The First Fraternity House Table


Though I’ve shopped at Frank Paxton lumber for almost 20 years, I’ve never been asked the following question. Until today.

“I’ve got to ask,” the clerk said. “What the heck are you building with this wood?”

Since starting work on the “Furniture of Necessity” book, my lumber purchases have gotten a little weird. Instead of combing through the racks of 4/4 and 5/4 boards, I simply ask: “What’s the thickest and widest stuff you have back there?”

The answers have been surprising and illuminating.

I’ve found that many professional lumberyards stock surprisingly thick stock for custom home builders – I’ve been buying lots of 4”-thick poplar. Another great source of thick material has come from asking about the stock that local builders purchase for fireplace mantles.


Today I picked up a 12/4 board of white oak destined for fireplace mantles that was 20” wide, 9’ long and $2.67 a board foot. It was dressed on two faces (whew), and it surprisingly wasn’t the biggest sucker in the pile.

This will become the top to a portable table from the “Tacuinum Sanitatis” that illustrates how drunkenness can get out of hand. I think the image looks like a frat party because of the red Solo cups.

The table will have five or six legs and a thick, round top. Like my other pieces from the 15th century, this one will be as portable as possible. The legs can be knocked home and removed with a mallet (or wine bottle). To get your party started all you have to do is roll the tabletop into the woods, drive the legs into their conical mortises and flip the whole thing over.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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17 Responses to The First Fraternity House Table

  1. diceloader says:

    Do they come with a recess underneath the top for a hand hold?

  2. KampWood says:

    That table top looks to be about workbench height (inseam height) is the modern dinning table height a “new” thing comparatively?

  3. visualjay says:

    Kind of gives a new meaning to ‘table of health’.

  4. So your answer was… A drinking table?

  5. gblogswild says:

    are those Solo cups in the illustration

  6. Thomas Scott says:

    “…because of the red Solo cups.”
    Looks like you may have found the anthropromorphic origin of BEER PONG.
    It’s a gaming table.

  7. toolnut says:

    ”…that illustrates how drunkenness can get out of hand.”
    Does the next drawing in the series show the all four guys sitting at the table with the two that were fighting pointing at each other and saying,”I love this guy.”?

  8. Derek Long says:

    I didn’t realize someone painted my portrait that night in college at Theta Chi. I’m very embarrassed.

  9. Farmer Greg says:

    Five or Six legs? That’s even farther out there than the three-legged chair. Any theories as to why one would choose to build a table that way?

  10. Bob Jones says:

    Not many people are going to agree that 4in thick white oak is portable

  11. I had no idea they had thicker thicknesses in the back. Thanks for the heads up.

  12. mramseyisu says:

    The two gentlemen engaging in fisticuffs makes the picture that much better.

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