This article originally appeared on Instructables and is reposted with permission from the author.
I recently moved into my first house and was in need of a dining room table. I saw a picture of a table that used an old section of bowling lane for its top and decided that I'd like to build something similar for myself. With about 30 hours of work over a few months, I was able to turn a tattered piece of wood into a beautiful, sturdy table that should never need replacement.
To find the lane section, I did a Craigslist search for bowling lanes and happened to find a guy about 50 miles away from me who was selling lane sections that he procured during a demolition job. I paid about $300 for an 8-foot section with the arrow inlays. The section was about 2.5 inches thick and weighed about 250 pounds.
I've included a .dxf (AutoCAD) file of the wooden leg parts on Instructables so that anyone can build one if they'd like. But you also could easily recycle legs from another old piece of furniture to make this table, however, make sure any substitute is sturdy as the top may weigh over 250 pounds.
Step 1: Preparing the Lane
The first step in the process was to add support to the lane section to keep it from sagging. When the lanes are installed in the bowling alley, they are built in place. The builders lay down long strips of maple and side-nail them to the adjacent maple pieces. No glue is used in the entire process, which means the lane doesn't behave like a single slab or wood once it's taken up from the floor. All of the maple pieces are still tied together via the nails, but the lane has a certain amount of flex. If not supported properly, the lane will sag quite dramatically in the middle due to its weight. To add support to the lane, I chose to inlay aluminum bars widthwise across the bottom of the table.
Using a hand router and a piece of metal to serve as a guide, I routed out three pockets across the width of the table. I made the pockets three-quarters-inch wide to accommodate the five-eights-inch aluminum square stock. I made sure to make the pockets a little deeper than necessary because I needed to sand the bottom of the lane section, and I didn't want the belt of the sander to touch the metal pieces.
With the pockets routed, I turned to drilling out the aluminum bar stock. I spaced the screw holes so that each was on center with a piece of maple. The goal was to tie all of the pieces of maple together using the bar so that the table wouldn't sag in the future. When this was done, I ran screws through each hole and into the bottom of the table.
This resulted in a sturdy top that shouldn't sag.
Step 2: Sanding and Finishing the Lane
The lane section was in pretty good shape when I picked it up from the seller, however, the top was dirty and covered in decades of bowling alley oil and dirt. I really wanted to sand the top to clean it, and also sand the bottom to create a nice flat surface for mounting the legs. I struggled with deciding the best way to sand the lane. I finally came across a local woodworking shop that had a wide enough Timesaver belt sander. I took the lane section to the shop on my day off and paid $60 to have them sand about 1/8 inch off both the top and bottom surfaces. Because the aluminum inlays on the bottom side were recessed, we were able to totally flatten out that surface. If I hadn't recessed them, the shop workers said they wouldn't have been able to sand that side. I felt that this was a great deal, because not only did the sanding come out perfect, but it saved me countless hours trying to recreate that process at home. I still had a little bit of hand sanding left to do on the edges, but that was relatively easy compared to the top and bottom. When I had worked up to 220 grit (very fine) sandpaper with the hand sanding, I called it good.
The lane was then ready for a few coats of polyurethane to seal it up. I used oil-based polyurethane with a satin sheen made by Minwax for the finish, because I wanted to keep the natural color of the wood. I applied it first to the bottom and sides of the lane section, then flipped it and did the top. I applied about six coats in all, sanding with 220 grit sandpaper between each coat. The finish went on beautifully, and I was really happy with the results.
Step 3: Making the Legs
Remember, I've included a .dxf (AutoCAD) file of the wooden leg parts on Instructables. If you don't have AutoCAD software, you can build a set of legs to your own design, recycle legs off another piece of furniture you're no longer using, or find loose furniture legs at a flea market or reuse store. If you're not building the wooden legs I've designed, just install the ones you've found or built yourself, and skip to Step 5.
Because I don't really have a wood shop at home, I decided to have the legs CNC-routed from 18-millimeters-thick Baltic birch plywood. This way all I had to do was glue the various sections together to make thicker sections, sand and apply a finish. There are some neat tricks you can do with this type of manufacturing process, such as using slots as passages for bolts and creating pockets to keep weight down. The overall accuracy makes it possible to do things that would be more difficult using traditional woodworking methods.
I designed the legs using SolidWorks software and sent the files to a local CNC routing shop. A few days later, I had the parts in hand and was ready to start gluing them together. I was amazed at how well the Baltic birch cut. There wasn't any chip-out on the edges and everything fit together perfectly.
To glue the leg parts, I spread Titebond II wood glue and pressed the faces together using about eight C-clamps per part. Because alignment was critical, I included holes and pockets in all of the sections to accept two dowel pins. The dowels serve to align the sections together. This is important for looks, but also because I had several through-holes that would need to accept hardware and, if those were misaligned, the hardware wouldn't fit correctly. This could create an unsightly gap between the hardware and the wood. The gluing went well, but there are some things I would do differently. For example, when pressure from the clamps is applied, some excess glue squished out at the edges. My instinct was to wipe off the glue with a wet paper towel. Although this cleaned up the bulk, it also pressed a thin layer of adhesive into the pores on the edge of the wood. This created an ugly yellow smear that needed a lot of sanding to remove. Next time, I would just let the glue dry and then remove it with a sharp chisel. This would have saved me lots of sanding time. Oh, well.
With the legs glued together, it was time to apply a finish to them. Applying finish in my bitterly cold, unheated garage wasn't an option. Because of this, I needed to do the work in my basement and that meant odor was a major concern. To cut down on the amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the air, I opted for a water-based polyurethane finish made by Minwax. The odor was almost nonexistent, and I was happy with the results.
Step 4: Machining the Hardware
The table legs are built in several sections, which are then bolted together to form trestle-style legs. I used cross dowels that I custom-machined to attach the sections together. They're made from 1.25-inch-diameter aluminum round stock, and there are 20 of them in total. These were a simple part that involved facing each piece to the right length (about 4.4 inches), putting a small chamfer on the edges using a file, and slightly turning down the diameter to fit in the hole properly, and finally drilling a 3/8-16 hole through the middle.
I had designed the holes in the wooden pieces to be slightly oversized by about 0.005-inch, however, I learned that the tolerance on the aluminum stock was slightly larger than expected so the aluminum stock would not fit in the holes as-is. The benefit of this ended up being that I could get the fit of the hardware just right, and also that turning down the diameter left a nicer finish on the part.
Also, because of the gluing step for the wood, there was a little bit of glue residue left on the inside of the holes that the cross-dowels needed to slide into. I hadn't counted on that, and needed to get the glue out of there. I made a tool on the lathe that was simply a long, round piece of aluminum that had a diameter just slightly less than the diameter of the hole in the wood. I centered this in the hole; with a few blows of the hammer, the tool was forced through the hole and sheared off any glue inside. The cross-dowels were then machined slightly smaller in diameter than the tool and — when slipped into place — everything fit perfectly.
Step 5: Assembly
This was the fun and easy part. Using the cross-dowels and 3/8-16-by-5-inch bolts (available at Home Depot) and some washers, I attached each section together until the table legs were standing. I also added some felt pads to the bottom of the table. It was pretty easy to do this by first assembling the legs and leg crossbars, then adding the two long spanner pieces last. I had the tabletop resting on sawhorses that were slightly taller than the leg assembly. I slid the sawhorses to the extreme ends of the tabletop and was able to just slide the leg assembly underneath. Then I removed the sawhorses one by one until the top was resting on the legs. Using some long screws, I was able to attach the top to the legs in a semi-permanent way so that everything will break down easily for moving someday.