Introduction: Stand for an Outdoor Arbor at an Indoor Wedding
So you're getting married. All is going well. But there's one problem, and it's a showstopper: The fancy arbor you chose for decor is designed to stand up by sticking into the squishy ground, but your indoor venue has decidedly non-squishy solid floors.
Throw the arbor away! All is lost.
Wait! Don't do that yet. There's hope.
With a little work, we can make a beautiful stand that will keep the arbor from tipping over and squishing even a single soul. You could actually do this with a 2x4, a hand saw, and a drill. But with a few more tools, you can make something a little fancier yet, like what I did recently for my friends' wedding.
A quick note before you continue reading: There's a full build video above with more detail. But the tutorial doesn't exactly match the order I did things in real life. That's because I was figuring things out as I went along, doing things like curving the ends so I could see how the pieces looked when they fit together to decide final dimensions. A few steps would have been easier if I had done them in a different order, so I changed that up for the tutorial.
The below is a list of supplies and tools I used in this project, with notes on substitutes where applicable.
- 2x8 pine lumber, 8 ft.: The wood stand you see in the teaser for this post isn't 8 inches tall. So why start with a 2x8 instead of something smaller like a 2x4? It's because 2x8s generally are cut from less twisty parts of the log, which means you get straighter wood. Straight wood is easier to work with than twisty, curvy stuff. That being said, starting with a 2x8 does mean more processing on the table saw, so you're trading some effort on the front end in exchange for easier material to work with on the back end. Essentially, if you don't have a table saw or are scared to use one, I'd go with a 2x4 so you can skip the need for that tool.
- Your choice of finish: I left them bare. This saved time and cost for an item that likely might not see much practical use beyond one very important night of your life.
- Table saw: Useful for ripping, aka cutting boards down the long way. You can do this with a circular saw as well, though it's more intimidating. A hand saw is similarly possible but will take much longer.
- Miter saw: Useful for cross cutting long boards, aka shortening them. These are especially handy for cutting repeat, exact-length boards. But that precision isn't necessarily ... necessary ... here. A circular saw or hand saw will work great here.
- Small can of something: We'll use this to mark the curve for the corners. I used a small paint can. A pop can, soup can, candle, cup, or anything round in that size could work.
- Band saw or jig saw: We'll use this to cut the curve for the corners. There's nothing like a good band saw for the shop. They are expensive, though. A jig saw, especially when mounted upside down, is less pleasant to use but will absolutely work here for less money. It can also cut the straight lines, too, so it could technically do all of the cutting for this project.
- Drill or drill press: We'll use this to drill the holes for the legs to mount into the wood. A drill press would work better for this to both set the drill depth and add more force to your drilling, but it isn't necessary.
- Stationary sander: I used a Rigid oscillating edge/belt spindle sander to smooth out the curved cuts. Hand sanding will work but could take quite a while. You could also put a drum sanding bit into a drill or drill press for the same effect.
- Drill bit: This should be the same size or a little larger than the diameter of your arbor legs. The pipes on the arbor I was working with measured 9/16", so I went with a 5/8" drill bit. While I used a Forstner bit, I should have just used a faster and cheaper spade bit. Either one would work great.
- Random orbital sander: I highly recommend using this for the finishing. This tool makes a tedious task much faster and easier. But you could skip this and just invest a little more elbow grease in manual sanding as well.
Sandpaper: A good framework is to start with rough 80 grit, move to medium 120 grit, and finish with fine 220.
- Router with 1/4" roundover bit: We'll use this to rounder the rough edges after we make our cuts. A sander or handplane can do the same thing with a bit more time and effort.
Step 1: Cutting to Size
First, I took the 2x8 to my miter saw and cut it down to 24". Then I lined that cut up on the remaining board, made a mark, and cut again, getting myself two pieces of nearly exactly the same length.
On the table saw, I ripped those boards down the middle. Instead of trying to hit the exact middle, I then ran those ripped boards through again at a slightly thinner width, now giving me four nearly-exact-same-sized boards.
Taking two of those boards back to the miter saw, I set a heavy item (my Great Grandpa's anvil-shaped object) in the path of the boards on the cutting surface. Then I marked one board at 9 inches and got it lined up with the blade on the saw, naturally pushing the anvil with the edge of the board in the process. I cut that board. When grabbing the next one, instead of having to mark it at 9 inches again, I could just carefully use the anvil as a stop block. Three cuts later and, again, I had another 4 feet of nearly exactly the same length.
Finally, I set the rip fence on my table saw to cut off 1" and ripped those four boards to the same width again.
Now I had two tall long boards, which I'll call the main boards, and two shorter short boards, which I'll call the foot boards.
If you're paying attention to the photos above, you'll see that I already curved the ends of the foot boards when I ripped them down to size. I should have waited to cut those curves until they were to final width, because it would have been easier and safer to rip them if those curves weren't there. This still worked fine but you do need to make extra attention during such a cut.
Step 2: Mark Layout Lines
Next, we'll mark the layout lines for the notches that join the pieces together and the holes for the arbor legs. This was a little tricky for a couple reasons. One, I wanted this all to be symmetrical. Two, I didn't have access to the arbor when I was making these, so I had to rely on supplied measurements. If I would have had the arbor right there, I could have used it to mark from, which would have been much easier. But this worked well, too.
First I marked where the legs of the arbor would slide into the top of main boards. This turned out to be about 5" from either end. This will double as a starting point for where we'll cut our notches, so I transferred that mark down to the bottom as well.
Along the same lines, I then marked the center of the length of one of the foot boards on its top for the other side of the notch.
Next I marked a line on the center of the thickness on a different foot board. One easy way to do this is to measure the thickness of the board with a caliper, divide that number by two, reset the caliper to that new number, and then use the caliper to score a line on the center of the board. To account for any marking error, I did the same from the other side and split the difference between the two marks.
