Main Salon Table, Custom Mahogany, Stowable

A custom, mahogany stowable main salon table, one of the most valuable additions to Oystercatcher
Let's face it, a good table is an essential part of a cruising sailboat, especially a pocket cruiser like the Ericson 25. You need a good table for at least three good reasons. First and foremost, in the absence of a dedicated navigation station common on larger boats, you need a space where you can spread out your chart in one way or another and do your course plotting. I'm not even going to engage those who would argue that paper charts are obsolete in the age of GPS. Secondly, you need a good table for small maintenance and repair projects that might require a flat work surface. Last, but not least, you need a good table for the sake of good living. Eating a good meal, playing a game of cards, or just recording a few musings on the day's events in a journal or logbook - these are just a few of the things you can do with a good, sturdy table in the main salon of your small cruising sailboat.

Unfortunately, the optional table that came from the factory with some of the Ericson 25s, satisfies none of the above demands. The Ericson 25 is a quality boat, but this table is an out-of-place appendage that is neither functional nor aesthetically pleasing. Let's address the issue of functionality first. In order for a table to be functional, especially on a sailboat, it must be sturdy. This one is not. There are several reasons. First, it is mounted to the bulkhead with a loosely fitting bracket-receptacle assembly. The table has the male brackets. The bulkhead has the female receptacles. This hardware is loosely fitting, because it enables the sailor to quickly set-up the table and break-down the table without fooling with any other bulkhead mounting hardware. Another reason why this table is unstable, is because of its tiny legs. They are spring-loaded and collapsible. Sure, this makes setting up the table and breaking down the table relatively easy, but this ease of operation comes at a price. The third and final reason why this table is flimsy and unstable is because of the piano hinges which join the three sections of the table together. It is necessary for the table to be separated into three sections, since it is designed to be folded and stowed against the bulkhead. Since, however, there are no fiddles on this table to hold the three sections stable when they are deployed, the surface of the table wobbles back and forth depending upon how you and where you might apply pressure with your hands or elbows. And did I mention all the clattering that the table makes as it moves around? In terms of aesthetics, that formica might have been trendy back in the 1970s, but what were they thinking? I mean the rest of the main salon has mahogany all over the place. Why add formica? Maybe they thought it looked good with the plaid upholstery.
At some point someone at Ericson must have decided that mahogany was preferable to formica, because there are at least two examples I have seen of tables of the same design made out of wood. In the picture below you can see the stainless steel mounting brackets. Perko still manufactures these things. They cost about $50 a pair retail.
If you've perused the galleries of main salon tables on this website, you'll remember that some Ericson 25 owners have designed their own bulkhead-mounted drop-down tables. Of the various ones that I observed, I thought this one was the most functional and attractive.
Here's the same bulkhead-mounted table in its deployed condition. I came close to building a drop-down table similar to this one. The main thing that held me back from going forward with this style were the restrictions I was facing in terms of size. It might not look like it, but this table is probably 8-10 inches shorter in length than the one I ended up building. When you mount a drop-down table with hinges to a bulkhead, you are limited by the height of the cabin and the height of your knees when seated on the settee. When I made the measurements, I discovered that any bulkhead mounted table on an Ericson 25 would be shorter in length than a stowable table similar in design to the formica original. Perhaps this is one reason why Ericson made the formica table stowable rather than bulkhead mounted.
If you've spent a little time in the main salon table galleries on this website, then you've also noticed that there are at least two Ericson 25 owners who have constructed permanently-mounted drop-leaf tables in the center of their main salons. I was especially attracted to this style, because it allowed room for the bulkhead to be used for other purposes, and it allowed room for the berth extension to be deployed.
I also liked the fact that the leaves apparently could easily be raised or dropped on short notice, and that the table was probably more stable than any of the others. The only draw-back I could see was that the table was permanently mounted in the middle of the main salon and therefore could, at times, be an obstruction, both real and apparent. Nevertheless, I remained attracted to this style of table, and when all was said and done I was left with a decision between making one of two styles of table: either a sturdy version of the formica original, or a permanently mounted one such as this one. Unable to make up my mind, I decided to consult my other half - the Admiral. I brought her into the boat and explained the pros and cons of each. She unequivocally voiced her opinion in favor of the stowable sturdy version of the formica original. Her thinking was that she wanted the main salon to be as open as possible when we wanted it to be. I listened to her reasoning. How could I not? And with that I began figuring out how to make that stowable version of the formica original as sturdy and dependable as possible.
It all started with this planer, or I should say with a trip to Southern Lumber for a piece of rough-sawn sapele mahogany. If you have read Part II of my article, Companionway Hatch Construction, you'll know what I mean when I speak of this type of mahogany.
Most of the rough-sawn exotic woods at Southern Lumber are at least 12 inches wide and 10 to 16 feet long. My job was to turn this raw material into a main salon table.
Rough-sawn wood is measured in quarters and usually is sold in sizes no smaller than 4/4. This wood was 4/4, in other words 1 inch. I wanted to make the table out of 3/4 mahogany, so I needed to plan it down by 1/4. This required me to make quite a few passes through the planer, but then again, this rough-sawn wood needed to have a fair amount of material removed from it in the first place.
Next, I cut the two pieces that would eventually yield the two large sections for the mahogany table.
Then I ran these pieces through the table saw to square up the sides. When all was said and done, I had finished pieces of wood that were 11-1/2 inches wide. Ideally, these boards would have ribbon-stripes running parallel the entire length of the board. To get those consistent stripes you need to buy quarter-sawn mahogany, which is considerably more expensive. I was satisfied with flat-sawn mahogany, which sometimes has lots of ribbon stripes, and sometimes has a mixture of ribbon stripes and swirls.
I then went back over to the table saw to cut the boards to their precise length.
I cut the shorter of the two first. This one was 3 feet in length.
Then I moved on to the larger one.
It was 3 ft, 6 inches in length.
Finally, I needed to cut another piece that would form the middle section of the three-section stowable table. There was not enough material available from the rough-sawn board I had planed down to make the two board for the large sections of the table. Therefore, I had to grab a piece of 3/4 inch mahogany than I had as a left-over from another project.
After I ripped it to 6 inches on the table saw, I took it over to the miter saw to cut it to length.
This one I cut to 3 feet, just like the shorter of the two large boards I had just cut.
After I completed cutting all three of the boards, I laid them out on the floor for a preliminary dry-fit. Ideally, the center board would have the same grain pattern as the other two, but at least the overall pattern was symmetrical.
I used an epoxy mix-and-pour cup to scribe an arc on three corners of the table.
I wanted to see just how much space there would be for a nautical chart. This table would easily be able to handle a chart that had been folded in half.
In fact, it could handle almost an entire chart. That was good.
I'm also fond of Maptech brand Chart Kits, since they contain many charts in a single, spiral-bound volume. I was very pleased that this table would easily accommodate the Chart Kit with plenty of room left over for dividers, triangles, etc.

