Galley Table Construction

By Todd Schlemmer:
The San Juan 21’s spacious galley has everything you need for entertaining afloat, except a proper table (or a stove… or a sink… or an icebox).  This is my solution to the problem of limited horizontal surface area.

For this project you will want:
  •  ½” Teak Marine Plywood, dimensions depending on preference
  • Stainless Steel wood screws
  • Table saw or Skil saw
  • Hand drill
  • Straight edge(s)
  • Measuring tape
  • (power) sander and sandpaper
  • Waterproof glue (epoxy or other)
  • Teak oil and rags
  • Safety equipment – eye, hearing, and respiratory protection, gloves?
Nice to have:
  • Hand plane or block plane
  • Drill Press
  • Rasp or Surform tool
  • Framing Square
WARNING: I am advocating the use of sharp and dangerous tools.  If you do not have the skills and experience to use this equipment, please, please, please find someone possessing the skillset to help you.  I cannot teach you how to use these tools in the context of this article.  You have been warned – be mindful of the risks involved.

In my boat, an inspection plate is securely fastened on top of the forward centerboard trunk, labeled “A” in the drawing below.  This plate measured 3/4” thick, 16” wide X 20” long (All numbers herein are based on my boat. Your boat’s dimensions may vary. Measure carefully!). 


I chose 20” X 16 as an arbitrary dimension for the table – not so large as to be in the way, not so small as to be unusable.  It clamps around the inspection plate with wingnuts that pinch a jaw on each side.  Each jaw stands off from the tabletop with a ¾” cleat, beveled to the center, such that the jaw bears against the bottom of the inspection plate and the outer edge of the cleat (See illustration).  It has been noted that too much weight or pressure on the edge of the table could pry out the screws fastening the inspection plate to the centerboard trunk.  I don’t expect this table to be used while under way or to support heavy loads, but it is very secure when clamped in place.
Step One – Tools and Materials

Round up your tools before you begin working – nothing is more frustrating than realizing you need a tool that you don’t have in the middle of your project.  A true friend will be happy to help you with your project or possibly loan you a tool.At the very least, I recommend the use of a marine-grade plywood for this project.  Since you are lavishing your love and energy on this, make it look nice and spring for teak.  You won’t need more than a few square feet, and you may be able to find a scrap piece if you call around to lumber or boat yards.  If you are in the Seattle area, you can buy partial sheets of teak marine ply
at Home Builder's Center, 1110 W Nickerson St, Seattle, WA 98119  (between W 11th Ave & W 12th Ave).  I paid about $60.00 for a quarter sheet of ½” teak marine plywood (from which I also made new dropboards).  
Treat your plywood with care during handling and cutting.  Any scratches or gouges you create will drive you nuts when you try for a Bristol finish later.  Not only is your teak plywood expensive, it is a precious natural resource – it’s bad karma to waste treasure. 
Good sources for SS fasteners are West Marine, Stoneway Hardware (Seattle), or the big box hardware stores. Use your favorite (meaning: you have it on hand) waterproof glue.  I had to buy some, so I picked up one of those handy two-part epoxy syringe kits.  They come in a few strengths/drying time Specifications – I used the 5 minute variety for ample working life and optimal strength. 
Step Two – Measurement

This is the easiest step in the project.  Measure the length, width, and thickness of the inspection plate in your boat.  Write it down.  I didn’t, and had to make a couple trips outside to re-measure dimensions I wasn’t sure of. 
Step Three – Cut Out Tabletop

If you have access to a table saw, cutting your tabletop is trivial.  Lacking a table saw, your ability to make accurate and square cuts is critical.  Find a table saw. If you deviate from the 16 X 20 dimension I suggest, choose numbers which evenly divide by two.  You’ll want to strike center lines on the bottom of the tabletop before you begin drilling holes and gluing the bits together. 
TIP- I think that a table looks better if the grain runs in the long dimension.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t – marine plywood is equally strong in both directions. 
Step Four – Cut Fiddles or Finish Edges

