Have you ever seen one of those old giant wooden spools and thought, "I bet that would make a pretty handy table! Too bad it's so ugly."
What if I told you it could be cleaned up and turned into something attractive and functional for around $30 of materials and a couple afternoons of work? It can! All you need are a few basic tools:
- a Sawzall (something that can cut a curve through 3-4" of wood, depending on the size of your spool)
- 3" screws and screwdriver
- wood staples and staple gun
and a few other supplies:
- Wooden cable spool (recommend at least 3 feet in diameter)
- scrap lumber (at least 6 feet of 2x4 per bench)
- 1/2" camping foam or other padding
- a couple of vinyl tablecloths
(I decided to make this instructable after I had finished the project, my apologies for having to stage some of the pics to re-create the process. Any questions, just ask!)
Step 1: Find a Spool
These are fairly common with electrical and cable companies, though not all of them will give a spool away for free. I found mine by the dumpster in my storage unit, it had been there for a few weeks before I decided to see what I could do with it. You can also check your local hardware or home improvement store.
Step 2: Cut Off One Side
Using your Sawzall, cut the outer ring off of one side. Leave about an inch or two going around the middle drum, this will keep all the other parts in place. I found it easiest to do the cutting with the spool up on the rims, so I could keep the saw on the top and use the drum as a guide. It was slow going, since the sides of the spool were 2 layers thick, so don't be afraid to stop and take a break periodically.
Step 3: Make the Bench Tops
Once the ring is off, decide how many benches you'd like. The size of my spool lent itself to 4 single-person seats, so I cut the ring into quarters, but you could do 3, 5, or 6 benches depending on the size of yours. Cut the ring into equal pieces, then decide which side you want "up". The top will be what people are sitting on, so you don't want any splinters or nails poking up. Even with the padding we'll be adding on, a little pointy bit now can be a big headache later!
Step 4: Add the Legs
Now we need to figure out the size and angle of the legs. A standard chair seat height is 18", and for good stability, the legs of your bench should extend a little bit beyond the back of it. You'll need to do a little bit of trigonometry, but once you have the measurements set, the rest of the assembly is pretty easy. My bench tops were 2" thick and about 15" deep from the inside points to the back of the curve, so I needed about a 35 degree angle and 20" long 2x4's... which I didn't quite have enough wood for. I was able to fudge the legs a bit to get 18" long sections, which came out close enough. I pre-drilled the holes, one toenailed in from the bottom and 2 straight down from the top for each leg, then screwed the center of each "x" together. (I'm planning to add a cross piece to connect the legs later on to stop any side-to-side wobble. if you have enough scrap wood, you can do that now)
Step 5: Legs for the Table
A standard dining table height is about 30", so if your spool isn't quite high enough, you may want to add a little bit of scrap to the base to lift it up some. With the scraps I had, I went with a loose 5-point star setup for the feet, doesn't have to be perfect since nobody will see that part.
Step 6: Paint!
A little bit of paint can dress up some really ugly wood, and makes it last a lot longer too. Paint all the exposed surfaces you can get to- I had some spare white paint the previous owners left in my garage, but if you're not too particular on the color, you can sometimes get some returned paint for cheap from one of the home improvement stores.
Step 7: Padding
A little bit of cushion goes a long way! For use outside, it's best to use a waterproof closed cell foam, like something for camping. I had some black foam rubber left over from another project; I just traced the top of each bench and cut it out. While you can glue or tape it down, the next step will hold everything in place pretty well, so it's not really needed.
Step 8: Upholster
Here's the part that really dresses it up- once your paint has dried, wrap your table and bench tops in the vinyl tablecloth. I found both a round and square version at walmart with matching patterns for about $6 total. Just lay out the fabric, put your tabletop upside down on it, and trace a good 6" or so around the outside edge. Cut along the line with your scissors, and wrap the cloth over the edge of the table, smoothing and folding it as you go. The pleats don't have to be even, since nobody will really see that part of the table, but you do want to make sure to pull out any creases or bubbles as you go, using the staple gun to secure it. You may want to tack down 4 opposing sides to get it stretched out before tucking the rest of the edges in. Then do the same thing for the benches. These can be a little more challenging, since they're oddly shaped, but as long as you have enough fabric to cover, it doesn't matter how much you bunch it up underneath. The vinyl probably won't last more than a season, but the beauty of it is that you can change it up each year and get a whole new looking set!
Step 9: Kick Back and Enjoy!
Lastly, if you want to add an umbrella, just slice an "X" in the cloth where the middle hole goes through. You can reinforce it with a little Duck tape to stop the tears from getting any bigger. Then pour yourself a nice cool drink and relax at your new picnic table!