The trestle table design goes back to ancient Roman and Greek times, they were the folding table of the age. The top rested on a base of some sort and it all collapsed for easy storage. They became popular in the Middle Ages when castles and forts were meant for defense and the people who lived in them would gather in a common room to eat. After dining the table would be cleaned and put away. The royals would retire to their chambers and the staff would pull up some straw and blankets and sleep where the table was.
The trestle tables built by the Amish are very well known for their craftsmanship and are a traditional Americana design of furniture often seen with spindle backed chairs. Amish wood craftsmen have kept the tradition alive and modern homeowners can acquire beautifully crafted pieces at affordable prices. It is the oldest American dining table and quite possibly the oldest design the world over. Shaker and Craftsman style furniture also employ this same design aesthetic.
Designs ranged from plain and very utilitarian to very regal and ornately decorated. Sawbuck, melon-turn and slab-side were the popular choices of style. Sawbuck is an X-shape support system, a sawbuck device used in holding the wood is where the named derives from. Melon-turned was spherical and very ornate rounded post ends, a predecessor to the pedestal design. The slab-sided design is slabs of wood possibly decorated and placed vertically holding the ends up between the trestles.
In the 16th century the basic trestle design was made more static and the gate-leg and refractory tables were created. With the ease of assembly and storage this design of table has been very popular to this day as those seated are not effected by the legs of a traditional table with fixed corner legs.
Today the trestle table can be seen in designs of outdoor furniture like picnic tables to handcrafted Amish dining tables. Americana is a well-known and loved traditional Amish style as are Shaker and Arts and Crafts Mission style. Like the table of the Middle Ages, the Mission style is braced together using a stretcher beam and keyed tenon through the center of every trestle.
These pillars were sometimes just plain and other times ornately decorated. Very few medieval tables exist today, but a fine example can be viewed in the Great Hall of Penshurst Place, Kent where a pair has been in existence since the 15th century. Something of this caliber, if you were lucky enough to find it, would be priceless.
Diners from the middle Ages looking for a place to set out the roasted boar and pheasant just laid out a couple of boards across two stands and called it a feast. Today we place a piece of plywood across a couple of sawhorses and call it a picnic. Though this design has taken many forms, some plain, some ornate but it is basically the same design from ancient time.
The primary reason for sealing wood is to keep it from drying and cracking and getting stained. Those old tables must have had a lot of character, you could probably tell what the fare was for dinner by the stains.
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