Thursday, 26 May 2016

Upgrading an X-trestle table, part 1

Medieval trestle tables are tables that can be broken down easily and stored elsewhere when the room was needed for other activities. However 'easily' should be taken with caution: surviving medieval trestles are quite sturdy and heavy, and the table top usually consists of a single plank of 5 cm or more thick oak - thus extremely heavy -, so many people were needed to carry such a trestle table away. Medieval trestle tables come in two basic forms: (1) Tables where the trestles (and the table top) are separate from each other. The trestles from these tables are stable and able to stand on their own. (2) Tables where the trestles are fixed to each other. These trestles will topple over if they stand alone, and need to be supported by each other. 

One of these second type medieval tables is the X-trestle table. These tables continued to be produced after medieval times and are often associated with (the refectory of) cloisters and monasteries. In the Netherlands, they became again popular during the 1970s when (artificially) aged oak furniture could be found in many households. 

A large French X-trestle table from the first half of the 16th century. The table is made from oak and beech and 275 cm long, 74 cm deep and 82 cm high. The table top consists of two thick planks. The trestles need to support each other with the mortise-tenon stretcher underneath. Image scanned from J. Boccador 'Le Mobilier Francais du moyen age a la renaissance'.

The trestles from this table from Burg Kreuzenstein (Austria) even needs more support from a stretcher and two footholds. The table also has a drawer, indicating that it was used as a writing table.

We inherited such a X-trestle 'cloister' table made in the seventies. The table originally was given as a wedding present to the friends of Anne's parents and was made by a local carpenter. Later they swapped this table for a more elegant Queen Anne style table with Anne's parents. There, the sturdy table served as a workbench in the garage. The table top was (ab)used for painting, storing pots with various kinds of chemicals, glue, etc. When we received the table, the table top was in a terrible shape with all kinds of stains. Luckily, these stains did not went deep into the oak, and removing some millimetres from the top also removed the stains, revealing beautiful blank oak (the rest of the table being ugly dark-coloured oak).

Thinning the table top with the Italian medieval plane. Initially I started planing using an electric plane, 
but this medieval replica plane worked much faster.

Left: You can now see that the table top consists of 4 glued planks. Right: Shavings of the Italian plane.

At that time we did not have space in our house for the table and it was stored (just like a medieval trestle table). When we moved to another house, there was space enough for the table. Moreover, we needed an even larger table to fit to our medieval chairs. So I decided to upgrade the X-trestle table with a  rim, just like the trestle table from Bruges. In the next posts I will tell how this enlargement was done.

And X-trestle table from the Chronicle by Diebold Schilling of Lucerne (Luzerner Schillling) completed in 1513.

Meanwhile, if you want to make an X-trestle table like the ones shown above, or an other fixed trestle table, there are several re-enactment or SCA plans to make such a table available on internet. For instance, from Tom Reties 'Blood and Sawdust' site has a guide on an X-trestle table; Charles Oakley (St. Jerome's Table), Matthew Power (a Tudor table AD 1520) and 'Baron Thorvald' (a 14th century trestle table) have their versions of fixed trestle tables, although some need to be adjusted for their suitability for re-enactment. As it is nowadays difficult (or impractical) to make table tops consisting of a single plank, using multiple planks with a breadboard at each end is a more convenient - and still correct medieval - way to make a suitable table top for a trestle table. See for example the trestle table from Goslar in a previous post.


  1. Fascinating. Is there any way to contact the guild?

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