I’ve been searching for a hip new coffee table for my hip new living room.
The main criteria was that it had to be either square or round to fit evenly in the crux of the new sectional. I was envisioning something with a kind of rustic industrial look, metal and weathered wood. I couldn’t find anything I really liked for less than about $300. And $300, my friends, is too much for a coffee table.
So I got to thinking about some DIY options. I mean, it’s just a top and 4 legs, right? And once I stumbled on the hairpin leg concept, I was sold.
I was about to place an order for four 18″ legs, to the tune of about $70. It would have still been a cheaper option than buying a new coffee table, but I was stalling on the purchase because it seemed like an expensive gamble if the concept didn’t work out as planned.
Then one night my metal worker friend Eric mentioned looking for new metal projects that he could work on in his spare time. A lightbulb went off in my head, I pulled up hairpinlegs.com on my phone, and asked “could you make me some of these?” He said sure, and that it would take very little time and money. SCORE.
So within a few weeks, he ordered the steel (for about $8), fabricated four identical legs with flat brackets on each end, and primed them in his shop. I got these little previews via text message last week:
Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out a plan for the table top. I wanted something that would look substantial. Since the legs are so slim, without a thick table top, the whole thing could look kinda flimsy. It also had to be a square (not a rectangle) to stay in line with the original criteria. I decided that the easiest and cheapest option would be to get white wood boards from Home Depot, attach them together somehow, and stain them a darker shade.
Projects like this are always a delicate balance for me because I have to be realistic about what I can and can’t do myself. I’m no woodworker, and we don’t have a power saw at home. So as long as you keep your needs simple and know what they are up front, the guy at Home Depot can make your cuts for you.
I bought two 10′ 2×6’s of white wood for $5.95 each, and had this fellow cut six pieces at 34″ each. They didn’t charge me for the cutting, and never have before, even though there’s a sign with prices on it. I guess they like me.
I set up shop on the table on the back porch. Which was a good spot because it was outdoors for ventilation with the wood stain and whatnot, but it could all be left out overnight without fear of rain ruining things. This is what I started with:
Of course the edges were super jagged, and all these pieces needed some love before they could be stained.
So I got out my new friend, the Black and Decker mouse sander, and got to work, first with a course grit sand paper to round out the ends, and then with a finer grit to smooth out all of the surfaces.
This hand sander is the shit. It’s so much better than the cheap off-brand sander I borrowed from someone earlier this year to do the living room trim. It made quick work of this job, and before long I had 6 smooth boards, all ready for a coat of stain.
I chose Minwax wood finish in Dark Walnut. I used the same product in the “natural” color for the dining table last year, and it was a fairly painless process.
To avoid weird light spots in between the boards, I opted to stain them individually before the table top was assembled. And because it’s July in Tennessee and the humidity is insane, I gave them a LONG time to dry out before messing with them.
This dark stain is nasty stuff. It’s oil based, so it basically ruins anything it touches (other than the wood). So I bought a cheap paint brush that I would throw away, and stirred with a plastic fork. The color came out as expected. Nice and dark, with natural variations around the wood grain.
Next up was construction. Due to a number of circumstances, I did all of this by myself. Aside from the metal fabrication, it’s a one person job. One person who is completely unskilled in construction and simple mechanics.
I started by laying the boards face-down on a more flat and solid surface than the patio table (the concrete slab floor). I laid a 1×3 diagonally across the slats and put one screw into each board. Then moved out to the edges with these metal mending plates from the hardware store. I started with the two on the corners, then worked from there to see where it needed the most support. It doesn’t exactly look pretty or professional, but it works, and it’s not coming apart any time soon.
[Sorry for these phone pictures, the real camera was otherwise occupied yesterday morning.]
And then I measured out the legs, and screwed ’em in. This is the part where I was really holding my breath about the assembly. Although the pieces were individually strong, they were all handmade and slightly imperfect. My table top wasn’t perfectly level, and since the legs were individually made, there was a chance of some subtle variation.
On the first try, it was wobbly. One of the legs was just a hair shorter than the other three. So I added a few washers under the bracket to give it a little more height. When I flipped it over a second time, it was still a little wobbly. Damn. But then I realized that I was outside on concrete, rather than the textured rug where this thing is meant to live.
So I heaved it inside and gave it a go. (It’s pretty ‘effin heavy for me to carry alone through doorways and whatnot.) But lo and behold, on the rug it didn’t wobble at all! Success!
I made a coffee table! And it’s cool!
So after patting myself on the back for a few hours, I took it back out on the deck to put on the polyurethane.
I still had some satin finish poly left from the dining table last year. I know some people are panicky about the fumes from this kind of thing and opt for acrylic sealers instead. But I don’t have any kids running around putting the tables in their mouths, and the dining table has held up great.
The poly really brought out a richer color from the wood stain. Even with s satin finish (not glossy) it gives the table a much more polished look and shows the variation in wood tones.
I also threw some stain on that board I used to attach the underside. From certain angles you could see some light wood poking out.
Oh and I also had to spray paint the legs after Eric primed them white. I chose an oil-rubbed bronze metallic spray paint. Really it just looks black, but when you look up close there is a little bronze shimmer for a little more dimension.
The dogs are outside guarding it right now while the last coat of poly dries. I’m going to give it an extra-long time to cure, because it’s so humid out, and since it’ll get a lot of use as soon as it gets in place.
More beauty shots to come later this week after it makes the final journey to the living room.
Here’s the cost breakdown. What a deal, eh?
- 6 steel mending plates: $17
- Lumber: $12
- Materials for 4 legs: $10
- Oil-rubbed bronze spray paint: $8
- Wood stain: $5
- Paint brush: $2
- Polyurethane: $0 [already had]
- Screws: $0 [already had]
- TOTAL: $54