Saturday, October 12, 2013

A DIY Industrial Rustic Table Part 1: The Story


I m so, so, so excited to finally share this DIY with you.  It is without a doubt the most complicated one I have ever made and has had more stumbling blocks than any other project I have eve undertaken.  I wanted to make sure that I had a foolproof tutorial before posting, but I have spent some time thinking about how to best present it.  When you spend such a long amount of time on something, you want to share the whole process: the ups and downs, the inspiration, the splinters, the stained hands... I can't just write a clean cut tutorial on something that has meant a LOT to me.  Today, I'm sharing Part I: the story of the table.  Tomorrow, I will be posting Part II: the tutorial on how to make it.

My idea for this table first began with this image: 

I pinned it ages ago.  I have this love for anything industrial, and I've always found the construction of old sewing tables beautiful.  There's just something about a curving, feminine shape in the form of very masculine iron that strikes that perfect combination of soft and tough.  These old sewing tables have turned up at auctions I have gone to and at thrift stores I frequent time and time again, but often, they're still in that table form. I have no idea how to begin disassembling all that ironwork and would never want to get in over my head so deep.

I keep a saved search on my eBay app for "vintage industrial".  I love almost anything with that tagline, be it signage, furniture, or containers, but I noticed after a while that these sewing tables showed up ALL.  THE.  TIME.  Often, the listings were even just for the legs of the table, already disassembled from the gears and treadle.  It just made the project too tempting; my first roadblock disappeared.  I began watching the listings and eventually managed to snag a pair of Singer legs for a low price and reasonable shipping. 

Those table legs shipped fast and they spent a long time (over a month, actually) just sitting in my dining room looking pretty.  At the time, my dining table was a cheap Craigslist purchase that was meant to fill a need rather than be an investment.  I finally made the choice to sell that table (again on the CL) to force myself to tackle the project of building a new dining room table using the sewing machine legs.  Sometimes I need an extreme amount of motivation.  It's a flaw.  I'm living with it.

I consulted tons of online tutorials.  There was no exact tutorial for what I wanted to do, so I improvised and combined as much of the knowledge from the table building tutorials I found online as I could.  I sketched out a detailed plan and went to the hardware store with my friend, Erin, to buy all of the lumber, bolts, and stain that I needed.  I bought four long beams and bought additional small beams for underlying support.  I drilled all the boards together with the help of my sweet puppy, Wicket, and then excitedly began staining the underside of the boards.

However, as soon as I came to the part of attaching the legs of the table, I began to hit roadblocks.  First, when drilling holes through the boards in order to create an opening for a bolt, I drilled a hole in my wood floor (hopefully it can be refilled so I can get our security deposit back!).  Then, I attached the legs to the tabletop, but as soon as I flipped the table over (with the help of Erin and Kat!), the legs immediately slid outwards and rested diagonally rather than vertically.  HUGE PROBLEM.  They didn't break off, thank goodness, but the table appeared ready to collapse at any minute.  I looked closely at the legs and noticed that they had three holes where some kind of pipes or rods had originally been used to help distribute pressure evenly, locking the legs in place and preventing this problem. 

Immediately, I went to Home Depot to find a solution.  The helpful salesman directed me towards threaded rod.  I bought zinc rod in the right length, as well as some hex nuts to hold the legs in place.  These worked... kind of... they held the legs more upright.... but zinc is pretty bendy.  While initially the table felt sturdy, after I had finished sanding and staining the top and using it a few times, it began to become more rickety.  My husband, Jon, was very apprehensive, but I insisted that as long as I continued to adjust the tightness of the hex nuts, it should stay pretty stable.  And he loves me, so he let it go.  That being said, we had this conversation in June, so since I didn't post about the table once during the summer, I clearly had my own misgivings despite my protests to the contrary.

I spent time researching other options, but was unable to find steel threaded rod precut to the length that I needed.... turns out that stuff either comes in a really short length or a really long length, and I didn't need any more than six feet (the length of my table).  They do make shorter round steel rods, but after I discussed this with a sweet salesman at Home Depot (who, I kid you not, spent 45 minutes walking through the hardware aisle in an attempt to help me problem solve), realized that nothing could attach well enough onto that to hold the legs in place.  At this point, I started thinking about unbolting the legs and taking them to a welder to see I could just have iron rods welded in place, but that potential cost of that dissuaded me.

Finally, some friends came to visit us in September for Labor Day weekend, and while my Jon and his best friend, Brent, were hanging out in the dining room, the table shifted dramatically (allegedly, it nearly collapsed on their feet and would have if they had not caught it). Jon was pretty frustrated and chose the moment to put his foot down dramatically and told me that we had to figure out a solution or we had to find a new table.  Not unlike the earlier scenario I inflicted on myself of selling my dining table to force myself to build, I now had the motivation to find a solution.  Also, knowing that my husband had reached this point of frustration with the table gave me the courage to express my doubts and frustrations about the table to him.  I didn't want to give up; I loved those table legs and was now really passionate about the idea of upcycling those legs and using something so old in a new piece of furniture, but I couldn't find a way to make it work.  After I poured my heart out to Jon about the project gone wrong, he brought up the possibility of buying the absurdly long steel threaded rod and just cutting it.

It was so simple; I should have asked that question earlier, but I didn't think it was possible.  In my mind, that was something that happens in a factory with large machinery.  If I had had the courage to share my doubts about the project with my husband, an avionics tech who is familiar with all kinds of materials and machinery that I am not, this problem would have been solved so much sooner.  Excited, I asked him to take a serious look at the table and see what else I was missing.  He noticed that I could also increase the size of the bolts I was using to attach the table top to the legs to decrease any of the wobbling.

After picking up steel threaded rod, reattaching the table with the thicker bolts, and then cutting the steel bolts down to size, I'm happy to report that the table no longer wobbles or looks like it's on the verge of collapse, and it's held up for over a month like this.  This DIY taught me so much about perseverance and about humility- I've always been the type to insist that I can do things on my own, but asking for my husband's input was the best choice I made.  I still got to do all of the work and take credit for everything (cutting through steel is surprisingly easy!), but I don't know all the answers to everything. 

Tomorrow, I'll be posting a step by step tutorial for building the table, complete with a shopping list and loads of pictures.  I hope you'll stop back by and check that out now that you have made it through this long story of a DIY that very nearly became a "Nailed It!" style failure.  I'm so proud that it didn't. 

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