So, my husband and I are an engineer and a designer respectively. So, what that means for us in relation to getting projects done on the house is that we grossly underestimate the amount of time that it will take (very typical of engineers) and we procrastinate until we find that we have to go without sleep for a week to get it done (standard operating procedure for most designers). Why am I starting this post with that little tidbit of information? Well, it explains the lack of posts for the last couple of months.
See, we decided that before our Thanksgiving dinner that we were throwing at the house, that we wanted to build the farm table that we’ve been planning on for awhile, plus tile the living room, plus get the guest bathroom completely buttoned up. Turns out those projects take longer than the month that we thought they would. So we weren’t able to neatly finish one, then do a blog post, then another, another post and so on.
But the dinner was on last Saturday, and after (another) couple days without power following the party, here I am writing up the first of many blog posts to come over the next few weeks (hopefully).
So more about our (not so) little DIY Farm Table. I apologize in advance, this is going to be quite a wordy post, but there are also a lot of pictures…. So… You win some, you lose some. Anyhow, ever since we found this article on TheArtofManliness.com about a year ago, we’ve wanted to make our own. I highly recommend reading through that article. The guy who wrote it was very clear with his instructions, and he was frequently funny, which always helps.
Another thing that was important to us was the fact that we would really like to make it with reclaimed lumber. Generally when you’re making furniture like this, you go out of your way to make it look beat up and worn in anyway, so why not just get reclaimed lumber? There are three reasons you may not want to do this, to be fair: 1) Reclaimed lumber can be more expensive because of the work involved reclaiming it. 2) You have to sand it down some before you can really use it (and I mean before you do the fine sanding for the staining, my arm still hurts from all of the sanding that we had to do). 3) The reclaimed lumber doesn’t come in the same standard lengths that you get from a lumber yard. It’s already been cut and used, so you have to search for pieces that will work for you.
But, reasons to use it are also plenty: 1) Obviously it’s environmentally friendly. 2) You don’t have to worry about the “antiquing” portion of the instructions. 3) Sometimes you can get many different types of woods than you could just going to a Home Depot or Lowes. 4) Sometimes you can actually get “antique” wood. I don’t just mean scratched up and used, but wood that was cut before we had all this new fancy cutting equipment, and it’s incredibly awesome. (note: we didn’t use that because we drew up our plans before buying the lumber and the antique wood came in different sizes. I recommend looking into your options before drawing up your plans if that’s a route you may be interested in).
So, we wanted to go with it, but where do you buy it. I don’t know where you buy it. But if you’re in the Detroit area, the best place I can recommend is Reclaim Detroit. These people are doing amazing work. They go into old, abandoned houses in Detroit and reclaim all usable lumber from them before they’re deconstructed. They will work with you to make sure that they have what you’re looking for before you come down, so the best way to work with them is to call and set up an appointment. Side note, they also sell some of the most awesome looking cutting boards that I’ve ever seen. Just sayin.
Now, enough of all of that, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of making this table. First, you need to figure out what your table is going to look like and how it’ll be built. We drew up plans from both sides, and of the table top design in a birds eye view. I intend to post our plans soon, but I want to digitize them first as downloadable PDFs instead of crudely drawn pencil sketches on graph paper. Also I recommend checking out Ana White for some awesome plans of a farmhouse table. Also just check out the whole site, because they have lots of great resources.
That being said, we actually followed the plans from The Art of Manliness except for a few changes. One being the design on the top. I’m okay with a rustic look, but I prefer to try to add a bit of modern flair to it, which is why I made it so that all of the boards on the table top and the wings run in the same direction. I also wanted to have it be two different tones of wood. That’s actually for a more practical reason (though the designer in me also likes it). See, we have a light colored dining room floor right now, but we plan to change that out to be a dark wood sometime in the future, and we might not be in this house forever. I want this table to work on any kind of floor.
Another change we made to the plans from The Art of Manliness is that the legs are further in on the table from the ends. You can see in his picture that the legs extend almost entirely out to the edge of the table. This means that you can’t actually push in the chair at the end of the table, or even sit there comfortably without the wings installed. We definitely didn’t want to need to keep the wings in all of the time since this table is huge enough without them. Then last but not least, I changed the runner that extends from end to end under the table from a 2×4 to a 2×10 so that a) people with short legs like myself can still reach it and b) you don’t have to worry about unintended games of footsie.
