Simply-Made Trestle Table & Benches

We teamed up with The American Woodshop’s Scott Phillips to create a pleasing table and bench ensemble in an updated Colonial style. As a bonus, we’ve added a deacon’s bench to complement the table in a kitchen setting or serve as a stand-alone piece in a hallway or entry. We’ll start with Scott’s table and a special introduction from the builder and designer himself.

Overall dimensions:  34"d × 61"w × 29 5/8"h

The Tusk-Pinned Trestle Table

Since the log cabin days, kitchens (more specifically, kitchen tables) have served as the heart of the home. My trestle table follows in the footsteps of its Colonial predecessors. Simple but sturdy, this project is the perfect multi-purpose meeting place for serving meals, doing homework, or sharing conversation. The 34×61" maple top with curved edges comfortably seats six, with three on each side for family gatherings. (For a complementary seating option, see the deacon’s bench below.)

The tusk (or key) tenons used to pull the table and bench together are not only attractive, but functional. Back when space was tight, this knockdown joint enabled furniture to be easily disassembled and stored away, and then quickly reassembled when company arrived. But tusk tenons are useful even if you aren’t planning to store the piece in your closet. This solid joint is a cinch to make, plus it’s easy to install. To tighten the fit, simply give the tusk an extra tap during assembly. If that isn’t enough, trim the tenon’s shoulder, or adjust the angle of the tusk as needed.

To give this table the strength to shrug off everyday use and abuse, the sides attach to the foot and top support with solid mortise-and-tenon joints. But the joinery isn’t as difficult as it looks. As you’ll see, you can employ your drill press or table saw to do most of the mortising for you.

Start with the top

1 Select stock to make a solid panel that’s a few inches larger than the finished 34×61" top (A). Thickness 5/4 stock to 7/8", then joint one edge of each board and rip the board to width. (See “Squaring Up Rough Lumber” on page 64.) Next, rearrange the boards—try changing the order, or flipping them end to end—until you get the best-looking grain match.

Before glue-up, dry-fit the edge-to-edge joints of your panel and look for any unevenness or gaps. When everything’s ready, apply the glue, tighten the clamps, and then wipe away any squeeze-out. Finally, lay a straightedge across the panel to check for flatness and adjust if needed. Let the panel dry overnight before removing the clamps.

2 Mark the curved edges and ends with a fairing stick. (Refer to the Tabletop Detail in Figure 1. Most fairing sticks are simply a thin strip of wood bent by hand-pressure or sprung with a string. Scott’s fairing bow (Photo A) takes things up a notch. Adjust the bow’s tension as needed so that the sides and ends curve in about 1" from the midpoint of each edge and then mark the curve on the top (A). (See the Curve Detail in Figure 1.)

3 Cut along the waste side of the line using a bandsaw and work supports, or use a jigsaw. Next, switch to a spokeshave, rasp, or sanding block and carefully work up to your line. Finally, remove any remaining saw and tool marks by hand-sanding up to 220 grit with a sanding block.

4 Chuck a 3/8"-diameter round-over bit (see the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide on page 24) into your handheld router. Set the depth so the bit creates a slightly rounded edge, but not a fully-radiused profile. Rout both faces of the top (A). After routing, finish-sand the top to 220 grit.

Make the Sides, Feet, and Top Supports

1 Make a full-sized template for the sides (C) and feet (D) from 1/4" hardboard or plywood. To do this, enlarge the grid-marked parts views on Figure 2 on your template material. Or for a full-sized PDF, go online to (You’ll need to tape the printed pattern together, but that’s faster than enlarging the side (C) profile from the grid. Trace or stick the paper pattern to hardboard for a durable template.)

2 Thickness stock to 11/2" to make THE sides (C). Leave the side boards slightly wider than the final width (10"), but crosscut to exact length (271/4"). Once cut, use the template to trace the side’s outline–including the tenons and center mortise–onto both blanks. Use a combination square to mark the location of the tenons and center mortise on both faces of each side (C). A second set of lines will make it easier to check your work, especially when paring the mortise to fit the stretcher (F).

3 Thickness stock to 3/4" to make the top supports (B) and the parts making up feet (D). Cut the pieces to the overall size indicated in the Cut List. Now use a combination square to lay out the 3/4" wide, 6" long mortise on the top supports (B) and the 6" wide, 3/8" deep dadoes on the parts for feet (D) as shown in Figure 1. Put the top supports (B) aside for now.