After this, I got to work rounding off the sharp edges of the table.
To make everything that much smoother and more inviting, I put a round-over bit in the router and made a run around the edges.

Next, it was time to get to work with the sander. The surface of the mahogany was still plenty rough, even though I had run it through the planer many times.

At this point, I didn't want to take it down any farther than what the 40 grit paper and the 80 grit paper would take off. I still had more work to do before finish sanding with finer grit paper.
One thing I needed to do was to cut some fiddles for the table.
I needed these fiddles to be removable, so I cut them not with a rabbet (for joining them to the edge of the table), but with a flat bottom so that they could sit on top of the table.
Another task I needed to tackle was the construction of the legs. This part of the project took quite a bit of thinking. The legs on the original, formica table were, as I said, spring-loaded. You could snap them in and out of place with a spring-loaded lever. I could not reuse the spring-loaded mechanism, because it was integral to the table leg and its hardware. The main problem before me was figuring out how to make the legs both stable and unmovable, yet stowable.
In the close-up below, you can see a mock-up leg that I constructed parallel to the original leg.
I decided that one way to make the legs sturdy was to make them out of sturdy material. I had a left-over piece of 8/4 mahogany from the construction of the new companionway hatch. I decided to use this 2 inch thick material to construct the legs.
First, I cut it to length, with a little room to spare.

Then I ripped off three, 2 inch pieces. These would become the 2 inch x 2 inch legs. Note that this piece of mahogany is close to being quarter-sawn. Thus, there are nice ribbon stripes running throughout this piece of wood.

Once I had ripped the three legs, I took them outside to soften up the edges with the round-over bit on the router.
I needed to keep the tops of the legs square, so that I could join the hinges and table as snugly as possible.
I used the large, 1/2 inch round-over bit for this job rather than the 3/8 bit that I normally use.

I thought they looked pretty good after I got finished with them on the router.
Next, I turned my attention to the construction of the leg mounting blocks.
At this point, before I could make any more progress, I needed to remove the piano hinges from the original table and transfer them to the new table.
There were a lot of screws in that sucker.
Before I installed the piano hinges, I dry-fit everything, just to see how it would look.
The dry-fit revealed that the hinges were a tad too long for the new table. The reason? I had rounded over the edges of the mahogany. The original table did not have similar edges. Therefore, the hinges were about a half inch too long.
The hack saw took care of that problem.
Then I did another dry fit. This time it looked good.
So, in went the screws. The center-hole punch was a big help in keeping everything lined up and orderly as I drilled the pilot holes and then screwed the screws.
When I finished, I tested it out and was pleased with the results.
It took a lot of thinking to figure out where to place the legs so that there would be enough room for the table to fold inward for storage purposes.
I eventually settled on where I should place the mounting blocks and I got to work installing them.
Ignore the hinges in the orange package. I never used those. I instead used the other hinges you see pictured above and below. These are heavy duty, 316 stainless steel hinges by Sea Choice. They weren't cheap, but I figured that this table needed the good stuff.

