Ever since coming to college, most of my project making has been limited by the fact that I don't have my own workspace so I cant undertake large projects. I mostly make stuff as a result of my need in the dorm. After Switchifi, my next need was for a bed table. I am a bed person as I do more or less everything on my bed. Eating, sleeping, working and studying. Keeping my laptop on my lap or my chest for long periods of time gets pretty tiring. Hence I started to look for a bed table. Making is hard wired into my DNA so naturally I made plans to build one. I started CADing possible designs which I could make using a laser cutter and 1/4 ply wood. Soon I came to the conclusion that 1/4 inch ply would be too flimsy and I needed something solid. Something i could throw down my bed and not worry about it. Something i could stand on and not have it break. And a folding design wasn't really high in my list of requirements so I chose robust over compact. Now I could have bought just the right size of lumber or even gathered some clean pieces from think[box] but where is the fun in that. I was determined not to pay a single cent for it so I looked else where. During my walks to class, I happened upon a perfect pallet. This was too good looking of a pallet to pass up on. Even though the pallet was too well made but I was ready to take up the challenge. Therefore I decided to make a bed table out of that pallet and make it as good looking as possible.
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Step 1: Design Concept
Once again the design process was the longest part of my project. I am not comfortable to start a project before I can visualize it in a CAD software. That was so I can detect possible problems early on and make the appropriate corrections. My first design was based on a plywood design with a folding design and a wooden dowel as the axle. After working on improving this design for many hours, I realized that it wont be something strong enough to handle the years of abuse I wanted to throw at it. I also realized that my custom hinge might look interesting but it wont be practical or robust. I would be better off just buying a hinge but since I had already decided not to spend a single penny, I couldn't do that. When I decided to use a pallet, I had to completely redesign it. Well it isn't something so complex so not really much redesigning but I did mock up the CAD anyways. I went with a rigid design. No moving parts with everything strapped down. I just wanted a simple table with no gimmicks. So I didn't try to include any features that would interfere with my main requirement. That being said, I still made some design errors which we will talk about later on.
Step 2: Materials Required
Isn't it obvious from the title? But yeah you will need a pallet. Pallet selection is very important but I will talk about that in a bit. I used almost an entire pallet for this and you might think such a waste of an entire pallet but when you want a good finish, you have to be picky about the parts of the pallet you use so you end up hacking up all of it.
You will also need some wood screws. I used standard drywall screws because I really like the fact that have well spaced threads. You can also use glue but for simplicity sake, I didn't not use any glue. Although I might later remake it with glue. But it was good for me because I ended up modifying it a bit and if I had used glue, it would have been a nightmare.
Step 3: Tools Required
The tools you will require for this depend on what you have. I can do this entire project with just hand tools. Although it might take longer and the end result might not be as accurate but it is still possible.
Some of the basics that you need are:
- Screw Driver
- Tape Measure
- Marking Instrument
- Sand Paper
I am not a good wood worker. Let me just put that out there so I used what ever power tool I could get my hands on. Plus I only had limited time due to think[box]'s limited hours during finals week. So I used the following power tools
- Band saw
- Jig saw
- Miter saw
- Detail Sander
- Orbital Sander
Even with all these tools, I wasn't able to achieve perfection because I am not really good at wood working and I don't have a lot of experience with these machines.
Step 4: Selecting the Pallet
Internet searching might make you think that you will find a picture perfect pallet like the first picture but that is just internet fiction. Reality is that you will most likely only stumble upon pallets which are old, rotten, broken, splintered, painted or not made out of wood. For many projects, pallets in good condition might not be a requirement. An old pallet could add to the rustic look but for this project I was going for a good looking pallet. What you are looking for in a pallet for this project are the following things.
- Made out of wood with relatively wider panels. Some pallets I have seen have thinner slats which would be a bit hard to work with.
- Generally good condition with minimal use and no rot.
- Smooth finish
The outcome of the project will depend on the pallet you find but as long as the wood is strong and sturdy with rot, it can be made to look pretty good after sanding. The pallet I found was not of fine construction and it had been used before for some other purpose so it had some extra pieces of wood attached to it but the wood was almost new. The slats were plenty wide and smooth. So it was the best option.
