Over the years, I've accumulated lots of small pieces of lumber with the idea that someday they will be useful. Finally, I had enough and decided to try to use up some of pieces. My idea was to make porch furniture out of scrap lumber. Sort of like a crazy quilt where the quilters use scrap pieces of cloth to make useful quilts. As you can see in the cover photo, I actually made three pieces of furniture from scrap lumber. In this instructable, I will concentrate on the easiest piece--the small footstool.
This project is not for the faint of heart and does require equipment and know-how in the woodshop. It took me a couple of weeks of on-again off-again work to do all the steps. I'm retired, so I have the time.
A major feature of this particular table is that it is completely made of wood and glue. There are no nails or bolts involved. It is totally steel-free. Meaning that it can be sawed to pieces without harm to the saw, or burned without any residual nails in the fireplace.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
Scrap lumber - preferably 2x2 or 1x2 or 1x4 pieces that can be glued together.
Wood glue - just ordinary wood glue should be fine
DeWalt Plate Joiner - I think this is the only brand that makes the plate joiner; it is expensive at $199.99 or so.
You may want to consider using dowel joints instead of biscuit joints, just because it would be cheaper. You'll need something like this, and I'll explain later.
Joiner biscuits - I used size 0 and 10 for this project
Clamps - lots of clamps; some extending about 4' others 18"
Wood sealer, stain, polyurethane, - any brand should be fine. If the furniture is used outside, the polyurethane should be the spar finish and not just the regular polyurethane. Spar finish is much more expensive but is for outdoors.
Sander and sandpaper
Paint brush for the stain etc
Router, router table, router fence, router push stick
Step 2: Gather the Scrap Wood
I determined the approximate size of the table I wanted to construct. I found enough scrapwood to make a table top of about 19". I then dry-assembled the wood as shown in the picture. I also gathered 4 2x2 pieces of wood for legs. I used the height of my coffee table as the height for the footstool. The total height of the table is 14 1/2".
Step 3: Assembly - Part One - the Table Top Itself
Assembly of the table was done in three parts: 1) The tabletop. 2) The tabletop frame and 3) The legs.
The pictures show the result of a single biscuit joint. The plate joiner makes a part-circle trench into the wood, a little glue is squirted into the hole in each piece of wood and the biscuit is pushed into the hole. I also placed a thin layer of glue on each face of the wood next to the biscuit.
The first photo shows the mark used to indicate where the plate joiner is to make the grooves. I used a pencil and the alphabet and numbers to mark each side so I wouldn't get mixed up later.
A word about biscuit joints: It has been my experience that wood glue, over time, tends to dry out, and eventually no longer holds wood together. This is especially true of wooden chairs. In any case, the function of the biscuits is to make a joint that does not come apart. The biscuits are actually pressed pieces of wood that on contact with glue, expand immediately. They are very hard to remove, even before the glue dries. So, my expectation is that these joints will be very strong and last for many years. I tended to put a joint every 5-6 inches apart, you may want to use that as a guide.
Dowel joints: I haven't used dowel joints since high school shop, but the principle is the same. You can buy special dowels that have grooves in them to let excess glue out. For those, you would only need a drill. A dowel jig can come in handy for more accurate work.
Step 4: Assembly - Part Two - the Frame Around the Table - Part A
The photo shows only one joint that I made in the wood that makes up the frame around the table. I did not have pieces of 2x2 long enough for each side, and had to join pieces of 2x2 together. Technically, this is probably not the way to use biscuits and a plate joiner, but I did it to make a strong joint. I used the plate joiner on the ends of each 2x2 that I wanted to join, and made two cuts into each end. Then I glued the biscuits into the ends, and when it dried, I cut off the excess biscuits. I maintain that even though these joints are not the intent of the plate joiner idea, they "add character" to the table.
I made enough 2x2 by gluing pieces together so that there were enough 2x2s for each side.
Step 5: Assembly - Part Two - Routing the Frame - Part B
My thought was that if I made a frame around the table to hide the ends of the table itself; I would have a classier table top.
