Saturday, June 7, 2014

Picnic Style Coffee Table

We had been using some old furniture from my parents for a while, and it was time for something new.  When I went on the hunt for a new coffee table, I could not believe the prices of some of the more stylish ones!  I was hoping to replace a lot of the furniture in our living room, and so I was holding myself to a tight budget.

A few months before, we had discovered a lumber supplier near our home who carries some really interesting types of wood, some exotic, some native.  We like to go in there and wander around dreaming of all of the things we could make out of the different woods.  

That was when I discovered purple heart:

Yes, believe it or not, there is a type of tree out there that grows naturally purple wood.  I was instantly hooked.  Google says it comes from South America, and grows in rain forests.

I wanted my table to have a casual, outdoors feel, and so the natural shape for me was a picnic table style.  Since this project was finished long before this blog was created, I think that rather than try to give a really long tutorial with exact dimensions, I will encourage you to look up the plans for a picnic table on your favorite furniture building site and scale them to what you need.  For projects going forward, I'll take more detailed notes as I go. :)  

I wanted the top to be several strips of purple heart, at similar widths, that were not joined very tightly together.  A nicer, more formal table would use a grooved joint (or one solid piece), and the individual boards would be planed to exactly the same thickness.  I wasn't going for perfection here. So, we jumped on a slightly imperfect piece of purple heart (which meant the board was half price) and had it freshly planed.  I also wanted a shelf below, which conveniently adds some stability.

The base of the table is whitewashed pine, which i painted before we made the cuts, then touched up the cut sides afterward.  To do the whitewash, I mixed equal parts white paint and water, painted it on, and kept a rag handy to wipe off any excess paint.  The key here is to put down a consistent amount of paint so everything looks similar.  Put on as many coats as you need to suit your taste (I think mine took two).

I think you can tell a lot about how we made the table from this picture of the underneath:

First we figured out how wide the top was going to be.  Then, we cut a 1"x1" board at a 45 degree angle so that the longest edge was about an inch shorter than the table top (see the top white piece in the photo).  Next, we cut the "X" shape.  Now, let me just say that we have an engineer and a math-major-turned-finance-major in our house, and we still messed up this angle.  So, maybe buy a little extra wood if you can.  We ended up laying it out on the floor and just moving the boards around until they were the right height and distance apart, and then marking the cuts.  

Once they were cut, we cut the grooves so that they would fit together and both sit flush with the top rail.  Basically, you mark where the boards will cross, and then cut half of the thickness away from each board.  My hubby cut them by making multiple passes with a circular saw, since the depth would all be constant.

Once we had the X's together, we decided where we wanted the shelf and made a cleat that fit the shape of the X.  Again, we did this by laying it out on the ground and marking it.  Here's a close up:
What's that in the left corner you ask?  My dog's nose and tongue- someone was determined to make it into the blog!
oh, hey there.  

Anyway, we attached both cleats with glue and wood screws. 

Next, we layed out the purple heart boards on the floor with the spacing we wanted and lined our X pieces up so that they were just wide enough for the shelf (and centered on the table).  We screwed the purple heart to the top cleat from the underneath so that you don't see any screw holes from the top. ***Make sure you do three things in this step:
1.  Pre-drill the holes, especially if you use a hard wood like purple heart.  But, be careful not to drill through the top!  Consider marking your desired depth on the drill bit with masking tape.
2.  Make sure your screws are long enough to reach the top, but not so long that they poke through!
3.  Make sure that your new holes do not like up with the screws that you used to attach the X pieces to the top cleat.
We did not choose to glue here, but you could.

Finally, we dropped the shelf in, and glued.

Here you go!

The only thing I would have done differently is to possibly add a cross piece running under the purple heart for stability.  We do find that it will wobble a little if you bump into from the end.

Just a note, purple heart has a tendency to fade in sunlight, and will eventually oxidize and turn brown.  I have searched around for a good finish to protect it, and haven't found a definite option.  It sounds like mineral oil may be a good option, and certainly won't hurt the wood.  This table is about 6 months old now, and I can see some fading (see how it's right under the window...), but it is still very purple.  The woodworking sites I read said everything from 'it will turn brown within a year' to 'I have had this piece for 15 years and it hasn't changed'.  So who knows.  If I find something that works well, I will pass it on!  Also, each board that we have bought has been a slightly different shade, so just keep that in mind as you plan!

Hope you like it!