I first saw a unique table featured on “American Woodwright,” a show that features master woodworker Roy Underhill making projects with old techniques and antique tools. He said it was a table used by Irish immigrants in wagon trains in the 1800’s. I do not remember what series the table was featured on or the item number.
Sadly, all attempts to find the name of the table, an item number, series number or anything else failed. For reasons I cannot fathom, it is not listed in any of his books, nor available on DVD.
I never stopped thinking about it, though. It will fit in with camping gear, picnic gear, mobile furniture and modern décor perfectly. The original was made with solid wood planks; I’ve modified the pattern for modern materials and lighter weight.
It was made with two benches that piece together quickly. I will not give the pattern for the benches, as they do not appear stable with the original measurements. I prefer to use camp chairs with backs, anyway. The table sides and trestle bars fit inside the table for storage.
Make this table for an individual as with a 24-inch width, for two people with a 36-inch width, or a longer table with a 48-inch width. The 48-inch table is given here. Modify it to your particular needs.
Plywood and manufactured wood comes in exact widths, for example, one inch wide will measure one inch. Wood planks are milled (cut while green) to a one inch width, and will measure between ¾’ and ½” wide when dried. Therefore, most of the pieces for this project will require careful measurements. The pieces will then fit together as they should.
I nicknamed it “The Irish Box Table.”
This plan assumes the woodworker has basic woodworking skills, tools, and is knowledgeable about woodworking terms. Of course, if you don’t work with wood and know someone who does, perhaps you can persuade them to make one for you.
Be sure to read all the directions first before you begin.
To build this table, you will need:
• PVC primer and glue
• Four each PVC connectors, male threaded- these are also known as terminal adaptors or black plastic to PVC connectors.
• One pole, 10 feet long – ¾ inch schedule 40 pipe
• Four each ¾ inch threaded PVC end caps, female threaded
• Four drawer knobs, at least 3 inches wide with screws. You select the shape.
• Construction glue
• Drill with bits
• Hole-drilling bit (optional)
• Four each 2-by-3 inch hinges for table sides and screws
• Four each 1-by-3 inch hinges for table top and screws
• One each 2-by-4 foot sheet ¼-inch MDF
• One box galvanized or brass ¾ inch screws
• Three each 1-by-10-by-8 pine or oak board for table box sides
• Two each 1-by-12-by-8 pine or oak board for table sides
• Paint or wood seal, if desired
• Wood putty to cover screw heads, if desired
• One or two trunk or drawer handles
• One or two trunk or cabinet latches
• Double-stick tape
Make the trestle bar knob ends:
1. If using a metal drawer knob, use construction glue to attach the femle threaded PVC cap to the back of the knob, centering it so it works right. Allow glue to set for 24 hours.
2. For a wooden knob, mark the center of the PVC cap and drill a hole through it. Attach it to the knob with a little construction glue and the knob screw. Allow glue to dry for 24 hours.
3. Set aside for now.
Make the table box top:
1. Mark the center of the MDF and cut down the middle for two equal pieces, each 48 inches long. Because of the saw kerf- the width of the blade, the two pieces will not be exactly 12 inches wide.
2. Cut two boards, exactly 48 inches long, 9 inches wide from the 1-by-10. Clamp them together and measure the width. Record this measurement.
3. Measure the width of the two MDF pieces. Subtract the measurement from step number two and record. Cut two boards, each 9 inches wide and the recorded measurement long.
4. Attach the 48 inch long boards to the shorter boards with butt joints. The smaller boards will be inside the long boards, forming a box frame. Make two of these.
5. Make certain the boxes are level and square. Measure from one corner to the other diagonal corner on both sides of each box. Both diagonal measurements for each box should match. If they do not, adjust the box.
6. Once the boxes are square and level, attach one top MDF pieces to each box with the ¾” screws. Leave plain, or countersink and fill over screw heads with wood putty, trim or plugs.
7. Stack one box on top of the other with the MDF at the top and bottom. Make sure the edges are flush against each other.
8. On one side, mark four equal spaces for the 1-by-3 inch hinges. Set the hinges in place with double sided tape and trace around them. Mark the spaces for the screws.
9. On the other side, do the same with the handles, placing them on only one side of the box. Set the latch(es) in place with one side of the latch on each side of the box. When locked, it forms a case.
10. Remove the hardware, set aside. Drill the screw holes carefully and attach the hardware.
Make the table sides:
1. Open the box and set it upside down on newspaper or cardboard. Measure the inside width against the short boards and record. The measurements should be the same.
