Introduction: Flat Pack Trestle Table

I am currently studying design. I have been woodworking and crafting for a couple of years. It started off as a hobby, though it always does I think? Soon, I discovered that making things was something I was extremely passionate about. I aim to invoke thought and emotion in my designs. Whether that be the fact that the piece connects with you, or you absolutely hate for a specific reason. Either way, it has served its purpose. It has made you think.

In the 21st century we are becoming increasingly concerned and observant of the ever-changing climate and resources upon this earth, as we should be. I am a big believer in sustainable furniture. I like to use recycled timber in my work whenever possible.

This flat pack collapsible desk uses timber from old government issue desks. The desks have several nail holes, dowels and other imperfections. I disguised these as best as possible, but in the end, I sort of leaned into the reclaimed look.

This Flat Pack Desk uses Tasmanian Oak and common woodworking tools and machinery. I used the tools I have because I have them. That does not mean that they are the only way to accomplish certain tasks. There is no point going out and buying a new tool if you can do it someway else. In this Instructable I am going to share some knowledge on hand cut joinery and some design tips.

At the end of this Instructable I explain where this table might be useful.

I have entered this project in the Flat Pack and Reclaimed Wood contests, so please vote for me.

Disclaimer: I nor Instructables can be held responsible for any damages or injury with tools or machinery.


Table saw


Belt Sander

Cordless drill (or drill press)

Drill Bits

Hand tools (planes, spokeshaves, files, chisels etc.)

Bandsaw (or Jig saw)

Marking-out equipment




Reclaimed timber (Tasmanian Oak)

6mm hardwood Dowel


Wood glue

3mm MDF

Step 1: Design

I really like the curved flowing design of the Mid-Century Modern design movement. I wanted to incorporate curved and angled legs into the trestle table. They add an interesting visual design element. I was influenced by Norm Abram, and Marc Spagnolo.

I began designing this table on paper with some rough sketches. I played around with different versions of the base. It is much easier to change the design on paper, than it is with timber. Once I was happy with the design, I made a full size template using 3mm MDF. I used straight metal rules, curves and household items to draw the full template.

When thinking about the joinery for this piece, I knew I wanted to use traditional, hand cut mortise and tenon joints. To for fill the requirement of being flat pack, I used a tusk tenon (also known as loose key'd tenon) to join the stretcher to the legs. The wedges allow the table to be "knocked" apart and stored flat. More on that later.

I cut the template out on the bandsaw. A jig saw would work just as well. I refined the curves with sand paper, a hand plane and a spokeshave.

The templates are now ready to be used to mark out the desk components.

Step 2: Prepare the Blanks

Being reclaimed timber, both sides of this timber was coated with varnish. It needed to be removed, so that I could glue the timber together into the thickness needed. I did not want to run it straight through my jointer and thickness planer, as it would dull the blades. I used a No 6 handplane with a freshly sharpened blade to remove the layer of varnish before running it through my machines.

Winter time in Tasmania, is rather cold. In the evening time it can get below 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit). The glue I used was Titebond 2. This glue will not bond when it is below 13 degrees Celsius. For this reason I had to glue up the blanks inside on my dining room floor.

Once glued up, I trimmed the blanks to proper size using a table saw. I set up my No 6 plane to act like a smoother, so it would take off a super fine shaving. This cleaned the blanks of milling marks, in preparation for cutting the joinery.

The blanks are all 48mm in thickness.

Step 3: Joinary

I marked out for all the mortises. I drilled the waste from the mortise using a drill press. Then I cut to the marks using chisels.

The tenons are then cut on all of the stretchers. I just rough cut the tenons to thickness, and then fit them to the mortise using a shoulder plane.

I cut out all the blanks into the shapes marked with he template.

The bandsaw cuts were smoothed with a sander, hand planes and files.

Step 4: Glue Joints

I glued all the joints with Titebond 2. They were all clamped for several hours.

I find a small paintbrush very handy for spreading the glue. It makes it easy to get an even coverage and not to apply too much.

