How to Build a Wooden Table

How to build a natural, simple, wooden table, including diagram and instructions.
By Bill Durham
July/August 1976
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Build your own "PPT" - Plain Pine Table - and forget about artificial veneers and plastics.
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Click on the article's Image Gallery for a diagram with measurements.

Tired of that plastic-and-veneer imitation table in your kitchen, den, dining room, or shop? Then replace it with the real thing: a 100% natural, build-it-yourself "plain pine table"!

It's sad, but true: a good "universal table" hasn't been manufactured commercially for years. Today's furniture market is glutted with drop-leaf, extension, Colonial, Mediterranean, gateleg, and other credenzas, stands, counters, desks, sideboards, etc. (which often feature mortised joints and parts that've been machined from expensive hardwoods) . . . when what the country really needs is a low-cost, dependable Plain Pine Table.

There's little reason you can't make such tables yourself and pocket a few bucks doing it. No matter where you live in this country, you should be able to [1] build a PPT from locally available discarded lumber, [2] sell the finished product, and [3] realize at least a $25 profit per unit . . . perhaps even $50 or more, if you exercise care both in your selection of materials and in each table's final assembly.

I started building PPT's because I had a surplus of three- and four-foot lengths of lumber on hand (left over from carpentry work and from salvaged packing crates). The design I've come to use is simply something I picked up through observation. (The exact design is unimportant—any fairly adept third-grader can sketch out plans for the kind of table we're talking about—-but you should strive to give your PPT's a look of functional elegance by harmoniously proportioning all the parts that go into each piece. Craftsmanship and quality of materials are actually of secondary significance, for if they're too high they tend to conflict with the finished product's "plain jane" appeal.)

It's a good idea—if you want your tables to be structurally sound—to use only seasoned wood in their fabrication. This means that you should allow green or found boards to dry indoors for six months. And don't be afraid to feed any cupped or twisted planks to the shop stove. (Out of all the pallet boards and packing-crate planks I pick up, I expect to be able to use only about one-tenth in my furniture projects.)

The only carpentry you'll need to know to build a PPT is how to make right-angle saw cuts and do a little surface planing. And the only fasteners you'll need are glue and nails (you can forget about dovetailed joints). If a power saw is available, the unit's legs can be given a most pleasing taper. (All of the taper should be on the inside-facing sides of the legs, however, to allow for the tendency of softwood tables to go pigeon-toed.) The legs' corners can then be chamfered with a pocketknife and plane.

Thanks to the availability of low-cost, reliable waterproof glues, the wobbly legs and warped tops that once characterized softwood tables can now be considered a thing of the past. I find Water-mix Weldwood to be the best all-around buy . . . but if you have a cheap source of surplus epoxy, go ahead and use epoxy: it's a better gap filler than Weldwood.

Before I assemble a table, I pre-drill holes for my 8- or 10-penny finishing nails and clamp the pieces of the apron to the legs while the glue between them sets.

A $75 table should have its top boards edge-fitted and glued. If—on the other hand—you intend to ask only $35 for your PPT, just make the unit strong and neat and never mind the cracks.

Should you have an accumulation of boards which are too short or too thin to use in a kitchen table, you might consider the construction of typewriter tables. Two-by-fours are not useful in kitchen-table construction but will rip into perfectly proportioned typing-table legs which taper from 1-5/8" on the top to 1-1/4" at the bottom. Make your stands 26" to 30" long by 18" to 20" wide, and 27" high for manual typewriters (an inch or two shorter for electrics).

Do you have a supply of still shorter pieces of wood on hand? Think about building Plain-Pine-Table television stands which measure 18" in height, and 18" by 24" in width and length.

You can upgrade your tables if you wish by giving them drawers, puttied nail holes, and hand-rubbed finishes. I build only plain carpentered tables—using a random assortment of wood (soft pine, odorous pitchy pine, off-color oak, unidentified packing lumber)—and finish them with just some sealer and a little linseed oil. Now and then, for variety's sake, I'll paint a few in either medium blue, green, or brown.

A market exists for Plain Pine Tables of nearly any quality of wood, craftsmanship, or finish. In fact, one of the nicest things about making them is that a builder can find his or her own level of competence or interest and price his or her wares to suit.

Granted, the work at best only "pays wages" . . . but it carries with it the feeling that one is meeting a genuine need with a genuine product made of good, natural materials which might otherwise go to waste.

The pine table is dead . . . long live the Plain Pine Table!


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