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Improving a dinette table

Improving a dinette table
Custom "elbows" mean more footroom, easier handling
by Tom Bishop

It's very common for older boats with dinettes to have a pedestal post for the tabletop. This allows the tabletop to serve double-duty by converting the settees into a large berth when the support post is removed. But as there are a few drawbacks to this arrangement, I was determined to find another way.

Consider the drawbacks on my boat. Loading De Novo, our 1971 C&C 35, for a daysail or weekend involves bringing aboard a cooler, bags of food, backpacks, loose clothes, newspapers, magazines, books, and a purse. (Wendy's purse, of course. I bring a manly canvas bag.) The normal routine has been to throw bags on the tabletop prior to storage and to set the cooler on the floor. The cooler blocks the passageway and generally gets kicked about as one of us goes forward to open hatches and the remaining crewmembers prepare for departure. It would be nice to be able to put the cooler under the table, but the support post is in the way.

Converting to a berth requires the tabletop to be lifted and set aside while the support post is removed. This is very awkward. The tabletop is a bulky shape with a large metal collar on the bottom to accept the top of post. As you lift the tabletop off the post, you must flip the bottom side up to avoid putting a dirt ring on another settee cushion as you lay it down temporarily. The post is covered with a thin coating of grease to ease removal from the mounting collar. You really need a second person to hold the post while you place the table across the empty settee footwell.

No place to hide

Now where do you put the post? It's 3  1/2 inches in diameter, 24 inches long, and weighs 5  1/2 pounds. This makes it too long for the storage bins, too greasy to place on carpet or fabric, and too round to sit still in any wave action. At first I tried drilling a hole through the 1/4-inch aluminum and another matching hole through the fiberglass seat wall. A cheap bolt and a wingnut secured the post. This was an improvement but not a final solution.

Upon leaving the dock, the choices are to leave the table set up or to stow it. When set up, it can be an obstacle for the crew, depending on the tack, heel, and motion of the boat. On a port tack, you pass through the cabin to use the forward head and the table is heeled into your left hip. But where do you stow a 3-foot square tabletop in a moving sailboat? And wouldn't you want a table surface for the occasional meal below?

Yacht designers at the time figured one table leg (the post) was best, but I figured an elbow would serve us better. I removed the metal collar supports from the floor and under the table. This was easy. They weighed 4 pounds each and were secured with #10 wood screws.

For the retrofit I was inspired by fast-food restaurants that mount their small tables and seats to steel supports that curve and are bolted to the wall. This gives them an unobstructed floor to mop clean. Very efficient. I would use the same logic to free our settee floor and have room for a cooler.

Tom was dissatisfied with the dinette table center post on his C&C 35. You couldn't put things under the table, and the post was greasy and difficult to stow when the table was converted into a bed. He devised a clever elbow configuration to eliminate the original support and made the two-piece table fold up (no swing-down panels here) to take up less space when not needed. The old center post with the new two-part table, at right. A view of the new table bottom, far right. On facing page, simple brackets, at left, are through-bolted to the wall of the settee near the floor. The elbow is fitted, center, and the table attached, at right. The new table maximizes cabin space by remaining folded in half most of the time, even when a small crew needs a convenient lunch counter.

Lift-up leaf

Yacht designers favor drop-leaf tables to open the passageway through the cabin. I figured a fold-up leaf would better serve us. A drop-down leaf would block the room for a cooler. And a fold-up leaf needs no restraint to keep it from flopping around under normal sailing conditions.

One more improvement I wanted was easy storage of the table support post. An elbow shape doesn't roll. Fast pins eliminate the need for grease, so the flat elbow can go nicely inside the hanging closet next to clothes.

I used old plywood scraps to build a prototype of a hinged table and to measure the angles and proper size for the custom elbow. There was no obstruction behind the fiberglass settee seat to prevent through-bolt mounting. Three generous access covers were already in place under the cushion. I positioned the hinged plywood as the finished table. I folded it up and noted how much space was saved, where supporting brackets would go, and how access around the new elbow support would change. All the answers were positive.

Once back home again, I built a wooden elbow to spec. I used wood screws to attach it to one half of the plywood table and showed it to my wife for approval. On the next trip to the boat the faux elbow and table were held in place and tested again.

"Yacht designers at the time figured one table leg (the post) was best, but I figured an elbow would serve us better."

Ready for production

The old center post and floor mount are shown on the facing page. I used a friend's table saw to cut the table top in half. I added a 2-inch stainless-steel piano hinge. It was a simple act to align the hinge so the table will fold up and not down. I removed the end of the hinge and polished it with a rotary tool. Before final attachment, I patiently marked and pre-drilled holes for the small #6 wood screws. Each screw was dipped in marine caulk to prevent moisture from attacking over time. The right-hand photo on the facing page shows the bottom of the tabletop, which needs sanding and painting since it will now be the top when folded up. After sanding with 60- and 150-grit paper, I primed with Kilz premium and then hand-brushed two coats with a decorator off-white exterior paint to closely match the interior fiberglass color.

The plywood prototype went to a machine shop for discussion about an aluminum elbow with predrilled holes for fast pins. They selected 1 x 2-inch bar with two welds and nice plastic inserts for finishing the ends. A couple of 90-degree brackets with matching pinholes would fit under the table. Identical brackets would mount on the outside of the settee wall. I cut a length of 3/4-inch plywood to fit inside as a backing plate and to reduce flexing.

The photo shows the simple brackets through-bolted to the settee wall near the floor. I used 1  1/2-inch #10 bolts. These went through the bracket, the fiberglass seat wall, and a 3/4-inch painted plywood plank for stiffening. These were fastened with washers and locking nuts inside the storage bin to provide as flush a look as possible from the outside.

Pinned and clamped

To get the elbow to fit snugly between the brackets, I pinned and clamped the brackets to the elbow during measuring and drilling. Fast pins (1  3/4 x 1/2 inch) are inserted to adjust for height and to secure the elbow as shown in the center photo below. Matching fast pins are used on the brackets under the table. Here I used 1-inch #10 wood screws with pre-drill and caulk.

The finished work is seen in the photo at right below, as we use it most of the time now. This position maximizes open cabin and floor space while still giving us a half-size fiddled table area for lunch. The numerous holes for fast pin adjustment give us many options for dining.

When opening the folded table the first time I discovered that the horizontal elbow holds the full open tabletop without additional support. Totally unplanned. The particular fast pin holes used created an offset so the tabletop slightly overlaps the outboard seats, which is better for eating a meal. It also opens the aisle a few more inches so guests can move through the cabin more easily.

Footroom is much improved. No more toes against the floor pedestal. Four sets of feet can all lie flat when the crew is seated. Since the fast pins only take a few seconds to remove, we make adjustments easily to accommodate our moods or guests.

At the end of the season I unbolted the elbow brackets and took them to the machine shop. We are planning a slightly longer bracket for the floor side (11 inches versus 7) to take advantage of the fiberglass strength at the top and bottom of the seat wall. At the same time, the 90-degree edges will be rounded to minimize damage to crewmembers from the inevitable bumps at sea.

The author:
Tom Bishop made a life-changing conversion from waterskiing instructor to sailor at the age of 19. He owned and daysailed a variety of boats and was further hooked on sailboat racing when he had a chance to crew on a Pearson Electra. These days he owns a C&C 35.


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