Charles Oakely, Edited by Arundel

Spiffing up your Campsite...

The Table of the

Grand Company of the Peacock

otherwise known as

St. Jeromeís Table (C. 1490) as depicted by Master Durer


The artwork depicted on the cover of this documentation is St. Jerome at His Study, an engraving by Albrecht Durer (b. 1471 - d. 1528). In this engraving, St. Jerome is shown working at a writing desk that sits upon a trestle table. The original construction was done as an Arts & Sciences entry and was later adoped and adapted by the Grand Company of the Peacock for the use of the company. The plans herein put forward reflect the original construction but notes on alternate construction techniques are included in the back. The picture to the right shows the tables as built by the company.

St. Jeromeís trestle table, while a rather sophisticated and refined example of the type, is composed of basically 9 distinct parts:

1 - A table top. From the engraving it is impossible to tell whether or not a single board or several joined boards were used. While it was common for single planks of amazing width to be used, the "laying up" or joining of several narrower width boards to form a larger board was also used as necessary

2: Legs (2) - in the case of St. Jeromeís table these appear to be cut out from a single width of wood. This is not necessarily the case however.

3: Stretchers (2) - These are the "bars" that go between the legs and have tennons cut at each end that can be wedged into place. These provide the necessary structural support for the table. And...

4: Wedges (4) - These are driven through a "through mortise" cut into the tennon at the end of each stretcher. The shape of the wedges used has a certain practical function that will be discussed later.

Table Construction:

While the original table may have been made from oak, walnut or any of a variety of hardwoods commonly found in Germany during Durerís life, I chose to use fir for the construciton of my table for the following reasons:

  1. Cost and Availability: It is a readily available wood that is priced within the budget of the average member of the SCA. In addition, as many of our "accessories" are used in outdoor camping situations, I wanted something that could take "moving abuse" without causing emotional trauma.

  2. Weight: Fir is significantly lighter than most hardwoods. This is critical for making a table that is actually usable and transportable.

The base of the table (legs, stretchers and wedges) are constructed as closely to the table depicted in the engraving as possible. The legs of the the table are, however, made of joined 2" x 12" and 2" x 10" material.

The table top is made of 1" x 12" clear pine. The top is the approximate length and width of that depicted in the engraving but is a clear example of the "period adaptive" concept. It is doubtful that, during Durerís time, a carpenter would have made a table top composed of three interlocking boards that could be lifted from the table in the manner the table top on my table comes apart... yet Durerís people did not have to try to put a 3 foot by 4 foot table top in the truck of a sub-compact car! To this end, I have adapted a table top that, when assembled appears to be a joined top that has been doweled unto the legs of the trestle table. This provides stability and safety yet allows the table top to be stored in a much smaller area than a single piece table top would require.

The Parts List:

To build the table the following quantities of material is required...

  1. 15 feet of 1"x12" pine... I used clear pine (i.e. - no knots...), but this is an expensive option... it represented close to Ĺ the total cost of building the table or nearly $40.00

  2. 10 feet of 2"x4" pine - These will be used to make the stretchers between the legs. Pieces of waste from these boards will also be used to make the wedges used for the table.

  3. 10 feet of 2"x12" fir and 5 feet of 2"x10" fir (this last piece saves a few cents.) - These will be used for the construction of the legs of the table.

Incidentals include glue, stain or some form of sealing agent. In additon, 3/4" doweling and 3/8" doweling was also used.

The proceedure:

Step 1:

Cut the 2"x12" and 2"x10" material into 30" lengths. Using either a jack plane or a jointer, joint the edges of each of these boards to ensure a square and smooth edge for glueing up. Lay out the boards according to Figure 1.

While just gluing and clamping the boards together may result in a satisfactory bond, I recommend reenfocing the glue joints by the use of either dowels or the more modern variation of "biscuts". Either of these will help to ensure a very strong glue joint between the boards.

After the boards have been jointed, doweled and glued... use pipe clamps to ensure that a firm bond has been made betwen the boards. Do not over over glue or over tighten the clamps... the glue should be applied with a disposable brush and should be a smooth even thin coat on all glue surfaces.... you should tighten the clamp just enough to see the glue rise a bit in the joint. Once the boards are glued up and clamped, leave them to dry for at least 24 hours.

Step 2:

Cut your 2"x4" material into 2 pieces 41" long each (you may decide to do something a bit different but these are the measurements I used for my table....).

Figure 2 shows the construction details of the stretcher pieces... make 2 of these.

Step 3:

Taking the remainder of the material from the 2"x4" pieces... cut one piece that is 7" long. Then, lay out your material such that you can rip out 2 pieces that are Ĺ" thick...

Once you have these pieces, used the pattern drawn in figure three to lay out the wedges.... Basically, draw a line from 1 inch from the upper right hand corner to a point 1 inch from the lower left hand corner.... Then lay out a pleasing curve around the top of the wedge and cut them out...

A note on the curve at the top of the wedges... at first look, it would seem that the rounded top of the wedges is a purely decorative element. In fact, there is a structural purpose to this design element. If you notice the grain of your material, it runs the length of the wedge.... This means that along one side of the wedge, where the wood is cut on an angle, the run of the grain is shorter near the top of the wedge. As the wedges are normally set with the use of a mallet of some sort, this short run of wood creates a weak area that, if struck, would shear away from the rest of the wedge... by rounding the top of the wedge, it insures that when the wedge is struck by a mallet, the force of the blow will run down the full length of the wedge and the shearing will not occur.

