Saturday, August 14, 2010

a table, built in a studio

This is the story of the table (really a table top) I made two Christmases ago. It's a story of building things in your studio apt. I was just a few months into my apartment and life in Boston and as I mentioned here, Christmas is the time that I think of ridiculous things to pull off in a studio apt.

This did not require a lot of tools: an electric drill/screwdriver, clamps, small hand saw and a square. Things you might want to have around anyways. So, make a table! Photos and details of the process after the jump!

Behind the scenes, I first made lots of sketches and did the planning for the table top. How large I wanted it to be, how big the boards would be, and then how many boards I would need. Luckily, architecture schooling teaches you that dimensional lumber isn't actually the size of its name. The dimension "2x4" is given to lumber when it is cut, but after it's dry it shrinks. So 2x4 lumber is actually 1.5"x3.5". For this project I used 1x4s on the top (their nominal size is .75" x 3.5") and 1x3s for the supports on the bottom. You can find a chart of nominal lumber dimensions here.

I took my measurements to Home Depot and had them cut the lumber (poplar, I believe is what I chose; you can spend as much as you want on different types of wood) for me. (The Home Depot will probably do a rough job, and when you get home you'll spend some time sanding down their cut edges and any other imperfections in the wood.)

I took the wood home, laid it out, and realized it would be nice if it had mitered corners. So I returned and bought two new pieces to replace the short sides (and biked back home with them).

Here is the system I rigged for mitering. I measured and marked the 45∘ angle. I clamped on a metal ruler along this line and sawed away with what I later learned was a metal pipe saw and very difficult to cut with. With a lot of elbow grease I prevailed.

With my corners mitered, I next used wood glue to attach my two long perimeter support pieces. Because this lumber is not as wide as the top lumber, you get a nice overlap with your corners and with the bracing lumber. Put a piece of cardboard between the clamps and your wood to protect it, and let it dry over night.

Next, assemble. Work carefully to keep the boards flush with each other - this is where the square comes in handy. Secure with screws. I went screw crazy, but a screw for every board on every support keeps your boards flat.

And here is my apartment shortly after I moved in - before things like a curtain over the closet. The place is a bit different now.

When it's all said and done, you've got a table top. The legs shown here were bought at Ikea (and actually one was defective and is being braced with twill tape, if you'll notice in the pictures directly above and below). I love their charcoal color and simplicity. One of my favorite combinations is wood and metal, and - I think this may be a problem - I gift people things that I really like or love, and they better just learn to like it, too.

Do some final sanding down if you need to, and clean with a slightly damp cloth to prep for staining.

Next I stained it a dark brown. One that I love, of course and have stained other things in my apartment with.


After staining.

When staining is done, you're really done. On the bottom side I nailed a little tag with the date and sentiments. The next problem was how to get this to the giftee's apartment on the Cambridge side of the river - so it lived at my apartment for a short while and I really loved it and was sad to see it go, but it's got a good home. The table is almost 4'x4', which I now consider to be a bit too big, and I would have made it smaller if I were to do it again. Also, if I were to do it again I'd buy a proper wood hand saw.

I hope this gets some heads thinking. Some things aren't so hard - I hope this showed how easy something like this is, and you certainly don't need a big space to do it!


  1. Wow. I put together my incredibly crappy Target bookshelves and I felt good about myself...

  2. currently staining a board for a quicky fireplace shelf and like Benaiah- I feel pretty darn proud of myself. props for making an entire table. :)