Introduction: Recycled Tire Coffee Table

About: I reckon I was a maker before I knew we were called such. Growing up, my dad and I spent countless hours welding, cutting, banging, sawing, hammering, and "adjusting" things out in his shop. Other than my aw…

Repurposing my used truck tire into furniture was a great way to put a durable, used item to work for another lifetime.

We haven't had a coffee table for a couple of years.  My need for one and my desire to build one met up one day while I was surfing the Internet.  I read a blurp about someone who made an ottomon out of two stacked tires and suddenly my weekend now had purpose.

My wife likes the tire look for now, but there are plans for an elastic cover with remote control pockets on the perimeter in the works.

The best part is the top lifts off and there is a ton of storage inside the tire.  The leg supports effectively divide the interior space up inside and make it easier to organize, too.

Step 1: Tools & Materials

I bounced around the shop on this project a bit due to its prototypical nature, but it could have been built with far fewer tools and had the same or better outcome if I had more experience working with tires (which I do, now).

Power Tools
  • table saw
  • drill press
  • band saw
  • lathe
  • router (table mounted)
  • router (handheld)
  • belt sander
  • disc sander
  • jigsaw
  • drill
  • impact driver
Hand Tools
  • wrenches/sockets
  • screwdrivers
  • sanding block
  • hammer
  • mallet
  • pencils/markers
  • hand plane
  • old tire in need of repurposing
  • 1/2 sheet plywood
  • threaded rod
  • assorted wood screws
  • three lag screws
  • assorted washers
  • stain or paint

Step 2: Layout

I'm a fan of three legged things.  The stability of the tripod means you don't have to worry much about solid footing on any surface (like a slightly off-level tile floor).

Before working with the tire, you will benefit from giving it a good scrub-down with soapy water and a stiff brush to remove brake dust and any road-kill remnants that may be lingering.  I got a small pick and pulled the tiny pebbles and glass chunks out of the tread as well.

Now that you're tire is clean, lets move on to layout.  For the tripod, you will have to divide the tire into three even sections.  An Internet search can answer any questions you have, but I summarized the two most helpful circle geometry theorems in the image above to help out.  This video can help, too.

Once you have laid out the thirds on the inside rim of the tire, use a square (as pictured) to transfer the marks to the opposite side.

Step 3: I'm So Tired


With the thirds laid out on the inner bead, drill a hole for the support rods.  

Shop Notes
  • Rubber doesn't retain it's shape when drilled, so for a 5/16" threaded rod, you should use at least a 7/16" bit, otherwise you will have hell getting it to fit
  • Go slowly when cutting and drilling to prevent heat build-up.  Heat is the biggest killer of bits and blades:  don't go faster than the speed you would drill a screw in at.
  • Remember that tires have fibers, wires, metal, and other internal structure(s) most people don't think about.  You will encounter them when you start drilling/cutting into the rubber.
I didn't measure the distance from the inside of the bead, I placed them at the same valley on the bead all the way around.

Insert the threaded rod through the holes.  I cut the rod long enough to accomodate a nut, lock washer, and flat washer on each end.  I suggest adding about 3/8" to this length to make it easier to get the floor supports on later.

The round washers pulled on the sidewall of the tire and made an weird tension line.  I clipped the flat washer so that it didn't dig into the sidewall and the problem was fixed.


Draw the division lines out onto the sidewall.  Halfway between the bead and tread on this line is where I put the leg holes.  I could have had the legs mounted to the outside of the tire, but I wanted them to appear as if they grew out of the tire.  It produced a cleaner look that I was going for.

Choose a hole saw that is a little bigger than the diameter of the legs you are going to use for the same reasons as above.

If you need to clean up any slop around the holes you just made, a razor blade works great.

Step 4: She Got Legs

Okay, I understand most people don't have a lathe.  I also understand that if someone does have a lathe, there is an 86.4% chance they are better at it than I am.  I'm in the other 13.6%.

