Legs and Aprons
The base of a plank farm table is made of four legs and four stretchers, called aprons, connecting the legs. The apron boards perform two purposes: They brace the legs so the table remains stable, and they provide support for the tabletop.
The legs can be square and straight; they can be tapered on their insides; or they can be turned on a lathe. They also can be a mixture of the above, a combination of turned and square segments. In such a case, the top of the legs, where they connect to the aprons, is typically square.
You can simply butt the apron boards to the outside or inside of the legs and attach them with nails or screws, or you can attach them using more complex joinery such as a mortise and tenon joint. With this joint, the ends of the apron boards are shaped to fit into slots cut into the legs themselves. These joints are very strong and very stylish, and they are often used for a more crafted look.
Some builders add extra stringers inside the “box” formed by the aprons. They run these stringers from one side to the other, parallel to the end aprons, to help support the tabletop.
One thing that makes a plank farm table so easy to build is the construction of the top. While a farm table can be built using a traditional approach, most are built much more simply. There is no need to glue up boards to make a solid panel for the top, nor even to make sure every board is perfectly level or the top perfectly flat. Imperfections such as these are part of the farm table’s charm.
You can build the top from boards of the same width or mix and match the widths; farm tables were often built with whatever lumber was available, and so either method “looks” right. You can use stretchers inside the aprons to provide a consistent support for these loose boards, or you can lay the boards out side by side and connect them with battens on the underside to tie them together.
Some tabletops have added end-boards that run perpendicular to the main table boards. One is placed at each end to neaten up the rough ends of the main boards; this helps protect the person sitting at the head or foot of the table from splinters.
Special touches are generally added to give farm tables a more sophisticated air.
Mortise and tenon joints, connecting the legs and aprons, are one such special touch. Such farm tables are built using more elaborate joinery as a simple form of ornamentation.
Tabletops may be made from a panel of glued-up boards, as a more expensive table would use. For a particularly large tabletop, you might want to use spline joinery to provide extra rigidity.
If you have a lathe, you may want to create round legs. Turned legs can transform an otherwise simple table into a real showpiece.