Introduction: Flat Pack End Table
Ikea dominates the market for flat-pack furniture, but you don't have to be stuck with big-box mediocrity in your living room. The LACK, their most popular end table design, is a sixty-dollar cube of blandness. And, judging by the alleys here in Baltimore, it doesn't tend to last long. For way less money, and a little more time, you can put together your own flat-pack end tables that look better and last longer.
A slim 16" x 24", this lightweight table was made from leftover scraps of plywood and salvaged 2x6s. The only new parts were a set of 1/4" bolts to attach the legs and a little lacquer. All told, a pair of these tables were made in one Saturday for about $10. You can customize the design to fit the materials you have available or to make it match your space.
For more salvaged, modern, flat-pack designs, check out Guerilla Furniture Design, which collects 35 of my best designs in one convenient volume or follow me on Instagram and Twitter @objectguerilla!
You will need these tools:
- Chop saw
- Table or circular saw
- Band or jigsaw
- Hand plane
- 2-3 clamps
- Drill + 1" + 3/8" bits
- Ratchet set (or not, if you use wing nuts)
- Tape measure
You will need these materials (per table):
- 4' of 2x6 material
- 1 piece of 1/2" (or 5/8" or 3/4") plywood, approx. 16" x 24"
- 2 pieces of plywood approx. 2-1/2" x 24"
- 8 1-1/4" drywall or wood screws (I use Spax, which are meant for going into edge grain without splitting)
- 8 1/4" x 1-1/2" hex-head bolts
- 16 1/4" cut washers
- 8 1/4" nuts (or wing nuts, for tool-free assembly)
- Pack of four foot levelers
- Wood glue
- Lacquer/polyurethane/finish of your choice
- Pickling stain (optional)
Step 1: Rough Cuts
Use a table or circular saw to size the table top to 16" x 24". This is a fairly standard end table size, but you don't have to be constrained by convention. If you get any narrower than 16", the stability of the table may suffer. You could also adapt this design to an oval or freeform top. Cut two strips of plywood to 2-1/2" wide by 24" long to make the substructure. I made this table from 1/2" plywood, but in retrospect, it would sturdier if it was made from 5/8" or 3/4" stock.
For the legs, cut the 4' piece of 2x6 into two 24" blanks. Measure in 1-1/2" from one corner across the end of the blank and make a mark; do the same from the opposite corner at the opposite end. Connect the marks to make a diagonal line that splits the blank lengthwise. This allows you to get two legs out of the same piece of material for maximum efficiency. Cut this line (carefully) on the bandsaw. Use a jointer or hand plane to smooth out any irregularities in the cut.
Step 2: Substructure
The X-shaped brace across the underside of the table serves to stiffen and brace the top and creates a flange for attaching the legs. First, miter each end at 5 degrees, cutting off as little material as possible, to match the eventual taper of the legs. The miters should be opposed, meaning they both point in towards the center of the piece.
To allow the pieces to cross, there needs to be a notch in the center of each strip. To achieve this, set the depth stop on the chop saw (usually a little screw adjustment piece to the left or the right of the blade) so that the blade stops 1-1/4" above the surface of the saw base. Set the miter to 15 degrees. Mark the center line of each strip. Cut a 1/2" notch (or whatever the width of your material is) centered on the center line by drawing the saw down and through the strip over and over again.
IMPORTANT: make sure one notch is in the "top" of one strip and the other notch is in the "bottom" of the other notch. In other words, after cutting the two opposing miters, you will have a short side of the strip and a long side of the strip. The long side is the bottom, and the short side is the top. The notches have to enter from opposite ends to fit together correctly.
Use a straight edge or a board to make a light pencil line connecting the corners of the tabletop. Align the strips on the line, and attach with glue and 4 screws through the top of the table into each strip. Pre-drill and drive screws slowly to prevent splitting. Countersink until the screws are just flush with the tabletop. I used #6 flush-head screws that are very unobtrusive. If you want a cleaner look on your table top, you can overdrive the screws and plug the holes with dowels.
Step 3: Legs!
The legs each have a lap notch at the top so they fit neatly onto the flange underneath the table. They also slant outwards for extra stability.
First, miter each end of each leg at 5 degrees, in parallel, removing as little material as possible. IMPORTANT: make sure the factory edge of the leg is against the fence for each cut to ensure consistent cuts. Stack and align your legs to make sure they are the same length, shaving a bit more off the miters if necessary.
To make the notches, employ the same depth-stop trick as you did for the substructure, this time setting it to cut 1/2" into the leg material, or 1" above the base of the saw. Notch the legs by drawing the saw (still set at a 5 degree miter) repeatedly through the material until you have a notch that is 1/2" deep and 2-1/2" across. Clean out the excess chips with a chisel.
Clamp the leg to the substructure to check fit and adjust notch with chisel as necessary. Lay out two bolt boles and drill through with a 3/8" bit so the 1/4" bolt has some adjustment room. Counterbore 1/4" deep with a 1" diameter Forstner or paddle bit so the bolt head and nuts will lay flush.
Ease the edges of the legs with a hand plane and sand with an orbital sander.
Step 4: Finish and Assembly
To get the whitewash effect on the tabletop, I used a pickling stain. It is a non-toxic, water-based product that you paint on and wipe off, adding coats for further opacity. I top-coated everything with two coats of brushing lacquer and some furniture wax. You can use whatever product you've got handy or like the look of.
After finishing, add foot levelers to each leg. They come in packs of four, and consist of a plastic of metal socket and a threaded foot piece. Pre-drill and tap in the socket, then screw in the feet.
Last, bolt the legs onto the flanges. If you use wing nuts, assembly can be totally tool-free. If not, you'll need a ratchet and some vise grips to tighten everything up.
Set it up in your space and enjoy!
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