Making a Reclaimed Wood Table (from Frank Sinatra's Floor)
There once stood a house in Malibu. A man stood in that house, tapping his foot on the floor, sipping from a glass of Jack. That man was Frank Sinatra, and that house was torn down, but that floor is about to become a table to go with the entry bench my brother and I constructed out of angle iron and reclaimed wood. (Scroll to the bottom to see a video of the whole thing coming together.)
I love working with reclaimed wood. There’s nothing like the character of wood that’s weathered, aged, sun cured and flecked with old paint, tool marks and petrified moss. Or in this case, a couple of floor joists from a house torn down in Malibu.
I don’t claim to be an expert in anything, but I know that something like 20 percent of our landfills are taken up with construction lumber waste, and a good portion of that could find a new life. If you have legal access to a decaying old barn, you can source the old wood yourself. But even a scrounger like me needs help when I’m looking for something specific or in large quantities. I got these from E & K Vintage Wood in L.A.
They’ve got about a million board feet of reclaimed lumber of all different types.
When I got these boards, I asked their history, and they said they’d check and let me know. Next day I got this e-mail that says, “The two boards you have were from Frank Sinatra's house. That is where most of our Douglas Fir 2x12's are from.” And that’s it. No big deal. Frank Sinatra’s floor.
So, Frank’s floor joists and all this angle iron are about to be a table. First of all, these 2x12’s aren’t 2x12. They really are 2 inches thick, which a modern one wouldn’t be, but they’re only 11 inches wide. Unusual measurements are part of the problem-solving process of using old wood, and that gave me an idea.
I was going to build a 3-foot square top, but three 33-inch lengths would make a 33-inch square, and we wouldn’t have to rip any boards. And 33 inches is a good height for an end table, so we’ll make the whole thing a 33-inch cube.
I had enough lumber to get all three lengths out of one board, but the variation in wear makes for good character, so two lengths come from one board and one from the other.
Typically, you might wait ‘til you’re done to sand down the wood, but in this case, sanding will bring out the character, and we want to see that before we decide which side is up.
I like to use an angle grinder with a sanding flap disk for this. It’s less refined than a palm sander, so it maintains the hand tooled look of the old wood. You can seriously carve it up with this though, so you have to be careful. The less refined your tool is, the more refined a person you have to be.
Now that we know up from down, we put them upside down on the bench and secure them to each other with 2 2x6s running across the joints. These braces are set back from the ends of the tabletop, so you’ll never see them when it’s right side up.
The tabletop becomes the template for the angle iron base. In the same way the wood comes a little bit proud of the metal brackets on the entry bench, we want the runners on the side edges of the table to be a little shy of the wood. We could measure for this, but I prefer to get a real visual of what it’s going to look like and then scribe where we want to make the cuts.
Instead of hiding the edge of the boards with a full lip of steel, we’re going to flip the angle iron the other way for the leading edge of the table, setting it back a bit to create a skirt. Last project we made all the cuts with an angle grinder, but since then I acquired a chop saw.
While it was more convenient to have a locked down bench tool to feed the angle iron into, and it cut a little faster, the chop saw made a huge mess and to me the results weren’t precise enough. Next time, I’ll go back to the grinder (or experiment with a band saw).
The Foot and Legs
The foot is a four sided box, with the legs attached at the corners. Without the foot, the table would be strong enough, but it adds lateral stability. With the foot, the table will never twist, torque or lean. Basing our measurements off the frame, we cut the lengths of the foot and then cut the legs to make the table 33 inches tall, including the 2-inch tabletop and the 1/8-inch width of the angle iron.
With the angle iron for the frame, the foot and the legs all cut to length, it’s time to weld them all together. First the frame. We set the runners for the sides right on the inverted tabletop, with the skirt pieces inset 1 inch from the ends. This all got welded in place, which scorched the wood a bit, but only on the bottom. It was worth it, because doing it this way insured a perfect fit, eliminating any variations in measurements from using irregular wood.
The wood was moved out of the way and we set the frame sideways onto the corner of the workbench to use the right angle as a template to keep the legs 90 degrees to the frame.
Every joint where the leg met the frame got a bead of weld, which may be overkill, but the tabletop is heavy, and I’d rather have the thing be too solid than too weak.
Then we put the assembly on its back, with the legs sticking up in the air, and welded 2 parallel sides of the foot to the legs. This way we could ensure for a square, snug fit. I stood between the parallel rails and spread them apart enough to jam the other lengths of the foot between them. While I held it tight, my brother welded it in place and that’s a wrap on the welder.
The tabletop is fairly heavy, so it’s probably not going anywhere, but just to be on the safe side, we drilled 6 holes through the underside of the frame, and drove 6 panhead screws through into the bottom. The holes are a little larger than the screws, to allow them to float and give a bit. That allows for the natural movement of the wood as it shrinks, shifts and swells in different conditions. If it were screwed down too tight, the wood could crack. Then it was just a question of oiling up the top and figuring out how to get it from the shop and into the house (we had to carry it through the side yard).
Finally, it found its place on the opposite end of the couch from the entry bench, and the open area of the cube base was quickly claimed by my dog.
That is it. Frank Sinatra stood on this table.
Want to see a short video on how it was done? Check this out.