But I do have a lathe hanging around the shop, and I wanted to put a slight taper on the legs to give this chunky table slender legs a la 1950s furniture.  As for wood selection, this table is built out of leftovers excepting the top.  The legs are turned out of a stick of Lyptus I had in my supplies.  Later you will see the legs blackened to match our dark bookcases.

I cut the three legs apart on the table saw (be sure to support the taper to keep the leg from falling when free from the other piece).  I set my miter sled to about a 2 1/2 deg. and trimmed the top of each leg.  This makes the legs splay out a little bit;  an aesthetic decision mostly.  An example of how I wanted the legs to look like is here.

The gist of this leg design is to have the legs protrude through the tire. Each leg is attached to a plate.  These plates are screwed to a stack of plywood (see next step) that has been cut to the profile of the tire interior, transferring the load around the whole tire, not just one sidewall.  It is necessary to break this leg assembly up into two parts:  leg + plate and plywood stack.  If you join them up prior to getting them in place, it just won't fit and you will be fighting the tire.

Shop Notes
It didn't occur to me how pliable tire sidewalls were when they weren't inflated.  My first go at this didn't have the stacked  plywood leg mounts and the table felt like a jelly fish.  After correcting that, it is solid.

I drilled a pilot hole into the top of each leg so I wouldn't split it during attachment.  I don't have a chuck on my lathe, so I clamped them on my drill press.

Next you will want to make a cardboard profile pattern of the "en-tire" interior (just terrible).  

Shop Notes
For this example, cardboard is better than corrugated.  If you don't know the difference, cardboard is on the back of a pad of paper, corrugated is used in bigger boxes.  I used corrugated and about halfway through wondered why I didn't use plain cardboard.  The corrugations made it more difficult to cut and I find it harder to trace around...

Transfer the pattern onto the end of some 1x4 of hardwood stock (I think the scrap I used was Alder) that is approximately three times longer than a top plate.  Use the belt sander (very noisy, dusty option) or a hand plane (the quite, no-dust option) to trim the board to match the profile.  Contrary to the way I marked the board in the photo, you should leave a flat spot on the bottom of the plate where the leg will attach so they will have a stable joint.

After shaping the board, I cut it into the three support plates, then pre-drilled a pilot hole.  I used a Forstner bit to recess the lag bolt head into the plate so it wouldn't interfere with the stack support.  I attached the legs to their support plates using a 4" lag bolt (probably overkill, but it is what I had on hand).

Step 5: Wide Wide World of Supports

Shop Notes
MDF is a good option for making patterns that are easy to reproduce.  It shapes easily, it cuts easily, and it is cheap relative to wood.  The downside to working with MDF is it is very dusty.  This is just an annoyance if you follow safety protocol (dust mask or respiration), but if you do not wear breathing protection, you are inhaling the fibers AND the formaldehyde based adhesives they used to bond the board together.  Just be aware.

I transferred my profile pattern to a piece of scrap MDF so I could make a production pattern.  the pattern has a flat area at one end to accomodate the top support plate that was attached to each leg in the last step.

Use this production pattern to trace nine (9) copies onto 3/4" plywood.  Again, I used scraps for this as it would not be very visible.  I rough cut the copies on the band saw (jig saw will work fine) to within 1/8" of the pencil line.  I then stuck the production pattern to the copy with double sided carpet tape and table-routed the copy down to final size, making an exact duplicate of the pattern.  I then detached the pattern and repeated this step for the eight other copies.

After all of the copies were cut out and routed to the same size, I glued them together in threes and screwed them together.  

Shop Notes
Let the glue squeeze out dry for about an hour, then scrape it off.  If you wait too long, it will be hard as a rock, if you do it too soon, you will have to work with liquid glue, which will be messy.  Just rubbing it in is an option if you are painting, but if you are staining, you will wreck it.  The glue will not accept stain the same as naked wood and you will see every glue splotch.