4 Install a 3/4" dado set into your table saw. Before rabbeting in the sides (C), set the cutter height to 3/8" and make a test cut on both faces of a piece of 11/2"-thick scrap. Adjust the cutter height as needed so that the remaining tenon is 3/4"-thick. Now using a miter gauge, auxiliary fence, and stopblock, cut a 21/2"-wide rabbet at the bottom end of each side (C), as shown in Photo B. Cut the shoulders first, then make additional passes to finish the tenon. When finished, you’ll have a 3/4"-thick tenon for joining the foot (D). After cutting both sides (C), reset the stop and cut a pair 3/4"-wide rabbets on the top ends to create the shorter tenons for joining the top supports (B).

5 Cut a 6" WIDE dado, 3/8" deep in the four foot halves (D) as shown in Photo C. Once cut, apply glue to the inside faces of the halves, then clamp each foot half pair together. Make sure that the dadoes line up so that the tenons can slide into place. Once the glue has dried, apply the template pattern to the feet blanks and bandsaw the feet (D) to shape.

6 Bandsaw the side (C) tenons to width and sides to shape as shown in Photo D. Use an oscillating spindle sander, or a drum sander mounted on your drill press, to finish smoothing out the curves.

7 Drill out the inside corners of the side (C) mortises on your drill press with a 3/8" diameter brad point bit. After drilling, use a jigsaw to cut out the rest of the mortises. Stay on the waste side of the line and finish up with a chisel or rasp. Now, drill and saw out the mortises in the top supports (B).

Use a dado set to cut the 21/2"-long tenons for joining the foot. Attach a stop to your backup board so that the shoulders are even on both faces of the board.
Dado the inside face of each foot half to create a 3/4"-thick mortise. Transfer the dado cutter’s location onto your auxiliary fence to make it easier to align your cut. 

Make the Stretcher

1 Make the full-sized stretcher (F) tenon template from 1/4" hardboard or plywood (Figure 3.) Note that the same stretcher is used for the trestle table and bench.

2 If using hardwood, thickness stock to 11/2", then cut the stretcher (F) to size as indicated in the Cut List. (If using 2×4 stock, just cut to width and length.)

3 Install a 1/4" beading bit (see the Buying Guide) into your handheld router. Rout the top and bottom edge of the stretcher.

4 Use the template to mark the tenon onto both ends of the stretcher (F), as shown in Photo E. Once marked, cut the tenon in two steps. First, cut the shoulders on your table saw. To do this, butt the stretcher’s end against the table saw fence, adjust the blade height, then use a miter gauge and auxiliary fence to guide it over the saw blade. Next, set a fence and stopblock on your bandsaw to ensure that the blade follows your cutline and stops before cutting into the shoulder of the tenon. Now cut the cheeks.

5 Test-fit the stretcher (F) into the mortises in the sides (C) before drilling the mortises for the tusks (G). The exact location of the angled mortises in the stretchers (F) depends on the thickness of the sides. The mortises need to angle so that the inserted tusks wedge between the sides (C) and the outside mortise walls of the stretcher. If your sides measure 11/2" thick, follow the template, but if they’re a little off, adjust the holes so that their centers are exactly 1/4" away from the outside faces of the sides.

6 To drill the angled mortises for the tusk tenons (G), adjust your drill press table to 4°, as shown in Photo F. Once set, clamp a scrapwood fence to the table, chuck a 7/8"-diameter Forstner bit (see the Buying Guide), and then drill as shown in Photo G. Make sure that the hole is centered on the tenon and angled so that both holes (or mortises) tilt in when the stretcher (F) is installed in the sides (C).

7 Bandsaw the tusks (G) from 1" diameter x 8" long dowels. To do this safely, draw a pencil line diagonally across the dowel then clamp the dowel into a wooden hand clamp as shown in Photo H. After sawing, the tusk may still be a little fat. Sand down the tapered face until it slides into the mortise, creating a snug fit. While you’re at it, sand a decorative chamfer around the top end of the tusks. After fitting both tusks, trim the bottom ends so that both measure 6" long.

Use your bandsaw to cut out the tenons and urn-shaped sides. Saw close to the line to reduce sanding time.
Making a hardboard template to mark the stretcher tenons is quicker and easier than setting and resetting a combination square.
To set the drill press table to 4˚, prop a protractor against a small wood block and sight it along a straight bit.
Use a 7/8"-diameter Forstner bit to make the mortises for the tusks (G). Make sure the stretcher is oriented correctly so that both holes angle in from the stretcher’s top edge at 4˚.