So let’s start with what you need for this project:
Lumber (I’m not going to bother putting specifics in here because it completely depends on the design you use. He has a list of what you need to do his design on The Art of Manliness article, though, and I’ll include a lumber tally in the plans that we did when I get those plans digitized.)
- Table Saw (For cutting out the notches)
- Miter or Radial Arm Saw (For cutting the boards to length)
- Chisel (For chipping out the pieces in your notches)
- Hand-Held Belt Sander (For sanding the surfaces and to sand the edges to make sure that everything is even.)
*note: we used an orbital sander for the surfaces since it’s what we had and it allowed us to not sand away all of the character in our boards, and we borrowed a belt sander to square everything up
- Drill (Both for drilling holes and for screwing things together)
- Pocket Hole Jig (We went around trying to find one of these in big box stores and found that they only had big $40 kits. Those are nice because they come with clamps and all that, but we didn’t think we needed it necessarily. We ended up ordering this one on Amazon and waiting for it to get here. I recommend doing that early so you’ve already got it.)
- Stain of choice if you intend to use any (We used Minwax Dark Walnut for the dark bits and no stain on the lighter ones)
- Polyurethane or Polycrylic (This is to protect your finish. The differences between the two, from what I could see, is that polyurethane has a really rich, amber finish to it and it takes longer to set up because it is oil based. Polycrylic, if applied in thin coats dries with absolutely no color and sets up faster since it is water based. Matt and I used very thick coats of polycrylic and got a more amber/wet look that still dried quickly. So I recommend purchasing one of each of the smallest size and doing some tests first if you’re unsure.)
- Brushes, Clean Rags and Gloves (For applying the stain and/or the finish)
- Black Spray Paint (To paint the lag screws and washers that will be visible.)
- 3/8″ x 6″ Lag Screws (spray-painted black) – 8
- 3/8″ x 3″ Lag Screws (spray-painted black) – 8
- 3/8″ Washers (spray-painted black) – 16
- 2 ½” Pocket-Hole Screws – The amount here will change with the design of your table top
- 1 ¼” Pocket-Hole Screws – These are for screwing in the brackets
- Brackets – 10
After we got all of these things figured out and our plans all drawn up, we went down and got all of our lumber from Reclaim Detroit. This actually took a couple of trips because we had to go to a couple of their warehouses to get everything that we were looking for.
Then we sanded. And we sanded. And we sanded. And then we cut them down to the sizes they needed to be per our plans. Then the fun started.
These are the boards that make up the table top. We were choosing the arrangement of the different boards to be sure that we knew how we were going to be grouping them. Also deciding which side would be facing up helped me know which side I needed to sand with the fine grit paper to prepare them. (This is also our living room floor after we poured self leveling concrete in preparation for the tiling that we did before the party. Very excited to be doing those posts soon as well!)
A more close up shot of the boards showing their unique character.
I decided to take pictures of the process of us using the pocket hole jig to drill pocket holes into the wings, because most places that we went, people had never even heard of a pocket hole jig. These are the boards that will make up the two wings. At this point we had already decided on the board layouts and have them marked. The pocket holes are drilled on the bottom side of the boards, that way you don’t have to worry about trying to plug them and get them nice looking afterwards.
This is a mini pocket hole jig. Despite its size and seeming insignificance, we would not have been able to make this table without it. There are literally just under 100 pocket holes in our new table.
It was important to measure out where the pocket holes were going to go very carefully. You have to make sure that the screws are going to make it all of the way into the adjoining board and be able to hold them together firmly without worrying about them breaking.
Then you have to make sure to place the jig right where you want it.
And clamp the jig in place so that it doesn’t move around on you when you are trying to drill your hole. Sometimes it will anyway, because it’s a jerk.
Drilling the pocket hole is kind of strange. You have to get the drill up to speed inside of the jig, but before you actually get into the wood. When the bit first touches the wood, it should already be going full speed. For these smaller boards, I held the boards in place while Matt drilled into them so that they didn’t just move along with the drill. For the longer boards that make up the table top, Matt was able to drill them without me holding them down.
