Did you know that most home improvement and hardware stores also stock furniture? It's true!
Some assembly is required however...
In order to outfit my dining and living rooms, I decided to build some of my own pieces to bridge the gap between rustic and early-industrial. I decided to go with solid wood tabletops and then use black iron gas pipe for the legs and the result has been well received. In addition to giving a worn feel to the space, the technique is also fairly straightforward in construction. It also yielded furniture that is easy to disassemble and move. To keep the weight and price down, you can also go with threaded PVC pipe, which is easier to work with and can be painted similar to the iron version. PVC pipe
For building your wood tops, you'll need some basic tools to get straight edges and a biscuit jointer or equivalent for gluing up the panels.
For the legs, Vice Grips are good for tightening the joints but you otherwise won't need much else.
Let's get started!
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Step 1: Planning
Before you get started with your project, measure out your space and decide what sort of piece you'd like to build. The top will need to fit and the legs will need to match; this can be tricky because the pipe components come in discrete lengths.
When shopping for components, I'll buy what I can locally but they often won't have the pieces in the right quantities. Lowes and Home Depot both stock pipe online but I've also found a site called Life and Home which has exceptional selection and service.
My general esthetic has been the following:
-Use 3/4" or 1" gas pipe for the legs.
-Add flanges with thick felt feet to the bottom.
-Use reducing T's to build an H-shaped stretcher on the bottom that reduces to 1/2 or 3/8". This can also be changed to PVC to save weight.
-Combine pipe with unions to get the height correct
-When adding lower shelves, attach the pipes with a second layer of flanges for the look as well as support.
-Reducing bushings can come in handy for changing sizes between pipes and flanges/unions
Once you have your plan, gather your materials and get to work!
Step 2: Tabletops
For my tables, I used black walnut along with a dark stain called Kona to keep the grain from overpowering the rest of the piece.
Start with bare boards and glue them up however you need to. Smaller projects can use biscuits or pocket holes while larger tables require splines or Dominoes, which I used on my dining table.
Additionally, because we're going for rustic, don't worry too much with removing every possible scratch from the surface. I planed and/or belt sanded all of my parts before gluing them up but then purposefully left a number of scratches and dents in place. Using a block plane on the edges to create tiny chamfers can also extenuate the seams between the boards.
If they're too big for your thickness planer, then you'll have to go by hand :D
The second trick is keeping everything flat. On the bottom of each piece, I incorporated 1.5" splines which keep the entire top flat as well as provide a port to attach the legs. We'll use forstner bits later to drill matching holes through the splines.
Another option is to cap the ends. Rather than leave the ends of the dining table raw, I cut breadboard ends with 1.5" mortises and attached a board to run across the grain. I attached these with 1/2" dowels from the bottom to add a little bit of interest, but only if you know where to look.
Step 3: Leg Assembly
Once you have your parts list accounted for, assemble your legs. For metal pipes, use Vice Grips to tighten down each seam as much as possible. For PVC, use glue and don't tighten to the point of cracking them.
Check your top to make sure everything fits and the feet sit squarely. Mark the splines for holes and drill them through. The nominal size of the pipe + 1/8" usually gets pretty close. i.e. for a 1" pipe, drill a 1 1/8" hole.
For the dining table, I used flanges top and bottom to attach the legs since I didn't think the splines would be strong enough by themselves.
Step 4: The Finishing Room
Once everything can be dry-fit without a problem, it's time to make it look pretty.
The tabletops will require some dark stain and a few coats of durable polyurethane before they can take the abuse of daily drops and spills. Allow a few days to apply several coats, sanding lightly between each one and create a protective barrier.
Clean the legs with mineral spirits to remove any remaining oil residue and paint them as you see fit. I've gone with Rustoleum Universal - Hammered Black Metallic which steps away slightly from gloss black and adds a tiny bit of texture to the material. 1-2 coats plus some touch-up is generally enough.
Other variations have been:
-Wall mounted shelves (still in progress)