How to Make a Herringbone Coffee Table Out of Scrap Wood
Do you love herringbone patterns? Because I know I do!
I've been obsessed with it ever since I saw a tile floor done in a herringbone pattern a couple of years ago. I've been trying to find the right project to use a herringbone pattern on for a little while now. I actually had a false start a few months back where I started doing a coffee table with a herringbone pattern but abandoned the project because I didn't like how it was turning out.
Not all of my projects end up working out, unfortunately. Sometimes it's best to just abandon a project you aren't passionate about.
Luckily though, this was one of the projects that I actually finished. And I'm glad I did because it's one of my favorite project yet.
Before you head onto the rest of this post, do me a favor and check me out on Instragram @ Zacharyms (even follow me if that's something you're into ) I post frequently with new projects and DIY tips. If you like my work, Instagram is the platform where I'm the most active and put out the most content.
This wheelbarrow full of wood scraps is where I started this project. A friend of mine works for a company that does much larger wood projects. He messaged me one day to say that they were throwing out a bunch of offcuts and I was welcome to come and pick through them. Needless to say, I wasn't too discriminating, I backed up my truck to their loading dock and started tossing in every scrap of wood I could get my grubby hands on.
I am definitely not too proud to dumpster dive. Getting all the wood for free really brought down the cost of this project. I spent just a hair under $100 dollars to get it all done.
The first step was to mill all of the wood down to a uniform size and cut off any defective bits (like knots and cracks). Remember this was all scrap wood, so it wasn't in the best of shape. With most pieces, I had to cut 2 sides of the wood before I was left with anything usable.
All of the pieces I used for this project were cut to 1" x 3/4. Again because they were all scraps they all had different lengths. The pieces I ended up using for this project were between 20-30" long, but I've still got tons of shorter pieces left for another project.
With all of my wood cut and ready to go I embarked on this monstrosity. This is by far the most complex glue-up I've ever done.
I applied wood glue to the sides and ends of each piece of wood, laid them out in the herringbone pattern and clamped everything together. I had to use every clamp I own to get this done.
You'll notice I covered my table with a layer of plastic. This kept the herringbone glue up from sticking to the table I was working on and made cleanup a lot easier.
After the glue was dry and all of the clamps were removed I was left with this giant chevron shaped piece of wood. Pretty cool, but I needed something a little bit more rectangular for this table.
To accomplish this I started by finding a centerline through the pattern. That might sound easy, but the herringbone pattern can play tricks on your mind. Finding the centerline was a trial and error process for me. Pretty sure I got it, but I'm sure some people will let me know if I missed it in the comments. Once I had my centerline figured out I measured all of my other lines off it to keep things nice and symmetrical.
The rectangle I drew ended up being 22" wide and 36" long. I choose 22 inches because I felt that fit my living room/couch the best and I used the golden ratio to work out the length of the rectangle. You know about the golden ratio right? Just in case you missed that day in design class (not that I've ever taken a single design class) it's supposed to be the ratio between the width and length of a ratio that is the most visually appealing. In other words, it looks the most "rectangle-y".
That's a word, right? Rectangle-y. Ya, I'm pretty sure that's a word.
Using a track saw I cut along the lines I just traced onto the wood. Track saws are like circular saws that ride along a track so you get perfectly straight cuts every time. I use the track saw whenever I don't trust myself to freehand cut a straight line, so as you can imagine I get a LOT of use out of it. It's quickly becoming one of my favorite, and most used, tools for these furniture projects.
As you can see, the offcuts from this step were quite large, rather than throwing them in the garbage I saved them for another project I'm working on.
Turns out my track saw is good for cutting bevels as well as straight cuts!
I also cut some 10-degree bevels on the two ends of the tabletop. The bevels were necessary in order to make the tabletop fit into the legs I was about to make.
I wasn't originally planning to do this detail, but I realized my table top wouldn't fit tightly into the legs I had sketched out if I didn't. I'm glad it turned out to be necessary though, because the bevel became one of my favorite details in this build. It's funny how these things happen, and it's a good example of how my designs evolve during the course of a build. I rarely end up build exactly what I planned on building, there's always a few small changes along the way.
I really wish I had a giant planer. It would save me so much time. Alas, my planer is only 13" wide, and not nearly big enough for this table top. That left only one option for me, the belt sander.
I did my best to make sure every piece of wood was properly aligned before I clamped everything together in the glue up, but invariably, there's always some pieces that stick up a little higher and some pieces that sit a little lower. To remove that variation between pieces I sanded them off with an 80 grit sanding belt and a bit of patience.
Ok, more like a lot of patience. Oak is not the easiest wood to sand! This process took me at least a couple of hours.
The belt sander is great for removing a lot of material quickly, but it leaves the wood with a pretty rough feeling finish. To give my table top that silky smooth finish I crave I needed my random orbital sander. I started with 80 grit sanding pads and slowly worked my way up to 220 grit. 220 grit leaves the wood with a really nice smooth feel to the hand, but there are still enough micro abrasions and surface imperfections that the varnish will adhere to it nicely.
Sanding is time-consuming, and frankly, not that interesting. But it's a job that needs to be done and since I work alone, that means I've got to do it. To help pass the time, I listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts while doing these projects.
If there's a better feeling out there than rolling clear coat onto raw wood, I sure as hell haven't found it. I love how the color and texture of the wood is instantly transformed. The tones and shades of the wood just immediately pop! I love it.
For this project, I used a satin floor varnish. Satin is a nice middle ground between a glossy finish and a matte finish. It hides flaws better than a glossy finish would, but it's also super easy to wipe stuff down and clean if it ever gets dirty. Which is important to me because I eat most of my meals at my coffee table and I'm a known spiller.