I set up a dado blade on my table saw to cut a groove accommodating the support rods around the tire perimeter.  I cut down the middle as best I could, but then I rotated the stack and cut again.  Cutting in this way ensures a centered groove.

Step 6: Reunited

Now it is time to put the leg assemblies together.  Remove the nut from one end of the support rod at the leg where you are working.  Place the leg through the hole in the tire.  Check to make sure the rubber is pressed flat against the top support plate and not in a bind against the leg (for appearance sake).  

Place the leg support in place;  it should fit snug in the tire, but not visibly deform it.  I tapped the support into the proper position with a mallet to get it squared up with the "thirds" line and then twisted the leg to square it to the support.  Repeat for all three legs.

Turn the whole thing over and drill a pilot hole through the tire,top support plate, and into the leg support.  Secure the tire, leg, and support together with appropriate length screws.  Don't over-tighten the screws and mess up the tire.  Although I used flat head screws, pan head screws would have probably been a better option...I just didn't have any long enough on hand.

Step 7: Floored

Next, I cut a 17" diameter circle out of 1/2" scrap MDF for the bottom.  I beveled the edges so it would fit the bead tightly.  I then drilled through the bead and attached small plates with machine screws and washers to hold the bottom in place.  I placed one support at each leg, then one support between each leg for a total of six supports.

The plates are leftover Ikea hardware.  I filed and bent the outside end up a bit for a tight fit.

This is a good time to take a look at your legs...well, your table's legs anyway.  The bottom of each leg should have a slight 1/16th to 1/8th inch bevel sanded or planed onto them.  The bevel serves two purposes.  First, it makes the table look as if it is floating ever-so-slightly.  Secondly, as the table is dragged around over the years, the bevel prevents the outside wood from catching the floor and splintering off, thus preserving the quality of your table.

Step 8: Tip Top

The only part of this project that isn't re-used or from my scrap pile is the top, and the only reason is because I had already used my decent plywood up on other projects.  You'll notice I have two circles on the plywood.  That turned out to be way too heavy.  I ended up using only one of the circles and saved the other for a future project.

Shop Notes:
To make working with sheet goods easier, it is a good idea to buy a $10 sheet of rigid foam insulation from a home center and keep it around just for a cutting surface.  The foam provides stable support for your work piece all over its surface, and it is harmless to your blades.  You can put it on your workbench if it is large enough, or in the driveway, etc.  Then put the sheet on top and cut away.  I use 1 1/2" foam because it provides plenty of room for error.  Be sure you don't adjust the depth of your circular saw deeper than your foam or you will cut whatever is underneath.

After roughing out the circles to whatever diameter you want, it is time to make them nice rounds.  There are no pictures of me rounding it out because I got wrapped up in the work, but here is an outline of what I did.

I used a router with a circle trammel jig to cut the table top.  You can see what that process looks like here.  There could be a multitude of Instructables on router technique, so I will just say:

Don't bite off more than your router or you can chew.

Routers are very high speed tools (10-20,000 RPM).  I use 1/2" bits these days, but when I started woodworking, I used 1/4" bits.  I have had two bits snap on me mid-cut and fly across the room.  Metal flying across the room after being ejected by a 20,000 RPM machine will cause a pucker moment for sure.  Wear safety equipment.  Work safe.  Read up on whatever process you use for circle cutting and be comfortable that you know what you are doing.

Step 9: Photo Finish

Although I like to build furniture, I don't have a tremendous amount of time to do so.  As a result, we have some Ikea items hanging around.  In our living room, we have the "Billy" book cases in the dark (almost black) color.  I really liked the color, and since they aren't going anywhere for a while, I opted to match this to their color as best I could.

Through trial and error...mostly error...I came up with a finishing process that worked well.

It is important to treat the surface of pretty much any soft or open-pored wood before staining, otherwise it will absorb the stain at an uneven rate.  I knew this, and yet I continued on without doing it.  As soon as I put stain to wood, I knew I had made a mistake.  The softer rays of wood absorb the stain at a much greater rate than the harder rays.  When you wipe the stain away, you end up with a zebra effect that will ruin a light finish.  Luckily, I was going very dark, so I was able to fix my mistake.

