Please help me not kill anyone with my self-designed furniture
July 12, 2012 8:52 AM   Subscribe

I want to make some (very simple) wooden furniture to fit some specific use cases, so I drew my own plans up. I don't have any furniture design peeps or woodworkers in real life that I can ask to look at them. Is there anywhere on the web I can post my plans and get feedback on if this table will work the way I want it to, and maybe get some construction order advice?

I've found some of the more hardcore furniture building communities, but my skill level is not anywhere near there, I'm using screws and butt joints and glue, not dovetails or mortise-and-tenon joints or even pocket holes. I need a community pitched for the beginner—any ideas?
posted by peachfuzz to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I should add - I know about Ana White/Knock Off Wood, but the forums there seem to be pretty quiet and a little spammy...
posted by peachfuzz at 8:54 AM on July 12, 2012

Right here on the green? (I would be happy to take a look)
posted by misterbrandt at 9:17 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would actually bring the plans to a local store that sells lumber and/or woodworking tools. They will generally give great friendly advice. Also, check your local community college to see if they have any woodworking classes. Get instructor's contact info. Call her.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:45 AM on July 12, 2012

I'm happy to take a look at your designs. I've also found good suggestions and a welcoming community over at LumberJocks.
posted by straw at 1:19 PM on July 12, 2012

Nth here, Im building furniture at the moment and would be happy to have a look.
posted by multivalent at 1:35 PM on July 12, 2012

Hi ya'll. Thanks for the offers to help! I have really great advice from one MeFite already, but of course I'd appreciate more. Here are some images, and here's the Sketchup.

I am just learning Sketchup and am pretty terrible at it, so some of the dimensions for the legs etc. have gone wonky. Basically, I am intending to use 2x2s for the legs and all parts of the gate legs, 1" boards for the shelves, and 1x2s for the shelf aprons. 3/4 plywood for the top. Fully extended, it would be 70" long, 35" deep, and around 36" tall (with casters). Obviously there will be hinges for the table leaves and the gate legs, probably piano hinges for the top and regular hinges for the gate legs.

My big questions:

1) How sturdy is this going to be? The gate legs are about 27.5" wide, and will leave about 10-11" of the leaf unsupported. This will be for a cutting table (like with cutting mats and rotary cutters for fabric) so it won't need to bear a lot of heavy weight, but it will need to be somewhat stable. I am considering adding a brace to the underside of the leaf, but am not sure yet how exactly that would work.

2) What am I going to make this out of? I have a pretty good lumberyard near me and would be willing to go for birch plywood and hardwood legs if that would make a big difference in stability/strength/lack of warpage for the leaves, but of course I want to minimize cost. I was hoping to get away with pine...

3) Does it look overall like there are major issues? I am fairly sure that I want to keep the locking casters as part of the design because I know I'll be moving this around a lot, but could be convinced otherwise if it seems like a terrible/expensive idea.

(yes, this is definitely a ripoff/mod of the Ikea Norden gate leg table. I know it will almost certainly be cheaper and less hassle to just buy that, but the dimensions of it are just a little wrong in a way that would make it useless for where and how I want to use it, I don't need or want the drawers, I am dreading the thought of stripping that lacquer to finish it the way I want, and the closest Ikea is like a two hour trip for me. Plus, I think it would be a fun project to work through this).

Thanks, woodworkers of MeFi!
posted by peachfuzz at 1:59 PM on July 12, 2012

also - should I add an apron around the center table panel to make that tower sturdier? Right now, that panel only attaches to the four legs.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:06 PM on July 12, 2012

1. I think the sturdiness largely depends on what joints you use in that center pedestal. As you mention in your addendum, I'd be tempted to put some sort of skirt around the top and bottom of that to keep racking in check, preferably with some sort of mechanical joint that goes beyond screws and glue (a dado or rabbet), along with something to provide diagonals in those hinged leaf supports.

2. One of the things that has struck me over the years is that I've never regretted using slightly nicer lumber, and that the cost of my time usually overshadows the cost of the lumber. I'd look for at least a decent birch-faced plywood, but I'd really look for something called "shop ply" that my local lumberyard has for about $65/sheet. It's got a workable face, a few extra plies relative to the standard hardwood veneered plywood at the big box stores, and fewer voids. If you're going for "paint grade", Unless by "Pine" you mean a fairly I'd use poplar or some similar utility hardwood. Yes, it means you have to drill and countersink all your holes, you'll thank me for this later.