Step 5: Prepping the Pallet
Before the actual precision disassembly of the pallet can take place, it must be prepared for it. In my case I had to get rid of the extra pieces of wood on the top which were nailed down tight so it took quiet a bit of effort to remove them. Other than that you should remove the bottom supports for the pallet. These are mostly in contact with the ground so they are not worth using due to their condition. Use a piece of wood to separate the bottom slats and cut off the nails using a hack saw. Finally you should use a rubber mallet to beat on the pallet. This might seem like an excessive strain but its worth it. Wood on the pallet might have cracks and weak points. It might be weak near the knots. So by beating on it, you expose these imperfections early on to avoid any surprises later. I beat up mine a lot and broke it at a few places where the wood was weak.
Step 6: Pallet Dissassembly
There are so many guides and tools that can be used to disassemble a pallet. But I will show you how to do it with just a hammer and a hack saw. You might need pliers too if your hammer's back end isn't a good grabber. The process is simple.
- Hammer the slats from the underneath near the side 2x4's to reveal the nail between the joint.
- Use the hack saw to cut in the center of the nail
- When both the side 2x4's are separated, use the back end of the hammer to remove all the nails.
- Separate the slats from the center 2x4 using a hammer and then remove those nails.
Using a mallet instead of a hammer would not leave a mark on the wood. You can also use a scrap piece of wood to void dents on the wood. Your goal is to keep further damage to a minimum.
Step 7: Lumber Selection
Once you have your entire pallet broken down into individual pieces, you have to decide which pieces would you use to make what part of your bed table. Not all wood in a pallet is the same so your choice will be influenced by some factors. Following are the aspects to keep in mind when short listing the lumber.
- Check for straightness. This is the single most important factor. A crooked piece of lumber will mess up your entire project so check your lumber for straightness. Minor imperfections are acceptable but overall crookedness is basic for the scrap pile.
- Color and texture. You want the pieces that will form the flat part of the table to be the same type and have similar grain pattern. Also try to avoid pieces with major defects. Nail holes and small defects are acceptable
- Nail check. It is possible to miss a nail in the wood. It will very important to carefully inspect each piece and make sure to remove all nails. If miss a nail, it will destroy the teeth on your tools.
- Knots. Knots form an interesting pattern in the wood but they can be problematic too. Knot are hard and brittle.They have different properties than wood so make sure if you have a knot, its in a place you wont cut or screw into. Also make sure the knot is not loose. You can check this by banging on it a bit to see if it comes out.
With these criterion in mind, you should have one 2x4 and fours slats selected for the table. But dont get rid of the rest yet. You might need them later.
Step 8: Lumber Preperation
Before assembly could begin, you have to cut your lumber to size. Now the pictures I have are of my unaltered design so don't rely on them for measurement. The attached CAD file has the exact final measurements. Actually I built it too big in my first try so I modified it later.
The general dimensions for mine are 24"(L)x12"(W)x8"(H). But these are totally up to you and your requirement. I just felt like this size was the most appropriate.
First of all you have to cut the flat pieces. Using a square, make a mark on the ends of the flat pieces. Your goal is to get rid of any nail holes and imperfections on that end. Use the saw to make a cut on the mark. Do this with all the flat pieces you selected. Now that one end is prepared. Use a tape measure to measure the length of your table and make a mark. Use a square to extend that mark. Cut the pieces on the mark. You will need two or three of these depending on your width.
Next you need the support piece to join these together. You can also use glue and clamps to join the pieces side ways but due to the imperfect nature of the edges, the glue will never hold them firmly. Plus it wont be as rugged. Make a slat with length of your width using the above mentioned procedure. Now you have to divide this into two lengthwise. You can use a hand saw but best would be a band saw or a table saw. I on the other hand used a miter saw which worked just fine.
Now you have all the pieces you need to begin assembly of the flat top.
