Hi Instructables readers! Here’s my original design for an industrial-style expandable outdoor table with matching stools, made out of reclaimed pallets and dimensional lumber.
This was the first time I have ever built a table, and it took me 6 months to complete from start to finish. I was working on it a little bit at a time, evolving the design and acquiring new tools as I went. But if you follow the final design drawings it should be really simple to build. I estimate that I could do this from scratch over 3 weekends if I were to do it again!
The special feature of this table is that it can be expanded from 3 panels (1.35m) to 4 panels long (1.8m) without any special expansion hardware! This table frame design is (to the best of my knowledge) completely original to me, with a cantilevered table top and legs positioned at the centre of each side rather than at the corners.
The legs mimic industrial welded steel frame legs, but are just built with off-the-shelf lumber and simple hand-held tools.
I also made 4 matching pallet stools, which I wrote up in a previous instructable. However, I have included the steps for the stools here as well just for completeness' sake.
In the ‘closed’ position this is a self-contained 4-person table and stool set. In the ‘extended’ position I pull the table up against a low ledge on my front porch which acts as bench seating for an additional 4 people. This rustic design works well in any outdoor setting. But with a more finely finished table top it could work as a formal dining table as well.
Step 1: Design Evolution [Back-story]
This was one of those designs that completely changed several times throughout the building process, so feel free to skip this 'evolution' story and go straight to the design plans for the 'final' design.
I had been using a stack of 3 pallets as a rustic coffee table for a couple of years, but with their rough edges they were getting to be a hazard for my active 1-year old. At the same time, I wanted a nice outdoor dining set for our front porch, and all the commercial options were both ridiculously expensive and not quite what I wanted design-wise. So I picked up a few more matching pallets, and started making a table!
The design started as a 2-part chevron table top (first photo). The table top was way too long for my small porch, so I took the 2.2m table-top and cut it into 4 panels. That gave me the idea to create an expandable/extendable table with these 4 panels.
The legs of the table also changed several times: from an old folding table frame (too flimsy), to old IKEA trestle legs (too skinny), to a wood frame with square frame legs at the ends (too chunky). When I decided to reduce the size of the table, I cut the frame in half and turned the offending chunky square frames to face each other, adding 2 more legs at the ends. That seemed to work! And then I engineered the expanding mechanism to allow for the length of the table to be adjustable.
From the next step onwards, I’ll be presenting the steps as if I were building this again from scratch, from plans and drawings. So the accompanying photographs may not always match the plans exactly! Do as I say, not as I do…
Step 2: Materials & Tools
I work in metric, but the lumber-yards still supply in nominal feet and inches. (Crazy, I know!) So apart from the nominal naming conventions of the raw materials, I’ll stick to dimensions in millimetres.
I picked up a bunch of discarded soft-wood pallets from the dump at a nearby industrial estate. They are probably some sort of pine wood as they are incredibly light. Each pallet measured 770x600mm with planks of varying widths.
- Wood planks from 8 Pallets (get more in case of wastage) - minimum usable length 700mm.
- 1 full sheet of ¾” Plywood (get waterproof grade)
- 2”x 2”x 8’ Hardwood lumber (44x44mm actual dimension x 2440mm) – 6 lengths
- 1”x 2” x 8’ Hardwood lumber (22x44mm actual dimension x 2440mm) – 4 lengths
- Furniture Glides
- Wood beams from 8 Pallets (get more in case of wastage) – Mine measured 60x100x650mm each x 12 pieces
- 1”x 2” x 8’ Hardwood lumber (22x44mm actual dimension x 2440mm) – 8 lengths
- Furniture Glides
- Mitre Saw (or a Circular saw and a cross-cut jig)
- Circular Saw with a rip cut guide
- Drill and assorted bits
- Pockethole Jig (Kreg or equivalent)
- 1 ½”, 2”, 2 ½” self-tapping screws
- 1 ¼” Nails
- Orbital Sander (a belt sander would be better)
- Handheld trim router and round-over bit
- Jigsaw or hand-saw for cutting joints
- Polyurethane Varnish for outdoor use
Step 3: Prepare the Pallet Planks
Cut the planks off the pallets with a circular saw and remove any stray nails. Sand the planks with a belt sander or orbital sander to remove overly rough areas. But I left the natural cracks and flaws in the wood which gives the table ‘character’.
