Friday, August 24, 2012

Modern Dining Table with Reclaimed Wood

Make a modern, industrial, reclaimed table for about $250.

For the last few years, I had grown to despise our hand-me-down dining room table and chairs. The table was a little small, and the chairs were in constant need of repair. 

Hand-me-down table and chairs

For the last few years, I had also been getting into Modernism. There is something about having two small kids that makes you really appreciate simple clean lines.

After considering the cost of an off the shelf replacement and noticing the lack of moving parts, I decided to make one myself. How hard could it be? The only real requirement is to hold food about 30 inches off the ground.

BTN Salvage Baltimore Warehouse
While searching around on craigslist I ran across an ad for BTN Salvage. They specialize in reclaiming wood and developing new recycling techniques for building products. I exchanged a few emails with Andy who was extremely helpful. I went to check out his stock on Saturday morning. He didn't have exactly what I was looking for, but said he could bring some up the next week from their mill in Virginia. I week later, I was driving home with what would be my new table top.

I chose to use three 7 foot 2"x12"s. These particular pieces of fir spent the last 100 year or so holding up the roof of a warehouse on Russell Street in Baltimore, most recently occupied by the P.F. Feats company. Judging by the size and number of rings I could count, the tree was probably alive at the time of the American Revolution. Since they were so old, they were not just nominally 2 inches thick. They were more like 2-1/8". This heavy, sort of industrial look was exactly what I was going for.

The first step in turning this rough cut lumber into a table top was to lay it out. I tried to pick the prettiest sides for the top and hide the more dammaged parts on the bottom and the insides. Since these had been roof joists, each board had one edge that had scores of nails holding the roof to it. These edges went on the inside joints. There was also some pretty extensive water marks and lines from the original milling.

Measure and mark for biscuits
Once I had everything lined up how I wanted, I used a drywall square to make marks across the boards about 3" from the end and then every 8" down the length of the boards. These are where the biscuits would join the boards together. I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow a plate joiner from Frank at work. That is one nifty tool that made quick work of joining the boards edge to edge. Since These boards were thick and heavy, I used two rows of # 20 biscuits. I set the depth to 3/8" and cut all the holes on the first row in all the boards. Make sure to do this from what will be the top side of the table. Then I lowered the depth 1-3/8" to cut the next row. Again, do this from the top. If you flip the board over, the slots will not line up correctly.
Use plate joiner to cut slots at your marks
Cut all the slots at the first depth
Adjust the depth and cut the next row. Do not flip boards.
Cut next row of slots
Next, I brought the boards inside and lined them up, this time upside down, on an old craft table. The upside down part is important. Since the boards are not precisely the same thickness, the eventual top side goes on a smooth surface so it will be flat when everything is glued up. Also, this will insure the slots for the biscuits are lined up.

Then, both sides of one joint got a copious amount of Titebond II on the adjoining faces and biscuits. I used a little paint brush to spread it around evenly. I also laid down some wax paper on the word surface so I would not end up gluing my new table to the old one.

Boards upside-down for gluing
Glue on every surface of the joint
Put some glue on the biscuits too
I chose to clamp the first two boards together for a while before joining them to the third. It was a little easier to prevent buckling. Anther big thanks to Frank for lending me his bar clamps. I put several clamps across the boards, and a few to hold them flat against the work surface.

After about an hour, I repeated the gluing process on the second joint and attached the third board to the first two. Again, I clamped across the boards and to the work surface to keep them nice and flat.

First two boards glued and clamped
All three boards glued and clamped

The next step is to wait a full 24 hours for the glue to set up before putting any stress on the joints. I went to bed and luckily, the next morning, the 28" legs I ordered from arrived. 

Before attaching them, I had to make the table bottom a little flatter. First, I used a block plane.  I planed along the grain to take off the water damage and milling marks. I was a little surprised how well this worked. Then I made two passes with the power sander with 80 and 150 grit respectively. This made a pretty big mess. I would recommend curtains or anything else made of fabric from your work space. I hung a few drop cloths across the doorways to keep the sawdust contained. Since this was still the bottom of the table, It did not need to look perfect, but it was good practice for the top. Be sure to save some shavings and saw dust. You will need it later.

Block plane removes rough surface of boards
Save some sawdust

Now that the bottom was prepared, I positioned the legs 12" from the end of the table and 2" from the sides then attached them with 1-1/2" pan head screws. Make sure your screws are shorter than the thickness of the table top. I pre-drilled the holes with a piece of tape on the bit that would let me know when I got to the right depth. 

Measure and position legs
Pre-drill, but to too far
Starting to look like a table
At this point, the table was too heavy to lift on my own, so my friend, Greg, came over to help me flip it right side up. Again, I planed and sanded the surface. This time, I took a little more time since this side would be showing. I'm not going to lie - it took a few hours to get this looking as good as wanted it to. If I had to do it over, I would probably want to pick up a larger block plane or,perhaps , rent an electric one.

Reinforcing bars
I decided to add a few reinforcing bars underneath the table to help to keep the boards from sagging under their weight. 

To protect the surface, I chose General Finishes Arm-R-Seal, which is an oil based urethane. I vacuumed the surfaces with the brush attachment and then used a damp sponge to remove any remaining sanding dust. I took some of the shavings from planing the surfaces and shoved them into the joints where there was a bit of space in between the boards. Then I took some of the dust from sanding I mixed it with a few tablespoons of the urethane to make a filler. Using dust from the same material yielded a better color match than anything you can find at the hardware store. Push it into any gaps, knots, or gauges. Don't worry about perfection; it can be sanded down later. 

First coat of urethane going on
Custom filler made from sanding dust and urethane
The urethane is applied with a rag over all surfaces. Don't forget the bottom. Even though you won't see it, it will protect the table from changes in humidity. After five minutes, wipe off the excess finish and let it dry for 12 hours. Before applying the next coat, lightly buff the surface with #0000 steel wool, then wipe again with a damp sponge or tack cloth. The can recommended three coats. I ended up doing four since this table will be getting heavy use.

We finished our new dining room set with six VILMAR chairs from IKEA. 

This was a fun, pretty manageable project. If you are lucky enough to own, or be able to borrow some of the tools, it is also pretty affordable.  The materials cost break down was:
Lumber - $109
Biscuits - $4
Glue - $5
Legs - $95 including shipping
Urethane Finish - $16
Hardware - $25
Total: $254

That's not too bad for a one of a kind piece of furniture with an interesting back story and low environmental impact.


  1. wonderful and very inspiring. i just sent this blog post to my husband.
    his parents have cut and milled a walnut tree that I wanted to turn into a table top.

  2. A modern dining table is quite different from the traditional ones with respect to various features. Design is one of the vital aspects that make it unique from the other types of tables. However, when it comes to functionality, they are more or less similar. Dining tables with modern designs have quite artistic styles that are distinct from each other. They are also not the usual wooden furniture that is very common in traditional homes.

    Shell Chair

  3. You have done a wonderful job on wood dining tables. keep posting the same information like this always. I really like your post.