What is a drop leaf table?
A drop leaf table is a table with a fixed center section and hinged sections on either side. The hinged sections, also referred to as leaves, can be folded up or down, depending on the requirements of the user. Drop leaf tables get their name from the leaves which can be dropped, to save space when not in use. When ‘up’, the leaves are held in place by a bracket.
If the leaves are supported by legs that swing out from under the table, this is called a ‘gate-fold’ table rather than a drop leaf table, which has brackets to support the leaves.
Drop leaf tables can be square, round, oval or rectangle-shaped, usually with two folding leaves, although you may also find drop leaf tables with one, three or four leaves.
How does a drop leaf table work?
To put up a drop leaf table, simply lift the leaf and move the bracket into position to support it from underneath. It is easy to change the table to the ‘up’ position within a few seconds, and just as easy to put it away again once you are done.
Reasons You Need A Drop Leaf Table
Many of us would love a large, grand dining table, but not everyone has the space. That’s why this clever table is the ultimate, multi-purpose furniture piece.
- It saves space
- It expands easily
- It’s versatile
- It comes in a wide variety of styles and shapes
Put the leaves up and you can have a fully functioning breakfast or dining table. Let them hang down and you have a convenient space-saving console or bedside table that can be neatly tucked away. Although it does not fold down fully, a drop leaf table does greatly reduce the amount of space used, making it a very useful item for smaller houses and apartments, or for places where a full dining table is only needed on rare occasions.
When choosing a drop leaf table, make sure to consider the dimensions of the table in both its compact ‘dropped’ position and fully extended position.
How to identify an antique drop leaf dining table
Here are five ways to help you identify and date an antique drop leaf table:
- Inspect the finish. Antique tables will have a patina of age. The patina is the finish over a surface that has developed over time due to weather, stress, age and a build-up of deposits. The patina is the character of the piece. Even in perfect condition, an antique table should not look brand new.
- Look at the hardware. There are tell-tale signs in the construction of the table and materials used. Pay attention to:
- The hinges: antique drop leaf tables may feature handmade hinges.
- The shape of the nails: Are they square or round? Contemporary nails are round. If you find square nails used on your table, you are more likely to have an antique on your hands.
- Screws: Irregular markings on the top of the screw heads can indicate age.
- Look for saw marks. Saw marks from the pre-1800’s would be straight, whereas marks from after that period may be circular.
- Check for maker’s marks, stamps and signatures. If you can correctly identify the manufacturer, it will be easier to attribute the table to the correct period it was created in.
- Take it to a reputable antique dealer for an appraisal.
How to make a drop leaf table
You can find many beautiful antique, vintage or even contemporary drop leaf tables available online and through various furniture retailers. However, if you are more of a hands-on type, it’s possible to make your own.
There are three main stages to making any DIY drop leaf table:
- Cutting and sanding
You can find a free, step-by-step plan on how to build a drop leaf table with storage from Ana-White.com. There are also some great tutorials on how to make drop leaf tables available on YouTube, see below.
The Making of a Drop Leaf Table https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3RqnS2a5gY
Would you prefer to make a gate leg drop leaf table instead? Mics Woodworking offers this convenient pdf guide with Gate Leg Drop Leaf Table Plans.
How to make a wall-mounted drop leaf table
It is easy to make your wall-mounted drop leaf table. You will need one long thin piece of wood (eg. Pine) for the table back, plus a semi-circle section of matching wood for the tabletop leaf, lengths of 3 x 4” wood to create a bracket and wall support, butt hinges, screws, wood glue, varnish, a paintbrush, tape measure, pencil and a drill.
To make the wall-mounted drop leaf table, follow these steps:
- Measure the size of the semi-circle you need for the tabletop and the thin strip you need for the table back. Mark the wood, cut it out with a jigsaw and sand them.
- Attach the tabletop to the back support using butt hinges and screws.
- Measure, mark, cut, and assemble ‘T-shaped’ wall support. Secure this to the underside of the table back.
- Create a triangle-shaped table support bracket. Attach butt-hinges to the back of the bracket, and secure this to the bottom of the t-shaped wall support.
- Secure the hinged table-back and tabletop to the wall support.
- To finish, apply wood stain or varnish.
For detailed instructions, see this step-by-side guide by Dezine on Instructables.com: https://www.instructables.com/MAKE-a-DROP-LEAF-TABLE/
How to turn a table into a drop leaf table
If you wish to convert a table into a drop leaf table, you will need a circular saw with a good quality woodworking blade to avoid splintering the wood.
- Measure, mark and cut off the section of your tabletop that you wish to turn into your drop leaf section.
- Use a piano hinge to connect the cut-off piece to the table.
- Create a table support bracket, to hold the dropped piece when it is in use.
- Attach the support bracket on the hinges to the underside of the table.
How to make drop leaf table support
There are several ways to make a drop leaf table support. Two of the most commonly used techniques are finger-joint and knuckle-joint style folding brackets for supporting leaves. Many drop leaf tables also use a pinned rail for the support leaf method. If you are attempting this at home, beware, the traditional knuckle-joint may look simple, but it can be quite challenging for the DIY furniture builder.
There is an informative illustration in the publication, Furniture designing and draughting, notes on the elementary forms, methods of construction and dimensions of common articles of furniture, by Nye, Alvan Crocker, 1907. The illustration shows the drop leaf table bracket styles mentioned above.
How to stabilize a drop leaf table
One of the common problems that can occur with drop leaf tables, is when the leaf is a bit too eager to ‘drop’. If the leaf moves off its support with a slight knock from a passerby, then it may be time to replace the support to ensure a safe, stable table, that won't send all your crockery flying the next time you use it.
You will need to remove the old support bracket(s). Then, using some scrap wood, butt hinges, threaded inserts, saws and sanders, create your own.
- Cut out the new drop leaf supports
- Add the threaded inserts
- Finish with varnish or wood stain
- Attach to the existing table
Another issue that can cause instability in a drop leaf table is loose hinges. A quick tightening of the hinge screws can help stabilize your drop leaf table.
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