So, I used my router to make a rabbet the long way on one side of each piece of the frame. The rabbet itself was as deep as the wood used for the tabletop. That is, the depth was about 5/8". I cut away about half the width (ca. 3/4") of the 2x2 as a sort of shelf to put the tabletop. The trick to routing such a deep groove is to make a lot of passes and move the router fence a little bit at a time. Don't try to do it all in one pass, things get messy in a hurry then.
You'll notice that I used a router with a router plate to allow the router to be put into a router table. I also made a router fence and push stick. This is probably the most dangerous step. Respect your router! Once you have the routed wood for the frame, the question is how to make the end joints at the table corners. Coming up.
Step 6: Assembly - Part Two - Rabbet End Joint - Part C
The frame seems to be the trickiest part, but when you do it, it isn't that complicated. The photos show a jig that I made for making the end joints. The idea for the jig is to simply hold the 2x2 in such a way that it is stable enough to cut away the ends of two of the sides with a router. What we are trying to get is the second photo. I cut the rabbet into all of the sides. Two of the sides I left as-is and long enough to extend over each side of the table to catch the other two sides with the cut-away. You can see in the fifth photo how it is supposed to fit together. BTW, you can make a much simpler joint than I did. This is just how I did it. I'm sure there are better and easier ways to do it. This joint looks nice when it is done, though.
Step 7: Assembly - Part Three - the Legs
I agonized how to make strong legs for the table and decided to use braces to hold the legs. The triangular braces are glued to the legs using the plate joiner technique. First, I cut the legs to length. Then I laid the legs out and chose the best parts for exposure to the outside and marked the wood where the triangular pieces were to be joined by the biscuits. You can see in the photos, that I laid everything out the way it was to be assembled. Every biscuit channel was marked and numbered, so there would be no question later when things got mixed up. After I fastened the triangular braces to the legs, I let the glue dry overnight. Then, I made the biscuit cuts into the bottoms of the braces and the table itself. I adjusted the plate joiner to cut the channels exactly in the middle of the 1x4 triangular braces. This way, everything would fit, no matter how I cut the channels in the bottom of the table. Again, everything needs to be carefully marked, so you know exactly where the biscuits will fit. I didn't find any easy way to clamp everything together, so I depended on gravity, and just pushed all the biscuits into place on the braces and then pushed that assembly into the table and just let it dry that way overnight. Mind you, not everything is exactly perfect, and not everything is 90 degrees. That makes for the "character part". The beauty of imperfection!
Step 8: Sanding
I did a lot of sanding. After assembling the top of the table with the frame around it, I sanded the top until it was nice and smooth and free of ridges where things weren't quite flat. I spent a few hours on this task. I also sanded each of the legs and show the jig I made to hold the legs while I sanded each side. Sanding the legs took some time as well. Eventually, everything was as smooth as I needed it.
Step 9: Finishing - Conditioning, Staining, Coating
I'm no expert on finishing furniture, but I noticed that I had part-cans of wood conditioner and sealer and stain. The conditioner looked like to be a good idea in making sure that the wood was prepared for staining. So, I dutifully applied a couple of coats of that. I cleaned the brush in mineral spirits each time I did any of these steps. I applied two coats of oak-colored sealant and stain. The wood was a bit rough after the first coat, so I lightly sanded the table between the two coats of oak stain. I sanded the table lightly after the last stain coat as well. Finally, it was ready for my glossy, spar finish. I chose glossy, because I like tables that reflect their surroundings. You can buy semi-gloss and matte finishes as well. It all depends on your taste. I applied two coats of spar finish and was very happy with the result.
One more note, you will notice a heat gun in the second picture of this step. I read somewhere that polyurethane, especially the real thick polyurethane that they use to bury coins in at restaurants, tend to generate unsightly air bubbles. They suggested simply blowing on the surface of the finish after applying it. I found as well, that if I didn't do something like that, the surface would get lots of very tiny air bubbles. The heat gun saved me from exhuastive blowing on the surface.
Step 10: Philosophizing
Although I try to be a humble person. I was very happy with all the compliments I got. Nobody but me knows how many blemishes and mistakes are buried in that piece of furniture. The only hard part is when people insult me by asking where I bought those pieces of furniture. Where did I buy it? I made it myself!