I've been enjoying the many great Instructables on this site; the only problem was the lack of a place to work on them. If you're like me, you feel the slightly obsessive need for a nice, clean, simple surface for spreading out books, papers, or parts. Looking into commercially available work tables was disappointing; anything close to what I wanted cost hundreds of dollars. So I figure, why not make your own?
The table is constructed around a 24" by 48" sheet of particle board laminated with melamine. Sheets of this can be found for around $25 from Home Depot or similar stores. The melamine is a great work surface; its relatively hard and durable, and seems to shed off most spills (so far).
I lucked out in two regards on this project; I did the tricky bits when I was visiting family and had access to a full wood shop, and I found a set of old metal legs to use. I will try to include suggestions for how to modify the design for people who strike out on one or both of these. It should be possible to make something similar with only a hand saw and power drill, although the joinery will not be as sturdy. Also, the obligatory warning: always wear safety goggles and exercise caution when using power tools. Projects are easier with a full set of fingers.
This is my first Instructable; I hope you enjoy it!
Step 1: Parts List
There is a lot of room for flexibility here; the size of the table, the quality of the wood, the type of legs are all easily changed. The melamine-laminated particle board makes a great work surface. For the frame pieces I used regular pine, because it was cheap and I was planning on painting it. Nicer wood could be used if you planned on staining it instead. I wanted to use the metal legs I found because they are sturdy, but can be removed easily for transport. If you can't find anything like this in the basement, attic, or architectural salvage yard, you can buy them from IKEA here for $5 each. Alternatively, you could use more 1"x3" or 2"x4" boards for legs, attaching them to the frame pieces with lag bolts so that they would still be removable.
Anyway, here is the parts list I used. Depending on how much stuff you can scrounge, the total cost should be between $20 and $60. I will try to add costs to the parts list next time I can stop by Home Depot.
(2) 1" x 3" Pine Board, 48" Length
(2) 1" x 3" Pine Board, 26'" Length
(1) Melamine-Laminated Particle Board, 48" x 2 4"
(4) Metal Table Leg Set (Legs, Mounting Plates, Screws)
1.5" Wood Screws
Phillips Head Screwdriver
Power Drill (Drill Bit, Countersink Bit, Phillips Head Bit)
A miter saw, router and a table saw with a dado cutting set is required for the more complex joinery described here, although not necessary for a simpler version.
Step 2: Shaping the Boards
This is the part of the project where it helps to have access to a table saw and miter saw. I used a dado set to make a groove on the inside of the frame pieces. The tabletop sits inside this groove, making it a strong joint. There is also a rabbit joint at the corners where the frame pieces meet. This makes for a better final product, but if you don't have a way to make the dado cuts, just use butt joints. (For butt joints, you can skip all the steps after the first one.) Here are the steps for shaping the boards:
1. Cutting the boards to length.
Use a hand saw or miter saw to cut the boards to the right size. Measure the actual dimensions of the table surface; it will probably be a fraction of an inch below what it was described as. Cut two pieces to exactly match the length of the longer sides. To find the length of the pieces for the short sides, use the following formula:
( Length of Short Side ) + 2 * ( Thickness of Edge Pieces ) - 2 * ( Depth of Dado Cut ) = ??
( 24" ) + 2 * ( 0.75" ) + 2 * ( 0.25" ) = 25"
Cut another two pieces to this length.
2. Add the dado cut.
The dado cut provides a groove for the table surface to sit in. In addition to providing a stronger joint, this covers the edges of the table surface, which will hopefully prevent it from delaminating or chipping as it ages. I made the dado cut 1/8" below the top edge, to provide a lip to keep small parts from rolling off the table without being uncomfortably high.
It is always a good idea to make test cuts on scrap wood to make sure you have the blade and fence set where you want them. It is also critical to adjust the width of the dado blades such that the test pieces fit snuggly onto the table surface.
Lay out the shape of the table frame with the pieces, and arrange them so the good sides are facing out and up. Run them all through the table saw, making sure you have them aligned the same way you had them laid out.
3. Cut the rabbit joints.
The rabbit joints are where the side pieces meet each other at the corners. These cuts can be made on the same dado setup, which will help ensure they are at a uniform depth. Be careful not to take off too much material, or the final product will have gaps.
4. Smoothing the cuts.
The dado set we used was not of the finest quality, so it left an uneven surface along the bottom of the cut. A sharp hand chisel is very effective for evening out the bottom of the dado cuts. Just don't get carried away trying to make it perfect; wood glue and putty can fill in any small gaps.
Step 3: Attaching the Boards
The idea here is to use both glue and screws to create a strong joint. The boards are glued, and then the screws added immediately so they can pull everything tight while the glue dries. My advice would be to do one piece at a time; get it glued, clamped, and screwed, and then you can take off the clamps and move on to the next one. So, follow all the steps bellow for one piece a time, starting with the two long pieces and finishing with the short pieces.
This step will be much easier with a buddy, as the drying time of the glue puts a little time pressure on, and maneuvering the large pieces is an unwieldy job for one person. Large pipe clamps are also useful at this stage, although the wood screws can hold on the pieces by themselves.
