Step 1: Chop Legs to Length
I chopped a 2x4 into 2 3' lengths. I actually went about a half inch longer because my floors aren't level and I figured it would give me some wiggle room later on.
Step 2: Rip Legs to Width
I ripped the 3' sections of 2x4 in half lengthwise. Then turned each half 90 degrees and ripped them in half lengthwise again.
Since 2x4s are actually something like 1 and 1/2" by 3 and 1/2", and assuming the saw eats ~1/8", each 3' section should yield you 4 lengths roughly 5/8" by 1 and 5/8". I didn't do a good job accounting for the blade thickness when setting the fence so my end result was that half of the sections were a little wider that the others. It wasn't a huge deal, and it just made the legs uniformly asymmetrical.
Step 3: Assemble Legs
I assembled the legs by lining up 2 sections so they create a 90 degree angle with the cut edges on the inside, and the rough edges on the outside. To make sure they sat flush, I put the shorter cut edge on one board against the wider cut edge on the other board. The boards were then glued, screwed, and clamped overnight.
Since I used construction grade lumber, there were also some knots and small holes that I filled with a little glue and sawdust mixture. I also countersunk all of my screws so I could fill them in. These steps went a long way to helping create a more finished look later on.
Step 4: Chop Sides to Length (Part 1 of 2)
I chopped a 2x10 common board into 3 2' lengths. Each piece will need to be chopped more accurately to length, but that's approximately the length of the longer sections, and the 2' length made them significantly easier to rip on the table saw.
It probably would have been easier to just buy and chop a board that was already cut to the width i needed, but this gave me an opportunity to practice ripping and building table saw jigs. In the end it worked out really well because I made a game-time decision to alter my design and add a 3" drawer under the top shelf. In order to hide the drawer, I made the sides and back for the top shelf a bit wider.
Step 5: Rip Sides to Width
I ripped the 2' sections of 2x10 into 8 sections. 4 for the sides that would hold up the bottom shelf (2" wide), and 4 for the top (3 at 5" wide, and 1 at 1").
Here's exactly how I made the cuts, so I could get them all out of the single board
- For the bottom shelf, I just wanted a uniform band all the way around, so I ripped 4 strips at a 2" thickness. One strip from two of the boards, and two strips from the third.
- For the front of the top shelf I needed a 1" thick strip, which I ripped from one of the wider boards.
- For the sides and back of the top shelf each of the three remaining boards was ripped to a 5" thickness.
Step 6: Chop Sides to Length (Part 2 of 2)
I wanted the width and depth of the table to be 2'x1', so I needed to account for the legs when chopping the sides to their final size. One of the sides will also sit against the other, so that thickness needed to be subtracted as well. I ended up needing the long sides to be cut down to 1'10.5" and the short sides to 9.5".
Taking a pro-tip from various YouTube videos, I dry fit everything together and remeasured as I went to make sure things were uniform and looked as expected. It actually saved me some headache because I miss-cut 2 of the sides.
Step 7: Sand Frame
Never having attempted a real finished look that I'd be proud to have in doors, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos. The basic wisdom seems to be to sand in at least 3 steps, so that's what I did.
- First I sanded everything down with an 80 grit pad on a disc sander. This first pass is just to remove the mill marks, clean up major imperfections, and smooth the seams when the wood was glued. A belt sander probably would have been better and produced a more even surface, but it's what I had on hand and I don't mind the character it gave the wood.
- Next I used 120 grit paper and a palm sander. This helped really smooth things out, and got rid of any circular scratches left by the disc sanding.
- Last I went over everything with a 150 grit sanding block making sure only to sand with the grain.
After I was all done sanding I remembered that I wanted to fill those screw holes... so I did that with some stain-able wood filler, let it cure overnight, and went back over those areas by hand.
NOTE: In hindsight I probably should have stepped up my palm sanding game and added a step between 2 and 3 with 150 or 180. I think it would have produced a better staining result, but I was at my sanding tolerance and it wasn't the end of the world.