Now we need to use that foot board to mark the extent of the notches. I took that foot board and aligned the center line with the notch mark on the bottom of one of the main boards. Then I marked the edges of the foot board in that spot on the main board. I did the same on the first foot board that I marked with the centerline.
We only need to do this tedious marking task on one of each type of board, because after we cut the notches, we can use those cuts as templates for the other boards.
Step 3: Cutting the Notches
Now we need to cut those notches that combine the main boards and the feet into one unit. I used a table saw with a cross cut sled for this, but almost any sort of saw would work.
First I started with my marked-up main board. I set the depth of the table saw blade to be about 1 1/2" inches, or about half of the height of the main board. I lined up one side of the notch layout line with the blade, playing it safe here because the precision of these first two cuts determines how well my boards would fit together, then cut it. I then lined up the other side of the notch layout line with the blade and cut that one. With the precise cuts out of the way, I then went to town and repeated this process until all the waste in the middle was gone.
Next I tested the fit with one of the foot boards. If it was tight, I could go back to the saw and take a little more off, sneaking up on the right fit.
Now I could repeat the process on the other end of the main board. Once that was complete, I could use that board as a template for the other one by lining the two boards up together and tracing the notches on the new board.
This process is essentially the same for the foot boards as well. The only difference is that this notch will be shallower, so we'll have to adjust the blade height. I figured this out by lining the bottoms of the main board and foot board together, then marking the top of the main board notch onto the foot board, revealing the depth of my notch. Once that is marked, we can repeat the notch cutting and templating process from above.
This technique will leave a ridged edge along the top of the notch. This doesn't really matter because it will be hidden by the notch itself. If you're worried about it regardless, you can always chisel it off. That chisel can also come in handy if the bottoms of the boards don't quite line up flush during assembly.
For the record, my foot boards stuck out about a hair farther than the main boards. While it was very tempting to tighten that up, I decided to follow Jimmy DiResta's wisdom here: "If it looks straight, it is straight." It wasn't worth the time nor the risk of screwing things up for me to adjust the depth any further. You do what you like, of course!
Step 4: Creating the Curves
Next I took my round object, in this case a small paint can, and marked a curve on the top corner of the boards. I then took those boards to the band saw and cut off the curve. Then I smoothed out that cut on the stationary sander.
The trick here is to leave the line when cutting on the band saw so you can fine tune the shape on the sander. Remember that the final version of these curves don't all need to look exactly the same, they just need to look smooth and consistent. But it's worth mentioning that if you'd rather not deal with curves here, you could sub out a chamfer on the corners instead.
Step 5: Rounding Over the Edges
Next we'll use a router to smooth out the edges. Construction grade lumber like this comes with rounded over edges already, so I only needed to address the areas where I had cut the curves.
I first installed a 1/4" roundover bit in my router, which in my case is installed in a router table. Then I set the depth of the router in the router table so the bottom of the curve of the bit was just below the surface of the table. I ran a test piece through and adjusted the bit depth from there to make sure the cut was smooth and didn't leave any grooves.Then I rounded over all the pieces that needed it, being careful to monitor grain direction and move the work in the correct direction to stay safe and avoid chipout.
If you don't have a router, you could achieve similar satisfactory results with either a hand plane or sandpaper in exchange for spending a little more time and reducing consistency.
Step 6: Sanding
Now is a good time to sand our boards. It is easier to do this now while everything is separated before gluing them all together.
This process is fairly simple, especially with a tool like a random orbital sander. I started by shaping with a coarse 80 grit sandpaper, spending quite a bit of time sanding out dings and softening transitions. From there, it's a matter of quickly hitting all of the surfaces again with medium (120) and fine (220) grits. The second two grits go much faster because there is less smoothing to do.
Step 7: Gluing
Now we'll glue the main boards and foot boards together. This is very straightforward. Put a good amount of glue on all faces of the notches for all three pieces. Slide them together. Then hold them tight with some clamps. I left mine to dry overnight to make sure the connection was good and strong.
The next day, I went back with the random orbital sander again to clean up any glue squeeze out.
Step 8: Drilling the Holes
Next we'll drill the holes for the arbor legs.
First I measured the diameter of the arbor legs, then chose a drill bit that was slightly larger than that size. I chucked that up in my hand-held drill, lined it up with the arbor leg marks I made during the layout step, then started drilling. I backed the drill out every half inch or so to clear the chips out and prevent the hole from clogging up. I stopped once the tip of the drill chuck lined up with the top of the stand; I had checked ahead of time to make sure this wouldn't be too deep. I didn't want to drill through the bottom.
Once that hole was done, I moved on to the next. Four holes later, and I was done.
Step 9: Enjoy!
With that, the project was complete! Once the big day rolled around, the stands performed their job admirably, keeping that outdoor arbor from tipping over and crushing anyone. And they looked sharp, too, without distracting from the arbor itself (or the couple).
This was a fun project. It's essentially a piece of functional wood sculpture. I find it's often thrilling to make decisions along the way for projects like these and see how good you can make things look. Even if it looks bad in that moment, the challenge becomes, how do I fix this? And if nothing works, of course, this is just a cheap piece of pine lumber, so it's not some great tragedy. Much like mountain climbing, it's about the journey, not the destination!
Again, if you need one of these but are too intimidated to tackle the hole project,a 2x4 with holes drilled in it would do the same thing. But you could easily round over the corners for an extra challenge. Good luck!
You'll find more details in the full build video. But if you have any questions or comments, still let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!
Wisconsinite Andy Reuter writes and creates films about whatever DIY project is holding his attention at the time. For more, follow him on Instagram, find him on Twitter, read more on his website, or subscribe to his channel on YouTube.
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