A Coffee Table, for Real This Time

Back in June we decided to build our Coffee Table. I bought the wood and did the rough cuts, but by the time we decided to actually start building it we realized that we needed a better work bench first. So, that happened. Then DeLyle decided that she needed to build a desk for her home office. THEN, we got to the coffee table building. Unfortunately, we didn’t take many pictures of the process, so you’ll have to live with my verbal description.

We didn’t design this coffee table ourselves. We were working from plans we found on Ana White’s website. If you’re not familiar with her or her site, she lives in the wilds of Alaska with her family and builds all sorts of things. Her site’s primary audience is new and intermediate-level woodworkers and is full of plans for probably hundreds of furniture pieces. She also has a YouTube channel here.

The coffee table’s style (Rustic X) is going to be the basis for all other living room furniture we build in the future. At the very least, there will be a matching end table, although there may be a console table, as well. We want to build a TV console, too, but we’d have to go with a coordinating style rather the the exact Rustic X style as there aren’t any plans in that style for that piece. At least, not yet.

unfinished coffee table structure
Coffee table structure before modifications.

We spent one weekend putting together the structure of the table. This was all done with pocket screws, including the bottom shelf that was made up of two 1×12’s. Unfortunately, after it was all together we realized that the 1×12’s we used for the shelf weren’t nearly in good enough condition to keep and use. So we had to spend the extra time getting better wood and redoing what we’d done. Practice makes perfect, right?

Then it sat for over a week while we went on vacation in the mountains.

After getting back to civilization (and our day jobs) we got back to work. We decided that the structure needed a little reinforcement across the top, so we added two more 2×2’s a third of the way in from each end. We also added the decorative X’s on the ends and began prepping the base for finishing with wood filler. Over the next week or so we completed the finish sanding and prepared it for the final stages.

While the structure is all done in pine lumber (1×12’s, 2×2’s, and 2×4’s), the top I wanted to do something special with. This is supposed to be a feature piece in our living room so just going with boring old pine didn’t seem like the right thing to do. My first thought was to do it in oak. I always want to work with oak — I think it’s the midwesterner in me — but I couldn’t find any oak in 2-by dimensions. This is probably a blessing in that the table is large and 5 oak 2×6’s would have been unnecessarily heavy. Instead, I got redwood 2×6’s. The structure was to be painted in an eggshell black, while the top is going to be done in Danish finishing oil. This will protect the wood, deepen the colors, and bring out the grain. It should truly make the coffee table a feature piece.

The top we put together with biscuit joints, like we did with the work bench. When I did the rough cuts I’d cut the 2×6’s two inches longer than the plans called for, in part because having played a little with biscuit joints I’d learned that they tend to make the pieces slightly offset from each other. I assume this is from not getting the biscuit holes cut exactly precisely. Also, rough cutting your pieces slightly longer allows for some room for error. When the time came I laid out the five pieces in what I thought was the most attractive arrangement. Getting DeLyle’s approval of the look I marked the pieces appropriately so I would know which was which and got busy on the top.

I cut the biscuit holes at 6-inch intervals which ended up being 8 per side. Before adding the glue to join them, for real, at each interval I did a dry test making sure my biscuit holes were lining up correctly. In the whole process I think I only had to recut 2 out of 64. I’m calling that a success.

Biscuit joints, when working with more than two pieces of wood, is not something you want to rush. If you try to do it all at once you run the risk of the pieces bowing at the joints after you clamp them and then instead of a flat table top you have a water trough made out of really nice wood. You don’t want that. So, I glued, biscuited, assembled, and clamped each board individually. Not only was I clamping end-to-end, I was also clamping top to bottom to further prevent any bowing from the pressure of the clamps holding the pieces together.

I was mostly doing this during the week after work, so most of the time I’d put a board on, then go in for the night and do the next one the day after. That’s way more time than it needed to take, but there was no hurry. When it was done I trimmed the uneven edges from the joining process with my circular saw and straight-edge to give the top a clean edge all around. At this point, we weren’t looking at Ana White’s plans anymore and I have no idea what she said the length of the table was supposed to be. We decided to go with whatever the trimmed length was. It came out somewhere around 57 inches which gives us approximately 3.5 in overhang from the base of the table. What was left was the finish sanding on the table. When that was done we took the base and top inside for the finish finishing.

Like I said in a previous post, when it’s consistently in triple digits for several months out of the year, you’ve got to do what you can when you can. In order to keep from waiting until October to do the finish work we took the pieces into my office and set that up with a tarp to use as our paint room over the next week. We did the base first. The eggshell black is actually a very very dark grey that in most light will be indiscernible from black. DeLyle took the lead on the painting and did most of the work. We put on two coats and saved time by using boiled linseed oil on the underside of the shelf. This will protect the wood while not requiring more paint than necessary. This took about two days, giving the paint time to cure. After that, it was time do to the top.

The top was laid out on a couple of saw horses and I took to work. The first thing was to rub it down with tack cloth to collect any residual sawdust and dirt that previous cleaning hadn’t caught. We did this with the base, too. Then I began to apply the Danish finishing oil. If you’ve never used this before (we hadn’t) it’s a mixture of varnish, linseed oil, and thinner. Like I said above, the Danish finishing oil was to protect the wood, deepen the colors, and bring out the grain.

Like a lot of oil finishes, you can do one coat, but subsequent coats will frequently deepen every aspect of your project. I had planned to do two coats, but as I worked we agreed that more needed to be done. Ultimately, I put on four coats of the Danish oil on the top and the sides, leaving the bottom with just two coats. Each time wiping the wood with a tack cloth and a damp rag in between coats to remove any dust or dirt. It still wasn’t quite right, though. After consulting with the good folks on YouTube we decided to take their advice and also add two coats of wipe on polyurethane. This was the right choice. What came out was a simply gorgeous table top with great color variations and grain that pops.

After the top dried both pieces came downstairs where we finally assembled them as a whole unit with a series of 2 1/2 inch wood screws. We got it together, put it in place, and are still marveling at what we did. How often do you do something in life and it comes out as good or better than what you’d hoped. After many weeks of working and reworking on this project it was finally done. And boy howdy how proud we are of this!

  • coffee table close up
  • coffee table side view
  • coffee table with items on top
  • coffee table top view

Ana White.com Brag Post

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