Afterwards you’ve got this nifty little pocket hole, ready for an awesome pocket hole screw.
When you’re doing your pocket holes, you want to drill them about every eight inches or so.
Then it’s time to screw them together with the pocket hole screws. You want to clamp the boards together for this. We used tie down straps because it was fairly simple and it did the job well. (And we already had them, which is always a plus.) You also want to do this on a flat surface. Like, as flat as possible. These boards are top side down (since the pocket holes are on the bottom) so the table top will only be as flat and even as the surface that you screw the boards together on. So, we once again sat these down on our recently leveled living room floor.
While actually screwing them together, I would stand on the two boards right next to the pocket hole, to be sure that the boards would be even when we flipped them over. I also just really like these close ups of the pocket holes. So, there you go.
Our table is really big, as you can see here. It’s 76″ long without the wings installed. You can see that the two boards in the middle are sticking up a bit above the others. This is where the belt sander came in. The other end is straight and even. We used a level straight-edge to be sure of that, then Matt used a belt sander to even out this end as well.
You may also have noticed that these are only the middle four boards of the table top. The reason for that is staining. I was only staining the middle boards of the table, and the two border pieces were to be left natural. Because of that, we decided that we would connect these, stain them, then connect the border pieces after and polycrylic the whole thing together.
So this was the staining process. I prepped our wood with Minwax Wood Conditioner but that may not be necessary for you. We had some cedar pieces that it really helped out on because the cedar would just soak up the stain and turn black almost immediately. When we treated it with the conditioner we were able to slow that process enough to get the stain on for a couple of minutes, then wipe it down and leave the cedar a nice darker brown so it matched the rest of the table. With the other woods it didn’t seem to make a big difference though.
We used Minwax Dark Walnut stain for the stained portions of the table. Now if you’ve read the Art of Manliness article, you’ll know that he used the same stain color but in Rustoleum. He talks about how they forgot to stir the stain up and it resulted in a great first coat, but the second coat destroying it and them having to sand it down and start again.
A couple of things about that… First, if the first coat looks good, why do a second? We only did one coat on ours. I left it on for the full 15 minutes and it came out plenty dark enough for me. Actually, in my tests of doing a second coat, it didn’t look any darker or richer than the one coat at 15 minutes, so for me, it was a waste of time and money. And also, I shook the crap out of our stain. It doesn’t say not to, though you aren’t supposed to shake the wood conditioner or the finish (polycrylic or polyurethane). I didn’t have any problems from shaking our stain. It made sure that it was well blended so that we didn’t have any issues. But don’t shake your conditioner or finish. I don’t really know what will happen, but I assume there will be explosions (or maybe it’ll just look like crap). *Update: My husband says that it may get bubbles. So… Yeah.*
Here you can see that the different woods took the stain in a really similar manner, which I was really happy about. I was worried that they would still all be really different in color. I don’t know if the wood conditioner helped with that or not. I just know that I didn’t want to take any chances because reclaimed wood is not cheap.
The wings were actually mostly cut from one board, so we weren’t too concerned about them looking too different. There was only one board that was taken from elsewhere. It’s the second one from the left at the top of the picture if you care. Actually, that particular board later broke in half and we had to drill more pocket holes and glue and screw it back together. *grumble*
Here you can see that the different interesting grains in the wood are still clear through the stain. And that our table has a penis sword which is just awesome.
This was a very exciting surprise for us. We were able to get all of the other lumber for the table from Reclaim Detroit, except for the 4x4s for the legs. Turns out that most 4x4s are heavily treated so they don’t get reclaimed that often. So we went and got the 4x4s from a nearby local lumberyard. And they were ugly. Like… super pale wood with streaks of pink in them ugly. So, I had to stain them even though I was hoping to be able to leave them natural, but then I stained them and this showed up! You could barely see any grain before the stain. So, that was fun.
Here you can also see some of the notching that Matt did. There are no photos, but what he did was take the board, measure out how wide the notches needed to be, and measure out how deep they needed to be. Then he ran the boards through a table saw and chipped the pieces out with his chisel. It worked surprisingly well, but make sure that you’ve done all of your measurements very carefully, because cutting extra out with a hand saw is not fun, or so I’ve been told.