3. Get the good locking casters that don't rotate. Put ends on your shelves underneath along with the sides. I don't have a feel for how much flex you're going to have in those leaves.

This advice is worth what you paid for it...
posted by straw at 5:10 PM on July 12, 2012

should I add an apron around the center table panel to make that tower sturdier?

Congratulations - you know more about furniture design than many people designing it professionally seem to!

Adding an apron - a fairly tall apron - would be a good idea because, yeah, if you keep that open design, it would keep the legs of the tower straight up and down and prevent things from going all parallelogramy on you. Another way you could achieve this would be to make the tower slightly pyramidal (since then, to rack, the sides would have to change length, not just twist at the joints) but that won't work well with the swing leg design.

If you can get good softwood, like yellow pine, that would probably be alright but doing the frame of the tower 4/4 hardwood (nominally an inch thick, actually 3/4) would be preferable. Most of the smaller dimensional wood at my local home center is white pine which will die a horrible death in this application. If you opt to go with hardwood and you're thinking of buying your lumber at anything resembling a big box store, get in your car and drive half way across Colorado plus Kansas and Missouri and I'll take you to some places I know. This would, of course, be insane but would probably save you money! No, really.

For the joints, You could just do counter sunk screws but doing some basic joinery, like lap joints, might make things a lot stronger.

Two books I recommend for beginners to take a look at: "Illustrated Cabinetmaking" by Bill Hylton - the review quoted on the cover says it all - "This is the Gray's Anatomy of woodworking." and "The Anarchists Tool Chest" by Chris Schwarz (who just happens to be Jesamyn's cousin) chiefly the section on various hand tools, what they're for and how to use them. Both of these books have information in them that's way in the deep end of things, but there is enough information for the beginner that I don't think you'd feel like you wasted your time with them.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:55 PM on July 12, 2012

Good advice so far. With the addition of an apron as suggested sounds like you're well on your way. Yes - spend a bit more on wood, get some nice marine ply maybe.
posted by multivalent at 3:49 AM on July 14, 2012

thanks, guys. I went down to the lumberyard yesterday and talked with some of the guys there also...I think I'm going to go with poplar for the tower and legs, and a paint-grade birch plywood for the top. one of the guys pointed out that I could get the shelves out of the drop, too, which is awesome! I will probably paint this, so poplar seems like a good economical choice.

one follow up question: if I want to move past screw-and-glue to joints with more mechanical structure, what should I try? what are your opinions on kreg jigs/pocket holes, or the other reinforced butt joints? note that I don't have a table saw and am unlikely to get one, and limited storage for tools. I might get a router eventually to play with dados etc. but honestly, mortise and tenons are going to be beyond me for a while.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:17 AM on July 14, 2012

I have a biscuit jointer which I like for this kind of work. I like it because I can get strong and concealed joins. It can take a while to get used to the tool, but much less hassle than mortise and tenons. There's a slightly odd youtube here but it at least gives you a sense of what the tool does. Plus they're small and not too expensive. Dewalt makes a nice one.
posted by multivalent at 5:16 PM on July 14, 2012

Disclaimer: I have a Festool Domino (essentially a "floating tenon" mortise and tenon joint maker), a biscuit joiner, and more.

Assuming that you're not wanting to spend a lot of money on tools, I'd think about dowel joints. If you want to spend money, you could get a jig that helps you align multiple dowels in the same joint (something like the DowelMax). If you don't, you could find a friend with a drill press to drill you out a block of hardwood to help you align a hand drill, or you could eyeball through-dowels: Get a flush-cut saw (or a good knife), put the two pieces of wood together, drill through the one into the other, coat the dowel with glue, stuff it in the hole, cut off the remainder.

I like pocket screws for a lot of applications (and love 'em for kids' projects: the pocket hole jig keeps the drill aligned so any kid who can get their hands around the trigger of the drill can put two pieces of wood together), but they aren't really a joint, more a way to hide a screw. I generally only use them to back up a joint that has some other mechanical connection.
posted by straw at 5:10 PM on July 16, 2012

I have a Festool Domino Colour me jealous.
posted by multivalent at 1:48 PM on July 18, 2012

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