A contemporary-looking design that’s really from the 18th century.
by Christopher Schwarz
If you’ve ever been dragged to Ikea by your spouse (few woodworkers go willingly – except to eat meatballs), you’ve probably seen a table similar to this gateleg one. It’s been a staple of the contemporary furniture company’s line-up for many years. One Saturday five years ago, my family dragged me there to buy lamps and rugs. While they shopped, I fiddled with the table mechanism and wondered: Where did this clever idea come from?
After some research I was surprised to find this table in the furniture record all the way back to the 1700s. While some of the old gateleg tables I found featured carving and highly shaped components, the vernacular forms of the table looked just like the ones you see in Ikea.
I became charmed by the Swedish versions, many of which were painted bright colors. My version is based on several examples (culled from auction catalogs) that were dated to the late 18th or early 19th century.
Construction of the table is simple: The only joinery is mortise-and-tenon and screws. But getting all the components to nest together and move smoothly requires careful measuring and marking, so I’ll point out the tricky bits in the text.
How a Gateleg Table Works
The central base is essentially a mortise-and-tenon box. The base has two end assemblies that are joined together with four long stretchers. This particular table has two “gates,” which are mortise-and-tenon frames. The gates nest inside the long stretchers. The gates are hinged to the legs so they can swing out and support the dropleafs when in use.
The two dropleafs are hinged to the top of the base with strap hinges. Battens screwed to the underside of each dropleaf keep the dropleafs flat and rigid.
You’ll be surprised how little wood is required to make the base and the gates – my lumber bill was about $65 for the 30 board feet of poplar required. Because there is so little wood in the base, the joinery has to be quite good. That’s why I opted for drawbored mortise-and-tenon joints, which are difficult to beat.
From the October 2017 issue, #234