Step 9: Main Body Assembly
This step is pretty self explanatory. You just have to join the flat pieces together using the smaller pieces to make a flat top. First check to see which sides fit best together with minimum gaps. Then screw in one of the flat pieces to the smaller pieces on the sides as shown. Make sure the cleaner wood wise is on the opposite side(the top side). Use clamps to hold the second piece together and screw that in. You can use glue at this step but I did not.
Step 10: Prepping the Legs
For the legs you will use the 2x4 you selected. Mark and cut four 8 inch pieces. Again consider the best pieces you can extract from the 2x4. Next you will need to cut a notch on each of the legs. At first i wanted a slight angled notch to have the legs stick out from the side but i couldn't get it right so i stuck to right angles. Make a mark on the notch using the thickness of your flat top. I used a band saw to make this cut but a hand saw would do just fine. Sorry for not having step by step pictures for this. I was trying to get it right and forgot to take pictures. But you can get the idea from the final picture.
Step 11: Attaching the Legs
Now that you have prepared you legs, its time to join these to the main flat top. Mark the points to put the screws in. Its better to have the screws at regular points because these will show later on. Use a square and a clamp to clamp the legs with the flat top and then secure it with the screws. Now you have to make it slanted. This is optional but I wanted to have a slant. Mark the angle you want on the legs using a long ruler. Cut using a hand saw or miter saw. I removed the legs to make the cuts because it just makes it easier. I could have made these cuts earlier but I wasn't sure i would get the measurements right. I then reattached the legs. Before attaching the final leg, make sure all four legs are balanced. Adjust the height of the final leg accordingly to make the table stand firm.
Step 12: Sanding
After tightening all the screws firmly, you can begin the sanding process. This will take your okay looking table to a beautiful table. You can use a sand paper but it will take a long time and effort. I used a combination of a detail and orbital sander. I started with 80 grit to get the bulk of the surfaces flat. I used 220 grit on the top for fined sanding. I used a sandpaper on all the edges to get them nice and round.
Step 13: Final Touches
After many hours on sanding, I Began the cleanup. I used a air compressor to clean out all the wood particles. I then used alcohol for further cleaning. I didn't have time for a polish but I will probably get to that after winter break. I recommend using clear varnish.
Step 14: Field Testing
When I was done with the bed table and brought it back to my dorm, I quickly realized that I made it too big. I used it for a bit and my hands started to hurt because it was too high. There was dead space behind my laptop. The only size that was just right was the length because it gave me plenty of room on the sides for my phone and stuff. So I decided to alter it to make it better.
Step 15: After Market Alterations
I modified it in my dorm. I removed the rear legs and the smaller slat. I got rid of the smaller slat and cut the support short. I reattached the legs.
Step 16: Wood Working With the Leatherman
When I modified my table in my dorm, all I used was my leatherman. It is interesting how much you can do with just one tool. And I wanted to share more about it. I have the leatherman charge alx. I used the saw on the leatherman to cut the wood. The saw is actually very sharp and effective. It works pretty well. I used the screw driver to drive the screws. I used the knife to shape the wood. I had to remove excess material from the side. Filing it would have taken too long so I used the knife to shape away the bulk of the material and used the course file to smooth it out.
Step 17: Final Product Testing
After the modification the table was just perfect. Just the right size. I used for quiet a bit and had no trouble. I threw it down my bed and stood on it. It did not flex or budge. It passed my initial requirements. The only issue I have with it is that its a bit heavy but that is a trade off for being so robust. I also felt like i could improve it a bit by adding some more features here and there.
Step 18: Future Improvements
First of all I would reassemble it with glue to make it permanent. Then I would sand it further to make the finish even better. I will fill the holes with epoxy and sand them down. Then I would coat it with varnish.
Furthermore I would like to add some more features. I would like to add a iPhone dock. This would be embedded in the table. I might also add a cup holder. Other than that, I cant really think of anything more. If you guys have any ideas, do let me know in the comments.
Step 19: Concluding Thoughts
Thank you for viewing my instructable. I had a fun time making this table. As with all projects, so much to learn. Please let me know of your thoughts on my instructables. I know this was a simpler project than what I usually do but sometimes simple is the way to go.
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