Inspired by the "Reclaimed Audio" podcast, I set out to make something from reclaimed metal. I went to the Habitat ReStore searching for materials and found three hand railings sitting in a corner. While many would see these rusty hunks of metal as trash, I saw 27 feet of steel tubing that needed some love. The cherry wood used for the top of this table was found on Craiglist, tucked away in a basement, forgotten for years. Through many hours of effort, I wrangled the old materials into an industrial coffee table for my living room. I am very pleased with how the table turned out and I can say with all certainty that after all that work, I am now an unapologetic "use a coaster!" person.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- 1" Steel Tubing - 27 ft
- 4x 46"
- 4x 18"
- 4x 17"
- Cut off disk
- Abrasive wheel
- Wire wheel
- 18 TPI Bi-Metal Blades
- 0.030" Flux Core Wire
- 0.030" Welding Tip
- Diagonal Pliers
- Magnetic Square
- Wire brush
- Metal file
- Cordless Drill
- Drill Bit Set
- Step Drill Bit
- Flat Black Spray Paint
- Matte Clear Spray Topcoat
- 1" Square Tubing Plug Caps
- ~5 board feet of cherry wood
- Top dimensions - 20" x 48" x 7/8"
- Metal Detector
- Jointer (or hand plane such as Stanley #5, #7)
- Circular Saw
- Table Saw
- Biscuit Joiner
- #020 Biscuits
- Wood Glue
- Rubber Mallet
- Lots of clamps!
- Random Orbit Sander
- 100, 150, 220 grit sanding discs
- 500,1000,1200 grid sand paper
- MinWax Pre-stain Wood Conditioner
- Danish Oil
- Clean Rags
- #8 1 1/2" wood screws
Personal Protective Equipment
- Safety Goggles
- Face Shield
- Hearing Protection
- Half mask respirator
- Organic Filter (welding, painting)
- Particulate Filter (woodwork, grinding)
Step 2: Reclaim the Metal
Begin by breaking down the metal railings using an angle grinder with a cut off disk, removing the vertical supports until the top and bottom tubes are all separate. I was able to recover six lengths of 1" steel tubing from the three railings. Switch the cut off disk out for an abrasive wheel and grind the welds smooth. Finally, using a wire wheel remove all paint and rust that remains.
Step 3: Cut Metal to Size
Cut the steel tube to length using a hacksaw and an 18 TPI bi-metal blade to the following lengths. It's a good idea to plan your cuts to avoid wasting materials. I labelled the 18" and 17" pieces to avoid confusion in later steps.
- 4x - 46"
- 4x - 18"
- 4x - 17"
A miter box is useful for keeping cuts straight. As the blade dulls cuts will begin to drift and won't be as straight, when this happens put in a new blade. After cutting the metal, use a metal file to remove burrs and sharp edges.
Step 4: Weld the Base
Before welding, scrub the metal tubing with a metal brush. This will help ensure the welder is well grounded and will improve the quality of the welds.
Layout two of the 18" tubes horizontally and two of the 17" tubes vertically to form the shape pictured above. The resulting form should measure 20" wide and 17" tall. Use magnetic squares to help keep the corners perpendicular. I used a block of wood cut to 6" to set the spacing between the top and bottom horizontal bars.
Tack weld each joint, then double check that everything is still aligned as expected. After inspecting the alignment, go back and weld all faces of the joints (16 welds total). Clean up the welds with the wire brush.
This piece will form one side of the coffee table, repeat the above to make the other side.
Next, connect the tops of the two side pieces together with two of the 46" sections of tube. As before, use the magnetic square to align the pieces, then tack weld them in places before welding each face.
Using the 6" block from before, align the remaining 46" tubes below the already welded 46" tubes to form the lower bars. It's easier to put the base on it's side and weld one of the 46" tubes at a time, instead of trying to align both at once.
With the base completely welded, use an abrasive wheel to remove any spatter and clean up the welds.
Step 5: Paint the Base
Prepare the metal base for painting by lightly sanding it with 100 grit sand paper. This will help the paint stick and even out the surface of the metal. If there is significant pitting in the metal, use auto body filler to level the surface.
In a well ventilated area, apply light coats of spray paint, until even coverage is achieved. Applying too much paint will cause the paint to run, so be patient.
Allow sufficient time for each coat to dry before applying the next layer. You can begin working on the wooden top while waiting for the paint to dry on the base.
A final coat of a spray topcoat will help protect the paint from chipping or scrapping off. Again, multiple light layers are better than one thick layer.
Step 6: Plane Boards to Thickness
Before cutting boards to length, they will be planed to thickness. The extra length will allow for some tolerance to snipe, as the affected area can be cut off in later steps. If you know don't know the target thickness in advance, plane the thinnest board until smooth, then measuring the thickness (I chose 7/8" using this method). Each subsequent board should be planed to this measurement, ensuring a flat smooth surface when the boards are glued into a panel in later steps.
