Mother Builds a Butler Table

Here are concise assembly instructions for a butler table, a functional yet attractive piece of serving furniture.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
May/June 1980
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Diagram shows the dimensions and total number of pieces you will need to cut for the butler table.
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The butler table was designed hundreds of years ago . . . no doubt to make it easy for "the help" to deliver milord and milady's teatime victuals. It was, after all, a simple matter to load the table's removable tray with goodies in the kitchen, and then deposit it — atop its waiting legs — before a hungry group of nobles.

Even today, in our self-serve society, antique reproduction butler tables are often found in American households. And, when you think about it, the convertible furnishings actually have dozens of potential uses . . . from serving breakfast in bed to transporting bowls of midnight popcorn. What's more, we believe you'll find that MOTHER EARTH NEWS' mini-mobile groaning board is an uncomplicated but satisfying shop project . . . as well as a treat for the eyes!

Keep the Cost Down

Money-wise woodworkers buy large boards and divide them . . . instead of paying the added board-footage charge for cut-to-size lumber. For example, if you're willing to rip two eight-foot 1 X 8's into pieces of the proper size you can avoid the additional expense of having to buy two (closer-to-size) 1 X 4's plus one 1X8.

Take It From the Bottom

The table's legs and braces are held together by 5/16" X 1 1/2" fluted dowels. (NOTE: Since the wooden pegs enter the corner posts from two different directions, the 3/4"-deep holes must be "staggered" or the pairs of plugs will run into each other.) The dowels should be glued into the holes, and the contact surfaces between the boards must also be bonded. Once all the pieces are glued and slipped together, apply pressure to the assembly with either four bar clamps or a strap clamp. (A tip: If you have trouble keeping the legs square, just tack thin strips of wood — such as split lath or 1/4" dowel — between the feet to hold them in position until the adhesive has set.)

And Continue on Top

The holes for the 1/4" X 1 1/4" fluted doweling — which holds the various parts of the table's top together — must be very carefully aligned or the ends of the boards won't square up. So, before you do any drilling, lay out the various sections and mark them . . . allowing for two dowels in each long dimension and one in each of the shorter sides.

Start assembling the tray section by joining two 6 1/4" X 10 1/4" boards with a 2" X 10 1/4" section between them. Now secure a 2" X 14 1/2" segment to each side of the three-piece unit. Then construct another three-board assembly, attach it to the already assembled five-piece portion, and affix the last 2" X 14 1/2" plank to your platform's "unoccupied" edge. Complete the tabletop by adding the 2" X 26 1/2" side boards, and clamp the assembly securely while the glue dries.

Once the bonder has set sufficiently, remove the clamps and lay the joined boards upside down on your workbench.

Position the base unit, legs up, on the top (leaving about 1/4" space all around) and scribe a line — on the underside of the platform — around the inside of the base's boards. Then, using leftover scraps of wood, make 3/4" X 1" X 2" cleats and fasten them along the pencil line with wood screws, two to each corner. (These pieces will prevent the top from sliding on the base, while still allowing for its easy removal.

Folding Handles

One simple way to form an accurate curve for the foldup handles is to make a template from a piece of cardboard. Cut out one 3 1/2" X 18 1/2" chunk of the paper product and another that's 3 1/2" X 26 1/2" . . . and fold each one in half end to end. Once you slice out a suitable curve on both templates, the unfolded cardboard pieces will provide symmetrical arcs.

To make the hand grips just locate the center of each board's long dimension, move in 1 1/4" from the curved side, and bore a 1" hole. Drill another 1° opening on each side of the centered one, then file out the rest of the finger slot with a rasp.

Surface Finishing

Attach the handles to the tabletop with four pairs of brass hinges (the locking type is best), sand the wood to an even surface, apply a coat of polyurethane varnish, and rub the whole thing out with 0000 steel wool. Now you're ready for some high-class serving . . . don't forget the white towel and ice bucket!


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