I LOVE this website and have been reading the projects here since around 2006. I thought it was about time I posted one of my own. Better late than never. This is my most recent project and involves building end tables to fit the small gaps on either side of my couch. I hope you enjoy.
I used redwood fencing (a note about this is at the end) but you can use just about anything you can get a hold of.
- Lumber with enough length for each side of the squares
- Electric or hand planer
- Electric hand belt sander and sand paper for hand sanding
- Jigsaw (with fine toothed blade)
- 1-2 cans of Danish oil (I probably would have been just fine with one)
- Paint brush and old t-shirts
- Wood glue
- 4-6 Clamps that are at least as long as the longest board
- Newspaper for drops of glue
- Right angle tool
- Tape measure
- Hand, ear, and eye protection
- Lots of patience
Disclaimer: I'm not responsible for any injuries that may happen to you while operating power tools or attempting to complete this project on your own. Do so at your own risk. Use proper safety equipment and please be careful.
Step 1: Arrrhh Where to Set My Beer?!
- Where can I set my drink?! The coffee table is too far away, and besides, that is where I put my feet! The arm rest is soft and dome shaped, great for arms but just asking to roll a glass of wine onto the couch or carpet. Solution? End tables!
- Measure the "side" of your couch. You want to measure the height and length to determine what your squares will look like. (and in my case the maximum width to fit in the small gaps on either side of the couch). My squares were 21.5 x 31.5". Yours will probably be different.
- Head to the hardware store to pick up the lumber. If you are using fence panels, they are rough cut and you will need to plane them (or at least sand the splinters away, if you're going for a rustic look).
- Use a hand planer until one board is done and your arm feels like it may fall off. (pro tip: hold the planer at an angle to shave off paper thin curls and avoid tear out)
- Next, return to the hardware store and purchase an electric hand planer. Return home and complete the rest of the surfaces in half the time it took to finish one side with the hand planer.
- Use a right angle tool and a jigsaw to cut the boards to the proper size. Remember to cut the full length and height. (You will be making finger joints so the "fingers" will be the full length of the board. Cut the grooves to the same depth as the thickness of the boards.)
- Use your hand sander in the direction of the grain with 80, 120, then 220 grit sand paper.
Step 2: Marking Your Cuts
After planing and sanding, the grain lines really started to show through and some pieces were nicer than others.
- Lay out the boards so the nice surfaces will show and the not so nice sides face the wall. Remember the tops of the long boards, and the forward facing surfaces of the short pieces will be most visible. Mark the joints "A" "B" "C" etc... on matching board corners.
- Choose how many fingers in the joint you want. I felt the fewer the better for aesthetics and since they really were only going to hold some drinks, they did not need to have crazy strong joints.
- Next, with your pencil, square and a piece of paperboard, get ready to mark your lines. Since this was all done with hand tools, the boards were slightly different widths. Using a piece of thick paper as a template, mark the cut lines based on the center-line of each board. This will ensure your joints line up and there is no large overhang on one side. Measuring everything from the center, as opposed to measuring from the sides, corrects for this human error.
Step 3: Correcting for Warping
- Using cheap lumber means it is sometimes still damp at the store and more likely to warp or cup when it has fully dried. The proper way to deal with warp is to run the boards through a large table planer, flattening the boards. Since my lovely girlfriend will not allow me to have huge power tools in our 650 square foot apartment, I don't have anything like this. The curves will have to stay.
- While lining up the joints again, after marking cut lines for the fingers, plan to cut the notches slightly deeper to make space for the curved board. Also, it is easier to nock off the overhanging fingers than sand the whole board down to the level of a too short finger.
- Mark the boards. Be clear which squares are to be removed and which stay. I made the long/top boards have more fingers than the short side boards, resulting in less end-grain showing on top. You could get really creative here and cut different sized fingers for the joint or even dove tails.
Step 4: Cut the Joints and Sand to Fit
- Cut out the marked squares using your jigsaw, (go slow for clean lines and less sanding).
- Cut to the side of the line, on the part to be removed. This will make sure your joints fit snugly together. The width of a saw blade can be enough to prevent contact and gluing. If this happens to you, don't panic. I suggest some gorilla glue which will help fill the space and glue the boards tight. It may not look as precise but you don't have to scrap it either.
