Amish wood-crafters have diligently kept alive timeless designs like the trestle dining room table. Today, thanks to their efforts modern homeowners may still acquire high-end dining room table creations with heirloom quality. The trestle table is most likely the oldest type of American dining table if not the oldest table design in the world. The predecessor to the trestle table, later fully evolving into the modern trestle versions, was often called the table board and frame. A long narrow plank of wood rested on a frame of several trestles, or horizontal beams. These bridges of wood, or horses, were pegged and braced to the table top. The legs were designed to be easily dismantled for storage or moving and were very practical for traveling as the world was expanding.

The trestle table plans of old took into account that they may not be used in permanent locations and designed them so they could be placed in wagons or on ships or even used by the military in the field. Shakespeare made mention of these portable trestle tables in Romeo and Juliet when he wrote “More lights, ye knaves, and turn the tables up.” The importance of the trestle table in American history is evidenced at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC where a portrait of one is held in their collection, showing one of America’s earliest known examples as a piece of art.

Hanks, Fletcher American, active c. 1935
Hanks, Fletcher
American, active c. 1935

The early trestle tables were practical in construction and easy to store and transport; making it the perfect occasional table. The trestle style as a dining table allowed those seated to not have the inconvenience of the more usual four fixed legs at each corner and much like the pedestal dinner table allows more seating comfortably. As far back as the middle ages the dormant table was actually an early piece of permanent dining furniture. The dormant table was usually covered with a carpet or runner and as it implied was a stationery and dormant trestle dining room table. Monasteries in the medieval times had a refectory, or a room for congregate group dining. A very long trestle table was popular in these rooms and commonly became known as refectory tables. In the late middle ages, the refectory trestle table became the table preferred for banquets and feasts held in castles or high estates. Just as the Amish create handmade wooden trestle tables these too were handcrafted from solid woods for the royalty and noblemen that requisitioned them.

Trestle table designs range from plain, almost utilitarian to very ornate and regal. Slab-side, melon-turn and sawbuck are all popular styles of trestle designs. The slab-sided trestle is just that. Slabs of wood, possibly cut in an ornate design or shape, placed vertically and holding up the ends between the trestles. Melon-turned was the more spherical and usually highly ornate globular post ends, a predecessor to the later pedestal styles. The sawbuck style can also be quite utilitarian to highly ornate and is widely used in Americana style dining room furniture. The sawbuck is an X-shaped support system, gaining its name from the sawbuck device used for holding rough wood. This style was popular in Gothic works but usually is known in early New England tables that were both functional and rustic. Another American version came from the Delaware Valley of greater Philadelphia where the German-Swedish influence made them highly decorative.

Today the trestle table is available from picnic style outdoor furniture to handcrafted Amish dining room tables. Trestle tables created by the Amish in the well known and well loved traditional Americana style, Shaker or Arts and Crafts Mission design are available for your personal collection. The Mission style trestle, like the trestles of the Middle Ages, may be braced together with a stretcher beam and a keyed tenon going through the center of each trestle. Like the early Mediterranean and the European trestle dining room tables the Amish create their trestle dining room tables out of native woods like high quality red oak, quarter-sawn white oak, cherry, maple, walnut and even hickory. Modern Amish trestle dining room tables are so versatile that they are ideally suited for seating in a wide range of styles from solid wood benches to more formal dining room chairs like the Windsor or the Mission slat backs.

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