Introduction: Redwood Table & Chairs

About: Part man, part machine -- all awesome!

My landlords replaced a rotting fence when I moved in.  The posts were certainly done for, but the slats were great, minus the bottom three or four inches.  Being the friendly, kind, considerate, and opportunistic individual that I am, I offered to "get rid of" the lumber for them -- free of charge!

Many months later, I finally made the time to finish this project.

Step 1: Preparation

Personally, I find getting started to be the hardest part of any big project.  Cleaning up the boards was easy enough, using the table saw and planer.  The lumber was a little warped, but since it was old it was cut thick and I was still able to keep a 3/4" thickness when I was done.

The most time consuming part of the process was definitely the design, as I wouldn't be entirely satisfied with the result and ended up redesigning multiple times until things were refined properly.  After the initial sketches I created a computer model just to be certain of my dimensions.

Step 2: Redwood Table Top

With all the lumber cleaned up and ready to use, it was time to get cutting!  I used a table router to create rabbet joints (always thought 'rabbit' was a weird name, until I finally looked it up...) as the joints would be more rigid than biscuits.  When measuring, it is important to know the overall width AND the overlap from your joints.  It is easy for you numbers to get off here.

Once the boards are all cut it is time to glue and clamp.  Heavy weights will help, and let sit 24 hours.  When the top had dried I added runners around the perimeter and lateral supports underneath in the middle.  The increased depth from the sides gave rigidity and stability.

The top surface was pretty smooth, but still needed some hand planing to even everything out.

The opening in the middle needed a steel insert (you'll see...).

Finally, a steel band went around the perimeter (1.25" if I recall) with countersunk holes to attach it to the table.  This band helped with the overall industrial look as well as hide all of the joints.  Since this table was going outside, I opted not to inlay the steel since I wasn't sure how much expansion and contraction to expect from the wood, and gave it some wiggle room.

Step 3: Nice Legs

To get the right aesthetic, the legs needed to be beefy... then I decided to go overboard.  I ended up with 2.5" steel and hardware that was rated for 7,000 lbs. (or something equally ridiculous).  I tried thinner steel for a mock-up, but the proportions looked wrong.

There's a lot going on during this step, so I will put annotations in the images.  Roughly, the process went: measure, measure, cut, clean, deburr, descale, drill, tack, weld.  Having a jig for the welding helped ensure the two sides were identical and square.

The bottom plates for the foot mounts were cut on the water jet for a perfect, snug fit.  We did not have a tap and die set large enough for the over-sized hardware, so I had to weld a nut to the plate for the feet to be adjustable.  Stainless steel hardware is better because if it is zinc plated you must remove the zinc before welding. 

Step 4: Chairs

The chairs frames were made with 1.25" cold rolled 16 gauge steel and 0.5" bars for the cross supports.  Since I needed to make six identical chairs, I made another jig with the CNC router from scrap MDF to ensure consistent, square corners.  All of the sides were welded together first and then ground down where lateral pieces were going or to ensure the wood seat laid flat.

For the cross bars, I planed down scrap wood to make sure the bars were consistently (and quickly) centered.

In order to get the seat portion done correctly and quickly I utilized my computer model to set up a file for the CNC router.  This allowed for the seats to have that subtle indent for your rump -- in less than 30 minutes.  Since I used the same digital file for the seats as the welding jig, everything fit together beautifully and I got to skip many headaches!

I routed all the edges, and then sanding was a breeze.  There are a few assembly pics included here, but I'll cover the finish work in the next step.

Step 5: Finish Work

On this project I was going for an industrial aesthetic and felt a metal stain/patina was a better choice than powder coating.  The particular patina I used can be applied either hot or cold (I chose cold), and can be sprayed, brushed, or soaked (if a small object).  The key here is to work quickly all over to prevent pooling and ensure an even application.  While the patina is not cheap, it is also concentrated and should be diluted (in a separate container) to your preferred darkness.  The only catch here is that you are now trying to paint steel with water... which makes this inherently challenging.  This was the process I used for all the steel elements in the project.

The patina contains iron oxide (not the lovelies of smells) and the stained material must be rinsed and dried for the chemical reaction to stop.  Follow up with polyurethane right away to prevent further rusting.  I didn't want the steel to be completely black, just darkened enough that it wasn't so shiny as raw steel. 

For the wood, while I wanted to retain the imperfections, certain knots needed to be patched in order to prevent them from falling out later on.  Use the fine dust from the orbital sander catch bag as the base for any wood filler.  Start with a liberal amount of wood glue and slowly add the saw dust (stirring as you go) until the paste is no longer glossy.

To finish off the wood I went with danish oil and applied it with a 100% cotton rag (ie: old shirt).  Apply evenly and with the grain.  Allow for the oil to fully penetrate the wood before continuing.  While the oil supposedly has a sealing agent in it already, I opted to add polyurethane to give it a little extra protection.

Step 6: Final Product

After numerous hours of work, the table and chairs are finally done!  Now I can enjoy the weather with a seat outside and have room for company to join me.  The center portion holds a planter for succulents (an idea I stole from the Sunset gardens last time I visited), the table feet are adjustable to account for the uneven ground, and the table legs can be detached for easy transport.

I just couldn't justify thousands of dollars for a table and chairs, especially when I had the materials literally on my doorstep and TechShop just down the street.  Plus, I was able to make everything taller than normal to accommodate me being 6'2".  Not only did I save a ton of money, but the custom design fit my needs better than anything on the market!

It's a rich color now, but I'm curious to see how it ages in the coming years, as I intend to have this for set for some time.