Intro: VHS Couch Table Legs
With VHS becoming obsolete, many household find themselves with a bunch of formerly treasured cassettes that are now little more than hazardous waste - except if you incorporate them into an "upcycling" project!
It just so happened that our couch table was in need of a visual upgrade, so my girlfriend and I set out to construct new legs that would be as sturdy, but more appealing, than the beer crates we used so far. We both like how VHS cassettes look and also had a bunch of old childhood favorites with nice labels at our disposal, so the sturdiness aspect was definitely going to be the more difficult part of the job...
After a bit of experimentation, we came up with the following design comprising 22 cassettes per leg. The VHS towers double as nightstands when the table is disassembled and the couch is used by overnight guests. We hope it inspires you to make something similar rather than sending all the tapes to the incinerator! Enjoy :-)
Step 1: Materials & Tools
Since the cassette cases are made of polypropylene which can't be glued, we went with blind rivets instead. Those and the connecting brackets make up the majority of the cost of this project as the VHS cassettes are saved from the trash.
I'll try to keep this list general in case you would like to change the design or are blessed with some weird non-metric measuring system but also include our choices in italics.
Here's what we needed per leg:
- 22 VHS cassettes - up to ten with nice labels you want to display
- 22 angle brackets or bent 4 cm strips of plumber's tape
- one 6 cm strip of plumber's tape
- eight plastic strips (you get two or three out of one cassette, see photo)
- 62 blind rivets (3.2 × 8 mm)
- plywood (we used 9 mm thick scraps)
- two 28 × 28 cm squares matching a four cassette square
- two more irregular pieces (approx. 15 × 13 cm)
The project can be realized with just a few common tools:
- cordless drill
- tap matching the screws (M5)
- wood drill bits (lip & spur) matching the screws (5 mm)
- twist drill bits matching the rivets and the tap (3.3 and 4.2 mm)
- Forstner drill bits (35 mm)
Step 2: General Advice
There are a few things you should be aware of before you start drilling into the cassettes:
- You don't want to drill into the tape which will get caught on the drill (learned that the hard way, see photo...) - try moving it out of the way before drilling into the readout side!
- The cassettes contain a few metal rods and screws, so it may be a good idea to sacrifice one cassette to have a detailed look inside!
- Avoid touching the tape, especially if it is old and shedding heavy metal dust already.
- If you would like to quickly rewind some of the tapes for a more irregular look, put an M8 hex head screw into your drill's chuck and unlock the cassette with some kind of pin, e.g. from the rivets you have already used (see photo).
Alright, let's start making!
Step 3: Base Plate Assembly
Because of the aforementioned screws, the first four cassettes can best be assembled as shown in the photos. First we laid them out in a square, used some plumber's tape angles to mark where we needed to drill, and riveted everything together.
As each of our makeshift brackets would slightly differ from the rest, we made little pencil marks near the holes and on the brackets to know which went where after we were done drilling. It's very easy to turn them around accidentally and losing your right angle...
It's up to you which side will face upwards in the end, but do decide before the next step!
Step 4: Make Rings
Now you get to show off some of the nicer cassettes you may have saved: the next two layers are made up of cassette rings which we decided to assemble with the labels facing outwards.
The process is similar to the previous step; just mark, drill and rivet until you have the result shown in the photo. Since there is more room for the rivet gun in this piece, it should hopefully be quite easy - make two of these rings per leg. You can make it a little more interesting by alternating the direction of assembly: stacking a "clockwise" ring on top of a "counterclockwise" one will make the corners more appealing and may even be a little more stable (remember those very first Lego walls you built?)
Step 5: Awkward Corners: Rings + Plates
After the last step was pretty straightforward, now it is important to observe a certain order or you will have a hard time riveting:
- place the bottom ring onto the base plate, twisted by 45° (or a bit more to obtain flush edges)
- mark where two (or four) brackets would fit
- disassemble and drill holes
- rivet the brackets to the base plate
- put the ring back in its place and rivet the remaining two or four holes
Similarly, attach a two cassette plate to the top of the other ring - for added stability, we joined these two with a straight strip of plumber's tape on the underside. The labels of these won't be visible but we oriented them in such a way that the barcode and writing on the spine was pointing outwards.
Step 6: Third Story
We found one design to fit nicely on top of the square plate added to the second ring: you'll need eight cassettes, of which four will have their label sticking out and another two will show the spine inscription.
Align two cassettes front to back: the easiest way to directly rivet them together is to use the large hole near the middle (see photo). Make sure to actually drill through the plastic, it's easy to miss and just go through the already existing - and not very stable - slot where the hinging part begins. Of course the single rivet will not make for the strongest of bonds but that will be sorted out later as long as you maintain right angles and flush edges at this point.