Step 4: Chevron Pattern Table-top Panels
If you have proper equipment, you could plane and joint the pallet wood to a consistent thickness and cut the sides parallel, and glue them up to form a seamless finished table top. I don’t have any of that, so I decided on a rustic-style table top with the uneven edges of the individual planks left as a design feature.
The ¾” plywood forms a base support layer for the pallet planks. Rip the plywood to 2 panels of minimum 500x2200mm. These will be trimmed down to final size later. (I used 3/8” plywood and it was overly bendy.)
Dry-lay out the pallets on the plywood at a 45 degree angle to make sure you have enough planks to cover the be full 500x2200 area. Nail in the planks to the plywood below, trying to minimise the gaps between planks. I didn’t want the nails to show, so I had to carefully flip the whole layout upside down plank by plank, and nail in the planks from below. This is definitely much trickier! Repeat with the second plywood panel, but with the pallet planks on the opposite 45 degree angle from the first.
Mark out and trim down the rough edges of these plank+plywood assemblies into 4 identical rectangles at 450x1000mm each. I used a circular saw and followed a pencil line freehand, but I would definitely use my new Kreg Accu-cut guide in the future! (Thank you Instructables for the prize!) Try to mark out these panels such that there are no tiny triangles of pallet wood in the corners, which could break off easily.
Sand all the cut edges and finish with a first coat of polyurethane outdoor varnish (semi-gloss).
Step 5: Expandable Table Frame Cut List
2”x 2” Lumber
- 6 lengths of 710mm for the legs
- 6 lengths of 600mm for the horizontal frames
- 4 lengths of 850mm for the horizontal frames
- 2 lengths of 762mm for the centre braces
2”x 1” Lumber
- 6 lengths of 762mm for the horizontal braces
- 2 lengths of 1100mm for the expansion braces
Step 6: Cut the Lap Joints for Each Piece of the Table Frame
All the joints were measured and marked by hand, then cut with a combination of circular saw and jigsaw cutting techniques. As these do not yield perfect joints, I simply used screws and liquid nails to hold the joints and fill the gaps. Any resultant gaps were filled with wood putty and sanded flush, before painting. You could also cut these by hand with a fine saw, or on a table saw.
Cut half lap joints at both ends of the pieces as shown, except for the 762mm centre braces which are held in place with pocket-holes.
Clamp all the 8 pieces of 762mm horizontal braces together as shown (both 2x2” and 2x1” lumber) and cut 2 channels for the expansion braces to run. The channel should be slightly larger than the 2x1” lumber. For example my lumber is 22x44mm, so I cut a channel approx. 24mm deep x 48mm wide to allow for some lateral wiggle room but just a little bit of vertical slack.
Step 7: Assemble the Table Frame
Assemble as shown. Because of the box-frame design of this table, the whole structure is pretty solid even with the cantilevered corners and relatively skinny individual members. This is what sells the visual illusion that this is a thin welded steel structure. There are no 4” frame boards joining the table legs, for example.
Paint the table frame black with outdoor paint to waterproof it. Add HDPE furniture glides to the bottom to raise the frame off the ground by a few mm. This prevents water damage and makes it easier to move the table around.
Step 8: Assemble the Expansion Mechanism
Line the expansion channels in the horizontal braces with a piece of aluminium from a coke can to allow the expansion mechanism to slide smoothly. These can be just cut out with heavy-duty scissors and bent by hand and nailed into place.