This is the finished legs and the cedar 4x4s (that we found in our super creepy shed, thanks previous owners!). You can see how dark the cedar is. I only left the stain on for about 2 minutes. Crazy.
After the staining, we were ready to attach the border pieces. We once again used our trusty tie-down straps. This is Matt strumming the tie-down strap because it’s so tight. This time we did it on the dining room floor, because though it wasn’t necessarily level, it was actually pretty flat. And we kind of wanted to see what the table was going to look like up there.
This is pretty much everything that you need to screw the boards together after you’ve already drilled the pocket holes. You need your pocket hole screws (you can buy them at Lowe’s or online), the tie-down straps or other clamp and a drill that has a clutch (a setting to automatically stop drilling once it becomes too difficult).
Oh, and a level/straight edge. This will again help you ensure that the boards are all flush. And, of course another person to once again stand on the boards while you drill the screws in. My husband found that luring said helper with some delicious coffee did the trick for him.
And after everything was assembled, we flipped it all over and checked it out. We were very excited, albeit very exhausted at this point. The outside boards are so similar to the color of the floor that it’s actually difficult to tell that the wing at the top of the photo actually has a border attached on both sides.
Then we needed to assemble the bottom of the wing. This worked by just sliding the two long 2x2s through two notches in the base of the table after everything was constructed. We also made sure that all of the boards on the wing were supported in some way by the structure underneath so that we weren’t worried about somebody breaking of the 2×6 on the end by leaning on it. (And yes, the back of these had to be polycrylic’ed as well, and yes that was awful.)
It was important to make sure that everything was square as well, otherwise the wings may not go in and out. This $3 triangle from Home Depot was very worth the money.
Then we began to apply the polycrylic. We did thick coats to get that wet look, but we needed a fast re-coat time since we were coming up on our deadline very quickly. With polycrylic you can recoat in 2 hours. That was a life saver for us. Polycrylic also comes in different sheens. We used semi-gloss for our table, but it also came in satin and gloss.
This shows the difference that the finish made to the table. Now, my garage is not the best place to take pictures, but the difference is pretty obvious.
Now, while we waited for the table top to be ready to be flipped over to finish the bottom, we built the base. The base is upside down in this image, but we actually attached the cedar runners first. Those were attached with the lag screws that you spray painted black so that they look awesome. Then we attached the 2x4s on all sides, using lag screws for the 2x4s that would have to support the weight of the wings, and pocket holes and screws for the 2x4s running the length of the table. It was once again necessary to square everything up using our trusty triangle. There are no more photos of the process after this, because we were dangerously short on time, but all that was really left was applying polycrylic, then attaching the table top to the base using the L-brackets. Our brother Luke, whom you may remember from our pavers project, helped with this by valiantly sitting on the table while Matt screwed the brackets in.
And, without further ado:
This is the only shot that I got of the table with the wings installed. This was also part of our Thanksgiving spread. Sorry, Bill, you were in the best shot. And here’s some finished table goodies for you. There are many. Though, don’t judge too harshly, the images were taken during another power outage, not that we ever have better lighting in the dining room (hint: probably an upcoming project)
This is the first time that you get to see the foot runner that I’m so proud of. The runner is a 2×10 and in the original it was a 2×4. Any larger would’ve been too much I think, but this is just perfect. Multiple people can have their feet on it without worrying about it. Also my cats love it.
This is an up-close shot of the finished lumber.
Here you can see how the base is assembled with lag screws and the notching.
Another shot showing the base and construction. This one also shows how important it is to select boards that are flat and straight. One of our border 2x6s was a little wonk, and it shows. We’re okay with it, but it is a blemish on an otherwise very nice table.
My next project in relation to this table is to sand and stain the chairs, and reupholster them. Though I think that’ll be behind a lot of the other projects that we already have lined up.
And here, you can see Matt standing in full winter get-up because our heat wasn’t working. And you can see the wings propped up in the background. As it happens, you probably want to think ahead of time about where you’re going to want to store those bad boys, because they’re very large and very heavy.
And then as I’m sitting here, writing this post at our new table, I realize that I never took a picture of our signatures that we put on the bottom of the table top. We did it just before applying the polycrylic. Hopefully this beast of a table will be able to stay in the family for a while, so they’ll always know when it was made, and that it was by us awesome people!