When planing, alternate faces (top / bottom) until the target thickness is achieved and use multiple shallow passes to prevent chip out. If you have a dust collector hooked up to the planer, pay attention to the bag as the process produces a lot of shavings that can quickly overfill the collector. It's also a good idea to use a metal detector to check the boards for hidden metal that could damage the blades.
Step 7: Cut Boards to Length
Using a circular saw or a miter saw, cut the boards to length approximate length (49"), removing any snipe from planing. The extra inch will provide some wiggle room when assembling the panel, which can be trimmed to exact length after glue up. Also, because the edges of the boards haven't been joined yet, any cross cut won't be exactly perpendicular. This step could be done after jointing, but shorter boards are more manageable in smaller jointers.
Step 8: Run Boards Through Jointer
To ensure a seamless glue up, each board edge should be passed through a jointer. If you don't have access to a jointer, a large hand plane can also be used (such as a Stanley #5 or #7). The jointer will establish a flat edge perpendicular to the freshly planed face. It's a good idea to use push blocks to keep the piece registered against the fence. Be sure to keep the board level with the out feed side of the jointer to avoid snipe.
Step 9: Cut Boards to Width
Arrange the boards in a panel, then place the welded base upside down on that panel. Using a pencil, trace that outline of the base onto the panel to establish how wide each boards should be. Remove the base, then measure the distance from the edge of each board to the traced line. Use this measurement plus the width of the table saw blade (typically 1/8") to set the table saw fence. After ripping each board to it's final dimension, verify the panel fits tightly together, small gaps between boards can be removed by re-joining the edges on the jointer. The dimensions of that panel at this point should be approximately 49" x 20".
Step 10: Cut Biscuit Slots
To ensure biscuit slots line up on each board, use a straight edge and draw a pencil line every 6" perpendicular to the panel seams (board edges). It's useful to label each side of a seam to avoid misalignment during glue up. For example, from left to right label each side of a seam as follows: 'A', 'A', 'B,'B','C','C'. This way, when it comes time to glue the panels up, the arrangement of the boards can be verified by ensuring 'A' is next to 'A' and so forth.
Set the cut depth and the fence height on the biscuit joiner such that the cut is centered on the board seams. In the case of a 7/8" board, the center of the biscuit should be at 7/16" from the top and bottom of the board. It's best to use scrap wood to dial in the settings before attempting on the actual boards. I used #20 biscuits, which corresponded with the blade and depth setting on my joiner.
With the joiner dialed in, cut a slot centered on each pencil line taking care to cut each slot to it's full depth. Remember that the two outside edges should not have slots cut.
Step 11: Glue Up Top Panel
Apply glue to all the slotted edges, and insert an appropriately sized (I used #20) biscuit in every pair of slots. Working on a flat surface, press the panel together until the seams close. A rubber mallet is useful when fitting boards together and won't dent the boards. Squeeze the seams tight use bar clamps and set aside overnight to allow the glue to dry. Once the panel is dry, cut the panel to the exact length of the base (48") using a circular saw and a straight edge.
Step 12: Sand Top
Using a scraper, removed any dried glue that squeezed out from the seams. If there are any high points between boards, use a hand plane to level them out. Use a random orbit sander to smooth it out any defects and prepare the top panel for staining. Sand the top, bottom and edges of the panel using 100 grit, then 150 git and finally 220 grit sandpaper.
Step 13: Apply Stain to Top
Wipe the surface of the panel with a clean cloth to remove any residual dust from sanding. Next, with a different wipe on a coat of MinWax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. Refer to the directions on the can for drying times and reapplication times. The pre-stain will help prevent the wood from "blotching".
Once the pre-stain has been applied, wipe on several coats of the Danish Oil, again referring to the directions on the can for drying and reapplication times.
When the stain has fully cured based on the manufacturers directions, lightly sand the top with 500 grit, 1000 grit and 1200 grit sandpaper. This will help knock down any high points in the finish and provide a smooth finish.
Step 14: Drill Screw Holes in Base
Use a cordless drill and an 1/8" drill bit to drill a pilot holes through the top metal bars on the base of the table. Space ten holes around the base to secure the top panel to the base. Use a low speed setting when drilling and apply some WD40 to help cool the bit and lubricate the cut.
Next, bore the holes out with a stepped drill bit. Again use WD40 to cool and lubriate the bit. The hole should be smaller than the head of the wood screw, but large enough to allow some movement. The extra hole width should help prevent the panel from cracking as the wood expands and contracts with temperature and humidity.
Step 15: Attach Top to Base
When the top panel is dry, set it upside down with the base on top of it, such that the holes drilled in the previous step align with the top panel. Use a pencil to mark the location of the holes on the base, then set the base aside. Using a cordless drill, drill an 1/8" pilot hole in the bottom face of the top panel taking care not to pierce through the panel. Wrapping a piece of tape around the drill bit at the desired depth can be a useful visual indicator when the hole is deep enough.
Finally, re-align the metal base on the top panel and drive ten #8 wood screws into the top panel. A 1" plastic plug inserted at the base of each leg will help prevent scratching floors and allow the table to slide on carpet. Flip the entire assembly over and voila! You're done! Be sure to invest in the coasters to protect your hard work!