Shop Notes:
There are several ways you can treat the wood to fix the uneven absorption problem.  Commercially, there is "wood conditioner" that can be applied to the wood.  It is convenient and dries quickly.  I have heard of people making a wash of a wood glue / water mix as well, but I have never tried this.  In the spirit of Instructables, I used a shop formula of 3 parts mineral spirits and 1 part satin polyurethane to fix my earlier jam...
Obviously stir stains and polyurethane well before using and follow manufacturer recommendations (if you dare).  When using polyurethane that has been hanging out in the shop for a while, it is always a pretty good idea to strain it through a cheese cloth after stirring, but before using it.  I had some that was about 8 months old and it was kinda nasty on top (see pictures).  After straining, you are left with good working material that will give you much better results with less expletives.

Be careful with the dark stains not to sand through the stain.  Due to the look I was going for, I opted to nix sanding and burnish the surface with 00 steel wool between coats to knock down any high spots.  I use cut up shop rags for application also because I hate to see a good brush get ruined due to my hatred of cleaning them.  

The stain mix I used was 1 part mineral spirits, 1 part polyurethane, and 2 parts "black onyx" stain.  The addition of the poly seemed to prevent the solids in the stain from rubbing off so easily when I burnished between coats.

To emphasize a faux grain direction, I applied the stain in straight lines.  I did not wipe the stain off because I wanted it to cover up the wild plywood grain pattern that was underneath.  After the stain was completely dry, I applied two coats of polyurethane thinned down 3:1 poly to mineral spirits.  Careful working with straight may just end up with a honey-sticky mess on your hands.  I personally don't use it unless it is thinned a bit.

Shop Notes:
I've never experienced it personally, but I don't want to.  Spontaneous combustion:  its more than sci-fi.  Many thinners, lacquers, stains, etc. have an exothermic reaction when they cure.  If you ball up a soaked rag in an enclosed space, there is a very real danger of that exothermic reaction exceeding the flash point of the materials.  Spread out your rags, clean them, or follow whatever procedures the manufacturer recommends so you don't blow yourself up or burn your own house down.

Step 10: Centering the Top & Wrap Up

To keep the top centered on the tire, you will need to put either a round attached to the underside, blocks, or something I haven't thought of.  I used three blocks to keep the top centered on the tire table.

I had a hardwood cutoff about 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" x 7" in my scrap bin.  I cut it into 2" pieces because that is the distance from the tire sidewall (bottom of the table top) to the inside of the bead.

Find the center of each block.  Countersink a hole stopping short 3/4" from the other side, then drill through with a bit just bigger than the threads of the screw you are going to attach it with (#10 x 1 1/2" flat head wood screw in my case).

I made a jig out of scrap so I could trim the edges off the block to make a taper with my bandsaw.  Otherwise, just sand it however you like.  I then used a small block plane to get the profile I wanted, then dressed it up with 100 grit and 220 grit sandpaper.  I used a wipe on / wipe off technique with a mixture of 50/50 polyurethane and mineral spirits.

Shop Notes:
When you stain items with nooks and crannies, such as the screw hole on these blocks, or a box with a panel bottom for that matter, using an air compressor with a blower nozzle on the end is awesome for getting the excess polyurethane out of the cracks and grooves.  This will keep you from getting as many runs and drips and will make for a neater presentation.

My top and the tire are almost the same diameter, so I measured the distance from the bead to the tread on the tire, then transferred that to the underside of the top.  I had the "thirds" marked on the bottom side of the table top.  In my case, I placed the outside edge of each finished block 6 7/8" from the table top edge.  Just a couple of tweaks and I had a tight fitting top.

Cabot Woodcare Contest

Second Prize in the
Cabot Woodcare Contest

3rd Annual Make It Stick Contest

Participated in the
3rd Annual Make It Stick Contest