Folding Low Table




About: Furniture hacker. Author of Guerilla Furniture Design, out now. Find me on Twitter and Instagram @objectguerilla.

I've been a bit of a nomad for a couple of years now, drifting from state to state in search of opportunities to make my work and meet great people.  Given my frequent moving and tight budget, my apartments have been small, filled with a lot of roommates, or both.  Whenever a social occasion presented itself, and people came over, it seemed the coffee table tended to monopolize scant floor space.  However, a folding coffee table could be broken down and stashed behind the couch or even hung on the wall to clear out some real estate for socializing or dancing.  It could also be used with pillows to have a low-down meal, or even thrown in the back of your car for a picnic.

This table uses an old road sign for the top, but you could use a lot of things for the surface -- laminated wood, plywood, an old piece of countertop, butcher block, or whatever else you can scavenge that's about 30" square.  The advantage of the road sign is its relative light weight and high strength, making this table truly transient.  All the wood was scavenged pine, cut-offs from tongue-and-groove flooring, along with two pieces of cedar.

I built it in about a day.  It cost somewhere around thirty dollars to make, as I had to buy hinges, bolts, nuts, some copper fittings, and super-strong neodymium magnets to hold the legs in the folded position.

It is currently for sale at the Grace Aberdean Gallery in Tuscaloosa, AL:

Thanks to Ramell Ross for the first five pictures.

You will need these materials:

Approx. 20 running feet of wood ripped down to 3/4" or 1" square
Approx. 6 running feet of wood ripped down to 1-1/2" x 2"
Suitable table-top material 30"-36" square (old sign, laminated wood, 3/4" plywood, etc.)
4 small triangle strap hinges
16 3/8" dia. neodymium magnets
8 1/4" x 2-1/2" machine bolts
24 1/4" cut washers
8 1/4" nuts
a handful of pan-head screws

You will need these tools:

Chop saw
Impact driver (optional)
Ratchet set

Step 1: X-Bracing

First, cut your bigger lumber pieces to fit the underside of the table in an "X" pattern.  This will stiffen the table top and provide the legs something to attach to.  I mitered down the ends for a finished, tapering look, as well as to provide the future attachment point for the hinges for the leg braces.

Once you have two equal pieces cut, mark the center on one and cut the width of its matching piece out of it, so you have three pieces to compose your "X".  Drill a 1/4" hole about four inches from the center of the "X" on each piece, making four holes to hinge the legs to.  Sand liberally, seal if desired.  Attach the legs to the underside of your table top with superglue or clamps to hold them in place temporarily, then pre-drill and screw them in from above.  If your table top is not metal, and sufficiently thick to take screw from the underside, you can screw in from below to keep the surface smooth.

Step 2: Legs!

Slice up your thinner wood into eight legs, each 16"-24" long, depending on how high you want your table to sit.  They should be mitered at about 20°, again, depending on how high the table will be.  The miters should be parallel to one another.

Drill holes in the top of each leg; first a counter-bore for your nut and washer, then a 1/4" hole for the bolt.  Do the same a ways down each leg for the copper fitting where the leg brace will eventually lock, about 4" above the foot in this case.  The copper fitting has to be past where the "X" brace ends so the legs will fold flat.  Sand liberally, seal if desired.

Use your ratchet to bolt the legs to the "X" brace where you drilled holes before.  The bolt should be tight but not so tight the legs don't rotate fairly easily.  Down towards the feet, bolt the legs together as well, but put a piece of 1/2" x 1-1/2" copper pipe around the bolt to hold the legs apart.  

Step 3: Leg Braces

The braces that lock the legs in position are hinged with small cabinet strap hinges.  

Unfold one of your newly attached legs and measure from the copper fitting to the end of the "X" brace.  Cut four pieces of leftover leg wood to that measurement.  Drill a hole with a spade bit as wide as the wood is at one end before you cut it to length, making the cut bisect the hole, so you end up with a "C"-shaped notch in one end.  Sand liberally, seal if desired.

Attach the brace to the tapered end of the "X" brace with the hinge.  Test that they lock together ok.  Getting the braces to the right length may take some messing around with the 'ol guess-and-check method.

Step 4: Magnets!

Hold the legs shut, get some neodymium magnets off the interwebs -- got mine from Amazon.

Pop a shallow hole in the "X" brace the same diameter of your magnet.  Slop some superglue in here, and hammer your magnet in.  Let the glue dry and sand it down.  Put a dab of ink on the magnet and close the brace down on top, which will mark where the magnet should go in the leg brace.  Do the same drill-glue shenanigan on the leg brace.  To get the magnet really in there, put a magnet on the jaw of the clamp and work it into the hole so it sits perfectly flush.  

For the legs, I ran into a problem because the aluminum top is not magnetic.  I bolted on a little steel piece for the magnets to interact with; you could do that part any number of ways depending on what your table top is made out of.  Your legs should now stay retraced when you retract them.

Congrats!  Bust open a couple of beers and check out your sweet new low folding table . . .



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    15 Discussions


    3 years ago on Introduction

    This table looks amazing. A couple questions:

    How high is it off the ground when set up?

    How "safe" is the leg locking mechanism?

    How sturdy is the table?

    Thank you for your time. Great job and thank you for sharing


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I got the sign legally, through my work. You can see I have a bunch of other Instructables that feature signs, far too many to just be out stealing them.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, the more important question is why the state is throwing away perfectly good signs. Can you really have too many signs telling desperate parents, or visiting surgeons detoured onto side streets in what direction a hospital is? I mean if a sign is "too old" to leave at the freeway exit, why can't it be used on a less major street? Or given to a smaller community for their hospital area? Those signs are very spendy to make. Just the metal in them costs taxpayers quite a bit per year, much less the reflective paints and the process to produce them.

    Be all that as it may, this a very cool folding table instructable!


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    perfectly possible for these signs to be recycled and reused if the state can be bothered. Nothing to do with cost v new sign!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Road signs legally have to have certain reflectiveness and over time, the reflectors on the signs wear out. Which means that ever so often signs have to be replaced. Signs also need replacing if damaged such as if they are used as target practice.

    In regards to the other problem of just giving them away instead of recycling them. Because of how the signs are made, they can't be melted down for re-use. It's more cost-wise to just buy new signs. Though some states are starting to strip the words off of old signs and printing new words on.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Nice table man, I made one too, based on your design. It's over here.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    nice instructable, but unfortunately I don't have the materials (no signs here to buy).


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Nice. Just watch for confused helicopter pilots!