This is optional, but your table will look better if the raw edges of the plywood are covered up.  At the very least, you can purchase an iron-on veneer that will stick to the end grain on the plywood, carefully trimming the excess with a razor blade.  Rockler Woodworking - 3823 Stone Way N • Seattle, Washington 98103 • (206) 634-3222 - sells this product with a mahogany veneer that can be stained to match or compliment your teak. Fiddles are small battens that extend above the surface of the table, typically at the edges (but could comprise a grid) to keep items from sliding off of the table when the boat pitches or rolls.  With a table saw, I ripped battens from 1” X  ¾“ solid teak stock, 1” high and approx. 3/16” thick.  I cut 45 degree angles at the end of the fiddles to fit them around the tabletop like a picture frame (making double sure that the SHORTER side of the fiddle measured to the table edge). TIP- I numbered the edges 1-4
and numbered the corresponding fiddles as I cut them to length, in case the length of opposite table edges differed.  I made my fiddles with radiused ends such that crumbs may be swept from the tabletop (although one could easily slide the table free and dump the crumbs overboard).  Making these cutouts was the most difficult part of this project.  Even though I had the use of a drill press, it took a long time to set up my jig.  I used a 2” hole saw to remove a curved cutout near the end of the fiddle. Since I located the center of the hole saw inboard from the end of fiddle, I had a small curved wedge of material to shave flat – Using a sharp knife and scrap of plywood as a thickness gauge.  This is easier to do than it is to describe (see illustration).
I secured the fiddles with three 1-1/2” SS woodscrews on each side – They’re somewhat fragile and if I ever had to repair or replace one, screws would be better than glue.  I used a drill press to counter sink the screw holes to a consistent depth. 
IMPORTANT – Drill pilot holes for all screws – do not go through the plywood. 
An alternative fiddle design, like below, would allow larger items (like a chart or book) to rest across the flat surface of the table.  Make the battens from wood or aluminum, cutting “L”-shaped slots to adjust the height of the fiddle on snug round-headed wood screws.  This design would possible interfere with the forward end inspection plate at the compression post.  This may be trivial, since the compression post forms a fiddle of sorts at the forward end of the table, and the pitching motion will usually be less than the rolling or heeling. 
Step Five – Make Clamps
The cleats are10 inches long, cut from ¾ inch solid teak, 1” wide.  The bevels were shaped by hand, using a hand plane with the blade tilted sideways to make a deeper cut on one side (approx. 1/8 inch).  ¼” SS bolts are countersunk with their heads below the top of the cleat and bedded in epoxy, and allowed to dry.  ½” SS wood screws are countersunk from the bottom of the cleat, for holding the cleat in place while a thin layer of epoxy bonds the tabletop to the cleat.  A drill press was used to countersink all holes to a consistent depth. The jaws were made from ½” ply 10” X 3” and ¼” holes were drilled to line up with the bolts. NOTE – Before you start drilling holes into your cleats, make sure you know which dimension corresponds to the thickness of the inspection plate in your boat).  The cleats were set 3-1/8” from the centerline (6-1/4” apart), centered in the longer dimension.   
IMPORTANT – Drill pilot holes for all screws – do not go through the plywood. 
Step Six– Finishing

If you don’t own a power sander, find one.  It didn’t even take a full sheet of 440 grit to finish the table.  Varnished Teak is divine, but you will be re-varnishing it for the rest of your life. Personally, I relish the look of oiled teak.  In either case, removing the sanding dust is important for a fine finish.  I wiped the wood down with a brush and a rag.  You can buy (or make) a “tack cloth” to which dust sticks like glue, essential for a proper varnishing.  I poured some teak oil on the plywood, rubbed it in, and repeated two more times, allowing 24 hours to dry between coats.  Follow the instructions on your bottle of teak oil, and you won’t go wrong.
That's it!  Enjoy your beautiful table!