Pulling it together

1 Apply a thin coat of glue to the bottom tenon of one side (C) and slide it into the mating mortise in a foot (D). Ease the joint together with a clamp, then drill two through holes with a 1/4" brad-point bit where shown in Figure 2. Apply glue to the 1/4×2" dowel pins (E) and tap them into place. Once pegged, remove the clamp and trim the pins flush with a flush-cut saw (see the Buying Guide), as shown in Photo I. Shape the outside edges of the foot/side assembly with your router and a 3/8"-diameter beading or round-over bit, where shown in Figure 1. Assemble and rout the remaining foot and side.

2 Insert the stretcher (F) into the side assemblies and insert the tusks (G) to lock the table base firmly together.

3 Place the assembled base on a flat surface, apply glue, and fit the top supports (B) on the top tenons of the sides (C). Clamp and square the supports to the sides and let dry.

4 Position the base assembly upside-down on the bottom of the top (A). Center it side to side and end to end on the top then drive eight #10×11/4" screws through each top support (B) into the top (A) to finish the assembly. Consider widening the screw holes perpendicular to the top to allow for movement.

The wooden hand clamp not only saves your fingers, but also prevents the dowel from turning in mid-cut.
Insert pins in the foot/side assembly to provide mechanical reinforcement to the joint. Then trim with a flush-cut saw.

Finishing Touches

1 Disassemble the table for prep work. To finish the top (A), we sanded to 220 grit and then brushed on a coat of General Finish’s Seal-A-Cell. Next, we applied three coats of Arm-R-Seal (see the Buying Guide for both products). For more finishing info, refer to “Working with Wipe-Ons,” page 33.

2 Prepare the base for a milk paint finish by sanding to 180 grit, then lightly misting the surface with water to raise the grain. Knock off any raised “whiskers” with 220-grit sandpaper.

3 Mix up a batch of powdered milk paint (see the Buying Guide), and then brush on two coats, steel-wooling with 000 between the coats for a smooth surface. (Allow about four hours between coats.) Don’t worry about brush marks, but avoid leaving any thick drips of paint. When the paint dries, these drips will flake off to reveal bare wood.

4 When dry, burnish the painted surface again with 000 steel wool. Wipe on a light coat of wipe-on varnish to seal the surface and bring out the milk paint’s rich color.

5 Reassemble your table. Now you can stop working on your table, and let your table work for you. 

Take a seat on a bench designed to match the trestle table. Templates help with the tricky cuts; tusk tenons make it rigid.

Along bench is a handy multiseat solution for any kitchen table. It’s easy to slide onto, making it more convenient than chairs when positioned between a table and wall. And unlike a pair of chairs, a bench can accommodate up to three people. Designing the bench to match the trestle table not only creates a matching set, but saves shop time too. As you’ll see, the table and bench use the same tusked stretcher. You can lop off a chunk of time by cutting both stretchers at once. Just remember to label each stretcher and its matching tusk tenons after fitting.

As with the table, you can save money by making the sides and stretcher from 2-by stock from your home center. If it’s available in your area, use untreated Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) instead of fir. Although technically a softwood, SYP is about as hard as soft maple, making it a good choice for a project that will see lots of use.

Begin with the sides

1 Make a full-sized template for the sides (A) from ¼" hardboard or plywood. Use the grid to enlarge the side view on Figure 1, or go online and download a full-sized PDF from our Web site at

2 Thickness stock to 11/2" to make the sides (A). Joint one edge of each board and rip the boards to width. Glue and clamp together the boards to make the blanks for two 17×323/4" sides (A). When the glue is dry, use your table saw to trim one end and edge to create a square corner to help position the template.

3 Position the template On the side blank, orienting the length with the blank’s grain. Now trace the side profile and mortise location as shown in Photo A. Use a combination square to lay out the mortise onto the blank’s opposite face.

4 Cut along the waste side of the line using a bandsaw or jigsaw, then machine- or hand-sand up to your line.

5 Using your hand-held router and a 3/8" round-over or beading bit, round the sharp outside edges of both side (A) pieces where shown in Figure 1.

6 Cut two seat cleats (B) to the size listed in the Cut List. Attach them to the inside faces of the sides (A), as shown in Figure 2, with glue and 11/2" long screws.