My thinking was that the wooden mounting block would serve as a stabilizer for the leg once it was fully opened. It turned out that it was not as stable as I had hoped it would be, so I had to figure out some additional stabilization methods, which I will describe below.
I also installed receiving blocks that served as receivers or pads for the leg when it was in the stowed position.

This sequencing for the legs closely resembles that on the original formica table. The Ericson people had thought through this one well. You must allow room for people's legs when they are sitting at the table, so you don't want the table legs to be too close to the center. You also must take into consideration the space that you need to slide your body around the table when making your way to the head. If the leg is in the wrong place, your path will be impeded.

My solution for increasing the stabilization of the legs in the deployed condition was to have stainless steel brackets beside the legs. These brackets would be used to align brass screws that would be secured temporarily in each leg when the legs were deployed.
I had to drill out a hole in each bracket to accommodate the brass screw.
I installed wood-inserts of brass in each leg. That way, the brass screws would have a good threaded seat in which they could be situated.
I actually installed two inserts in each leg, but as it turned out, one was sufficient to provide stabilization.
Next, I picked up some Attwood brand stainless steel eyes from Lowe's and some blue shock-cord from West Marine and came back home and began installing the simple, leg-retainer system that I had devised.

Then it was time to carry the whole thing out to the boat and give it a try. It stowed well in the place where the original formica table was intended to be stowed.
There was a problem, however, when I deployed the table. The sole of the main salon was not perfectly flat. Therefore, the table did not sit perfectly flat, because the legs were all cut to the same length.
I should point out that at this point I was using a stack of wood against the bulkhead to support the back of the table. I had not yet installed the mounting block in the bulkhead. Why, you might ask? All of this was a work in progress. I had to figure out one thing before I could figure out another. I had deliberately cut the legs of the table about two inches longer than the legs of the original formica table. I wanted to sit at the table and decide for myself just how high it should be. It was definitely too high for me, even when I set a settee cushion in place to mimic real conditions.
At this point I also had still not figured out where exactly I wanted to place the fiddles. I wanted to make sure they would not encroach on the Chart Kit.
I measured carefully each leg, and I figured out how much I needed to take off of each one.

When I set the table back up inside the boat, it was nice and level in all directions.

The shock cord retainer system worked well and kept things nice and neat.
Next, I began work on the bulkhead mounting block.
My plan was to secure the table to the block with two, stainless steel hex bolts. This meant I needed to drill two holes through the the block and through the table top at the same time so that they would line up inside the boat.
When I was finished, I took everything out to the boat and began by installing the bulkhead block on the bulkhead. When I tightened the hex nuts down on the 1/4 inch bolts, the table became incredibly firm and stable in its deployed condition. In fact, it was so firm and stable, that it was almost unnecessary to install the three brass screws in the brackets at the top of each leg. The firmness and stability was primarily the result of the 1/4 inch bolts, and secondarily, I believe, the result of the sturdy 2 inch x 2 inch legs themselves.
Now a critic might complain that it's far too much trouble to have to tighten down and remove two hex nuts every time you want to use the table or put it away. My response to that is this: "Yes, it does take several minutes worth of work, but if I get a nice, sturdy table for many hours afterwards, is it really that much trouble?"
I toyed with the fiddles for a while, trying to decide whether to make all of them removable, or just the ones that ran port to starboard across the hinged joints. As is often the case when I'm in a state of indecision, I decided to consult the Admiral. She climbed inside the boat and sat down at the table and within about ten seconds said that she wanted all of the fiddles to be removable. She likes her laptop, and she said that if she happened to take it along and happened to be in the mood to make use of it, she would not like it if the fiddles were to prevent her from resting her arms on the edge of the table. She made an excellent point. Also at issue for me was the use of the charts. I listened to my other half, and I'm glad I did. I believe that fixed fiddles running fore to aft would be very uncomfortable and unwanted at times.
Once I had decided that I would make the fiddles removable, I had to decide where I would place them. This would then determine the length that I would cut them for their final fitting. I wanted there to be a reveal, as is typical in most trim work. In the picture below I am establishing the reveal.

At this point, all I had to do in terms of the fiddles was insert the pins and drill the holes in the table into which the pins would fit.
There was still the task of staining and varnishing the table, but I must say that having reached this stage of the project, I was quite pleased. This table was so sturdy and so useful that I left it in place as I continued to work on other projects associated with the refitting of this Ericson 25.