In my girlfriend’s previous apartment, there is an awkward corner in the living room – a 2-foot-deep cutout in the wall, just before it reaches the hallway. It isn’t deep enough to put “real” furniture in it, so it’s remained empty, with boots, bags and other detritus piling up in it. We had looked at a number of swap meets, flea markets and antique malls to see if we could find a side table to fill the spot, but couldn’t find anything that fit our tastes and was within our price range. Then, two things happened simultaneously: I ran across the Maker Table on MAKE’s blog, and found a pile of hardwood pallets sitting out behind Swarthmore’s dining hall.
The Swarthmore machine shop had recently taken delivery of a medium-duty thickness planer, which the machinist was pretty excited about. I broke down the pallets I’d found and ran them through; the planer did a fantastic job (it’s one of my new favorite tools), and turned the rough, dirty pallet boards into pretty decent pieces of beech, red oak, and white oak. The pallets are made of lower-grade wood, with lots of knots and imperfections. Although this would normally be a problem, it works well with this project, producing rich, deeply colored wood. Once the boards were planed down, I nailed and glued three layers together to make a 1″ thick tabletop, and set aside enough to make a drawer later.
In an attempt to keep with the desired asthetic (rustic, and someplace between farmhouse and industrial), I opted to replace the galvanized piping in the frame with cast-iron pipe fittings and black iron pipe. I cut the pipes to size, threaded them and wire-brushed them clean, and then assembled the frame. Once assembled, I applied Johnson’s Paste Wax to the frame to prevent corrosion: I would clean a section with acetone, heat the section with a blowtorch until hot to the touch, and then apply a coat of the wax. I buffed out this coat, applied another coat cold, and buffed again.
Finally, I built the drawer assembly, and machined down a 3/4″ bolt to make a handle. Getting the drawer level proved to be the hardest part of this whole project – I would advise building the drawer assembly first, on a level surface, and then attaching the tabletop, using shims if necessary. I lightly sanded the tabletop, “de-snagged” the edges of the table with rough cloth, and finished the wooden components of the table with teak oil.
Overall, I consider this one of the prettier things I’ve made. It’s simple, extremely durable, and theoretically next to free if you can find a source for the frame hardware and have the right tools. I’ve made an attempt at documenting the building process in the drawing below. It’s really more of an ideation sketch, though, and isn’t terribly clear, so contact me if you have any questions.
In 2012, I built a second pallet table, this time as a coffee table for our current living room. The table is mechanically simpler: it has no drawer, and simply uses black-iron termination pieces to attach the legs to the base. Additionally, I chose to use stock lengths of black-iron pipe in this build – a huge timesaver.