DIY

How to Build a Wooden Table

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MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
You don't need to be a master carpenter to make a basic table.

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!