Reclaimed pallet coffee table

By | April 10, 2016

This reclaimed pallet coffee table post is going to be a long one, which lots of images. Be prepared. 🙂

raw boards

These rough boards will become a clean table top. The metal will be part of the frame.

First off, this table is not just made from reclaimed pallet wood, but also from reclaimed pallet metal. It’s one of those projects every DIY person tries to create at one point. Their very own reclaimed pallet coffee table. I just wanted mine to be really fancy, so to begin with, I cheated a little bit. No I didn’t buy materials like the wood or metal for this, instead, I took some really nice boards I had and wanted to use for the table top, made sure they had absolutely no more nails in them, and went to a workshop which is part of my university.

clean wood

Cleanest boards I may have ever worked with

I have no planer or jointer, so it’s very difficult for me, if not impossible, to get my boards completely straight to make a nice, straight slab to use as a table top. So I asked the chief at the workshop if I could get them to plane my boards for me. While they don’t normally do this, for just this once they made an exception. I was lucky enough that it could be done in the same day. I left the boards, went around to celebrate my friends birthday (the one from the project in the previous post here) and picked up the boards after a couple of hours.

It was awesome. This may have been the cleanest wood I have ever worked with.

clean wood

Planed boards laid out. This will become a fine table top.

I wanted this table to consist of a wooden table top resting inside a metal frame. In order to make this project work, I first had to make bunch of jigs, a circular saw track guide and clean up and cut all the metal L tubes I was going to use. I was planning on finishing this project in 2, 3 days, but boy, did I underestimate the work. It took more than a week, not working on it continuously though.

Making dowel jigs

Making dowel jigs.

Making dowel jigs.

Making dowel jigs.

From the beginning I knew I wanted to use dowels in this project so the boards wouldn’t just be supported by glue. But in order to do this I needed some good jigs to drill holes for the dowels. I had seen a youtube video for one here. I made a jig really similar to that, but it didn’t work very well for me, so I designed some new ones that, for me at least, worked better.

Trying out the dowel jig

Trying out the dowel jig. The fat one at the top of the image is the one that didn’t really work well. The other ones did.

The reason the jig I made after the one from the video didn’t work, was that I made the piece of wood with the metal tube in it too long, and I had also added a small section of overlap in case I wanted to use the other side for whatever reason. This meant the drill could in fact not penetrate the work piece deep enough to be effective. Another issue I noticed was that if you always use the jig from the same side, you always get just a tiny bit of play. This may not be a huge deal, but my freshly planed boards were all the same thickness and fit really well. I wanted the holes to be perfect so the dowels wouldn’t shift the boards, like they did on my previous project. This reclaimed pallet coffee table had to be really nice, so my new jigs had to be more precise.

Joining the boards

Joining the boards by putting dowels and glue in them, then clamping them down.

I decided to make a jig with a less thick “drill body” and a shorter “arm”. The arm would be on both sides. The jig would have a big hole in the center of the arm so you could see a mark on the jig and line things up with marks you made on the work piece. To make sure the hole was perfectly aligned, I gave both sides of the arm a number. You would drill one board of the work piece, then flip the jig over, so the jig lay mirrored on the second board, and drill again from the other side of the jig. This method made sure the holes were perfectly aligned to each other, and it worked really well.

Joining the boards

Joining 2 sets of boards together.

So I started with clamping 2 boards together and putting dowels in them, gluing them up and then clamping them. I used 6 boards in total, so I glued up 3 sets of 2 boards. Once they had dried I joined them with dowels and glued these sets together using the jigs again. After a day of clamping I had a really nice slab.

Clamping time

It’s clamping time! Yes, I got creative. Rule of thumb: when you have enough clamps, buy more clamps…

Nice and smooth

Nice and smooth slab. This will make a fine table top.

I gave the entire slab a nice sand to smooth everything out, and then I taped the edges with painter’s tape to protect them AND because I knew I had to cut off the ends, and by putting a few loops of painter’s tape around them they wouldn’t chip once I got to cutting that strip off.

Taped the edges

Taped the edges to prevent tear out when running the final cut there.

