A Light, Collapsible Feast Table

Plans and assembly hints

Here are some pictures and plans of a table we've been using at our campsite for about six years now. The design was inspired by a similar table built by Joe Greco of Manteca, California. It's 70" long, 32" wide, and 30" high. These dimensions were dictated mostly by those of the bed of the Toyota pickup truck I had when I made it. It was designed to fit snugly between the wheel wells.

The table looks massive and heavy, but actually weighs very little and can be easily picked up and carried by one person. This is because the tabletop is actually made of 1/8" hardwood plywood, and because it is firmly connected to the leg assembly instead of merely resting on top of it. You can get away with wood this thin because the tabletop is also supported by five stringers underneath. My particular table is designed to accommodate the leg pieces and stretcher inside the top of the table during transport, keeping everything together.

Figure 1: Packed Table

Figure 1 shows the table in its "transport" configuration. Figure 2 shows the legs and stretcher removed from the recess in the table.

Figure 2: The pieces

You should be able to buy the wood at just about any lumber supplier such as Home Depot. I used a sabre saw and circular saw. Since you'll also have to cut a quarter-inch rabbet into the side and end rails, a table saw, jointer, or rabbeting plane will also be necessary.

Bill of Materials

You'll need:

One 4 x 8 sheet of hardwood-veneer plywood (we used birch). The final size of this piece will actually be 69" by 31", and you might want to have the piece cut to size with the large panel saw that the lumber center has.

The following dimensions for width and thickness refer to the dimensions that the lumber yard refers to, not the actual dimensions that the boards will be. A 1" x 4" board will actually measure 3/4" x 3 1/2" because the board has been milled and surfaced for you.

1 piece of 1" x 4" x 54.5" Oak or similar hardwood for the stretcher. This really does need to be a good hard wood.

2 pieces of 1" x 4" x 70" hardwood for the side rails. I used poplar and have regretted it; it's done the job, but has taken a lot of whacks and bears the scars, because it's a relatively soft wood I'd advise you to use birch, maple, or oak instead.

2 pieces of 1" x 4" x 30.5 hardwood for the end rails, to match the side rails (or not, if you prefer). If you're going to do a fancy-pants miter joint where the side rails and end rails meet, instead of the butt joint pictured, the pieces will have to be 32" long.

2 pieces of 2" x 6" x 45 1/8" softwood (Douglas fir or pine) for the legs. You'll be getting two legs from each piece. If you make the legs straight instead of curved on the bottoms, the pieces will only have to be 40 1/4" long, but I think the improvement in looks justifies the extra wood and labor.

1 piece of 2" x 6" x 30 1/2" softwood. This piece will be ripped down the middle to form the two stringers, each 2 1/2" wide, to which the legs attach.

3 pieces of 1" x 3" softwood for the intermediate and center stringers. Since this is an oddball width, you might not be able to find it. In that case, you can use three pieces of 1" x 4" and trim them to a final width of 2 1/2", or two pieces of 1" x 6" which will give you the three pieces which need to be trimmed a little, plus a spare.

Four hardwood triangles, or four steel corner brackets, to reinforce the corners of the tabletop, plus the hardware to install them. You can use any convenient scrap hardwood to make these.

One foot of 1" dowel.

You'll also need to drill some holes for the dowel, so be sure you have a 1" bit for your drill or brace.

Sandpaper, fasteners, etc. I'll leave this to you, but read the assembly instructions for some recommendations.

The Legs

Figure 3 shows a plan for the legs themselves, and figure 4 shows how you can get two of them from each piece of the lumber. Find your pieces of 2" x 6" x 45 1/8" and lay out the legs, using the full-size templates for the ends and center that follow as figures 5 and 6.

Figure 3: Leg schematic

Figure 4: Leg cutting plan

Figure 5: Full-size pattern for leg ends

Figure 6: Full-size pattern for leg joint

Now cut out the legs with a sabre saw if you're using the curved ends -- you'll find that a ripping blade works very well for this step. If you're going for straight legs, you can use a circular saw to rip the board, and use the angled-end template for both ends of the leg (omitting the hole on the bottom end, of course).

Now mark out the slot. You have a decision to make here. If you're very confident of your woodworking skills, You can make all the legs identical so that each will join with any of the others. I was not so confident, so I put the mating notch on one side of one pair of legs, and on the opposite side for the other pair of legs, so that each leg would mate with only one other leg. However you orient the notch, make sure that the template is properly oriented on the leg before you cut out the mating notch.