Make the stretcher

1 enlarge the stretcher detail (Figure 3 on page 23), to 200% on a copier, and then spray-adhere it to a 3"-wide piece of 1/4" hardboard or plywood. Carefully saw along the lines to make a long-lasting tenon template.

2 Using 11/2"-thick stock, cut the board to 3×44" to make the stretcher (C).

3 Install a beading bit into your hand-held router and rout beads along the top and bottom edges of the stretcher (C).

4 Mark out the tenons on both ends of your stretcher using your template. Cut the tenons as described on page 23, Step 4. Test-fit the tenons into the sides and then mark and drill the mortises for the tusk tenons as described on page 23.

5 Bandsaw the tusks (D) from 1" diameter ×8" long dowels. Sand the taper as needed to adjust the fit. Once both tusks fit snugly, chamfer the tops and trim the bottoms to create 6" long tusks.

6 Sand and finish the sides (A), stretcher (C) and tusks (D). If using milk paint, follow the steps in “Finishing Touches,” page 24.

Make the rails

1 Cut the upper rail (E) and lower rail (F) to the sizes in the Cut List.

2 Measure and mark the centerpoint of the circular cutout in the upper rail (E). Next, refer to the dimensions and grid given on Figure 3 to mark out a few points on the arched top edge then use a flexible curve (see the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide) to connect the dots and lay out a smooth-looking curve.

3 Use a 3" diameter Forstner bit (see the Buying Guide) and your drill press to make the center cutout on the upper rail (E). Use a bandsaw to finish cutting the arches along the top edge (Photo B) as well as the 3/8" radius at the top outside corners of the upper rail. Remove saw marks with a rasp, followed up with a sanding block. Work carefully so that you don’t accidentally dig into your smooth curve.

4 Chuck a 3/8" round-over bit into your handheld router, rout the front edges of the upper rail (E) and lower rail (F), and finish-sand the parts up to 220 grit.

Build a built-up seat

1 Edge-glue boards to make a 3/4×16×64" panel. Note that this panel is little larger than the 14×54" seat (G). You’ll use the extra wood to laminate the front edge and both ends so that the finished seat (G) appears thicker than it really is.

2 Rip the seat (G) to width then crosscut to length. Using the cutoffs, laminate the front edge of the seat and both ends as shown in Figure 2. Glue and clamp, or get a gap-free glue line by gluing and screwing the pieces in place, as shown in Photo C. Just don’t place the screws along the curved cutlines discussed in the next step.

3 Mark a 5" radius on the back corners and a 2" radius on the front corners, as shown in Figure 2. Bandsaw the corners, and then finish rounding the corners with a stationary belt or disc sander.

4 Chuck a 3/8" round-over bit into your hand-held router and rout the top and bottom faces of the front edge and ends (Photo D). Rout only the top face of the back edge of the seat (G). Finish-sand the seat up to 220 grit.

5 Apply a clear finish to the rails (E, F) and seat (G). We used General Finish’s Arm-R-Seal and Seal-A-Cell Satin. See wipe-on applications tips on page 33.

Assembling the bench

1 Insert the stretcher (C) into the sides (A) then insert the tusks (D). Give the tusks a tap or two to lock the base together.

2 Center the seat on top of the assembled base. Make sure that the front edge of the seat (G) is the same 53/4" from the front edge of both sides (A) as shown in Figure 2. Using a tapered drill and countersink (see the Buying Guide) drill counterbored holes, then the shank holes. Attach the seat to the sides with 2"-long screws.

3 Use 31/2"-tall spacer blocks to position the lower rail (F) and upper rail (E). Working from the bottom up, set the blocks on the seat and clamp the lower rail (F) in place. Center the lower rail (F), counterbore and screw it to the sides. (It may be easier to lay the assembly down on the sides’ back edges.) Reposition the spacers on top of the installed lower rail (F) and attach the upper rail.

4 Glue 3/8" plugs into all the counterbores and sand them flush. (See the Buying Guide for face-grain plugs.) A few touch-up coats of wipe-on varnish (dab more on to the unfinished plugs, and then wipe down the entire surface) will quickly make your bench ready for company. 

This second seating option, made to match the trestle table, also works as stand-alone seating for an entry or mudroom.

Here’s a bonus project to complete your kitchen set. Like Scott’s trestle bench, this seat is wide enough to fit three comfortably. But what makes it really special is that it’s designed for small kitchens or other nooks too tight for standard benches or chairs. In fact, the bench’s straight-edged back makes it perfect for positioning right against a wall.