Squeeze a thin line of wood glue along the edge of the table top and inside the dado cut on the frame piece. Wood glue works best when you apply it to both surfaces being glued. Use a small brush to spread out the glue so that it is evenly applied.
Line up the dado cut on the edge piece and push it onto the table surface. You may have to use a mallet to knock it into place. Once the two pieces are snuggly fitted together, use clamps to pull the table surface all the way into the dado cut. Make sure the boards are flush at the corners.
Use the power drill to make pilot holes for the screws. Mark out the locations of the holes so that you are drilling into the center of the thickness of the table surface. I added 4 screws on the long pieces and 3 screws on the short pieces, with an additional screw at each corner to hold one board onto another. To be able to hide the screws at the end, they need a countersink for the head to sit in. Use the countersink bit on each of the holes.
With the pilot holes drilled, switch to the Phillips head bit. Drive in the screws, but not all the way. Tighten them the rest of the way with the screwdriver. Since they are sitting in particle board, you must be careful not to overtighten them or they will strip.
5. Cleaning Up
Once you have the screws in, you can remove the clamps. Use a damp rag to wipe away any excess glue that squeezed out. This will much easier now than when it has dried.
Repeat the steps above for each of the frame pieces.
Step 4: Finishing the Frame
Since your forearms will be resting across the edge of the table fairly often, I thought it would make it more comfortable to round the edge of the frame. I used a router with a 1/4" round edge bit. After running it all the way around the top outside edge of the table, sandpaper was used to smooth out the curve. A hand plane or file could be used to achieve the same thing, if you were patient enough.
Step 5: Attaching the Legs
This step should be quick, but you must use a steady hand to avoid ramming the drill all the way through the table surface. Hopefully the screws provided with the legs will be shorter than the thickness of the table.
1. Mark the hole locations
Using the mounting plate as a template, slide it into the corner and use a pencil to trace the locations of the holes. Use a hammer and awl to punch a hole in the middle of each circle.
2. Drilling the holes.
Measure the length of the screws. After finding a drill bit the right size for a pilot hole, wrap some tape around the bit to mark the right depth. Drill each one of the holes, being careful to stop when the tape reaches the surface.
3. Mounting the plates.
From here, use a screwdriver to attach each one of the mounting plates. Again, with the particle board core, you must be careful to get it tight without stripping the screws. From here, you are ready to screw the legs into the mounting plates.
Step 6: Painting the Table
This step should be done outdoors. Wait for a sunny day on a weekend when you aren't doing anything else. The drying times will add up to make this a lengthy process, although you don't actually have to be there for most of it.
1. Filling the holes.
Wood filler should be used to fill in the holes from the screws. The final product will be much nicer if these screw heads are hidden. Most people like to use a scraper of some sort, but I prefer just to use a finger. Whichever works for you, add the wood filler to the holes. If they are deep, you may have to do it in a few layers, letting each one dry in between. Once you have built it up thick enough so that it protrudes slightly past the surface of the board, let it dry for a few hours. Then use sandpaper to flatten it out.
2. Preparing the table.
The sanding from the last step probably made a fair amount of dust, and you don't want this mixing with your paint. Use a slightly damp rag to wipe down the table. Don't get it too wet or it will mess up the wood filler. Once this is done, use painters tape to line the top surface. Make sure you get it right up to the edge, and that the corners are fully covered.
It's finally time to paint the table! I used a semi-gloss black paint, but just about anything that adheres to wood will work. Lots of room for creativity here. When you paint the table, be sure to get the inside lip. You will probably have to paint the tape pretty heavily to achieve this, but its fine. You will probably need more than one coat to get a nice finish (I needed two). Make sure you leave enough time between them for it to dry; your paint can will probably have directions about this.
4. Final steps.
After the paint is dry, peel off the tape carefully, at the angle shown in the picture. When you have it all off, you will probably find that some paint has seeped under it. I found that the knife blade on my multi-tool was great for getting this off. I just rested it on the inside lip and scored the paint, then scraped it off with the blade. Just make sure you don't press down too hard or you will cut through the melamine layer.
And thats it! You are done with the table.
Step 7: Results and Accessories
I was very pleased with how the table came out. It has been a great place to work for the last few weeks since I finished it. I find projects are much more fun when you have a nice clean surface to do them on.
One more note: after spending all this time on your table, you probably want to keep it for a while. So, I made two accessories. One is just a sheet of MDF board to act as a cutting or gluing surface; essentially a replaceable sacrificial board for the really dirty jobs that might damage the surface. The other is a stone slate. This is for soldering, woodburning, or other processes that might burn the melamine. There is a sheet of cork glued to the bottom to keep it from scratching the surface or sliding. The slate is something I had salvaged at batch of a few years ago, so it handy for me, but could be replaced by anything burn-proof.
Well, thats it! Hopefully you found my first Instructable useful. If so, or if you have advice or questions, I would love to hear it in the comments section.