- Attempt to fit the pieces together and sand accordingly until the joints line up. More care with the jigsaw will mean less time sanding later. The boards can be snug when you put them together. You can even do a dry run with the clamps to see what they would look like when pushed together and to show where to sand more material off.
- Remove any pencil lines with the pencil eraser and sand the board again using 220 grit sand paper.
Step 5: Glue, Clamp, Clean, Align, Dry, Repeat.
- Make sure you get all the proper corners lined up with the correct surface facing up or out. Ready, Set, Glue!
- I used Elmers wood glue and a paintbrush to smear the glue on the surfaces for good coverage. Your primary sticking surface will be the sides of the fingers with the grain crossing at 90 degrees so make sure you cover these well. You can glue the inside end grain surfaces as well, but the finger sides are key.
- Use the blocks left over from cutting to keep the clamps from marking up the boards. Use the clamps to squeeze the joints and minimize gaps. The gaps are sort of inevitable since this was done by hand.
- Quickly wipe off the excess glue that has squeezed out of the joint with a damp cloth to avoid more sanding.
- Finally, check for a 90 degree angle using a right angle tool on the inside of the joint. Because the boards are long, you can sort of push them into proper alignment if they are only off by a little. Wait at least two hours, unclamp the first joint and move onto the next.
- Glue, clamp, clean, align, dry, repeat.
- You are going to have some overhanging fingers from your joints. Using your hand sander, carefully remove these to make flush corners. Start with 80, then 120, then 220 grit again. I forgot to take a picture of this but you can see how I rounded the fingers to the shape of the curved boards in the last picture here.
- Make sure you try to remove all pencil marks, sanding marks, planing marks etc... before you move to the finishing phase.
Step 6: Choose Your Finish
When choosing a finish, think about how your piece of furniture will be used, what will be placed on it, if it will be inside or out etc.. A very popular furniture finish is Danish oil. Danish oil is mostly linseed oil, a very small amount of varnish and a solvent such as mineral spirits. The solvent carries the oil and varnish into the wood where it dries. Multiple coats may be applied without sanding between layers. I eventually put four thick coats of danish oil on the boards. Allow a half hour for the oil to soak in, then wipe off the excess with a clean, lint-free rag. You can see how it brings out the grain in the first picture and the side by side comparison. Technically I think you are not to apply Danish oil in direct sun light or it will "flash," meaning the solvent will evaporate too quickly, leaving the oil on the surface, instead of absorbed into the grain. I just chose the afternoon on a slightly less sunny day and it seemed to work out OK. Allow to fully dry over 5-8 days. You can touch the surface really at any point, and not worry about leaving prints or streaks in the finish. This is very forgiving for someone who has never worked with any finishes before.
Use coasters to avoid water marks.
Step 7: Ah, the World Is Right Again... Kinda.
With beer on end table, I hope you enjoyed this instructable. Let me know if you have questions.
A long note about the beginning of this project that was too wordy to put at the start of the instructable:
You will first scour the interwebs for days looking for skinny (<8" wide) tables to fit in the narrow gaps left by your couch nook from the wall. They have to look nice, but have to be cheap (since we live in San Francisco and do not work for Google). OK, so my "problem" was very specific to my situation, but you could totally make these end tables even without the space restrictions and they would still look nice and very modern.
Next, develop bitterness towards Overstock.com, Ikea and others for not having exactly what you need/want, when you want it. First-world problems, I know. Then determine you could probably do a better job making them yourself, on your tiny patio with just hand tools! Go to a big box hardware store and find the cheapest lumber available that looks OK (remember SF sans Google paycheck). In my case, Redwood fencing, rough cut boards...
Wait! What? Redwood? Like the huge trees I was taught as a child were a National Treasure?? Run home. Google Redwood sustainability and find multiple websites touting the sustainability of Redwood! Puzzled, return to store thinking, "when in Rome" and purchase lumber. After all, it does look nice. Having completed half of the project, read additional information pointing to redwood as an unsustainable lumber species. Find this to be a heated debate between lumber companies and preservationists/ 5th grade science classes. Feel outrage that I was convinced otherwise AND people are using them for FENCE POSTS??? Vow to write an apology letter to my 5th grade science teacher Mrs. Reynolds for such a foolish act.
There are lots of boards out there that can be stained, finished, or painted to make wonderful end tables from sustainable lumber. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. I have one board left over from the project so I will try and make the most of it with another ible, should it turn out well.