It’s lurking in your house somewhere, a guest who has outstayed its welcome. Maybe it’s a side table that suffered through your college years and is so spotted with drink rings that it looks like it was making out with an octopus. Perhaps it’s a coffee table with edges ground down by propped-up shoes. Or else it’s a dining room table with the legs gnawed into grotesque shapes by a puppy who thought he was a beaver. But now you’re a grown-up! You need grown-up furniture, but you still have a twenty-something budget, so that Corbusier-designed table will have to wait. Handmade blog can help.
First things first. Get the legs off your table. If you know a hitman who can [ahem] remove the legs of your table and extract the money you’re owed, great. Otherwise unbolt them, unscrew them, or if they are glued to the tabletop, buy yourself a Japanese pull saw.
Let me take a second to sing the praises of this tool. For some reason the Western world uses handsaws that rely on a forward push to cut through wood. Ever try sawing through something when the teeth get stuck and the sawblade bows out with that wubba-wubba sound? Well, a pull saw cuts when you pull back on it. The blade is kept straight since the blade is in tension, so the steel can be thinner and your cuts will be straighter. Thanks Japan!
Once your table legs are off, find yourself a welding shop. Even in this modern world there are places were men and women work with raw steel to make beautiful things. And they can be found in every town in America. If you’re lucky, you have an artist friend who welds. If not, look up welding and fabrication in the phone book and start making some calls. You want someone who can weld and bend bar stock.
Now comes the fun part. Decide how tall you want your table. If you are a member of the Lollipop Guild, your dining room table might only be eighteen inches tall. A regular dining room table is around 28-30” to the underside of the table. If you want legs like mine, here are the dimensions:
I used 3/16” steel bar stock for the legs, something any steel fabrication shop can get pretty cheaply. I paid around thirty bucks for the steel. If you want to change the design, just be sure to have some kind of perpendicular brace to keep your legs sturdy. Have your steel fabricator weld up the legs as shown, then it’s time to decide on your look. Modern and sleek? Industrial? Old World? For mine, I wanted a really hand-crafted look, so my friend went over the legs with an angle grinder, softening edges and putting in scratches and whorls.
While your legs are being made, get to work on that tabletop. The great thing about redoing a table is that it’s flat, so sanding and refinishing is dead simple. Buy yourself an electric sander, a few facemasks, some safety goggles, and a drop cloth. Sand off the old finish and get down to bare wood. If you’re lucky, your table is a flat plank like mine, so sanding is pretty easy. If you give yourself a long afternoon, you can get it completely done. If you’re going to paint your table, have at it with a roller and small brush for nooks and crannies. For our table, we went with a gel stain that I applied in the direction of the wood grain, which left slight streak marks that look like dark wood grain. People are fooled, and your mistakes look like “character” in the wood. Win!
Next comes your work on the legs. You can finish the steel as you want, using a clear sealant, a stain and wax like I chose, or just leave it bare to slowly patina. If you want a really dark finish, try Presto Black. My friend sealed it with Johnson Paste Wax, giving it a great texture and feel.
You can choose any type of hardware you’d like, but I picked simple round-topped carriage bolts that were ground with the angle grinder, stained and sealed like the rest of the steel. I placed the legs on the table, marked a hole with a pen, then drilled through the top and put the bolts through. To prevent the legs from pivoting, I used a 1” lag screw in the bottom to keep it in place. I glued some black felt where the steel touches the wood and on the bottom of the feet.
Two years later and the table is stable as a…table. In all, the new table legs cost under $500, which is less than you’d pay for a new dining room table and way less than one that looks this nice. If you go for the industrial look and leave the steel bare, you could go much cheaper than that.
Now it’s time to learn from my mistakes. First, don’t over-tighten the screws and bolts. I sheared off two lag screws which will be forever embedded in the bottom of the table. Second, be sure you have that perpendicular bracing to prevent sway. My first design was just flat steel without the curved brace, and the table would shimmy back and forth for several minutes after you bumped against one end. Good for dining in rough seas, bad for trying to keep vases and candlesticks upright. Finally, don’t worry about putting foam bumpers on the corners to protect your toddler’s head. He or she will avoid them and whack into the side instead.