Building a Trestle Table - Dining Table — VanVleet Woodworking (2024)

Building a Trestle Table - Dining Table — VanVleet Woodworking (1)

A trestle table design is a great way to get a large number of people comfortably at a dining table. One of the reasons I like the trestle table design is it does not restrict people from getting in and out from the table like a traditional corner post table might.This particular trestle table design is different from one of my other, much larger, designs, but the principles remain the same; more unencumbered seating.

This trestle table is paired with a matching bench for added seating versatility along one side.

Trestle Table Design

Because this trestle table was a custom commission for a client, I worked with the client on the design specifics to make sure we matched the patterns and colors of the house as well as incorporate a design that met their own style.

This trestle table was not going to be in a dedicated dining room, but in a dining “nook” at the end of the kitchen and adjacent to the living room. Meaning, the dining table would be visible from the kitchen, living room and from the back patio.

For the overall design we decided to go with a panel style base, verses a more traditional “X” frame or a pedestal base. The base was also going to be painted and distressed, to match the cabinets in the kitchen, using a combination of chalk paint and furniture wax.

Here, you can see the cream color of the cabinets and a bit of the glazing that is done to “age” and distress the wood a bit.

For the top of the trestle table we decide on walnut with a natural satin oil finish; you cannot go wrong with walnut. As you can see below, walnut was a great choice for trying to match these really nice, custom oak floors in the house. It is hard to tell from the photos, but the floors are hand scraped and distressed as well, which gives it a really rustic, almost farmhouse, feel to them.

Trestle Table Base Build

When building tables, I like to start with the base. Because the base of this table is going to be painted and distressed, I decided to use poplar. Poplar is a great choice for any project that is going to be painted; it takes paint very well, it is easy to work with and it is stronger than pine.

The feet and upper rail of the trestle table base are going to be about 3 inches wide. The foot section will be about 3 inches tall and the upper rail section will be about 2 inches tall. I have a couple paper sketches of the rough design below; I am not a CAD person as of yet. I find I can draw and refine my designs better when doing so on paper.

In these design drawings, you can also see some other details such as the slanted shape of the foot and upper rails, the recess that will be cut from the bottom of the lower leg to create the foot and then rounded over piece that sits between the panel and the lower and upper leg. NOTE: the drawing actually shows a rounded over piece on the upper portion of the leg, but I did not include it in the final design as I felt it wasn't necessary.

I start the base by milling up some 8/4 and 6/4 rough sawn poplar. I will use two pieces of the 8/4, glued together, to form the proper width for the upper and lower part of the legs. The 6/4 pieces will be used to create my center panels, which will be just over 1 inch thick.

Here are all four of the upper and lower leg sections glued up and drying in the clamps.

Once the legs were out of the clamps, I cut the 45 degree foot profile on the lower and upper legs and added the round over section to the lower leg. This round-over detail is a 1 inch thick piece of poplar that rounded over with a router and then glued into place.

Building a Trestle Table - Dining Table — VanVleet Woodworking (2)

Here is a photo of one of the trestle table base panels just set into place. It is very clunky in this stage, but you can get an idea of how the base will come together and look.

Trestle Table Base Panels

Once I had the trestle table base panels glued and cleaned up, it was time to design the shape and layout for the joinery. Based on the design the client and I had worked on, the panels were going to get a nice curve into them that would mate up with the foot and upper leg section; this would take a lot of the clunkiness out of the base design. The panels are going to be joined to the upper and lower leg sections with mortise and tenon joinery.

In this photo, you can see the curve I had finally decided upon, as well as the tenon joinery on the top and bottom of the panel. Lastly, you can also see where I laid out where the main stretcher of the trestle table would go through the base panels. It was important to lay out this section before cutting the curves as you would lose some ability to reference from the sides for this later; should something go wrong.

The upper tenons are about 1 inch long and the lower tenons are 1.5 inches long. I used the table saw, with a dado stacked blade, to remove about 3/16 of an inch from either side of the tenons to form the tenon shoulder. I then used a router plane to ensure the tenons were completely flat and uniform across their entire span.

From there I simply used a hand saw and a coping saw to cut out there areas of waste in between the mortises from the detail image above. Once the tenons were all cleaned up, I used them as a reference to layout the mortises in the upper and lower leg portion. I used a hollow chisel mortiser to cut out these mortises, but you can also use a drill and chisels for this, or even a router and some chisels. There are any number of ways.

I also used the table saw and dado stack to remove material, from the bottom of the base, in between where I wanted the feet to be. Here is a photo of the trestle table base panels, nearly complete.

