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Woodworking with P. Michael Henderson


Expanding Kitchen Table

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My wife, Norma, wanted to replace the table in our kitchen but she wanted something with a bit more style than the Ikea table we had, and she wanted a table that could be expanded to accommodate a larger group when we had guests.

I never liked expansion tables with leaves because of the need to store the leaves. Invariably, the leaves get scratched in storage and they wind up a different color because of the different exposure to light, since the leaves are usually in the closet.

When I began the design of the table, I had several goals.


  1. The table should be “completely contained.” That is, the parts required for expanding the table should be included as part of the table. No closet storage necessary.

  2. The table should have a significant expansion factor. I wanted a table that could expand to a full 72 inches in length, but could serve as a table for two to four in the kitchen when closed.

  3. The base should maintain its proportion to the top when open or when closed. Leaf type tables do this but certain other types of expansion tables do not.

  4. The apron should be continuous when open or closed for visual appeal. Some leaf-type expansion tables have the apron parts attached to the leaves so that there will not be any apron gaps when the leaves are installed, but this requires more space for storage of the leaves.

The requirement for being completely contained eliminated leaf type expansion tables. I reviewed the literature on expansion tables before designing my own but didn’t find exactly what I was looking for.

One type of completely contained table is the “butterfly leaf” expansion table where the leaf folds in two and tucks under the table top (see FWW #94, pages 50-54). However, this type of table works like a pedestal table, so its base does not maintain its proportion between open and closed. That is, the base stays the same size no matter whether the table is open or closed. Additionally, the expansion of the table is limited to one leaf.

Antique fold-over top card tables were interesting but the technique for supporting the top did not work well. Two techniques are used, an accordion fold apron and a gate leg. The gate leg tends to wind up in the place where people sit, while the accordion fold apron is just too weak to work as a kitchen table. An accordion table works well for the light loads of a card table but would not be safe for Thanksgiving dinner. See “An Expanding Table” in FWW #165, pages 38-40 and “Convertible Furniture” in FWW #93, pages 68-71 for two fold-top tables.

The design I eventually developed includes the fold over top of an antique card table but uses table extenders (or slides), as are used on leaf-type extension tables. Let me see if I can describe the construction with the help of pictures.

Figure 1 – Table closed. Note the fold over top.

Figure 1 shows the table in its closed form. The top is a fold-over, which makes the top double thickness when closed. Ebony strips have been inlaid in the side to break up the thick appearance. The size of the top is 36 by 42 inches. The top is pecan veneer with a border of 1/2 inch ebony veneer.

I wanted to do an inlay in the center of the table, a geometric design based on a quilt pattern, but Norma talked me out of it. If I had done it, I would have reflected the same design in the open table, with half of the inlay on each section of the top, so the inlay would be centered on the open top. I think she was right, that the table would have been too busy, but I may use the idea in a future less formal (fun) table - maybe a Formica top table with a wood veneer inlay.

Figure 2 – The table open. Note that the apron is continuous and the proportion
of the base to the top is maintained – there is the same overhang as with the top closed.

In figure 2, the table is shown open. When open, the top is 42 by 72 inches, double the size when closed. Soss hidden hinges are used to hinge the tops. The apron is continuous when open and the table top has the same overhang as when the table is closed. In effect, the table looks “finished” whether it is open or closed.

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