Some thoughts about making a Donald Judd-esque table

Most of the NYC crew from the Eames Institute took a little field trip to 101 Spring Street yesterday. There was a lot I found beautiful, and a few things that gave me pause.

But one of the things I most enjoyed inspecting was Donald Judd’s big 14-seater whitewood table in the kitchen / dining space on the second floor. Clearly well-loved, and slightly more rough-and-ready than some of his other furniture. It was good fun to have a close look at the dining chairs too, though I’m more interested in the form there. Don’t look too comfortable.

This is a very broad overview of some points to consider if I ever want to make a Judd-esque table.


Overall dimensions of that table are possibly 9 feet × 5 feet × 30 inches. I say “possibly” because that is super approximate, based on an assumption that the chairs are about 13 inches wide and then eyeballing the rest. Would scale it down pretty drastically if I ever make something similar, don’t think I’ll ever live in a space substantial enough for a table that size.

Believe the entirety of the table is pine or a similar whitewood, though the table top does seem slightly different from the legs. Ages nicely over time, gets a nice velvety sheen and minor defects in the wood retain their charm.

The table top is seven parallel, almost seamlessly-joined planks. Not sure how they’re joined, dowels or biscuits could work well. Thickness was about 1½ inches I believe, possibly more. If I were making something similar, honestly I’d consider working with a sheet of Baltic birch plywood. It is pretty hard nowadays to find pine planks that I feel I could trust over time not to bow or cup significantly, particularly ones that long. It would be very hard to avoid though, there was a bit of warping in some of Judd’s furniture at 101 Spring Street. Even the meticulous aren’t immune, time takes its toll.

The legs are made of two equal planks brought together with a butt joint, with the long edge of one affixed to the face of the other via three dowel joints. The dowel is exposed on the face of the plank, which I found pleasing. I think the dowels may have been ⅝ inch in diameter, though it’s very hard to say. If making something similar, would have to be very careful to select good pine as mentioned above.

The legs are affixed to the apron using two exposed dowels of an equal diameter to those mentioned above. Note that the exposed seam of the butt joint was always placed on the short side of the table, so the joint is not seen if observing the long side of the table. The apron itself is made up of square posts of wood, probably around 4×4 inches.

I wasn’t able to see the underside of the table, so I’m not sure how the apron is affixed to the table top or how the ends of the apron posts come together. To join it with the top, I would probably consider more dowels (unexposed this time) if I wanted to try to be “authentic”. But if aiming for speed, I might try pocket hole joints, or even a bunch of L brackets. For the ends of the apron posts, I have a feeling they’ve been mitered because the dowel joints connecting them to the legs are very evenly spaced. I doubt the ends actually joined together in any way because that doesn’t seem necessary.

Based on all of the above, including the extremely approximate dimensions of all sorts, this is a rough cut list. Measurements are actual, not nominal.

  • Table top planks × 7 – 108 × 8½ × 1½ inches
  • Leg planks × 8 – 28½ × 8 × 1½ inches
  • Apron posts (long edge) × 2 – 105 × 4 × 4 inches
  • Apron posts (short edge) × 2 – 65½ × 4 × 4 inches

Upon reflection, I think either the leg plank width or the table top plank width (or both) in the list above is a bit off… There would be an elegant simplicity if all of those planks were the same depth and width, but I think the table top planks seemed a bit narrower than the leg planks. Just ½ inch difference between the two doesn’t seem like enough of a difference though.

Based on common lumber sizes in the US and my approximate measurements above, I think the top planks in Judd’s actual table might be 2×8s and the legs might be 2x10s, but I’m not sure. If I were making a smaller table, I’d probably lean towards using 2×8s for both, or even consider 2×6s. The dowel placement wouldn’t be as elegant though, would have to draw it all up to get a feel for it and make sure to get proportionate apron posts.

Edit 18 December 2023: Lol, I should have looked on the Donald Judd Furniture website before writing all of this up. His “La Mansana Table” seems very similar to the dining table at 101 Spring Street, though the plans online are for a 14 foot table. With that table, the leg planks are roughly 12 inches wide, the overall height of the table is 30 inches, the width of the table is 56 inches, and the apron seems to be about 3½-4 inches square.