Introduction: How to Upcycle Old Drawers Into a Chabudai

About: There is something so satisfying about creating adorable projects, even more so if they are useful. Anything that can magnify beauty in this life is a worthwhile pursuit.

A Chabudai is a low table that is often used in Japan for siting at on the floor. It is the unheated version of a Kotasu, which is a low table that can have a quilt covering the leg area and a heater under the top for warmth.

We made this one with only a few simple hand tools.

My daughter recently moved into a cute little studio apartment in a historic district in the Seattle area. In short she came there to go to college with only a suitcase and a carry on. Upon moving into this studio she got super lucky as whoever lived there before had purchased a platform and a nice new full size mattress. Also left behind were a number of other items. I took a flight out to visit with her and took with me a number of items for her including mostly clothes and things for the kitchen. We then went to work making use of what had been left behind in the building by former tenants. She was told when she moved in that anything left in her studio (and another unoccupied one) were free to take.
The grand prize was an old solid pine chest of drawers that was missing all the drawers except the top and bottom ones.

The only problem was one of the legs had was previously cut shorter than the rest. Less important was the rubbings of black paint on all of them. Presumably this happened when someone painted the walls, ceilings, and flooring black.
There are pros and cons of having an apartment where the landlord allows the tenants to do as they please. Nevertheless, all the black makes it not only cozy but creates an excellent canvas on which to paint.


Tools and supplies

1. Hammer screwdriver (ratcheting is wonderful but any will do)

2. Small wood chisel or tiny pry bar Saw (only of legs or anything else needs cutting)

3. Optional - A sturdy nail for any staples that need removing. An old bent one is okay as long as it works.

4. Old chest of drawers, preferably solid wood and can be missing most or all the drawers.

5. Enough screws to hold the cross pieces to underside of the “table top” together. We used 1 1/4” screws to go through the first layer but not too far into the table top.

6. Enough screws to pin the legs to the table. We used 16 screws that were 1/2” long to pin the L brackets to the underside of the table.

7. Legs. These can be made with spare wood from the chest of drawers, salvaged (like we did), purchased from any hardware store that sells pre-made legs, or attach legs made with anything attached with an Anwenk mounting kit from AMAZON.

Step 1: Begin by Disassembling the Backside of the Chest of Drawers

Disassemble the chest of drawers removing the back side piece first by using the hammer to gently tap the nail to remove any staples holding the back on.

Note: If the back piece is wanted to be used later (possibly as an awesome giant canvas) then carefully remove the staples from the top side of the board. If the nail gets tucked under the board, it will tend to fall apart making a big mess and become more difficult to remove the staples.

Step 2: Then Remove All Cross Brackets Holding the Sides Together

Then, using the hammer while gently tapping the chisel or pry bar to separate the top piece and other wood from the main body. Remember to unscrew any screws used to hold the drawer together and plan to use any that are salvageable for assembling the table. Try to remove as much wood as possible without damage as it may be useful later.

Step 3:

Once all wood that is to be removed is gone, try fitting the two side pieces together to see how they fit and how it is liked.

Then lay the two “table top” pieces on a soft surface on the floor (preferably a carpet or thick blanket) side by side. The reason for this is because if it is laid directly on hard flooring, there may be some small grit or crumbs that dig into the “new” table top while all the pressure of screwing the two pieces together presses it into them. If there is a small amount of “cushion between them it should not be an issue.

In the second photo above, some of the removed cross pieces are at an angle. These will be used to hold the two side pieces together.

In the third photo, they are all screwed into the bottom of the new table top.

NOTE: Double check to make sure the screws hold the wood in, but do not go all the way through the table top BEFORE beginning to screw them in.

Step 4: Prepare the Legs for Assembly If Needed

The original Chabudai table heights ranged from about 6 inches to about 12 inches maximum. My daughter at 5 feet 7 inches would never be comfortable with those measurements. We made our legs a little taller.

Someone had left behind 4 coffee table legs for us. Weirdly, one of them was already cut to the perfect height. My daughter decided to mark and cut the 3 remaining leg pieces to match the already cut one... outside, in the cold and wet dark, while I held a flashlight for her and occasionally annoyed her by taking pictures. I hesitate to tell her this is the only one that made the cut.

Step 5: Attach Legs to Underside of Table Top

Then go back inside where it is warm and dry to begin assembly.

After lining up the two top pieces, screw-in only the outer two screws and begin to screw in the middle two screws being careful to not go into the second layer of wood until making sure the two top pieces are perfectly aligned as shown where the arrow is pointing in the picture below. Only then, carefully screw in the remaining two screws in that piece. This should stabilize the top pieces so they wont move around too much.

Repeat this on the opposite end of the table top. Then attach the remaining cross braces to hold the top together as one.

Please note how all of the cross bracing pieces are further stabilized by putting them up against the existing wood left behind. If we could possibly have fit the one piece second from the right between the two pieces of wood, we would have.

Note: The dark looking screws are ones we salvaged when taking apart the old chest of drawers. Those were used first.

Then begin by attaching the L brackets to the legs (or whatever is needed) prior to trying to attach the legs to the table.

Step 6: Add Finishing Touches

After the legs are all attached, stand it up and make sure everything is even and works as wanted.

Then add any finishing touches, like painting or staining any parts wanted.

The legs left behind had a little black paint on them, so they ended up being painted black.

The final product was an awesome little homework/eating table for a little studio that could be tilted up against the wall for occasional space if needed.

Step 7: Use the Remaining Pieces of the Drawers As You Please

One of the remaining drawers became a shoe bin.

The other a cat bed that is heavily used as it is tucked under the kitchen sink.

I am waiting to see the amazing art the she makes with the thin backside of the drawers. It is basically a huge free canvas because the nails and staples were carefully removed preserving it for later use as such.

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