With anything other than square drop-leaf table tops, I form the table-leaf joints* and chop in the hinges prior to cutting the top’s outline to ensure a smooth transition across the leaves’ joints.
*The folding wooden ruler – from whence the erroneous term ‘rule joint’ derives – wasn’t invented until 1851.
Eighteenth-century table-leaf joints generally employed smaller radii than nineteenth-century and later examples. For 3/4″ thick tops, radii of 5/16″ to 7/16″ are typical on early tables, whereas 1/2″ or 9/16″ radii are common on later tables. The former look neater and the latter result in a thin and fragile top edge on the drop-leaves. The two joint edges are not bearing surfaces, so there’s no advantage in them being larger.
I measured the relationship of the face of one of the table hinges with its pin to establish the proportions of the table-leaf joints. I then planed modified 3/8″ ovolos along both edges of the fixed leaf and 3/8″ cavettos along the mating edges of the two drop-leaves.
With the hinges temporarily holding the three boards together, I scribed an ellipse onto them and then cut out the table top. The outer edges of the leaves were then shaved and scraped to a flattened ‘D’ section (fig. 1).
I cramped the centre leaf to the table’s frame and then bored and pegged it in place. With the table inverted, I swung the gates open to the point where the flying stiles were central to the drop-leaves. I whittled two simple stops and attached one to each leaf with a couple of wrought nails (fig. 2).
Fig. 2. Wooden stops will ensure the leaves are optimally supported.
During the eighteenth-century, much vernacular furniture was simply finished with oil, wax, or a combination of the two. Maintained wax finishes build to a very satisfying glow over time and indeed, the original gateleg table’s waxy finish was one of its attributes that initially appealed to me (fig. 3).
Fig. 3. The original elm gateleg table’s waxy surface.
As I haven’t polished many (any?) of the pieces on this blog solely with wax, I thought I would wax polish this table. I haven’t done as many wax finishes here in Australia as I used to do in the UK purely because it’s normally too warm here to make a successful job of it. The current frigid conditions are eminently suitable for applying a wax finish as the cumulative applications of polish harden properly, and quite rapidly too.
When I bought my glue pot (actually a beautician’s wax pot), I also purchased a couple of spare inner pots. I heat gesso in one of the spare pots and the second one is reserved for melting and blending wax in.
I made up some thin coloured wax and brushed it over the raw table by way of a secondary stain. When hardened, I carefully polished the table with successive coats of hard wax, being careful not to let it build up on the surface too much. After further hardening overnight, I buffed the table to produce a deep soft shine.
Fig. 4. The completed gateleg table.