I needed a new sidetable for my bedroom and I had been considering entering the 1-hour challenge that Instructables was hosting. Why not kill two birds with one stone and make a side table in an hour? Unfortunately my one hour build turned into a three hour build so I couldn't enter the contest. But I still had a cool table!
I had a large beam of wood that had been a pier in Lake Erie in Buffalo, NY for about 100 years. It was recently (a few years back) cut out of the water and I managed to acquire about a 3ft section. It had some heavy cracks and what not but was still a super solid piece. Since the bottom of the beam was already at an angle I decided to try to make a cantilevered type of table and let the beam be the angled support pillar. For the top I had a decent sized piece of live edge spalted maple lying about.
100 year old pier, wood species unknown. Approx dimensions: 10" x 8" x 30"
Spalted maple slab top (2-2.5ft long, 2 inches thick, about 16 inches wide)
Small maple piece to use as a footer.
Step 1: The Angled Leg
First thing to do is figure out how much of an angle you want the table leg to be at. The more extreme an angle, the more you will need to cantilever the top (move the intersection off center). Plus it will be trickier to join them.
One end of my beam was already cut flat at a nice angle so I decided to just go with it. Two reasons for this: I was originally intending to do the 1-hour build competition, and 2, the beam was quite big and cutting it cleanly would be challenging. Sawzall would probably be the best bet.
I just cleaned the bottom up a touch with a flap disc and angled grinder and then some coarse grit paper on my orbital sander. Check for flattness on something you know is flat. Go back and clean it up some more if necessary.
Cool, so you have a funky leg at an angle that falls down if you stand it up. To make things a little steadier I decided to add a small footer piece, just to provide more surface area with the ground.
I took a scrap piece of maple and used the table saw and jointer to make a nice rectangular block. Marking out the dimensions on the bottom of the beam I cut a rectangular slot into it using the table saw. Clean up the slot with a chisel and test fit the footer. You could also chisel out this whole thing if you don't have a big enough table saw. In my case it was faster to use the table saw plus this wood was super hard from being in the water that long.
Awesome, that footer should press into the bottom of the angled leg and we are halfway there.
Step 2: The Top
Hopefully your table top is flat, luckily mine was so I didn't need to do any planing.
I balanced the slab on top of the angled leg and got a feel for the location I thought would cantilever nicely. There is definitely some wiggle room; however, you don't want to be to close to either side or to one extreme end of the piece. I went about 6 inches from the end of the slab and roughly centered.
Measure out the X-Y dimensions of the beam and then mark those out on the slab. Here is the tricky part, you cannot just cut a rectangular opening straight down, the leg is at an angle so the front and back of your opening (the through mortise) need to also be angled. I found the best way to do this was the following.
Safely inside the area you marked out, drill four holes roughly in each corner. Then use a jigsaw to connect the holes dropping out a small rectangular area.
Now measure the angle that your beam is at, this is the same angle you want the front and back of your mortise to be.
Get to work chiseling. Slowly work the rectangular opening larger and angle the front and back. Measure the angle often to make sure you arnt going to large or small. One thing that might help would be to make a guide for your chisel that was at the appropriate angle. I was going for speed and just decided to eye things out. Unfortunately chiseling through 2 inch thick maple takes a fair amount of time and this is where I blew past the 1 hr limit. 2 hrs of chiseling and test fitting later the mortise was done.
My fit wasn't perfect as my beam wasn't perfectly smooth but I was ok with the more textured, nuanced look.
Step 3: Joining Together
First sand everything quickly, much easier to do now than when it is assembled. The pier beam had a nice story and a cool look to it so I wanted to leave it a little discolored looking. I sanded it and removed anything loose but didn't try to make it a polished super clean looking thing.
To assemble the piece first mount the footer into the bottom of the beam. Hopefully this hammers in nice and tight, I put a little glue on it just to make sure it wouldn't come free in the future.
Now stand that base up and lower the slab on top of it. You can't drop straight down but need to come in at an angle. Think of it like you are sliding the slab down the beam. Or violently hammering the slab down onto the beam....ha ha
The fit was quite tight in my case and the piece needed some persuasion from my rubber mallet.
Once you hammer the slab down low enough, until the entire beam was through it in my case, you are good to finish it.
Give another quick sanding if you want and then apply the finish of your choice. I went with danish oil in my case. And you're done!! The proud owner of a primitive, imposing looking side table.