The Side Table Project

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, it’s no secret that I like to build stuff.  I routinely write about things like tools, where to find free wood, and occasionally I show off a finished project.  Well, today’s the day — I’m going to show off another finished project!  My newly completed side table!

Back in April, I wrote a post about my garage shop-table, and as part of that same post I offered some stark criticism of the particle-board furniture that’s popular at retailers today.  I hate particle board furniture.  I own plenty of it, but I hate it.  I don’t want to purchase more of it.  It’s low cost, but falls apart if you move it more than 10 feet.

So, I decided to build some of my own furniture using reclaimed materials, but still keeping things really high-end looking.


Practicing Skills

I’m a big believer in practice.  Why?  Some people might be born with the talents of Greek gods, but I was never such a gifted individual.  I had to achieve everything the hard way — Practice.

When I was child, it always used to frustrate me when I saw other kids with great talents.  Maybe those kids were great at sports, or drawing, or video games.  Whatever the skill, I would get frustrated (and sometimes quit) when I saw my results that weren’t as good as others.

Eventually, I realized I quitting was never going to do me any good.  Some people are born with natural talents, but for the rest of us without talent (like myself), practice is the only way forward.

Want to be a great at anything?  Just practice enough!  Eventually, with enough practice, even bumbling idiots like myself can attain a fair level of competence.  As Malcom Gladwell writes in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success“, a certain amount of practice (10,000 hours) is required to build skill mastery.  Unsurprisingly, most people never practice nearly enough to build mastery.

So back in April, when I was building that garage shop table, I was practicing.  Practicing my new craft of building things…and I need a lot of practice.

The plan was to build myself furniture, with limited tools (most of which were free).  

I wanted to build “knockdown” (sometimes called “flat-pack”) furniture, but from better materials than you might find at your local IKEA.  I also wanted to build it for the extremely low cost of “free”.


Materials & Design

This summer was when I actually started on the project.  The intent was to make a piece of hardwood furniture “good enough to put in the house”.

As this was intended to be a no-or-low cost project, I started by collecting materials from the usual free sources….  Anyone who’s gone the free route before knows that free doesn’t always mean speedy.  It takes time.

Maple Plywood
During the summer I started collecting free materials. This maple plywood eventually would make its way into the table.

Specifically I was looking for hardwoods — maple, oak, walnut, and the like.  You know… the good stuff.

It took several months, but eventually I was able to collect enough maple and oak to start work on the project.  (I never did find any walnut)

After collecting materials, I developed a set of plans using TinkerCad and Inkscape…both of which are free tools.  I can’t recommend those tools enough if you’re interested in building stuff.

Side Table TinkerCAD
I first designed the side table in a free tool called TinkerCAD.

Creating the 3d model ended up being incredibly helpful, and extremely easy to do.  The model probably took me two hours to make…just one afternoon.


Construction & Results

Once I had a plan and materials, it was a matter of cutting, sanding, routing, more sanding, and then eventually applying a nice finish.  Pretty standard stuff really.  I don’t own a table saw, so most of the cutting had to be completed with a circular saw.

Lots of sanding
Nothing unusual about the construction — Just cutting wood, and lots and lots and lots of sanding.

Being a financially independent stay at home dad gives me the time to do this while everyone is at work.  Nobody complains when I make a bunch of noise either.

Being a stay at home dad also means I had plenty of time to work on this project with my little buddy…

Little helper
I had a little buddy “helping” for most of this project.  Yes, we had fun playing with the tape that day.

That last photo highlights one THE BEST reasons in the world for being financially independent — Working on things I love and spending time with the people I love.

Oh yeah, and this side table project had a rather satisfying end result when we finally finished it…

side_table_front  Side Table

As I hinted at in a previous post, the maple tabletop came from a reclaimed kitchen table.  The dark trim pieces are stained Oak, made from hardwood flooring leftovers.

Table Top

On the surface, it looks like a completely traditional side table, but I had to add a little something extra — included in my design was a hidden drawer for storing remotes, Xbox controllers, and so forth.  Having a hidden drawer is fun, and very practical for clearing the junk off the table.

Hidden drawer

The drawer ended up being the most complex part of the project.  I wanted it to be “invisible” from regular view, and to match all the other surfaces.  The drawer was made from Baltic Birch plywood, which I salvaged from an old TV stand.  The drawer “face” as well as the rest of the sides were made from scraps of maple plywood (seen earlier).

Hidden Drawer Detail

My goal of making the table as a piece of “knockdown” furniture was also realized.  When broken down into its individual parts, they can be packed flat and easily transported.  The entire project is held together with friction, gravity and a few pins.  No screws or nails were used in the project (those cost money!).

Disassembled side table  Flattened Side table

While I was limited by my tools, I’m fairly happy with the project outcome.  Sure, I made plenty of mistakes, but that’s almost to be expected — I’m still a novice.

If I went out and purchased a bunch of fancy tools, expensive hardwood, and fasteners, I suppose I could have done a better job … but I don’t believe in spending a lot of money on hobbies!  I made this project for (nearly) free!

The only thing I did need to purchase was some Kona wood stain (a cheap compromise for not having any walnut), and some sandpaper.  I spent less than $20 in total.  All the rest of the materials were free.  Please keep that in context here before you go vomit your hate in the comments.

If I was to go out and buy such a table, it would have cost several hundred dollars.  A quick Etsy search backs up this idea — You can’t find solid hardwood furniture for less than a couple hundred dollars, and it almost certainly won’t “pack flat”.


The Verdict

So, was the final product good enough to bring into the house?  Did the lady of the house give it her blessing? — Yes, it was a smashing success!  

Mrs. Tako likes the final product much better than our previous hand-me-down side table!  She’s given it her stamp of approval!