Secure the horizontal braces to the main frame with pocket-holes. Make sure there is at least 250mm between the last horizontal brace and the end frame on both sides to allow the sliding mechanism to work.
Place the expansion braces into the grooves, and add some L-brackets at the ends of the braces. This will allow the table frame to be expanded up to 500mm, but no further.
Step 9: Add the Table Top
With the table frame in the ‘closed’ position, lay out 3 table-top panels on top, leaving a 75mm overhang on all sides. These are attached from below with 2 ½” screws. Make sure the centre panel is only attached to one side of the expandable table frame, for obvious reasons.
The table can be given a light sanding with fine grit sandpaper and a final coat of polyurethane varnish. The legs can get another coat of paint to make them more waterproof as well.
Step 10: Test Out the Expansion Mechanism
The beauty of this simple expansion mechanism is that it is cheap simple to make, requires no hardware, and – since each half of the table is supported by a full 3-legged frame – it is extremely stable. Simply pull the table apart by the two ends (with help) and add in the additional table-top panel. If there are levelling issues between the panels, you could add some metal braces below the panels to align them. But my table-top is rugged and uneven anyway, so I didn’t bother with that.
Step 11: Reclaimed Pallet Stools
I looked at the remaining chunky beams left over from the pallets and decided to make a set of 4 matching pallet stools for the table. Clean up the beams by carefully removing any nails (watch out for rusty nails) and sanding them smooth. This took hours and hours of sanding with my orbital sander, so a jointer or planer or belt sander would have been much more efficient. I made sure not to sand off the industrial marks branded into the wood which were really cool.
I cut the beams down to 500mm lengths with my mitre saw and sanded the cut ends smooth. 500mm seems like a good seat width.
The edges of the beams were rounded over with a 3/8” roundover bit and a handheld trim router, then sanded again.
The beams were then given two coats of polyurethane varnish with a light sanding in between.
Step 12: Pallet Stool Frames Cut-List
Cut list (per stool):
2”x 1” Lumber
- 4 lengths of 390mm for the legs
- 4 lengths of 240mm for the horizontal frames
- 2 lengths of 406mm for the horizontal braces
Step 13: Drill the Pocket Holes
All of these frames were joined with pocket-holes. This was my first project with pocket-holes, and the jig is very easy to use. I did a test, joining one stool frame with pocket-holes from the inside, and another with countersunk screws from the outside. I was very surprised that the pocket-hole frame was much sturdier than the other one. In fact the one screwed from the outside split the wood even with pre-drilled holes, and the frame was wobbly overall.
However, pocket-holes are undeniably ugly. Luckily, my frames are painted. So just fill the pocket-holes up with some wood putty, sand them flush and paint over them. The holes are completely invisible under a coat of paint.
Step 14: Assemble the Stool Frame
Assemble as shown. Again, because of the box-frame design, the whole structure is rock solid even though it is just 2x1’s and pocket-hole joints. I can jump on the stools with confidence.
Paint the frame black with outdoor paint to waterproof it. Add HDPE furniture glides to the bottom to raise the frame off the ground by a few mm.
Step 15: Add the Pallet Beams
Lay out 3 pallet beams upside down on the floor, evenly spaced out. I made sure the pallet markings were on the finished side of the stool. Turn the frame upside down over the beams, positioned symmetrically. I made the pallet beams overhang the frame by about 5mm on the two sides.
Secure the frame to the pallet seat with countersunk 2 ½” screws.
Step 16: Enjoy Your Outdoor Space
Bring the fun outdoors with your new outdoor dining set! I really enjoy how the light coloured chevron pallet table is a real focal point in my small front porch, cantilevering as it does over the black legs and the chunky pallet stools. On regular days it is a nice compact size that doesn’t overwhelm the small terrace, while opening up to accommodate parties of 8 or even 10 people.
It is also a great conversation piece, as the rugged pallet planks and beams still bear obvious marks from their many journeys across the seas. If you liked this please vote for me in the Reclaimed contest!