I didn’t want to take any risks of my saw sliding. Or the water level that I usually use as a guide to slip loose and ruin my cut, so I decided to make a circle saw guide. Again, I saw this on various places such as youtube. Basically, you take 2 sheets of plywood, a thick piece for the spine to guide your saw, and a thin one where your circle saw will rest on, and connect them together. The thick piece needs to be wide enough so that you can clamp it without the clamps hitting the saw as you pass by it. Once the pieces are connected, you put the saw ON the thin board AGAINST the thicker spine, and you make your first cut. This will cut the thinner plywood to exactly the location where your circle saw will cut. Next time you need to make a straight cut, align that edge with the line you need to cut, clamp your cool DIY guide rail down, and make a perfect cut.

Circle saw track guide

The boards that will become the track guide for my circle saw. Sorry, no photo of the finished track.

After I made the guide rail, I measured a straight angle, clamped the guide rail down, and cut off the rough ends of the slab. I now had a table top that just needed a light sand and some form of paint or oil finish.

First coat of oil

First coat of oil. Some burn marks on the under side, unfortunately. Should have used more tape.

It was time to move onto the welding.

From rough tubing

From rough tubing to clean frame. All this came from a metal pallet.

First I had to clean all my tubing of rust, which took a while. Then I cut 45° angles and clamped the tubes against the wood. The reason I didn’t just measure, then cut and weld it was that I wanted to minimise the chance of there being a (big) gap between the frame and the table top.

Clamping and tough welding

Clamping and tough welding the frame into place

I touch welded the 45° tubes, then clamped and measured where I had to cut the rest of the frame. I tried to strike a balance with enough of a weld to make the metal firmly welded, and not long enough to burn the wood. It did help that I had taped the edges. The tape got burned significantly, but almost no burn under the tape. Any burn marks were on the underside. I later cut and welded another piece in the center of the frame, without using painter’s tape, and did end up getting a burned area there. Fortunately, it’s on the bottom, but it could have been prevented.

Clamping and tough welding.

Clamping and touch welding.

All sides of the frame attached

All sides of the frame attached.

After the frame for the table top was touch welded, I took the table top out, cleaned the bottom a bit, and started to do full welds on the frame. This was difficult because the frame was quite thin. It was easy to burn through, so a lot of times I ended up filling holes by “drip feeding”. Not the best method, but it did work. I ground off all the excess metal afterwards.

Frame is beginning to take shape

The frame is beginning to take shape. Note: never weld or work with hot metal on a plastic table. You’ll melt something.

Then I added the legs. I used 90° magnets to hold the legs in place. I made sure all of them were the same length from the top of the frame to the bottom before AND after I welded them in place. The first one still got warped by the heat and bend somewhat, and the third one was too long. So I cut and redid those.

Welding on the legs

Welding on the legs.

I then added feet for support since I didn’t want to have the tubing cut into my floor.

Adding feet to the legs

Adding feet to the legs.

I also wanted to drill holes in those feet, so I could wire tap those holes and put adjustable feet in there. But the metal was too thin to put a wire tap through anyway, so I had to fill up the space first. I did this by welding some small pieces of metal strips on top of the feet. This worked with the thickness… unfortunately, I couldn’t get the drill to go through the metal… I’m guessing it’s because I didn’t cool the drill as I was drilling and it got dull. Lesson learned for next time.

About to weld that in

About to weld that strip of metal in there.

A dry fit.

A dry fit, without paint or oil coat

First version cleaned and painted

First version cleaned and painted.

I painted the frame and put several coats of oil on the table top. Then I decided I wanted the legs to be sturdier, so I cut some tubes in half, gave them 45° angles and welded in some supports. This took longer than I thought it would. Not the welding or the grinding to clean up, but the cutting of those support pieces.

Adding in some support

Adding in some support, making the legs quite a bit sturdier.

Adding in some support

Adding in some support, making the legs a lot sturdier.

After all this was done, I painted the whole thing again, and I was left with one sturdy, kick-ass, reclaimed pallet coffee table.

New version cleaned and painted

The new version cleaned and painted.

Reclaimed pallet coffee table

The reclaimed pallet coffee table versus the old coffee table.


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