Build a Drop-Leaf Utility Table

This jack-of-all-trades table serves up a lot of versatility. Equipped with a pivoting leg on each side to support the hinged drop-down leaves, it offers three possible configurations. Placed against a wall with both leaves down, it‘s a small entryway table, display table or serving table.

When it’s not on duty as a hobby/craft work surface or dining table, this multipurpose piece folds down to a 12- x 36-in. table that can serve as an entryway mail drop, a beverage bar or a display area with a concealed storage shelf below.

Lift the front leaf and you have a table for two, an occasional office space or a buffet table. Move it away from the wall and lift both leaves to make a large (60- x 36-in.) crafting surface or gift-wrapping station; or use it as an extra dining table to seat four. The list of uses goes on: jigsaw puzzles, card games, sewing projects and more.

Because this is a utility table, you can use just about any 3/4-in.-thick panel material for the top, and any species of solid wood will work for the base. I used melamine-coated particleboard for the top and hard maple for the base. If you plan to use these materials, keep in mind that melamine sheet stock is heavy. The weight gives the table stability, but it also makes moving the table difficult (for one person, anyway).

This is a very easy project suitable for any skill level. You can build the table in one day for about $150. The lumber and sheet stock are available at a lumberyard or home-improvement center. You can buy stock that is S4S (surfaced four sides) or S2S straightline ripped (surfaced two faces and one straight cut edge). I purchased the hinges online (see SOURCES in PDF, below).

Construction Notes
The tools necessary to build this project are a table saw with a good rip blade, a miter saw, a biscuit jointer, an orbital sander and a router with a top-bearing pattern-cutting bit, a straight bit, a 1/4-in.-radius roundover bit and a 1/8-in.-radius roundover bit. You’ll also need a few short bar clamps, four 18-in.-long bar clamps and two 36-in.-long pipe or bar clamps.

Lifting, moving and cutting large, heavy sheet stock on a table saw can be very difficult, especially for one person. And sawing clean edges without chips or tear-out is nearly impossible unless you have a really good table saw setup and a super-sharp plywood-cutting blade. I’ll show you an easy way to cut the panels using a router, which eliminates all of those problems.

The success of the table is based on assembling the parts perfectly square to each other. Take your time and use high-quality squares that you know are truly 90 degrees. To check larger assemblies such as the base sides, I used my trusted framing square that I have fine-tuned to exactly 90 degrees.

The legs, aprons and stretchers (A through E) are joined with offset biscuit joints. This means the faces of those pieces do not align flush with each other. All that’s needed to create the joint is a spacer equal in thickness to the desired offset. I’ll walk you through that when it’s time to cut the biscuit grooves. The rest of the setup is straightforward. It’s a good idea to label all of the leg parts when you’re cutting the biscuit grooves and assembling the table base. That will eliminate a lot of confusion.

The hinges I used are called broad hinges. You’ve probably seen them before but may not have known their technical name. (I didn’t.) They look a lot like butt hinges, but their knuckles only protrude on one side of the hinge so they can be mounted flat.

Base Assembly
Start by cutting the base pieces A through G to size (see cutting list, in PDF below). Keep in mind that the shelf (N) is optional, so don’t bother cutting the shelf cleats (G) if you won’t use them. Cut the offset biscuit grooves in the ends of the aprons and stretchers and in the legs (A through E; photos 1 and 2). Rout the 1/4-in.-radius roundover edges on the legs. Finish-sand the legs, aprons and stretchers. Use sandpaper to ease the exposed sharp edges of the aprons and stretchers.

Cut the offset biscuit grooves in the ends of the aprons and stretchers. The fence height with the 3/8-in. spacer is set to cut the groove in the center of the pieces.

Cut the offset biscuit grooves in the legs (A). Don’t change the height of the biscuit jointer’s fence, and don’t use the spacer. This setup creates the 3/8-in. offset of the parts.

Assemble the base sides with glue and biscuits (photo 3). Complete the base assembly by adding the end aprons and stretchers to one side (photo 4); then add the other assembled side. Drill the screw holes in the table cleats (F) and shelf cleats (G); then glue and clamp those pieces to the base.

Assemble the base sides. Make sure the frames are perfectly square. This is very important to the success of the table. I use an old framing square that I know is exactly 90 degrees.

Add the end aprons (C) and end stretchers (E) to one assembled side. Again check to be sure the parts are square, and then add the other assembled side.

Gate-Leg Frames
Cut the gate-leg frame pieces (H through K) to size. Cut the biscuit grooves that join the frame pieces. Note: The tops of the upper rails (I) are set 1/4 in. from the tops of the gate legs (H). This is intentional so that when they are swung out, the gate-leg frames will not interfere with the tabletop hinges (see illustration, in PDF below). Finish-sand the inside edges of the frame pieces, but be very careful not to distort or round the edges where the pieces join. I find it best to just avoid sanding those areas.

Assemble the gate-leg frames with glue and biscuits. Rout the 1/4-in.-radius outside roundover edges on the gate legs (H). Finish-sand the outsides of the gate-leg frames. Attach the gate-leg frames to the table base (photo 5).

Align and mount the gate-leg frames to the base. Place 1/4-in.-thick spacers between the gate legs (H) and base legs (A), and set the gate-leg tops and bottoms flush with the leg tops and bottoms.

Top Fabrication
Next, cut the melamine pieces (L, M and N) to size. Use a circular saw or jigsaw to rough-cut the panels; then use a router and straightedge guide to square one edge (photo 6). Lay out and cut the other three edges using the same setup. The distance between the guide edge and the cut edge is equal to the distance between the edge of the router base and the cutting circle of the router bit. An alternative approach is to clamp a thicker straightedge guide to the cut line and make the cut with a top-bearing pattern-cutting bit. Each method has its pros and cons.

Use a clamped-on straightedge and a router with a straight bit to make chip-free cuts in the melamine panels (L, M and N). This technique works great if your table saw isn’t up to the task.

Make a 1/2-in.-thick medium-density fiberboard routing template with a 4-in.-radius corner and rout the shapes of the table-leaf corners (photo 7). Rout the 1/8-in.-radius roundover on the outside edges on the tabletop and leaves. Be sure to use sandpaper to ease the razor-sharp edges where the panels and hinges join.

Rough-cut the corners of the table leaves (M). To rout the 4-in. radius, use a template (made from 1/2-in. medium-density fiberboard) and a top-bearing router bit. Template routing is fast and consistent.

Finishing Touches
Separate the gate-leg frames and base by unscrewing the hinges. Apply your favorite finish to the solid wood. I used Briwax clear paste wax. It’s super-fast: applied, done and ready to complete the table assembly in less than two hours. Other good finish choices include water-base polyurethane, wipe-on polyurethane or Danish oil.

Cut the shelf (N) to size and form the 45-degree corners as shown in the illustration; then attach the shelf to the base with screws. Enlist a helper to set the tabletop assembly upside down on a worktable covered with a soft blanket. Mount the hinges that join the tabletop and leaves. Set the base in place and fasten it to the top (photo 8). Finally, fold the table leaves up against the legs to maneuver the table (again with help) to its feet and put it into service — in the entryway, the kitchen, the dining room, the family room or wherever it’s needed.

Align and screw the base to the tabletop. Use 3/4-in.-thick spacers at the ends to center the base, and visually center the base between the top hinges.

This project is part of HANDY's Top 5 Collection: Furniture Projects.
Click here to check out the other four furniture articles in this collection.

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