During my brief DIY hiatus (see previous post), my favorite brother in law chronicled this DIY adventure with a farmhouse table. His name is Chris, and he knocks this one out of the park…
My first blogpost–this is not something I thought I would ever do, but I’m excited Pauline is providing me the opportunity to share a very meaningful project I just completed. It took more time and effort than I had originally thought and frankly, saving up the money to purchase one would have been easier, but doing so would have deprived me of the sense of fulfillment a person gets from “doing it yourself”–and I wouldn’t have the special heirloom I now possess.
I’m a newbie in the DIY world and you will see my finished project has its flaws but for me that just equates to more character. I’m a guy who spends most of his days at a desk behind a computer, so if I can do something like this I know you can too. I really hope what I share will inspire others to get out and try to build something for themselves or their loved ones. Frustrations will come, bruises will appear, many hours will be spent, but the feelings that result are tremendously satisfying.
For a while, my wife and I had been wanting a farmhouse table for our dining area. We spent weeks looking online and took many trips to the local furniture stores but the options we found were either not the right size, or lacked the character we desired, or way too expensive. I began to consider building one myself and found plans online by Shanty 2 Chic and Ana White for the Fancy X Farmhouse Table. Building the table seemed relatively simple, it was the right size and style, plus the price was under $100. Before I had a chance to purchase the lumber, I made a stop by my Grandmother’s house and discovered an old, weathered, picnic table in the backyard that time had forgotten. I’m not sure what your first impressions are of this picnic table, but I remember my own impressions very well. With a little TLC, it was the farmhouse table we had been looking for.
My wife and I saw the potential and loved the idea of having a table which brought so much family history with it. That old, worn table had experienced a lot over the years, helping to host numerous family dinners, games, and discussions. It had even helped to host my parents wedding reception in the early 1970’s. With that in mind we knew it would be the perfect table for our family. Without hesitation I asked my Grandmother if we could have the table. My Grandparents were immigrants who knew how to work and work hard. They were not wasteful with their money and almost everything they owned meant something to them, so she was more than happy for me to take the table and try to salvage it. We had our farmhouse table.
There was no way anyone could have known about the unexpected event that would occur only a couple of weeks later. My beautiful 91 year old Grandmother passed away. You might see her age and question how it would be “unexpected” but I assure you, it took us all by surprise. Even at her elderly age she went to the local gym several times each week to workout–she was in amazingly good health. Our family was devastated and heartbroken. We had lost an amazing woman and none of us were ready for her sudden departure. For me, the experience reinforced the importance of saving the table, an heirloom that would remind us of our wonderful Grandparents. Those thoughts gave me confidence, but also put additional pressure on me to ensure I didn’t screw it up. On the afternoon of July 4th, I picked up the table and brought it home where it would begin its transformation.
The weathered look of this table was amazing and I would have loved to keep it exactly as I found it, but there were some obvious issues that needed to be addressed. This table had been outside in my Grandmother’s backyard since the late 1950’s, and Utah’s harsh climate had not been kind. Although it was made of redwood it was starting to rot in several places. Since it was designed as a picnic table, there were gaps between the tabletop slats and it took some creative vision to picture it as a farmhouse table. We obviously didn’t want to deal with cleaning between the slats after someone spilled food during dinner. I solved that problem by eliminating the gaps and adjusting it to have more traditional table dimensions. (The table was approximately 30 inches and we preferred around 33 inches.)
In the top left picture you can easily see the rough condition of the table. At one end each of the table top boards was rotted to the point where you could break pieces off by hand. In addition one of the top under support boards was completely spit, and if that wasn’t enough on closer inspection at the bottom of all four legs, the wood was rotted from years of sitting through rain, snow, and ice.
For me the rotted legs weren’t a huge issue because I needed to raise the height of the table 3 inches and had already planned on replacing them. At this point my two main concerns were how much length would I need to give up because of the rotted ends, and how could I widen the table without it looking like a mix of old and new wood.
Pushing those concerns aside for the moment it was time to disassemble the table making sure I saved as many screws and nails as I could. I wanted to reuse as much of the original table as possible when it was time to put it back together–for me, that was crucial.
One of the first tasks I needed to tackle was to clean up the metal brackets used to help provide support to the legs and connect them to the table top. I love the look of rusted-out items because decomposition speaks of age but in this case, we would be eating at this table. (I’ve been told in rust and food aren’t a good combination.) Both brackets were so rusted that using a wire cup brush and a cordless drill would deplete a battery within minutes. So the best part of a DIY project was needed–a trip to Home Depot to purchase a new tool, in this case a new RYOBI corded drill. With the new drill in hand, and a few clamps I began trying to clean off the rust. Things weren’t progressing as fast as I would have liked so I called Pauline for advice. She suggested I try Loctite’s Rust Dissolver, which made the cleanup easier and the tedious task progressed more quickly.
My next obstacle was to find a wide board for the top that would help get us closer to the 30+ inch width we desired. My preferred option was to find an old weathered piece to match the other boards. I searched for days on a local online classified website and found several pieces that seemed to be a good fit, however, each listing I found had the same problem–the boards were made of cedar, not redwood. Since my goal was to blend the old and new, changing the type of wood was not going to help. After a couple of weeks of searching my patience gave out, so I purchased new redwood lumber from Home Depot. While selecting the new lumber, I tried to find a very rough, common redwood pieces for the top, under support, and legs. The big concern I had with this decision was the nagging question “Would the new pieces of redwood stand out from the originals?”
