a $4 table DIY: my foray into woodworking & Ikea hacks

yellow $4 table : ikea find plus scavenged, repurposed legs

Every once in awhile, I enter a personal “Ikea phase”. When I’m in this phase, I adore walking around Ikea and playing with all the random items, sliding the drawers in and out, and sitting on the couches to watch Charlotte’s Web*. When I’m in this phase, I wander and therefore don’t mind getting completely lost.

When I’m not in this phase, I walk in and get instantly overwhelmed and become very annoyed when I’m lost. In fact, I don’t believe it’s possible to be any less than lost after stepping through the doors of an Ikea.

But I’ve been trying to cure myself of my Ikea phases for two reasons: because I have a terrible habit of accumulating furniture for no present purpose, and because I think I can make better (and more “me”) furniture than that which comes in those heavy flat boxes.

So it should be no surprise that my favorite spot in all of Ikea is “As-Is” land. The rejects and stray pieces, all clamoring to be part of my next DIY, eager for a better life than they were intended. It was from the “As-Is” land that I rescued the two halves of a large, yellow tabletop, marked $1.99 apiece.

dumpster-scavenged table legs: before

A month later, some friends and I were exploring the school quad when we saw a large open dumpster full of tossed furniture. Among the recently disposed treasures were four solid wood table legs.

“How convenient,” I said. “I have a tabletop waiting at home.”

dumpster-scavenged table legs: before

And so it began. The legs came to me as you see them above: scuffed and coated in an orange-ish semi-opaque stain. In my opinion, no woodworking crime is worse than the application of opaque stain. Why do that? Why cover up the grain? I just don’t understand.

dumpster-scavenged table legs: after sanding

First I saved the legs from the dumpster, then I freed them from their miserable solid-stained state. I could’ve gone at them with a scraper and some stain stripper, but I chose the fast track and used my Christmas present: my Milwaukee Orbit Sander. I turned it to a low speed setting, and gently worked my way up and down each leg. Since it was set to a low speed, the legs remained cylindrical without any funny flat spots. I can’t praise the sander enough – it’s a remarkable and very robust piece of machinery and I can’t wait to use it on more projects!

Also, it has a cute red dust collector bag.

I stained the legs with my favorite shade, American Chestnut, then gave them a few coats of protective, but not glossy, polycoat. I’ve learned that I love staining wood because it is fun and so easy! You brush it on, and it goes on all smooth, and then if anything’s gone wrong you just wipe it with a rag and it’s fine. So much easier than painting!

yellow $4 table : ikea find plus scavenged, repurposed legs

Above is a picture of the leg after: so much better, no? I can feel how happy it is to be out from under the opaque stain!

The legs were the easy part, but putting the table together wasn’t too bad either! I also had good help.

To make the halves stay together, we drilled holes down the unfinished center of each half and inserted four dowel pins. To keep the center from sagging, we attached an “apron”, a 3″x1/2″ hardwood frame, to the base of the table on all four sides. As you can see in the picture, it is unfinished at the moment, but I will probably stain it to match the legs.

The legs were already attached to steel plates with mounting holes when I found them, so that was easy. I screwed threaded inserts into the tabletop MDF so that the legs can be removed and reattached whenever necessary.

So with the two halves together, the apron attached, and the legs screwed on… the table could stand on its own! Project accomplished.

And I think I can say it looks better than Ikea – and far better than $4!

Products Used**:

*Charlotte’s Web (the animated one of course!) was one of my brother and I’s favorite movies when we were little, and eventually our VHS copy could only play in green squiggles with wobbly sound. So sitting in Ikea, watching Fern take care of Wilbur in full color (not green), is a nostalgic experience.

**I tell you which products I use in case that will help you with your own DIY. I was very happy with how this project turned out, which is the only reason I lightly recommend the products. The Amazon link is a referral link, but the others are just there for your reference.

And yes, this project used supplies (dowel pins, threaded inserts, and hardwood framing) that would have cost more than $4 if I hadn’t had them laying around. But isn’t that what a stash is for?

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4 Responses

  1. Papa says:

    Sam – it’s sooooo cool that you used threaded inserts to attach the legs! The natural inclination is to just screw the legs into the underside of the table top. Then after a few months to wonder why the legs begin to show signs of wobbling. The threaded inserts provide a naturally good grip on the screws holding the legs, yes, but the real key is that they offer a larger diameter and therefore better grip in the wood, meaning longer lifespan without wobbling! Well done!

  2. Deb Hunt says:

    Great table Sam, I love recycling and it looks so chic!

  3. Catharine says:

    I agree. It’s funny because i simply made a a package of twin bed frames for a toddler room.
    The bed room flipped out great.

  4. Louis says:

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