2. Using the measurement in step one, add ¾” (.75) and set aside.
3. Cut four boards, each 26 inches long from the 1-by-12. Using the measurement from step 2, rip boards to this width.
4. On one side of each of the four boards, mark ¾” in from the end, and nine inches down. This will be the cutout for the table top to fit onto. Cut out.
5. Measure five inches up from the bottom and five inches to the inside. Mark the spot.
6. Using the knob, measure across the PVC fitting. Drill a corresponding hole centered on that spot.
7. Lay two table sides together with the cutouts facing each other. Measure two inches from the top of the cutout and two inches up from the bottom and attach the hinges as in the table top steps 8 and 10.
8. Check the way they open- they should open flat. If not, adjust. Setting the hinges in the wood can help. They must open flat.
Make the trestle bar:
1. Lay the table top upside down and open on cardboard or newspaper.
2. Using the double stick tape, attach the table sides to each side of the box, upside down.
3. Insert the knobs through the holes, screw the female ends into the male ends.
4. Measure the distance between the place where the PVC attaches to the male connectors. (Some connectors insert inside the pipe, some to the outside.) If the connector is made for one inch of pipe to be inserted for gluing, measure from that point.
5. Remove the male connectors and cut the PVC pipe to the measurement length.
6. Dry fit the pieces together, attach to the knobs. The table sides should be tight, not bowed in or out. There should be tension on the pieces, but they should not pull apart when the knobs are tightened. With weather, the wood will expand and shrink, so make these adjustments now. I would cut the pipe so that there is approximately ½” total female thread that does not screw all the way into the male ends when tightened. This will allow for loosening and tightening with the seasons.
7. Glue the male connectors to the trestle bar.
8. Disassemble, remove the tape and re-assemble right side up. Is everything flat? Does it look ok? You’ve built a table.
9. Paint or seal the wood as desired, or read the following ideas to dress up your new Irish Box Table. The PVC trestle bar may be painted, as well.
Things to Consider:
• Paint the table, benches and table sides any bright color and use coordinating hardware for a modern look.
• Use cabinet making techniques and change the butt joints to miters, dovetails or other joint types. Get as fancy as your skill and imagination allows.
• On the face of the table sides, attach a one-inch wide MDF strip as trim. Remember that attaching trim at the top may require a change in the trestle bar length. Simply apply the trim with double- stick tape first. Set the table upside down and brace the table sides in place. Now measure the distance in between the sides and adjust the trestle bar so the threads are half an inch through on each side. If you change your mind, simply remove the trim and make the bar the proper length.
• Paint the trim a coordinating color for interest.
• Use trunk hardware, such as handles, latches and corner protectors. No one knows what’s inside, and it looks so cool. Remember to adjust the cutout on the sides and the table top hinges so the table top lays flat when opened.
• Always follow safety instructions with any power or hand tools, chemicals or sandpapers. Wear the proper safety gear and use chemicals in a well-ventilated area.
• PVC pipe, threaded connectors and PVC primer/glue are available at all DIY stores and online at PVC specialty shops.
• Use it in a child’s room as both a table and a toy storage box- or perhaps a college dorm desk that can be taken outside on a beautiful day to study.
• Make the table box frame exactly 12 inches wide and 48.5 inches long. Rabbet the inside edges and insert the table top as an inlay with MDF or other trim covering the screws.
• Square the boards first or cut them to length, then square the pieces together, and rip to the correct width for perfect fit.
• No matter what is written in any woodworking plan, always measure pieces, lengths and widths before you cut. Not all species of wood, in every part of the country, have precisely the same widths.
• If your DIY store does not have threaded PVC caps, make the female threaded end as follows: attach a plain PVC cap to the knob. Cut a two inch piece of PVC pipe and glue inside the cap. Attach a female threaded connector to the other end of the PVC piece. Adjust the trestle bar length accordingly.
• If your DIY store only carries ½” threaded PVC connectors, purchase ¾” to ½” adapters and attach. Adjust the trestle bar accordingly.
• For a table that will never rot, use manufactured PVC wood. The table may be heavier, though. One-half inch thick planks may be used.
• This table may be made with plywood or MDF, but will be heavier. A shorter table may be easier to handle.
Try making a few Irish Box Tables, changing the design a little each time. Give them out as Christmas presents, housewarming or dorm room warming gifts. Keep a few on hand for your disaster or camping kit. At Thanksgiving, extra tables are always welcome.
Source: Roy Underhill, “American Woodwright,” , PBS.org website, no specific date given, and series is ongoing.