A close examination of the tennons and wedges used in Durerís engraving of St. Jeromes table (see figure 4) shows that wedges of this type were employed on the illustration... this type of attention to detail can be used to help establish the authentic character of the portrayed object.

Step 4:

At this point the table top can be started... Take the 1"x12" material and cut from it three pieces that are 48" to 50" long (depending on your choice...). Using a jack plane or a modern jointer, smooth the edges of the boards.

Step 5:

(24 hours has passed and your glue joints are now thoroughly dry....) Take a large sheet of paper and lay one of your layed up leg blanks on it..... Trace the shape of the leg blank on the paper and then set the leg blank aside... Using a rule, find the vertical (top to bottom) centerline of the outline and draw it on the paper. Then, using the example offered or an origional design... draw your leg pattern on one half of the paper.

Use scissors or a craft knife to cut out the profile and then, laying the pattern on the leg blank, trace the profile unto the blank. Flip the pattern over to copy the pattern to the other side of the centerline thereby completing the pattern.

NOTE: The dark square near the top of the leg is a through mortise where the tennon end of the stretcher is inserted. This should be cut just slightly larger (no more than 1/16th of an inch around) than the tennon itself. Care should be taken to accurately measure the tennon before laying out the through mortise.

When the pattern has been transfered to the leg blanks, use a bandsaw (or turning saw if you want do do this step by hand....) to follow the pattern lines and cut out the legs.

Use a chisle and mallet to cut the through mortises. To help protect the chisel edge and to help avoid split out and splintering of the edges of the mortise, put a waste piece of wood under your work and make sure the the leg piece lays flat on top of it while you work.

Step 6:

Assemble the legs/stretchers. Check the wedges to make sure that they fit their mortises properly... the wedges should set firmly when struck on top with a mallet but should remove easily when tapped on the bottom with a mallet. They should not bind on the through mortise sides.

(Note: the wedges should be inserted with the grain running parallel to the grain of the leg... in other words, the long side of the wedge should go against the leg... the taper should be away from the leg.)

Once the stretchers have been set into their mortises and the wedges driven home the structure should be extremely stable...

Step 7:

Take the three 1"x12" boards you cut for the top and place them on top of the table taking care to center them over the table. Using pipe clamps to hold the boards together (donít over tighten...) and other clamps to secure the top to the base (leg/stretcher assembly), mark and drill 3/4" holes through the 1"x12" boards and into the legs. (See figure 6 for details...). Once all holes are drilled, remove the top boards and glue lengths of 3/4" dowel into these holes. Once the glue has dried, place the top boards back over the dowels and mark on the dowel where the surface of the table is. Remove the table top boards and trim the dowels...

Step 8:

You may now sand, relieve edges, stain, seal or otherwise embellish your table.

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Design Modifications and Enhancements....

(or... ainít it amaziní what improvements can be made when your friends get toghether to help you out....)

As was noted at the beginning of these plans, over time certain design modifications and improvements have evolved that you might find appealing in your own efforts. They are presented here for your consideration.

1: TABLE TOP...

An alternative to using the three separate boards is to use 3/4" plywood (veneer surfaced) as a top. Most stores will sell you a half sheet. Take this sheet and cut a 3' by 4' piece from it (let the grain run the length of the table for an appearance closer to actually using solid boards). The edges of the plywood can be covered by 3/4" veneer (iron-on) strips. These strips are commonly available in lumberyards, home improvement centers, etc. The top may be fastened by the doweling method discussed above or...

2: SECURING THE TABLE TOP....

An alternate method of securing the top of the table to the base is by the use of cleats. These are pieces of 1"x2" material that is fastend to the underside of the top with wood screws and then fastened to the legs of the table by dowels passed through holes in the cleat and the leg. The benefit of this method of securing the table top is that the alignment of the fastening points is less affected by humidty (goes on and comes off easier...) and the table may be picked up by the top when it affixed to the base.

The illustration below shows the general shape of a cleat as used on the Peacock tables. The holes of the dowels are 1/2" in diameter. The dashed lines show suggested screw locations. It is recommend that pilot holes be drilled prior to screwing the cleat to the table top... BE SURE THAT THE SCREWS DO NOT EXTEND ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE TOP OF THE TABLE WHEN THEY ARE SEATED....

The next illustration shows the location of the cleat and its relation to the table.

As you can see from this picture, when installed, the cleat will be almost impossible to see by casual observation. Make sure that the dowel pieces are long enough to allow for a firm grip to facilitate removal under... um... adverse conditions....

3: Wedge and Mortise Construction....

On the orignal table the mortise that received the wedges was cut with a streight sides on both the inside and outside edge as depictec by the illustrtation to the right. While this had not presented any problems with regard to strength or stability, it can be rough on the wedges as they are driven into the sharp upper edge of the pocket....

To resolve this (and increase the overall srenght of the hold even more...) the mortise was angled at the same angle as the wedge. As you can see from the illustration, the wedge will still draw tight because the mortise extends past the edge of the leg... however, this design allows more of the surface of the wedge to contact the mortise and is therefore stronger and allows for less wear and tear on the wedge itself.

Note... the upper end of the mortise is the same size in both the original and modified mortises.

Have fun, make stuff...


Charles Oakley, Esq.

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