With this particular style of gateleg table – where the gates pivot within the table’s frame – it is important that the gates do not impinge upon the lowered leaves when closed. To this end, the flying gate stile and lower gate rail are halved where they intersect to allow the gate to close flush with the frame (figs.1 & 2).
Fig. 1. Halved flying gate stile and lower gate rail. (Wakelin & Linfield)
Fig. 2. Gate closed flush with table frame. (Wakelin & Linfield)
There are a couple of variations in the upper hinge rail with this type of table; the simplest of which, again, has the upper frame rail (the same thickness as the legs) halved to accept the halved flying gate stile (figs. 3 & 4).
Fig. 3. Full thickness upper hinge rail halved to accept flying stile. (Christie’s)
Fig. 4. Flying stile halved into full thickness upper hinge rail. (Bonhams)
Full thickness upper hinge rails offer the same advantage in accommodating the gate’s pivot holes as the lower hinge rails; however, not all gateleg tables made use of full thickness upper rails.
A great many gateleg tables – my Queen Anne elm table included – employed substantially thinner upper hinge rails which presents the problem of the upper pivot hole location.
One solution was to nail or screw a doubling block onto the face of the frame rail (fig. 5) and bore the pivot hole into the combined rail and block. Nails and screws can, over time, corrode away to nothing in oak due to its high tannin content – with predictable results.
Fig. 5. Doubling block screwed to face of upper hinge rail. (Christie’s)
Nailing or screwing a wide pivot block to the underside of the hinge rail was another common method (fig. 6).
Fig. 6. Pivot block attached to the underside of the hinge rail. (Bonhams)
Letting a captive pivot block – such as an H-shaped block – into the bottom edge of the upper hinge rail offered good lateral support for the gate while obviating the requirement for nails or screws. The Queen Anne elm table that I’m copying has, what appear to be, inset pivot blocks in its upper hinge rails (fig. 7), though their lack of substance would indicate they are not of the H-shaped variety.
Fig. 7. Pivot block on the Queen Anne elm table. (Robert Young)
In light of the quality of the Queen Anne elm table, I tend to think the blocks are dovetailed into the rails (fig. 8). No glue or fasteners are necessary as the dovetailed blocks are a hammer-in fit in the rails. Should the blocks or rails ever shrink to the point where the blocks become loose, the hinge stiles would prevent them from dropping down.
Fig.8. Dovetailed pivot block let into upper frame rail (photographed upside down).
“Why”, you might ask, “is it necessary for the drop leaves to cling to the side of the table’s frame? Why can’t they sit further out from the frame, creating more space for simpler hinging of the gates”?
There are two reasons why the width of the fixed leaf should be kept to a minimum. Firstly, due to the nature of hinging drop leaves, the unsupported edges of the fixed leaf already overhang the table’s frame by an appreciable amount (fig. 9). Increasing the overhang to accommodate an alternative gate system would place the fixed leaf’s edges in a precarious position. When the table is in use, the edges of the fixed leaf are subject to stresses which can, on occasion, result in their breaking.
Fig. 9. (Moxhams)
The second consideration is aesthetics: if the fixed leaf – and by association, the table-leaf joint and hinges – overhang the frame unduly, the drop leaves will dangle in a rather lugubrious configuration (figs. 2, 10 & 11).
Fig. 10. Converging drop leaves. (Bonhams)
There is also the possibility the partially unsupported fixed leaf may not remain flat, resulting in an undulating top (figs. 11 & 12).
Fig. 11. Cupped top and converging drop leaves. (Bonhams)
Fig. 12. Cupped top. (Bonhams)