by taking your table on your next camping trip.”

Make the stretchers and cut  the dowels

1 RIP AND CROSSCUT THE STRETCHERS (C) to the size in the Cut List. 

2 DRILL THE SCREW SHANK HOLES in the stretchers (C) where shown in Fig. 2. For the best appearance, use your drill press to countersink these holes identically. 

3 CUT THE ¾" DOWEL to the lengths shown on Fig. 3. Note that you’ll need two pieces 1½" long. Don’t sand the dowels at this time. You’ll want a snug fit where the dowels are glued to the legs (A).

Make the top

1 make the two-piece top as a slightly oversized one-piece panel (see "Perfect Flat-Panel Glue-Ups, page 38). As shown in Photo B, I had a wide board tht I used in the center of the 19" wide glue-up. Arange the boards you have for the best-looking grain match. Allow the panel to dry overnight then remove the clamps and scrape away any glue squeeze out. Cut a square end, then crosscut the panel to length. Finally, set your tablesaw fence to 9" wide and rip the panel in half to create the two-piece top.

Positioning a wide board in the middle of the panel then sawing apart the two-part top after glue-up effectively camouflages the folding joint.

2 ROUT THE ROUND-OVERS along the outside edges as shown in Fig. 3. Note that you don’t rout the edges or ends where the two halves butt against each other. 

3 SAND THE TOP up to 220-grit, being careful to maintain a crisp edge where the two halves meet. Lightly “break” these edges with your sanding block to help prevent splintering.

Begin the assembly

1 START WITH ONE LEG (A) AND THE TWO LONG DOWELS to begin assembling the inner pair of legs. Wipe glue inside the end hole, and press in the 15"-long dowel until its end is flush with the outer face of the leg. Wipe glue inside the other hole, and press in the 16½" dowel until its end is ¾" past the outer face of the leg. 

2 ADD TWO CLEATS (B) TO THE 15" DOWEL, referring to Fig. 3 to ensure that the angles on the cleats (B) match the leg (A). 

Carefully squaring the leg assembly will help ensure that your table sits solidly and folds smoothly.

3 WIPE GLUE INSIDE THE HOLES OF A LEG (A), and position the angle on its end to match those already assembled. Again, press the end of the 15" dowel flush with the face of the leg, and the end of the 16½" dowel ¾" past the face of the leg. Remove excess glue from both ends of the 16½" dowel.

4 ADD THE REMAINING LEGS (A) TO THE ASSEMBLY, placing them on the 16½" dowel. Referring to Fig. 3, you’ll see that the end angle of these legs is opposite those already assembled. 

5 LAY THE ASSEMBLY FLAT ON YOUR BENCH, and position the inside frame stretcher (C) 8½" from the lower tip of the inner legs. The inside frame stretcher has its holes 11/8" from the ends, and it overhangs the outer frame legs. Next, square the stretcher as shown in Photo C. Ensure that the distance between the legs is consistent from end to end.

Drilling pilot holes into the legs helps ensure that driving the screws won’t split the lumber.

6 DRILL 1/8" PILOT HOLES INTO THE LEGS, using the shank holes in the stretcher (C) as guides, as shown in Photo D. Attach the stretcher to the legs with four #10 x 11/4" screws.

7 TURN OVER THE LEG ASSEMBLY, and fasten the outside frame stretcher (C) in a similar manner. Check that the assembly is square and there’s an even gap between the legs.

8 GLUE A SHORT DOWEL into the end hole of each outer leg so that the stub points outward from the assembly. Add a cleat (B) to each dowel, referring to Fig. 3 for proper placement. 

Square the leg assembly and add the top

1 PUT THE TOP HALVES (E) FACE DOWN ON YOUR BENCH. Make sure that the edges are flush.

2 ALIGN THE ANGLED LEG ENDS with a framing square as shown in Photo E. Open the leg assembly until the square sits parallel to the bottoms of the legs. Clamp the assembly to keep it from slipping and center it on the top with a combination square. 

3 DRILL 1/8" PILOT HOLES into the top. Use a masking tape “flag” on your drill bit to help make sure that you don’t drill too deeply. Drive eight #10 x 2" screws through the cleats and into the top.

Finishing Advice

“Give the completed table a final light sanding, then remove all the dust with a tack cloth. If you’re making a shop table, I suggest a Danish oil finish because you can easily rejuvenate it. But for ‘family room’ quality, I recommend General’s Arm-R-Seal because it’s durable and easy to apply. Wipe on three coats, and your table will shine.” 


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