Next, take two additional cassettes and line all four of them up as in the second photo. You know the drill: mark, drill, rivet!
Repeat the above and assemble both halves as shown in the third photo.
Step 7: Last Chance for a Sketch
Before we turn the three pieces into a single tower, now is a good idea to transfer the inside outline of the latest part onto a piece of paper. This will be the sawing template for the wooden endpiece and may differ from leg to leg - if not, or if you are able to produce a nicely fitting piece with just one cassette footprint measurement and a few right angles, you are truly a master of VHS riveting ;-)
Ours were pretty different, so this was our way of making sure the plywood would fit:
- decide which side of the latest piece will point up in the end
- place it on the paper with that side pointing down
- ask someone to squeeze the cassettes together a bit for right(ish) angles
- trace the inside of the part with your pencil
- take note which cassette went where (one is enough)
Step 8: Stacking Up
Unfortunately, now we'll have to use some visible rivets as it's impossible to reach deep enough into the parts - but with black VHS plastic strips rather than plumber's tape, I actually rather like how those connections turned out.
As shown in "Materials & Tools", we snapped off the hinged covers from a couple of cassettes and cut them into thirds. After some cleaning up with a sharp knife, it was pretty easy: assemble the leg/nightstand to taste, drill straight through the plastic and the cassette behind it, rivet and repeat for the second part to be joined. Repeat this for all four corners of the rings at the bottom and for the four corners at the transition from upper plate (two cassettes) to the top section. Remember which end you were going to have pointing up and squeeze them just like when you made the sketch!
The result should already be stable enough to carry it by the top of the second ring but you'll notice the top part is very wobbly at this point - a quick trip to the workshop will fix that and add a small tabletop to the VHS assembly.
Step 9: End Plate
Now for a bit of woodworking (if you want to call it that): transfer the sketch from Step 7 to some plywood (we used 9 mm as that was left from a previous project, but it doesn't matter much) and cut it, e.g. with a scroll saw. This piece will stabilize the top layer of cassettes from the inside.
On the outside, they will be stabilized by screws going through a larger plate. In order to utilize the potential stability of the wider base plate compared to the top of the VHS assembly, I cut a square (28 x 28 cm) on the table saw. The base plate is actually about 29 x 29 cm but I wanted to use up my scraps...
Again, the thickness or type of wood you use doesn't matter much as long as you are comfortable working with it and it won't make your tabletop too high in the end. Find the center and glue the smaller piece to the underside of this board, letting the side you originally transferred your sketch onto stick out.
Have a closer look at a spare cassette to find out where screws could go: We decided to drill through a spot in the hinged part, so we took a caliper to measure and scribe four points (starting from the corners of the small board) into the plate. Use some scrap wood as a zero clearance board as you drill these or you will end up with unsightly tearout on the supposedly nice side! Needless to say, I forgot that trick myself...
Finally, countersink the holes from the other side and finish the plate with some sandpaper - sanding after assembly results in a much bigger mess than necessary!
Optional (if you have access to a drill press): since we disassemble our table and move the legs frequently, I added a handle to the end plate by drilling two 35 mm holes with a Forstner drill bit. First I was going to make a slot, but this works nicely and was not sure how well your fingers would fit between the cassettes otherwise. make sure only to drill within the area of the small board! To prevent tearout, drill through the board with a small lip and spur drill bit after you have made your measurements on the bottom and use the Forstner bit from the top.
Very optional (if you have access to a laser cutter, pyrography burner or router): I like the resulting look as it reminded me of yet another VHS cassette and was toying with the idea of engraving the plate to solidify that impression, but ended up running out of time. Maybe I'll add that detail later on, I do regret it a bit right now...
Step 10: Final Assembly
One more step remains before the end plate can be mounted: the screws need something to grip into, preferably tapped holes. Put the plate on top of the cassette tower in the orientation you noted earlier, squeeze the top story together like the last few times and mark or slightly drill the locations of all four holes. You could also drill right through, but it can be pretty scary to hear something cracking without seeing what's going on, believe me! Drilling with the plate taken off gives at least the illusion of more control in this vital step.
We used M5 (5 mm) screws and a matching tap, therefore the twist drill bit to use was 4.2 mm. This may differ depending on your hardware, though. Drill with light pressure and be prepared to stop at any point - the plastic is not very thick and you might encounter the tape right beneath! I found that holding the hinged part in place reduces the scary noises quite a bit. Tap the holes after drilling and assemble your new table leg!