Step 5: Leg Shaping and Long Stretcher

The joints of the legs were smoothed together using a sander, a scraper, chisels and files.

The long stretcher components were cleaned of varnish and then run through my machines to bring to to final thickness before being glued into a thicker blank. As with all of the thicker pieces in this build, the stretcher was made from 3 boards.

Step 6: Tusk Tenon

The geometry of a tusk tenon makes it a very strong joint. The mortise for the wedge is cut at 7 degrees. the mortise is cut at about 1mm behind the big mortise in the leg. This is so the wedge wedges tightly against the side of the leg. It should be a tight fit in the angled direction, but it should be able to just fall down into the mortise from side to side. This is so that the wedge does not split the mortise.

I drilled a hole at 7 degrees, and then cleaned up the sides of the mortise. There are lots of great videos on YouTube explaining this joint. They explain very well how the joint works and why it is so strong. There was a lot of test fitting and trimming to get this joint to fit correctly.

Step 7: Solid Wood Desk Top

The desk top is once again made from recycled timber. The timber used is actually part of the original desk top. I cut it into the correct sizes using the table saw. The edges were then jointed with my No 6 plane. I put a spring joint in the top, no dowels or biscuits.

The spring joint is another traditional joint used for table tops. It works by having a gap in the middle of the board, and when it is clamped, it becomes very tight at the end of the joints. The gap in the middle should be very small, about half a millimeter. It should not take to much pressure to close the joint up. to make it, you just put a slight curve on the board's edge, so that it dips down into the middle of the board.

Once glued up, I smoothed the joints and cleaned off the varnish with a handplane. A scraper and sandpaper was used for the final smoothing.

Step 8: Breadboard Ends

The top looks great as it is, but breadboard ends really tie it into the base as well as keeping the top flat over time.

Wood expands across the grain. normally you cannot glue wood with the grain at right angles to each other. So why does a breadboard end work then?

The breadboard is fit to the end of the desk top with a tongue and groove joint. The ends are only glued in the middle. This allows the outside of the ends to expand and contract while still holding the table top flat.

To keep the ends from pulling away from the top, they are pegged with hardwood dowels. The outside holes are elongated, which still allows the top to expand and contract.

I used a router to cut the tongue, and the table saw to cut the groove.

Step 9: Final Touches

At this point, all the construction is done. There were a few final jobs to do though, before varnishing.

I went over all the edges on the top with a plane. I used a small block plane to put a chamfer on all the edges.

The top is held on with cleats, and with a dowel that goes through the holes.

Some holes were filled with contrasting Tasmanian Myrtle plugs.

All surfaces are sanded up to 240 grit.

The top is now ready to be varnished.

Step 10: Varnish

I varnished all the parts of this desk using an oil based varnish. I brushed on 3 coats, lightly sanding with 600 grit sandpaper in between coats. I varnished the table outside.

After the last coat, I applied a coat of wax, and polished it.

The desk is now done!

Step 11: Finished!

The desk is now finished. This would be the perfect dining table or desk for someone living in a small apartment, or a student living in a small accommodation. Because it can be stored flat, the desk only has to be out when it is being used. For instance, when parents come to dinner, a date, or some other special occasion. There is no need to make compromises when it comes to having nice furniture. I designed this desk to allow people with not enough space to have a full size table set up all the time, still experience solid timber furniture.

When not needed, you can store the desk in a cupboard, under a bed, under a couch or just leaning up against a wall.

The tables dimensions are 150cm long X 61cm wide X 75cm high. These dimensions are quite good for a dining table that will seat between 3-4 people. It also works great as a desk pushed up against a wall.

The pictures show the components of this desk, and also how the desk can be flat packed and stored.

I have entered this project in the Flat Pack and Reclaimed Wood contests, so please vote for me.

Flat Pack Contest

First Prize in the
Flat Pack Contest

Reclaimed Wood Contest 2016

Participated in the
Reclaimed Wood Contest 2016