Woodworking Projects

Build a folding card table


This top design, dating back to the Federal period, pivots 90° and folds open to double the work area.

Synopsis: This top design, dating back to the Federal period, pivots 90° and folds open to double the work area. This way of making a table eliminates the need for fly rails or elaborate support mechanisms, and it can be adapted to tables of many different sizes. The base is a simple design, and the top is made of two leaves, joined with hinges. Installing the hinges and pivot point may seem complicated, but Steve Latta explains it using a simple method.

During the Federal period, some card tables and even dining tables had a unique design that allowed the top to pivot 90° and then fold open, doubling its surface area. Building a table this way eliminated the need for fly rails or other elaborate support mechanisms. The design is pure simplicity, and I thought it appropriate for a certificate table that I made for my Quaker meeting. In the Quaker faith, the wedding couple signs their names to a marriage certificate that states their commitment to each other. All members in attendance sign the certificate as well in support of the union. I made a second version of the table for my home, and it has proven to be one of the most versatile pieces I live with. Near the front door, in the smaller position, it serves as an entryway table, holding keys and mail. Opened larger, it offers drinks and hors d’oeuvres. I can easily see changing the dimensions to make coffee tables or end tables with the same technique.

The base and top are basic in design

The base for the table is nothing more than four splayed legs connected to tenoned aprons. When closed, the top measures 15 in. by 24 in., has a 1-in. overhang on all sides, and displays a veneered surface. When rotated and opened, the top doubles in size to 24 in. by 30 in., overhanging the sides by 5-1 ⁄ 2 in. and the ends by 4 in., and is covered in leather, providing a great surface for signing the certificate. The folding top is made of two plywood leaves. I veneer one side of each leaf, and then, in a separate step, I glue a single piece of leather across the other side of both leaves. Then I frame the top with solid lipping and attach it to the base of the table.

Straightforward base

straightfoward base drawing

Add a frame and hinges

Once the two leaves are surfaced, you can apply the edging. The three exposed sides of each leaf get covered with a 1-in. strip of cherry mitered at the outer corners. Adding biscuits along the joint helps with alignment and slippage. The edging can be flushed on the veneered side of the leaf but I do my best to avoid taking that risk with the leather, since there is no easy touch-up to a gouge in the leather surface.

Latta clamps a thin ruler between the two halves of the top The space between. Latta clamps a thin ruler between the two halves of the top when he does the hinge layout, ensuring there will be a small gap between them when the hinges are installed. Without the space, the leaves of the top can pinch in back and spring open in the front.

Lay out and mark Lay out and mark. Pencil around the hinge itself to begin the layout. Then use a marking gauge to score the location. Do the layout so the end of the L with the steel link sits just a hair proud of the top’s surface. The rear edge of the knuckle should extend a hair past the folding edge of the top.

Contributing editor Steve Latta teaches woodworking at Thaddeus Stevens College in Lancaster, Pa.

Photos: Anissa Kapsales; d rawings: John Hartman.

From Fine woodworking #299

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