How to sidestep the problems of the Word 2000 (and higher) Table Properties dialog

Article contributed by Dave Rado

There are several major problems (in some cases, bugs) with the Word 2000 and 2002 Table Properties dialog, the chief ones being:


It doesn't allow you to set a column's width reliably. More often than not, if you set a Preferred width for a column using the dialog, the width that is actually set for the column bears no relation to the width you typed into the dialog! And if you display the dialog, more often than not an incorrect column width will be displayed.

Also, if you select a column in which the cell widths vary, and try to set its width using the dialog (in order to make the widths of all the cells in the column equal), the cell widths often still vary afterwards!

So unfortunately, the Preferred width setting in the dialog frequently has little or no relationship to the actual column width. Very frustrating!


The F4 shortcut (Repeat last command) does not work with the Table + Properties dialog. In Word 97 and below, F4 used n conjunction with the Cell Height and Width dialog, was one of the most useful shortcuts, when working with tables. 

For example, you can use F4 in combination with the Cell Height and Width dialog to make each column in one table exactly the same width as the equivalent column in another table – a trick I use constantly. Before you start, make sure you can see both tables (split the window if necessary). Then select a cell in one table, select Table + Cell Height and Width, choose the Column Tab and press OK; select a column in the other table and press F4. The width you captured from the first table will now be applied to the other one. (You can even use this trick if the two tables are in separate documents.)

You can use the same principle to left or centre-align multiple tables, apply table indents, etc. Apply the formatting you want to one table, using the Cell Height and Width dialog (or if it is already applied, simply display the dialog and press OK),  and just click in the other tables you want to apply the formatting to and press F4.


Some basic options are very well hidden in the Table Properties dialog, and are difficult to get at. For example, to set the space between columns when using the Cell Height and Width dialog, you simply type a measurement where it says Space between columns on the Columns tab. But using the Table Properties dialog, you have to click the Options button on the Table tab, and set the Left and Right margins to half the value that you want the space between the columns to be set to. 

The Table Properties dialog does have some plus points, as well as its many drawbacks, and adds some useful functionality that was not available in Word 97; so one would not wish to get rid of it entirely. But you can put the old Cell Height and Width dialog back onto your Tables menu, without removing the Table Properties menu item – this giving you the best of both worlds. Use the Table Properties dialog only when you have to, and use the Cell Height and Width dialog for most tasks.

In Word 2000 and higher, the command to invoke the Cell Height and Width dialog is called TableFormatCell. To add it to your menu:


Select Tools + Customize and choose the Commands tab.


Select All Commands in the left pane, Find the TableFormatCell command in the right pane, and drag it onto your Table menu (I'd suggest, so that it's just above the Table Properties button).


When you first add the new button, it will say Table Properties (even though it invokes the Cell Height and Width dialog, and even though the command is called TableFormatCell!) – and therefore be impossible to tell from the real Table Properties menu button; so to rename it, right-click on it, and where it say Name, type in Cell Height and Width ... (or whatever you want to rename it to).


Close the Customize dialog, hold the Shift key down, and select File + Save All, to save the change to your Normal template. 

You can now get round all the problems described above by using the Cell Height and Width dialog for most things, and the Table Properties dialog only when needed.

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