While I still see the project’s many flaws, one of the key wins of this project isn’t visible — A sense of accomplishment.

I suppose I could have just bought a particle board side table from IKEA, and then sat on my ass watching TV.  Instead, I choose to build something, and practice new skills.  It was far more fun than watching TV.  

I find it intensely satisfying when a project like this is finally complete.  Better than a kick in the ass.

Now…what will I build next?

26 thoughts on “The Side Table Project

  • December 3, 2016 at 5:13 AM

    Looks good, really nice job! Personally, I don’t know if I would have the patience. Thanks for sharing…

    • December 4, 2016 at 12:54 AM

      Thanks Dan! It does take some patience, but more than anything it required learning. I had to teach myself many new skills, and learn many new techniques. I happen to really enjoy it.

  • December 3, 2016 at 5:45 AM

    Whoa that’s beautiful! I really like the dark stain around the edges!

    How much practice at woodworking did it take you to get this good?

    • December 4, 2016 at 12:50 AM

      Not much practice actually! I’ve made a few projects around the house — TV stands, stools for the kids, and things of that nature. This is the first project where I think it turned out rather nice!

  • December 3, 2016 at 6:21 AM

    You touch on a point I’ve been contemplating a lot lately. Since quiting my job I’ve spent a lot of time tinkering on projects that don’t yield the same dollar amount my time would have at work. But it’s not just what you are creating that has value, the skills you develop doing projects like this carry even more value.

    It looks to me like you already have some “practice” with woodworking. Either that or you got some talent 😉

    Awesome design and execution!

    • December 4, 2016 at 12:46 AM

      Thank You Mr. CK! You absolutely get it. It’s no longer about trading my time for the maximum amount of money!

  • December 3, 2016 at 7:07 AM

    Beautiful and clever table! Good for you! For a novice woodworker, what type of project would you recommend?

    • December 4, 2016 at 12:44 AM

      Any project starts you off with 2×4 construction (or other pre-dimensioned wood sizes). Anna White has many projects of this sort (just google search her).

      Usually the tools to re-dimension and mill lumber are quite costly and large.

  • December 3, 2016 at 7:11 AM

    Really impressed, especially with the knock down design. Imagine what you could do with better tools. Yes, I know – Temptation. I am a fairly frugal guy, but I am also quite adept at cost justifying better tools. 🙂

    • December 4, 2016 at 12:39 AM

      Oh yes, the temptation for better tools is definitely there.

      Most people have 3 resources at their disposal — Money, Time, Ingenuity. Two out of the three are required to solve problems. 🙂

      I find that I can (mostly) overcome a lack of tools with time and ingenuity.

  • December 3, 2016 at 8:38 AM

    That’s amazing!! I love the drawer too – such a bonus! I think it would have been great even if it didn’t turn out the way you wanted. It was (very) low cost and just all the thinking, problem-solving, and adjustments you made were well worth the effort in terms of keeping your mind active. My husband does a lot of projects (retired and 58) and I encourage them even if they don’t turn out just right. I’d take him tinkering on things and creating his own way of doing things just to keep his mind active.

    • December 4, 2016 at 12:36 AM

      Tinkering is a great way to stay active! I think it brings out the creative best in all of us!

  • December 3, 2016 at 8:50 AM

    It’s a beautiful table! Strong work there.
    Some might argue that you spent so much time that it would have been ‘cheaper’ to just buy a pre-built table. This is true if you’re short on time.
    But, if you have time, this is also hours and hours of ‘free’ entertainment! You could have otherwise been paying for movies, museums, carousel rides, etc., but instead you got to do something more productive and learn from the process.

    • December 4, 2016 at 12:35 AM

      Absolutely! You really get it CBL! Life is no longer about maximizing monetary output for a given chunk of time! The value I get now isn’t in the form of money.

  • December 3, 2016 at 9:40 AM

    Love it. I especially love the fact that you didn’t use screws or nails. That is fast becoming a lost art. And on top of all of that if packs flat! Well done, Mr. Tako. You could soon have an etsy shop of your own.

  • December 3, 2016 at 11:17 AM

    Mr. Tako,
    That side table absolutely gorgeous!

    I want to learn how to do two things make a head board bed for our bed. Secondly, I want to learn how to tile. I am thinking about asking my contractor if I can exchange a days worth of manual labor in exchange for a lesson on tiling.

    • December 4, 2016 at 12:32 AM

      Thank you so much for your generous comments Marisa!

      If you tile contractor isn’t game, I believe many home improvement stores offer tile laying lessons.

  • December 4, 2016 at 9:56 AM

    Man, that is so awesome! I really like the hidden drawer and the finish is beautiful. How old were you when you tackled your first wood project on your own? I only took woodshop one while going through junior high, but I really wished I had taken more. Nice job!!

    • December 4, 2016 at 1:01 PM

      Not counting woodshop in high school, my first solo wood project was probably when I was 36!

      Although growing up my father was always building things … so I have the benefit of that background.

  • December 5, 2016 at 9:27 AM

    Wow, it looks awesome! I’d love to work on wood projects more, but we don’t have space for a workshop. Maybe when we move into our rental home. There are classes and collectives around town that can help with the work shop problem.

    • December 6, 2016 at 3:34 PM

      Thanks Joe! I don’t really have a workshop space either. I just back the car out of the garage and then setup my workspace. Most of my tools are small and can be tucked away. Compared to a more professional workshop, my setup time takes waaay too long!

  • December 6, 2016 at 7:36 AM

    I’m impressed, that actually looks pretty darn good. Well done Mr. Tako.

  • December 22, 2016 at 8:09 PM

    That’s really beautiful. I like construction that does not require metal fasteners. Just knowledge and skill.


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