There's a lot of wood out in the world free for the taking -- in dumpsters, back alleys, vacant lots, abandoned buildings, recycling yards, and architectural salvage centers. Most wood, if free from rot, is just as strong, durable, and good to use as new wood, once you sand off the weathering. This table was made from all salvaged wood -- both dimensional lumber and plywood, mostly taken from decaying buildings in and around Hale County, Alabama. It was commissioned by the good folks at PieLab (www.pielab.org), an initiative of Project M (www.projectmlab.com). PieLab is a pie shop, design center, teaching resource, and business incubator in Greensboro, Alabama.
There are many methods for laminating wood -- this project focuses on a down-and-dirty method for those of us who do not own a lot of pipe clamps and other heavy duty hardware for wrestling with wild wood. It is about ten feet long by thirty inches wide, sitting about thirty inches off the ground. If you can salvage the wood, the other materials aren't too expensive: five threaded rods, about four bucks each; nuts, washers, and screws; a gallon or so of wood glue; sandpaper; and polyurethane. All told, it was less than one hundred dollars.
As far as tools, you'll need a table saw, a circular saw, a power drill/impact driver, hand plane, mallet, some drill bits, and a belt sander.
This isn't the quickest project in the world, but with a little help from my friends, it only took a few weekends.
While I did the design, I am indebted to the following individuals who did most of the labor:
Ryan LeCluyse (thanks also for many of the photos throughout, includ. the first three)
Step 1: Trestles
The basic design for this table is a trestle scheme: using two parallel load-bearing structures with slanted legs to support the top. To lay out the trestles, and to get the feet of the legs to hit the floor evenly so the whole thing sits level, lay out a baseline (a big piece of wood or a straight line in the pavement will do), and a second piece of wood at ninety degrees to the baseline.
Measure up from the baseline 30-32 inches. This will be the top of the table. Pull a straight line across at that measurement -- either in chalk or with a piece of wood -- that is parallel to the baseline. The dimensions of your table may vary, but I measured about two feet in from each end of the second line, representing the top of the table.
Now that you have this geometric layout, pick some wood for the legs. I went with 2" x 6" cedar scraps we dug out of the pile. I measured a rough length for them, four feet or so, then ran a line from opposite corner to opposite corner. Using a circular saw and a a steady hand, cut the legs, each essentially a long, sharp triangle. You'll need eight in all.
Lay the legs with the fat end on two-foot mark on the line representing the top of the table, and pull the other end so that it hits the baseline. What you want is the feet to be in line with the end of the table top, which will give a nice visual rake to the legs while providing maximum stability. Scribe lines on the legs and use the circular saw to cut them flush. You can scribe just one and use that as a master to trace onto all the others.
We used eight foot yellow pine 2" x 8"s for the trestles themselves. Cut a taper into each end as shown in the photos, running from about 2" down to where the legs hit. Screw and glue the legs onto the trestles in opposing pairs. Use at least four screws with enough length to go through the trestle and into the other leg for maximum strength.
Step 2: Lamination
Normally, laminating a lot of timber together is done with powerful bar or pipe clamps and a lot of glue. However, those clamps are expensive, and you need a big, perfectly level workbench to get things to align right. In the absence of these tools, we used a slightly less rigorous but no less strong method using screws and threaded rods.
The first step is to prepare your lumber. We cut it to random widths, meaning the bottom was going to be irregular, as seen in the introduction photos. You can use the table saw to cut to consistent widths, if so desired. You can use any kind of wood, plywood, dimensional, hardwood, softwood, whatever you think might be aesthetically interesting.
Once you've ripped up a big pile of wood, run some 60-80 grit sandpaper over both sides to remove loose dirt, paint, and grit, which will inhibit the glue bond. Then, starting with one trestle or the other, paint the wood with regular yellow wood glue (thinned with a little water), then put it on the trestle and screw it to the 2" x 8" with drywall or wood screws. Space them close enough so a little glue squeezes out from the seams, and there are no pockets or gaps along the length. Build the wood up and around the ends of the legs, locking them into place and preventing them from kicking out when loaded.
Continue on in this way, staggering seams and varying the wood so no pieces that are alike end up directly next to one another.
This method has its weaknesses; namely, the thing will tend to sag, bow, and cup over time since there are no connectors that go all the way through the table top. To solve this problem, mark out five holes; one in the center, one through each of the sets of legs, and one at each end. Depending on the length of your drill bit, drill down every few layers with a 5/8" drill bit. It's hard to get them perfectly straight; however, I don't know that a drill press and drilling holes in each piece first would be easier, because all the lining up would be a nightmare. You can see the pencil lines used to lay out those holes in some of these pictures.
Step 3: Assembly
Once you have two halves of roughly the same width with 5/8" holes throughout, it's time to finish bracing the legs, stand 'er up, and plug the whole thing together.
Feed the threaded rods through one side at least. Stand up the two halves, with people holding each side for stability. Chuck the threaded rods right into your drill and power them forward through the five holes you made in the last step. If the holes aren't exactly straight, the drill method will screw them through pretty reliably. Smear a whole lot of glue on the two pieces where the halves come together, and use nuts and fender washers to tighten the whole thing together. If the middle is meeting imperfectly, you can also throw some truck tie-down ratchet straps around the whole thing to clamp it better.
For the legs, drill a 5/8" or slightly smaller hole about two or three inches up from the bottom of each leg. Feed a 1/2" threaded rod through, putting fender washers between the legs and on the out side. Crank the nuts down to pinch the legs together. Use the inner nuts to push the legs out as well, splaying them slightly for a wider stance. By pinching and splaying the legs, you're pre-stressing them into a more stable position. It is also nice visually to pinch the two legs together, because it creates a compound taper -- a taper in two directions.
Now that it's standing and stable, there's just some finishing and cleaning up to do.
Step 4: Finishin'
Plane down the table top with an old-fashioned hand plane to smooth out the ridges. Add cap pieces on the long sides with countersink hole drilled in them to accept the nit and washer on the threaded rods. We picked pieces with paint or other interesting things to give the edges some visual interest. Glue and screw them; we also used the truck ratchet straps to clamp them.
Set up a fence with clamps and a bar of wood to run a circular saw against and trim off the ends. You can see we cut through a screw or two; try to avoid this. Sand down with a belt sander, starting with an aggressive 80 grit or so to take down any more really high spots. Move to 100, then 120 grit.
We filled all other imperfections with regular vinyl wall spackle. The white was a nice contrast. You could use wood putty, or just let them be. Sand out the spackle with 100 and 120 again, them slap a couple coats of polyurethane on and you're done. A coat of furniture wax isn't a bad idea, especially if it's going to receive heavy use.