Step 8: Stain and Seal Frame
I wet the wood very lightly with a damp rag to help raise the grain and left it to dry. After a few hours I used a rag to apply a liberal portion of stain to all sides of the boards. I placed them on top of small pieces of scrap wood to help them dry uniformly and to limit the surface area that was touching something. Using the recommendation on the side of the can, I waited about 3 minutes before wiping the excess stain off. There were some spots where the stain didn't soak in as well as I wanted (should have sanded better), so I applied a second coat on those boards and it ended up turning out pretty well.
After letting the wood cure overnight I applied 2 coats of polyurethane with a synthetic brush. I taped the areas where I would be applying glue, and waited a little over 2 hours between each coat. Because there was no way to prop them up without a wet surface touching the table, I did two coats on one side along with the edges, and then two coats on the other. The next morning (~12 hours later) I sanded very lightly with 000 steel wool anywhere there were bumps, and applied a third coat.
NOTE: I should have taped off the areas where I would later be gluing the wood together. The glue will still work through stain, just not as well because some of the pours in the wood will be closed up. I ended up doing some light 80 grit sanding in those areas later on just to be safe.
Step 9: Assemble Frame (Part 1 of 2)
I laid the legs out with the side pieces about where I wanted them. The shelves are 1/2" plywood, so I accounted for a hair more than that when positioning the top shelf sides. That way I had enough room to do some sanding to make things perfectly flush. I went back and did a little hand sanding on the spots where the wood would be glued to remove any polyurethane and a bit of the stain. Taping those spots beforehand would have saved a bit of time and effort.
Measuring from the top of each leg, I positioned each side at 9/16". Then I went back and forth with a square to try and get all the angles as close to 90 degrees as possible. Once lined up where I wanted them I clamped them in place, drilled and countersunk screw holes, took the clamps off, glued and screwed, and re-clamped.
Since the top side piece is in place and reasonably square, I cut a small section of wood to 1'6" and laid it on the inside leg to perfectly space the bottom side piece. I went back and forth with a square again just to be sure everything looked good, and then attached and clamped the pieces the same way.
Step 10: Assemble Frame (Part 2 of 2)
With the front and back assembled, I stood them both on end and lightly clamped all 4 side pieces roughly in place. Then, one at a time I went back and forth with a square to try and get all the angles as close to 90 degrees as possible. Once lined up where I wanted them I clamped them in place more securely, drilled and countersunk screw holes, took the clamps off, glued and screwed, and re-clamped. I tried really hard to make sure the edges were flush with the front and side edges to the shelves would sit nicely on top.
Step 11: Cut Shelves
I wanted to wait until I had the frame together to tackle the shelves. First I ripped a board to length and then to width, aiming to get the shelf just a hair larger than it needed to be. After the cuts, it ended up fitting pretty well on one side and being slightly wide and long on the other, which is what I was aiming for.
Step 12: Sand Shelves and Level Frame
To fit the shelves into their spots, I sanded the edges with the disc sander until they fit between the legs without pinching. There was a slight twist and the insides weren't perfectly square, so this worked out really well to produce a good fit without large gaps. Once the shelves were in place, I leveled off the top of the table by sanding the tops of the legs with the disc sander until they were perfectly flush with the top shelf. I should have taken the shelves off to do this because i sanded through the veneer in a couple places.
To level the frame, I flipped the table over and set it on a level surface. Then I used a level and a flat board to figure out which legs were high, and then sanded them slightly with the disc sander. I repeated this process until everything was level, and then sanded the shelves and leg ends to prep them for finishing.
NOTE: I used the same methods for sanding as were used for the rest of the frame, so see those steps for specifics.
Step 13: Stain and Seal Shelves
I vacuumed and wet the wood, let it dry, and applied the stain. After a couple minutes I wiped off the excess and went back over any areas where it seemed thin with a second coat. Then I let the whole thing cure overnight.
After the second coat of polyurethane I noticed that some areas felt rough like sandpaper. It could have been that dust settled on the piece, or the wood was fuzzy from sanding poorly, or maybe the water raised the grain more than expected. Whatever the cause, I ended up waiting a couple extra hours to let the poly harden, and then sanded the whole thing down with 000 steel wool until it felt smooth to the touch. I applied another two coats, but the shelves still weren't as smooth as the legs, so I repeated the process a third time and then used a buffer pad on my drill.
Step 14: Put the Shelves On
Drop the shelves in place and you're done!
I opted not to add the drawer right now, but plan on doing that in the near future.