Introduction: Making a Dining Room Table Out of Bleachers
My lumber storage has been overflowing with bleacher wood for over 6 months and the table in our dining room is a Warehouse Overstock special. It is time to put my skills to work and build something proper to break bread at. So let's build a nice modern table, out of some really nasty wood.
My name is Rick and I have a YouTube channel WoodWorkLIFE, if you want to see more cool projects like this check out my channel and subscribe to stay in the loop with future builds.
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Step 1: Collect the Materials and Remove The...Gum and Don't Eat Any
For this table I used some old growth Douglas Fir that I recovered from some old bleachers that were torn down at a local middle school (St. Louis) The stock was exactly as you would expect with Graffiti and gum all over the place. I scraped the boards because I wasn't about to find out what Bubble Yum did to planer blades. But whatever you do don't eat it, remember want Santa said, "If you find gum on the streets, it is not free candy."
I first laid out the boards to ensure I actually had enough material. A proper dining room table is typically 30" wide and 30 inches tall. I went with a little wider table top at closer to 34" with the typical 30" table top for ergonomics.
If you don't luckily find some decommissioned bleacher like I did, you could certainly substitute a hardwood (Oak, Walnut, Mahogany) or even Poplar if you were going to paint the project. Construction pine is too soft to cut proper joinery in, and would move too much over time to make a reliable table top that would last.
Step 2: Mill the Bleachers, Into Wood
As with any woodworking project involving reclaimed or rough sawn lumber, most of the work is going to be getting the stock into a workable square on 4 sides and proper dimensions.
The first step for this stock was ripping one edge square and straight. In this case I used the www.TrueTracSaws.com universal track saw track to cut a straight edge but you could use your joiner if the bed accommodates, or a straight edge and your circular saw. From there you can take the board to the table saw to bring the other edge into parallel.
I then referenced that face against the fence on my joiner and squared the face of the board. I then used that squared face on the bed of my planer to bring the other side to parallel and to the final thickness.
I released a video that goes in depth into my lumber milling process with both hand tools or machines, you can check that out here, or in the embedded video.
From there you will just need to cut the pieces to final dimensions hopefully removing any snipe on the boards. My table was 34x72x30 with a 1" thick breadboard top so my cut list is below.
3"x58" x2 pieces
3" x 26 x2 pieces
3.5"x32" x16 pieces
3"x66" x1 piece
8"x56" x4 pieces
8"x36" x2 pieces
Step 3: Glue Up the Legs and Table Top Sub Assemblies
You are probably going to need a few clamps if you want to glue all of this up in one fell swoop, so collect all the clamps you have. And I mean ALL.
I like to layout all of the pieces for the leg glue ups before hand so I can get in the groove gluing these up. Be sure to spread plenty of glue on these joints so you get a good lamination and clamp evenly.
Once the legs are glued up you can also glue up the table top sub assemblies. You could use biscuits or dominoes for alignment for these pieces, or you could just be very careful to line them up. I guess technically you could glue up the whole table top at once, but that is a bit risky.
Leave the legs and table top sub assembly to dry over night then clean up the glue squeeze out and cut to final dimensions. You will also want to run the table sub assembly through your table saw with your best rip blade to ensure the table top is seamless.
Step 4: Assemble the Tabletop and Attach the Breadboards
Once the sub assemblies are ready it is time to join them together to make the full table top. The question I have for you here is, do you want to sand a lot? Or not?
If you don't use them simple inexpensive and oft overlooked tool the biscuit joiner and spline the two sub assemblies together. Be sure to glue and clamp evenly and you should have a nice continuous table top.
From there you will want to rip the two edges of the table into square (I used the track saw again) and begin the process of assembling the breadboard ends. This is probably the most difficult part of the build, but no fears, I made a whole video on the topic here or in the embedded video. You will also learn a little bit about wood movement and why breadboard ends can be so important.
Step 5: Cut the Tenons and Layout the Mortises
Typically you would cut the mortises first and then cut the tenons to fit, and if you are going to be cutting these by hand, stick with that.
If you are going to be machining the joinery however, cut some sample mortises in a piece of scrap with your chosen router bit and method of choice. Then set the dado blade to the appropriate height, and add a zero clearance fence and stop block to your miter gauge batch out all of your tenons. This will make layout of the mortises A LOT easier.
Layout can be made a lot easier by marking your squarest edge of each leg as the outside corner of each leg. Then lay them in a stack as they would be oriented in the final table and mark the orientation of the mortise and tenon joints. This will help you keep track of the orientation as you cut the mortises and put the table together. Layout your leg assemblies and use the shoulders of your freshly cut tenons to register against the legs and layout the positions of the mortises. One set of mortises, for the aprons, should be tight up against the top of the leg. The other one should be somewhere down from there wherever the proportions look right, mine were about 4" off the ground so you could vacuum under them.
Once all the tenons are cut, use chisels and rasps to round over the tenons to fit the sample mortise.
Step 6: Cut the Mortises and Dry Fit and Break the Edges
I used the www.TrueTracSaws.com Router sled a half inch up cut bit from www.CarbideProcessors.com along with a couple of sheets of plywood to rig up a jig to cut my mortises. I will make a more permanent version of this in a future video on my YouTube channel, so subscribe over there if you are interested in seeing my adjustable Mortising jig.
After the mortises are cut, this is your last chance to test fit and tune your joinery to make sure the finished project comes together square and the way you want it. This is also a good time to think about how you are going to clamp your joints together and get your clamps ready.
Before glue up, it is a good idea to break all the corners with a 1/4" round over bit, or a 1/8" if you want them to be sharper, and sand all of the pieces down to 150 grit (you'll thank me later.)
1/2" Up Cut Bit
Step 7: Glue It Up and Attach the Stretcher
Glue up all of your mortises being sure to clamp them squarely and evenly. It may be a good idea to glue up to two outer frames as separate assemblies and letting them dry first, before gluing in the long aprons to save yourself some headaches.
I used a ratchet strap to glue in the long stretchers, being very careful to keep all the legs square. After the glue had dried for about 30 minutes, I brought the assembly up on the workbench to install the stretcher. This stretcher is simply notched and dadoed in. It provides not only a functional strengthening piece to prevent the legs from racking, but also provides and interesting design element to the frame of the table.
Katz-Moses Magnetic Dovetail Jig
Step 8: Apply Finish
The finish I chose to use for this was rather unique. I don't normally like using stain on wood but this Douglas Fir was just too orange for my taste so I chose to mute it a bit with a contrasting color (purple.)
I started by staining the whole thing with Minwax Dark Walnut stain (this would seep into the most porous parts of the wood. Then I lightly applied a coat of Minwax Classic Grey and quickly wiping it off. Once these coats were thoroughly dry, I sanded out the middle of each board with 150 grit sand paper to reveal some of the underlying brownish/orange color. I then applied a liberal coat of Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO) to accentuate the orange color and create the contrast I was looking for.
After rubbing in the BLO, I applied three thin coats of MinWax Semi-Gloss Quick Drying Polyurethane wiping down with a lint free cloth (t-shirt scrap) between coats to minimize sanding/burnishing at the end.
Minwax Dark Walnut Stain
Minwax Classic Grey
MinWax Semi-Gloss Quick Drying Polyurethane
Step 9: All That Is Left Is to Make Dinner
And, the table is done. I let the Polyurethane cure in my shop for a few days before bringing the table inside to avoid off-gassing too much in the house. The table was a joy to build, but the finish was a lot more than I bargained for. I am sure this will be one of many tables I build, but I liked it.
Be sure to check out the videos in the instructions for some more in depth demonstration and subscribe to my YouTube channel for more like this.
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