I had always thought welding metal was so cool, so when I found TechShop in San Francisco, I decided to take some welding classes! In order to practice my welding skills, I decided to take on a project and build a small wooden coffee table with an aluminium frame.
Step 1: Step 1: Design + Prep + Assembly
After browsing through some furniture stores, I did a rough sketch of what I wanted my table to look like, and decided on some dimensions that worked well in my living room (LxWxH = 40" x 22" x 15"). The base would be an aluminium frame with a wooden box on top, open to one side so that I could hide magazines and such.
I found some reclaimed wood for free on craigslist: someone in my neighborhood was tearing down an old fence, so I picked up a bunch of redwood fence boards.
I took out all the nails and dusted them a bit with a dry rag. I didn't want to remove the 'old look' on them, so I didn't sand them at all.
Then, I chose the best boards, measured them to the size I wanted my table to be (in my case 40" x 22" and 8" high for the wood part of the table). I cut the pieces with a table saw (also found on craigslist), and sanded the ends until they were exactly the right size. I ended up needing 3 x 40" boards for the top and 3 for the bottom. And then 1 board for each of the 3 sides.
I arranged the boards and started gluing them together. Since I only had 2 large clamps, I did two boards at a time, waiting a day between each gluing step. I was really careful to wipe off any excess glue before it dried, otherwise I would have needed to sand it off, and it may have damaged the silver, sun-burnt look of the wood.
Step 2: Step 2: the Aluminum Frame
Cutting the metal:
First, I purchased approximately 20 feet of 3/4" square aluminum tubing from Bayshore Metals in San Francisco. I measured all the pieces I needed and cut them at TechShop SF, using a metal chop saw. I had to grind all the edges to makes sure they were flat and smooth for the welding step.
Once I had all my pieces cut, I made sure everything fit together properly, and all the pieces were exactly the right length before starting to weld. Measurements have to be much more precise when working with metal than with wood, as there isn't as much flexibility in the material. I had taken a couple of welding classes at TechShop SF, but only ever practiced on steel. So I took an aluminum TIG welding class, and ended up needing a lot of practice! Aluminum is a much softer metal and melts at a lower temperature than steel, so it's more difficult to work with. Anyway, it took me a lot longer than I anticipated, but I eventually welded all the frame pieces together! I grinded all the welds down, and since my aluminum was all scratched up at that point, I decided to buff the whole frame with a low grit disc and grinder. It came out looking pretty cool after all!
Step 3: Sept 3: Assembly
After I completing both the aluminum frame and the wood box, I had to assemble everything together. I ended up using wood glue to glue the metal frame to the wood since I didn't have anything else on hand, and it worked out great. I added a couple of screws just in case.
I haven't coated the wood with anything, but I might do that at some point. Maybe a wax or something like that, just to protect the wood. I want to keep the look of the old wood, since it's a reclaimed wood table after all!
The final product came out pretty good and fits nicely in my living room. If I had to do it again, I might do the wood box a bit smaller and the metal frame a little taller, so they're both around the same size.