The depth of the mating notch is exactly half the thickness of the wood. You can cut them by hand with a cross-cut saw and remove the wood between the cuts with a chisel, but since I had a table saw, I adjusted the miter gauge to 9 1/2 degrees and the blade height to 3/4", and cut the notch by first making the slots on each side and then "nibbling out" the space between.

Cut out the mortise in each leg, using either your sabre saw, a mallet and chisel, or a 3/4" bit followed by a mallet and chisel.

Bore the one-inch hole at the top of the leg, and take a round rasp (or a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a smaller dowel) to enlarge the hole enough so that you have a loose fit with the 1" dowel you bought.

The Stretcher

Figure 7: The stretcher
Cut the tenon on each end of the stretcher, using the full-size template shown below. Save the cutouts -- you'll be making the pins from them ... two required, and two more for spares. Cut the holes in the tenons to accept the pegs, noting that the hole should be recessed slightly when the tenon goes into the mortise in the mated legs. This ensures that the peg will actually be able to lock the whole structure into rigidity.

Figure 8: Full-size pattern for stretcher end

Test-fit the tenons of the stretcher to the mortises of the leg assembly, and adjust the mortises so that they are directly in line with each other and of sufficient size to allow the stretcher tenon to fit them easily.

The full-size template also shows the dimensions of the tenon pins that you'll be cutting from the scrap. You'll need two of these, but you might as well make four of them so you'll have spares.

The Top

Find your end rails, and cut a rabbet into the inside top edge that is 1/8" deep and 1/4" wide. In other words, you're cutting a shelf for the tabletop to fit into, just deep enough to bring the top of the plywood piece flush with the top of the end rail, and providing a shelf 1/4" wide for the plywood to perch on. Cut the same rabbet into the side rails, but end the rabbet 1/2" short of each of the ends.

Now make the stringers, using the plans below. When you make the leg attachment stringer, cut your 1" dowel into four pieces and mount them into the holes in the stringer so that one end is flush with (or even a little recessed into) the face of the stringer. Now drill a pilot hole to accept a nail or screw that you'll drive through the top of the stringer into the peg, locking it in place. The top of he fastener should be flush with, or recessed into, the top of the stringer so it won't poke out.

Figure 9: Stringer dimensions

The little circles on the center stringer plan indicate where I've driven 1" screws halfway into the stringer. These act as pegs, providing a place to hold the length of shock cord that holds the legs and stretchers into the bottom of the tabletop. If you're using a different method of keeping the pieces together (or no method at all), ignore the circles.

Make two intermediate stringers. The long 3/4" notch is to provide space for the table legs to nest into when the table is packed for transport. If you're carrying the legs separately, you needn't cut this notch.

Figure 10: Assembled tabletop (seen from below)

With all the stringers pre-assembled, now is the time to put the tabletop together. put a blanket down on the ground to protect the wood pieces, and lay the tabletop plywood down on it, face down. put the side rails into position around the top so that the edges of the top fit into the rabbets. Fasten the corners together with your fastener of choice. (I used screws, recessing the heads into the side rails and covering them with bits of dowel to make it appear as though the dowels themselves were doing all the holding.) Install the hardwood triangles or corner brackets to stabilize this assembly.

Now slip the stringers into the frame. Orient the leg attachment stringer so that the mounting pegs are facing toward the ends of the table and are as far from the tabletop plywood as possible ... there should be a clearance of one inch between the peg and the plywood. Orient the intermediate stringers so that the notch, if any, is facing UP, away from the plywood. Now attach the stringers to the end rails. I used the same system of "hidden screws" that I used for connecting the side and end rails.

Now you can turn everything over so that the tabletop is right-side up. Now is the time to attach the plywood to the frame you just assembled. I did this with small brads, filling up the holes afterwards. You could also use glue (a product called "Liquid Nails" works well for this).

Finishing and Assembly

Your table is complete, except for finishing and devising whatever system you're going to use to keep the legs and stretcher nested inside the tabletop when transporting it. I used the best polyurethane varnish I could find, knowing that this table was going to get a lot of outdoor use, including getting rained on from time to time. Be sure to finish the underside of the table as well as the top.

To assemble the table, you put one set of legs together and slip the tops of the legs onto the pegs in the leg attachment stringer. Put the stretcher tenon into the mortise where the legs cross each other, and put in a stretcher pin. Assemble the second pair of legs and slip them onto the opposite stretcher tenon. As you push the legs onto the stretcher, guide the tops of the legs onto the pegs in the other stringer. Insert the second pin.

Figure 11: Assembling the table in the field

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