Matt’s Coffee Table/Bench

Viewer Project - By Matt
Added on June 4, 2009

This coffee table/bench is the first project that I did on my own. I had just finished making a boat load of outdoor benches for a local bar. My girlfriend saw the benches and said she wanted one. The benches have certain similarities to George Nelson’s famous platform bench, for which she is a self proclaimed fan. Her birthday was coming up and I decided that I would attempt building her a “honey-do.” I’m typically broke or very tight on money so scrap wood became the available stock option. The benches used the system where thinner spacers were placed between parallel pretreated lumber to create a consistent gap. The benches were all drilled out between the spacers and slats to receive long pieces of all-thread. This table was tensioned with lock washers and bolts to hold everything tight and allow for adjustments as conditions change.

I used the same concept for this table, except I needed to do something different than all-thread. I ultimately decided to try glue and brad nails to attach all of the top pieces. Since I was using scrap wood, I started by reviewing all pieces available and this determined what could be possible for the actual dimensions. I had various pieces of hardwood that were no wider than just over two inches and no thicker than 3/4 inch. Most pieces were no more than 4 feet in length. I had a few wider planks of poplar available and was also offered my choice of several oak leg glue ups that had been gifted to the shop.

So with a relatively thought out game plan I began to rip, dimension, and cut out all of my pieces. I made a simple t-shaped jig with plywood to effectively align and attach all of the thinner walnut spacers to the longer slats. Next step was to spread Tightbond 3 onto the spacers, align with jig, and attach with a couple of 3/4 inch brad nails. After every slat had their two spacers attached, I set up two flat boards clamped down in a 90 degree L-shape on a flat workbench. This became my guide to keep everything as straight and true as possible during the gluing/shooting of all of the slat/spacer sub-assemblies. I had to use longer 1 3/4 inch brad nails for this part. I should have thought ahead and clamped the last slat/spacer to the assembly in order to avoid nail holes.

For the base I used the wider poplar planks for the skirt. And since I was fortunate to be offered the oak glue ups for legs, all I had to do was dimension it to be square. We don’t have a functioning jointer in the shop, so it was done with the planer. The glue-ups seemed to have true edges already and in any case the legs came out perfectly square from the planer. I then marked where my mortises would be using a combination square. My shop mentor helped me set up a dedicated mortising machine for the depth and fence setting. The mortising machine at the shop is old and a giant metal beast. It has a foot pedal to drive the bit into the wood. Its really cool actually. The mortises were cleaned up with a chisel. I then made my tenons on the table saw using some scrap to get the blade height established, then using the miter, just nipped away until my tenon was formed. Again the chisel was used to clean everything up. Clamps and glue brought the base assembly together. Once dry, the entire top was then run through the planer on both sides to get everything nice and flat. All the pieces were sanded and the final assembly step was to attach the top to the base. For this I decided on pocket screws. I didn’t have much time and the simplicity and strength of the pocket screws seemed to be the best option. The skirt lengths got 4 pocket screws each and the sides 2 each. It is surprisingly solid and sturdy.

The finish was a mix of linseed oil, turpentine, and mineral spirits protected with Renaissance paste wax. I had time to apply two coats of the oil mix. The second coat was applied with steel wool. I put two coats of paste wax using a powered orbital buffer. I don’t know if the buffer was necessary but it sure was fun. If I made this again I would probably try to finish the inside of the slats prior to assembly. I spent a lot of time using various flossing styles to get oil to those inside areas. It was really difficult and the piece suffered from insufficient coverage in those areas. Its difficult to see, but its personally annoying since I know about it.

Its a fairly simple piece but it was a valuable learning project which turned out better than I expected. My girlfriend likes it…or at least she’s kind enough to pretend. In the photos of the piece you might notice a little black cat with some diabolical looking eyes. This is Sonya and I guess she thought I was making a kitty pin-up calendar when I got the camera out because she started making some fierce poses.