The original saloon table on Britannia was a single heavy sheet of 3/4” thick laminated plywood, 27” wide by 57” long. It was supported on two substantial aluminum pedestals locking into large round collars screwed to the floor and table.
There were two annoying problems with this ‘structure’. It was permanently mounted on only the port side of the saloon, so people sitting on the starboard settee couldn't even reach the table. It was also difficult to squeeze in and out of one end because the chart table bulkhead was in the way.
It was a very substantial, but very impractical table, so I decided to built myself a more versatile one which could seat more than just three people. My new design would have a narrow fixed center section, with hinged leaves either side which swing up to reach either or both of the settees. This is hardly a unique concept, so why didn't the original builders do it this way?
The ideal table height for the settees is 27/28”, which meant the drop-down leaves could not be more than 27”, or they would catch on the floor when they were down. With both leaves open this left a 13” space in the middle, which became the width of the fixed section. The table would be 43” long, to allow access all round.
I started with a 4’ foot by 8’ foot sheet of oak plywood. The store cut this large heavy sheet to my three panel sizes on their circular saw, which saved me a lot of time and enabled the pieces to fit in my vehicle.
I wanted rounded corners on all the pieces, so I drew round a tin lid to give me a radius, then rounded the corners with my jig saw, fitted with a fine scrolling blade.
I decided to laminate the table tops with a Formica type melamine laminate which is both hard and scratch resistant. I found exactly what I was looking for on the Wilsonart website, (www.willsonart.com). It is a very realistic looking teak grained laminate called Nepal Teak, in a high gloss finish which looks just like real varnished teak. It is 3/64” thick and I cut it to the approximate size of each table section using metal cutting shears, leaving about 1/2” overhang all round. Then I glued them on the plywood using original formula Weldwood contact cement. This is more liquid than the Gel type and I spread it on the plywood and laminate surfaces with a 6” roller, then waited for the glue to get tacky. Joining large surfaces of laminate with contact glue is a once-off process, because contact cement bonds on contact and there is no ‘wiggle room’. I placed a laminate on the bench, glue side upwards, then laid two thin wooden battens each end and put the plywood on top, glue side downwards. The wood strips kept the two pieces apart and enabled me to locate the plywood accurately above the laminate.
It was then a simple matter to slide the battens out and press the plywood to the laminate. I then placed the board on some paper on the house floor and walked all over it in my deck shoes. This applied much more then the 75lbs pressure called for in the gluing instructions, and firmly pressed the pieces together.
After leaving the three boards overnight for the glue to harden, I carefully trimmed the laminate flush with the edges of the boards, using a router with a vertical cutting bit and roller bearing guide. This produced a sharp straight edge to which I intended to fit teak trim all round.
I had some 1/2” thick teak slats left over from my rebuild of the forward cabin which were just right to make the straight edge trim for the panels. Of course, this was much too thick to bend round the corners, so I used my jig saw to cut rounded trim from bits of solid teak I had saved from previous projects. All the trim had to be drilled and counter bored, then screwed and glued to the edges of the three boards. Then all 75 holes had to be plugged and sanded.
I decided to make fixed fiddles on the center section, because things invariably get placed there which are liable to slide off when the boat rocks - even in a marina. I cut strips to length and beveled and rounded the top, then shaped both ends in a graceful swan’s neck curve to join the corner trim. I left the corners open to enable the table to be wiped, and add a bit of decorative accent. I rounded the underside of the trim, but left the top square.
An unusual consequence which I didn’t anticipate was actually keeping track of all the pieces of trim which had been shaped and matched individually to the edges and corners. I made twelve corner pieces, four edging strips for fiddles and eight other edging trims. All were slightly different, because this table was nothing if not ‘hand-crafted’. I hinged the leaves using six stainless steel sliding pull-apart hinges – three on each leaf. These enable the leaves to be easily detached from the center section when necessary, like when needing access to the floorboards.
The mainmast compression post on my schooner is a 4” square post passing through the saloon to the keelson which offered a perfect support for one end of the table center section. I used a 4” brass plated butt hinge to support that end of the table, screwing one half of the hinge to the compression post with a teak block spacer, and the other to the underside of the table. This enabled the center section to hinge upwards and hang with a strop to a deck beam when I needed access to the floorboards. It also allowed the table to be removed completely, by simply knocking the hinge pin out, to separate the two halves.
To support the other end of the table I shaped a leg out of the plywood. I hinged this with a short piano hinge and a spring latch on the other end. This allowed the leg to fold flat to the underside of the table center section whenever it was lifted to get to the floorboards. I located the bottom of the support with two pins which located into flanged bushings I set in the floor. I made the pins by screwing 1/4” diameter stainless wood screws into the bottom of the support, then hack-sawing the heads off and rounding them with a file.
To support the leaves I bought two attractively turned white wood table legs, grandly termed ‘Early American table legs’. I fastened the top of the legs to the underside center edge of the leaves using a small brass hinge, so when not in use the legs fold to the inside of the leaves and held by a plastic C clip. I screwed 1/4” diameter pins in the bottom of each leg which then dropped into bronze flange bushings sunk into the floor. This made a simple yet very secure support for the table leaves, much stronger than trying to support them from the center section like I have had on other boats, which nearly always allowed the leaves to sag. I also bought two brass barrel bolt latches, which I screwed to each leaf. The bolt drops into flanged bushings set in the floor and stops the leaves swinging about in the folded down position when the boat heels.
I stained the white plywood on the underside of the panels and the table legs with teak stain which, when rubbed with a rag, made the wood look amazingly like the shade of real teak. This is called Teak Natural 120 which I bought from a local hardware store. When all the woodwork was complete I varnished it with two coats of Epifanes high gloss wood varnish. The result is difficult to distinguish between the real teak trim and the laminate.
When both leaves are extended the new table is more than twice the size of the old one and looks positively baronial. But more importantly, it is very much more functional and easily seats six, yet when the leaves are down it is smaller than the original and allows access all round.