Few projects are truly “weekend” projects, but this one comes close. We made the bench from 12 inexpensive 2×6×10s bought from our local home center. The back consists of pre-beaded 1×4 reverse-flooring boards, another home center purchase.

Working with framing lumber

Even though it was previously planed, construction-grade lumber is not flat enough for furniture construction. Preparing 2-by into furniture-grade stock will give you a good opportunity to practice stock preparation skills. Review “Squaring Up Rough Lumber,” page 64, then thickness the material needed to make up the sides, back and seat.

It’s important to note that kiln-dried construction-grade lumber can have a moisture content (MC) as high as 15%. (Furniture-grade hardwoods are dried to 8% MC.) To avoid wood-movement problems, buy your lumber ahead of time and give it a few weeks or more to acclimate to your shop. To speed up the drying process, cut your stock thick and leave it stickered and stacked in your shop. Finish jointing and planing when you’re ready to start building.

Build the bench part by part

The bench is made up of just four components: sides, stretchers, seat and back. Feel free to adjust the bench length to suit. Just make sure that the stretcher, seat, and back are sized accordingly.

1 Edge-glue stock to make the sides (A) and seat (F). Refer to the Cut List and Cutting Diagram for help.

2 Draw a grid on a piece of 1/4" hardboard or plywood and plot the side pattern shown in Figure 1. (For a full-sized side pattern that you can tape together, go to Cut the pattern to shape. 

3 Square one edge and one end of your two side glue-ups. Align the rear leg of the template with the square corner then trace the template on to each side blank. Cut the sides (A) to shape using a bandsaw or jigsaw. Finally, knock down the sharp edges with sandpaper or a round-over bit.

4 Cut both stretchers (B) to size in the Cut List. Using a pocket-hole jig (see the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide), drill holes every 12" along the inside faces, as shown in Figure 1, to attach the seat (F) later.

5 Stick the two sides (A) face to face with double-stick tape. Referring to Figures 1 and 2, carefully mark out the locations of the stretchers, seat, and back onto one side. (If you have cutoffs from the stretchers and seat, you can trace around them instead of measuring.) Using a 5/32" diameter bit, drill pilot holes for the fasteners through both sides. (To learn how to drill perpendicular holes without a drill press, see the Tip Alert.) Separate the side pieces, determine the inside and outside faces, then drill the different sizes of counterbores for the tapered plugs into both outside faces. Round over the edges.

6 Round over the top and bottom of the seat’s (F) front edge to make it knee-friendly.

Build the beadboard back

1 Cut the rails (C) and stiles (D) to the sizes in the Cut List.

2 Install a dado set in your table saw and cut a 3/4×1/2" deep groove along the inside edges of the rails and stiles. Now rabbet the ends of the stiles (D) to make a stub tenon (refer to the Figure 1 Stile Detail) to fit into the grooved rails (C).

3 Reinstall your saw blade, set the bevel angle to 8° and rip the bottom edge of the bottom rail (C), where shown in Figure 2.

4 Crosscut the beadboards (E) to 19". Test-fit them into the back panel. Rip the two outermost boards to create a 1/8" gap along the sides to allow for wood movement. Once cut, reassemble the back panel with glue.

Assembling the bench

1 Recruit a helper to assist with assembly. Tack a pair of scrap cleats to the sides (A) along the bottom edge of the stretchers. Stand the two sides upright then position the back stretcher (B) on the cleats, 6" in from the back edge, where shown in Figure 2. Use clamps to hold the base assembly together as you drill pilot holes and then drive two 1/4×31/2" lag screws through each side (A) and into ends of the stretcher (B). Repeat the process with the front stretcher.

2 Install the seat (F). Position the front edge of the seat (F) so that it’s 11/2" in from the front edge of the side (A), clamp it in place, then attach it to the stretchers (B) with 11/2-long pocket hole screws (see the Buying Guide).

3 Install the back panel. Rest the beveled bottom edge on the seat, then adjust the panel so that there is an even 11/2" wide reveal on both sides where shown in Figure 2. Use a clamp to hold the panel in place while you drill pilot holes into the stiles and drive 3"-long screws.

4 Dab the counterbored recesses with glue and then tap in the wooden plugs to hide the screw heads. After the glue dries, saw and sand the plugs flush. Finish the bench as desired.  

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