Step 1

Old Picnic Table

Gather Reclaimed Wood

Darren Setlow Photography, LLC View original photo.

Darren Setlow Photography, LLC

Gather Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed wood has a surface and patina almost impossible to re-create. The good news is that one person's junk is another's treasure. If you know someone doing a major renovation on an older house, chances are you can find 2x6 rafters or 2x8 floor joists ready to be saved from the landfill. Architectural salvage and rural antique shops are also good sources for reclaimed wood.

Step 2

Cast Iron Table Legs

Choose Table Legs

Darren Setlow Photography, LLC View original photo.

Darren Setlow Photography, LLC

Choose Table Legs

Adjustable cast-iron industrial bases can be found at antiques shops or ordered online for less than $100. Choose bases that measure at least 24" tall.

Step 3

Prepare Top Planks

Before starting, you need to be totally sure the wood is dry. Material that has sat on a job site will likely have high interior moisture levels from rain. If the material immediately came out of a conditioned space, chances are it is dry enough to use. Remember that if you are using floor joists, they existed in a space subject to high moisture levels (crawlspaces). When you move moist wood to inside your house, it will dry out. This is not something you want after the table is done. The best way to dry your reclaimed wood is with a kiln. A local mill might be willing to dry the wood for you. Another option is to store the wood inside during the winter. In a house with forced-air heating, the air movement, low winter humidity and heat will dry the wood for you. If time is not on your side and you are not confident in the dryness of the wood, it can be stacked in a hot dry place with 1" spacers between layers.

Next, depending on the condition of the wood and type of finish you want for the top, sanding the board may be a viable option. However, there is a good chance that, due to moisture and time, your planks will be slightly cupped or twisted. The quickest way to correct this is to use a tabletop planer. Though not incredibly expensive, it's not a common tool in most garages. Chances are you know someone you could borrow this from, or a local millwork shop might be willing to plane them down for about $20*.

If doing this yourself with a tabletop planer, start by checking for nails and excess dirt. Then rough cut the boards long to your finished dimension. Final cutting will be done after the planks are joined, so leave them at least 1" long. Run them though the planer, taking a small amount off each side at a time.

You will need to manually adjust the depth of cut while the board is going through. This is important since the board will not be consistent in thickness (or twist) over its length. Damage can be done to you, the board or the planer if you do not manually adjust it for a small cut at all times. Keep running the boards though until the blade has slightly touched all surfaces. Do not worry if the boards are slightly different thickness (less than 1/8" difference), we'll fix that below. Next, run the boards through a table saw so that each side is parallel. Only take off enough that the blade cuts along the entire edge. Each plank does not need to be the exact same width, only a consistent width along its length.

Pro Tip

Due to the possibility of concealed nails and/or embedded dirt, some shops will decline this job due to the likelihood of dulling their blades. Be extra sure to pull all nails and punch through any with broken-off heads. Small tabletop planers have less expensive replacement blades. If all options fail, a wide belt hand-held belt sander will work after joining the planks (below). Run the sander with the belt perpendicular to the plank joints and move it consistently back and forth parallel to the joint.

Step 4

Assemble the Top

Set biscuit joiner depth to #20. Lay the four best planks out on a flat surface and arrange them in final position. With a pencil and working across two boards at a time, make a mark at every 8" point along the seam of two boards. After marks are made, use the joiner to cut the biscuit slots at each location. Align the reference mark on the tool (similar to circular saw) and hold the top plate firmly flat against the board. In one smooth motion, plunge the tool until it hits the stop.

Note: Do not cut joints on outside edges of first and last board.

After all slots are cut, stand each board on end and coat the edge of jointed side with wood glue. Next, coat the biscuits with glue. Insert biscuits in one side only of each board, then insert glued biscuits in the empty joint of the next board. Assemble planks in order until the top is complete. Don't worry about small gaps. Next, carefully lay the top down and attach pipe clamps at roughly 1' intervals. Slowly tighten each pipe clamp in a consistent fashion until the gaps disappear*. Small amounts of glue can be removed when dry; scrape up any puddled glue with a plastic putty knife. To minimize sanding later, avoid working glue into the top of the wood. Let the top set overnight.

Once the top is dry, remove the clamps from the top and check for relative flatness to the assembly. Use a small hand-held planer or razor to remove any dried glue. Mark each end 1/2" in from the shortest board and make a clean perpendicular cross cut.

Pro Tip

Do not over-tighten the pipe clamps, as the top will eventually bow. Clamp a cross piece of 2x4 (perpendicular to the planks) before fully tightening the clamps to keep planks flat during the drying process.

Step 5

Prepare the Base

Cut the remaining 2x8 into four equal pieces roughly 2' long. Bevel two pieces at 45 degrees with a circular saw. Flip the top over and, if the boards are relatively flat (remember the biscuit joiner ensured the tops would line up), attached the base right to the top. If not, or for a more secure assembly, plunge route a pocket for the unbeveled pieces you just cut. Do this roughly 1' in from each side. Mark the location by squaring the board and tracing around the perimeter. Plunge route 1/4" at both locations. Coat the pocket with a thin layer of wood glue. Tack this piece in place with 2" finish nails. Do the same for the beveled pieces.

Center the metal table legs on this base and mark the center of the mounting holes. Using a long pilot bit, drill perpendicular to the board and through the top. Choose carriage bolts 1/16" smaller than the mounting holes for the legs. Using a bit 1/16" larger than the carriage bolts, drill down through the pilot holes. Install the legs and loosely tighten the carriage bolt nuts. Ask a helper to hold the top while you tighten each nut. Only tighten until the top of the carriage bolt slightly pulls into the top.

Step 6

Man Measuring Wood

Finish the Top

Darren Setlow Photography, LLC View original photo.

Darren Setlow Photography, LLC

Finish the Top

Once the legs are secured, rip down a reclaimed 1x (or additional 2x) for edge banding to cover the end grain. Do this for the two end sides with a square cut. Glue and shoot on with 15-gauge finish nails. Sand the top or leave as-is. To accentuate the existing wood tone, apply a clear furniture wax or polyurethane.

Step 7

Make Desk Drawer (Optional)

Approximately 16' of reclaimed 1x4 will be needed to create a 24" x 12" drawer.

Start by making the drawer box. Cut two pieces at 22.5" and two pieces at 12". Cut one piece of 1/2" plywood to 22.5" x 10.5". Fasten the box sides to the drawer bottom with wood glue and 15-gauge finish nails. Next, cut one piece at 28". Add wood glue and finish nail to the front of the box with the overhang equal on each side.

Install 12" drawer slides to each side of the box. Measure the full width (including the slides) and cut one piece of 1x4 to this length. Cut two more pieces to 14" long. Glue one end of the two 14" side pieces and, on a flat surface, finish nail through the face of the third piece (back). Flip the table over and align the box so the 14" side pieces are 1" back from the edge and centered on the long side of the desktop.