The last order of business for the trestle table base was to cut the holes in the center of each panel to receive the long main stretcher that would hold the base together. This main stretcher is another piece of 8/4 poplar that has an elongated tenon on each end. This tenon fits through a mortised slot in the base and then is held in place with a wedge from the outside. Here is the complete trestle table base, dry fit, minus the wedges.

Trestle Table Top Build

With all of the construction done on the trestle table base, it was time to turn my attention to the top. The top is constructed of 8/4 walnut, which will be milled down to about 1.5 inches thick. Here is what the rough cut walnut looks like when I get it from the supply store.

I then run the walnut pieces over the joiner and through the planer to get them perfectly flat and parallel and all cleaned up. Look at how amazing this walnut looks now!

Next, I took the freshly milled walnut and started to play around with the boards to figure out what orientation was going to give me the best layout and look.

Once I had that decided, it was time to glue up the main portion of the top.

The design of this trestle table top called for breadboard ends. I use this detail a lot on larger tables as it helps keep the top nice and flat during the changing seasons. To do this, I make a very simple jig and use my router to rout out the portions that make the tenons of the breadboard. In the photo below, you can see the jig I use.

The jig is super simple. First, get a couple of pieces of very straight 3/4 inch plywood, about 3 inches wide. Next, after you have trimmed the ends of your table straight, save a couple of pieces of those cutoffs. Using a very flat surface as a reference, set your plywood pieces on their edge and glue the cutoff pieces between them on each end. By using your cutoff pieces, your jig will slide tightly over the table itself. Also, because you are using two pieces, and referenced on a flat surface, you can clamp the jig on one end, rout the top, flip the top (without moving the jig) and rout the bottom.

Once I routed out the tenons, I simply used a jigsaw to remove the waste material in between the individual tenons. Here is the aftermath of routing the tenons on one side!

Building a Trestle Table - Dining Table — VanVleet Woodworking (3)

Unfortunately I did not get any process photos of actually doing the breadboard ends, but the process is pretty straight forward. You want the center mortise and tenon joint to be very tight. You want the other mortises to be about 1/4 inch wider, on each side, than your tenons. Your drawbored peg in the center mortise and tenon joint should be centered and perfectly tight. The drawbores on the other tenons should have relief cuts in them laterally; this allows for the pegs to move side-to-side when the top expands and contracts. Lastly, only the center mortise and tenon joint gets glued, the outer joints are only held in place with the pegs.

Trestle Table Finish

The trestle table base is going to be painted and distressed. For the first part of this process I applied two coats of a light, cream colored, chalk paint. I like chalk paint for this and I’ll explain in a second.

The second part of the distressing process is to take some 220 grit sandpaper and light hit the edges, corners and high spots. Think about areas in which would get a lot of touching or traffic and lightly hit these spots. You are trying to remove some or all of the paint in these spots; just do not get too aggressive with this part.

The last part is to use a combination of a dark colored Briwax mixed with standard paste wax (I have links to what I used on the right of the page). On a flat surface, mix these together with a high quality waxing brush until they are well combined. Then, use a combination of a stabbing motion and brushing motion to apply the wax to the entire surface and then gently rub off the excess with a rag. The gritting texture of the chalk paint grabs this wax mixture and adds a nice texture and depth of color to the finish. The wax will also really adhere to everywhere that paint was removed with the sandpaper, adding highlights.

The walnut top was treated with two coats of Tried and True Danish Oil finish and then followed up with 5 thin coats of a satin wipe on polyurethane. You can see below how that oil really makes that walnut come alive!

Finally, after the top was completely dried and cured, I buffed out the finish with 0000 steel wool and paste wax.

Here is the finished piece, along with the bench that I made to match the table. The bench is constructed using the same principles as the trestle table itself so pretty straight forward. You can also see the effect of the distressing in the base, especially if you zoom in on some of the photos.


This project was a lot of fun for me. I had not built a trestle table of this style before so it was fun to figure out the design and execute it. The finish for the base was also new for me so I had to try and figure that out; luckily my wife had refinished some old furniture with a finish similar to this so she was a great help with that part. And naturally, the walnut top looks amazing! I love the way this table looks in the space and my clients were super thrilled as well. I think the matching bench was a creative idea on the part of my client and it will add to the versatility of the seating.

I hope you enjoyed this build. If you are interested in your own version of this table, please use the contact form below to get in touch and we can get started!

Disclosure: Some links in this article are affiliate links meaning, I may get a small commission if you purchase anything from these links. Thank you for your support!

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Building a Trestle Table - Dining Table — VanVleet Woodworking (15)

Welcome to my blog. My name is Derik VanVleet and I am the owner/builder of VanVleet Woodworking llc. I hope you find this blog useful and insightful. Feel free to leave a comment in the bottom. Thank you!

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Building a Trestle Table - Dining Table — VanVleet Woodworking (2024)
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