The next step was to build the table top, which required tackling the issue of fastening two old warped pieces of redwood with new lumber. The tool to help with the difficulty would require me to make a fairly expensive purchase–a surface planer. If the money is available, I’m always going to take the opportunity to add to my tool collection, so after another trip to HomeDepot I purchased my very first surface planer. Although it was an expensive investment, I’m extremely happy with my purchase and have already used it for a few other projects.
Before running the pieces through the surface planer, I needed to face one of my greatest fears of the project, cutting the boards to length. I was very nervous about how much wood was rotted, and worried we would not be able to get the 8 foot long table we desired.
In the end I had to take out much more than I had anticipated, especially on the piece shown in the upper left corner; 8 feet was not possible with the original plan I had for the farmhouse table. It was then I decided to use the original, smaller center top piece for the ends of the table. Doing this would give me back an additional 14 inches from what I had lost from the rotted cutout wood. This decision would have a huge impact to the aesthetics of the table. In the end I’m very happy that I had to take out so much wood rot–proving once again, necessity is the mother of invention.
The surface planer was easy to assemble and use, and after running all of the table top boards through it several times I was pleasantly surprised by the new look and feel of the wood.
Now it was time to fasten the table top boards together. I decided the best way to do it was to use Gorilla Wood Glue, and pocket-hole screws. Having spent a good amount of money on the surface planer, I decided to save money and purchase a Kreg 8.25 in. Mini Jig Pocket Hole System for $21. In hindsight, a better investment would have been the Kreg K4 Pocket-Hole System on a project this size. Nevertheless, this method worked well to join the pieces together.
Now that the table top was ready, it was time to prep for attaching the legs. Both support pieces were in rough shape so I decided to replace them with new lumber.
Wanting to keep the table as close to the original as possible, I tried to replicate the under support boards by using several nails I had saved while disassembling the picnic table. The upper left shows one of the pieces I was trying to replicate, the only change I made was using deck screws in the middle of the board for additional strength. All of the screws I used would be hidden by the metal bracket, so only I would be aware of the change. With the support boards ready it was time to attach the legs.
One thing I really ended up liking a lot was the cleaned up metal leg brackets and the old screws. My only complaint was having to use a flat head screw driver which cost me a few cut knuckles. With the legs attached I needed to install leg cross support brackets, and again I used new lumber for these pieces.
As you are aware, I was trying to keep everything as close to the original as possible, but there were several pieces I just couldn’t salvage or use because of so much damage. The leg cross supports were in decent condition, however, in the original design they were attached by 2 1/2 inch wood screws and each of the screws were extremely rusted. In addition, the original leg cross supports didn’t have much wood for the screws to grab, so I went with new replacement lumber and screws (see the upper right picture.) I was not happy with the look at all, so I decided to add pocket hole screws (not pictured) for the cross supports which made them very solid. I then replaced the new screws with the originals; that gave me the look I wanted and saved additional original pieces.
The next step was to attach the middle support brackets.
I was able to save both the middle support brackets and the original nails, which made me very happy. At this point I began to get quite excited about the transformation of my table.
I could now see the finish line for this project, but what remained was stressful and unknown–how to attach the table top ends? I had removed the worst of the rotted wood, but the ends were not completely solid.
In my opinion joining the pieces together using splines was a gamble and not something I wanted to risk. It was time to get creative. The Gorilla Wood glue and pocket hole screws had worked well for me, so I continued with this method but knew I needed to add extra support. While walking through a local hardware store I found some solid metal brackets that gave the ends the added support they needed.
Now that the ends of the table were joined and firmly connected to the table top it was time for prepping the table for staining. I had watched a few videos on building farm tables including DIY Pete’s “How to Build a 4×4 Farmhouse Table,” and in each case they used an orbital sander. After 10 minutes of using my block sander I grabbed the keys to my truck and headed to Home Depot for my last tool purchase of the project; a 6″ orbital sander. I was able to quickly sand the entire table first using a course 60 grit sandpaper followed by a 240 grit. The table was now smooth and beautiful.
To see the farmhouse table so close to completion my wife and I were very excited to complete the project and get it into our house. We first had to agree on what stain to use. In the end we chose a darker stain because we felt it would add a nice contrast to the colors we are using in our ongoing home remodel. We are moving from dark to lighter colors (white’s and gray’s) and we both felt a dark stain would make the farmhouse table stand out and become a focal point in our dinning area.
I ended up using two coats of stain, and three coats of polyurethane both were applied with a rag following the manufactures instructions. Here is what the farmhouse table looked like after the first coat of stain.
If I would have built the farm table from Ana White’s plans, I can promise you I would never have chosen redwood for the lumber. I’ve never worked with redwood, but I really loved how the red of the wood bleeds through after one coat; this provided the table with additional character.
After two coats of stain and three coats of polyurethane, my portion of the project was complete, and the table was finally moved into our dinning area. The selection of chairs and accessories will be left to the professional–my wife.
The final measurements of the table are 7 feet 8 inches long x 33 1/4 inches wide and 30 inches tall.
The project took more time, money, and effort than I care to admit, but I wouldn’t trade this table for any other. I now have an heirloom that has a half century worth of memories of loved ones from both the past and the present. Now my little family can add to its memories.
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