The particular varnish I used also dries really quickly so I'm able to do multiple coats relatively quickly.
The other major component of this build was some steel angle iron. I've never really thought about it, but angle iron is a bit of a misnomer. Steel is largely composed of iron, but it's far from the only component. They should start calling this stuff angle steel. Anyways, it's 1/8 thick, 1 1/4" x 1 1/4" angle iron.
It's basically commodity-grade steel, I bought 40' feet of it for this project and another project and it cost me approx $75 CAD. I bought it from The Metal Supermarket, which I thought was only a thing here in Toronto, but as it turns out they have locations all across North America. If you need any metal for a project I highly recommend them, it's WAY cheaper than buying steel at Home Depot or Lowes.
I wanted to make my the legs of this table a trapezoid shape so I had to cut some miters into the angle iron.
With an angle grinder and a cut off wheel, I freehand cut my miters. I was a little worried about this step, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Still I would've preferred to make these cut with a metal miter saw, but I don't own one of those.
I took it slow and traced the line I marked with a shallow cut. Once I was satisfied that my shallow cut was straight and followed the traced line I applied more pressure and cut right through the angle iron.
As long as you take it slow, it's actually pretty easy to control an angle grinder cutting through steel like this. Just make sure that when you start the cut you keep the blade straight, it's very easy for an angle grinder to bind up on a cut like this.
With all my miters cut and cleaned up, I was ready to try some welding. I say TRY, because this was my first time welding anything. I was pretty intimidated by the process, but I pushed forward. I practiced on a few scrap pieces until I felt comfortable proceeding onto the legs.
I clamped my angle irons to the table so the miter I wanted to weld was overhanging the edge of the table. I also made sure that when I clamped the two pieces of steel in place they were at exactly the right angle. Once I started welding there wouldn't be much room for adjustment!
As scared as I was to start welding it's something I've really wanted to add to my skill set for a long time, so I'm glad I finally got around to doing it.
Using an angle grinder and a grinding disc I cleaned up my welds. Grinding discs are abrasive discs that you can use to slowly grind away at metal. Much like sanding, except for metal instead of wood. I worked each of my welds until they were decently flat.
I've found the best way to get good at doing something quickly is A) practice and B) be the guy whos responsible for correcting any mistakes. Grinding all these welds flush gave me a lot of time to reflect on how I could do my welds better next time :)
To secure my table top to the legs I decided to use carriage bolts! Something feels so deliciously old-school about carriage bolts. It's probably just the word carriage in the name now that I think about it...
Anyways, that meant I had to drill 4 holes in each leg slightly larger than the 5/16th diameter carriage bolts I was using.
Drilling through metal is actually easier than you might think. All you really need is a halfway decent drill (I used a 12v DeWalt cordless drill, so nothing crazy powerful), some sharp drill bits and a lot of downward pressure. Use the slowest speed you drill has, and apply as much downward pressure as you think your drill bit can withstand. For bonus points you can use a little bit of cutting oil too, though it isn't strictly necessary, it will help keep your drill bits sharp.
I clamped the legs in a vice grip and drilled some small starter holes. I started with a 1/8th drill bit and worked my up to a 3/8th drill bit. The more drill bits you have between the first size and the final size, the easier the job will be.
My table top needed a set of corresponding holes drilled in it. Sure, I could've measured the holes on the legs and transcribed their locations onto the table top, but the tolerances here had to be really tight. I didn't trust myself not to screw this part up.
Instead, I clamped the legs to the table top and drilled through the holes in the legs and down into the tabletop, thereby ensuring perfect alignment!
Time to strap on the old respirator and shake up that rattle can.
I sprayed on a quick coat of metal primer and then 2 coats of the finest flat black spray paint Lowes had available for $6. I picked black because it's a nice neutral colour, but my intention is to live with the table for a little bit and then re-think it's colour scheme in a few months.
Maybe I'll stick with black, maybe I'll do something crazy and paint it bronze.
This is the face of pure determination. You can see that I'm ever so slightly biting my upper lip, something I do when I'm exerting maximum force haha.
With the legs painted and the clear coat dry, the only thing left to do was crank down the nuts on the carriage bolts with a socket wrench. And crank I did, as hard as I could. Well not really as hard as I could because I likely would've snapped a bolt, but pretty damn hard!
With the bolts sinched down, the only that was left to do was to load the table into my truck and take it home!
Here's the finished product! This project was a lot of fun, but incredibly stressful at times. There were a lot of firsts for me and it challenged me in ways I wasn't expecting. I learned a lot doing this project.
I'm incredibly happy with how it turned out and I feel like I can take on new challenges that I couldn't just a few weeks ago.
It was time for an upgrade!
This was my old coffee table. And I’m using the term coffee table very generously because it’s really just an industrial stacking cart that I was using as a coffee table, not an actual coffee table. I think it’s pretty clear that I drew a lot of inspiration from the stacking cart though.
Everything from the shape, to the materials I used, was directly shaped by this guy. So credit where credit is due! I see this new coffee table as an evolution of my old one (I think there’s probably a pokemon joke in there somewhere).
Also, I got to make this cool glitch video transition, which I’m pretty happy with haha.
That's it for this post. I've got more detailed instructions linked below on my blog for those of you who are curious. Let me know if you have any questions or comments below too!
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Zac Builds on Feb 27, 2019
Haha, probably not for a little while, but maybe Hometalk will have me out to their HQ in NYC again sometime soon :)
Gabriel Esusy on Feb 14, 2019
This is just really cool and beutiful! loved it!!! I personally would have gone for the same style for the legs of the table, but awesome job!
Zac Builds on Feb 27, 2019
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