Apprentice Marks Makes: Pallet Wood End Tables

This project started with a couple of hefty solid wood pallets that I got when my local Home Depot delivered some renovation materials to my home. They were each around 40″ square, and were made of what seemed to be a range of hard wood varieties.

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I started at the pallets with a hammer and a crow bar, but soon resorted to cutting the deck boards off with a circular saw, as my prying was doing a lot of damage to the dry wood. Two pallets yields quite a few usable boards:

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After a few hours of jointing, planing, and table sawing, I had processed most of the deck boards into thin strips, about 3/4″ square, that would be glued together to form laminate tops for my end tables. I made sure to hold a few boards back for building the frames of the tables.

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The goal was to make two end tables, each with a table surface of about 24″ x 24″. since I intended to put a 1″ mitred border around the outside of each table top, I needed to make two 22″ x 22″ laminate pieces out of the strips that I had cut from the deck boards. I wanted to use my bench planer to clean up the laminate pieces, so I started by gluing the strips into four 22″ x 11″ boards.

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After letting the glue cure overnight, I ran each of them through my planer to ensure a smooth surface and a uniform thickness. Next, I ran one edge of each piece across the jointer, and then glued jointed edges together to form two larger boards, each approximately 22″ x 22″.

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Level added for rigidity. It turns out it’s hard to keep a seam in the middle of a 22″ piece properly aligned. I guess that’s what biscuits are for.

After letting the glue cure again, I cut each table top to its final dimensions. Because the boards that I recovered from the pallets had nail holes and other imperfections in them, my table tops inherited some “character”. To ensure a smooth surface, I filled the nail holes with epoxy and sanded them flush.

Next, I cut some strips of hard maple out of some scrap that I had up on my stock shelf. These strips got mitred corners, and were affixed to the edges of each table top using glue and brad nails.

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With the table tops finished, I moved on to the table frames. The original intent of this project was to use reclaimed pallet wood for every aspect of the tables, but getting the nails out of the pallet stretchers (the big heavy pieces that separate the deck boards) proved to be a real challenge, and I didn’t want to risk missing one and ruining a tool with it.

The scrap maple that I used to edge the table tops had originally been cut from some much longer pieces that I got as a part of a used tool purchase back when I first started building out my workshop. I have been saving it for a worthy project, and figured that my first piece of real furniture was reason enough to rip some of it down into 2″ x 2″ table legs.

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I wanted to affix the table aprons (or stretchers – whatever you call the boards that run between the legs) to the legs with a mortise and tenon joint. I cut my mortises at the router, which left a rounded end to the cuts. I went back in with a 1/4″ chisel and squared them off. In the process, I learned that there’s a bit of technique to precision chisel work, and that I need a lot more practice at it.

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With my legs in good shape, it was time to turn my attention to the aprons. The apron boards were cut from some of the pallet deckboards that I had set aside when cutting up the laminate strips. At the tablesaw, I ripped them to 3″ in height, and used my box joint blade (sort of a simple dado stack) to cut a simple tenon on each end.

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With the fit looking good, I added an 1/8″ dado along the top inside edge of each apron. This slot will accept some table top fasteners that I bought off of Amazon. The intent of this hardware is give the wood grain that forms the table tops room expand and contract without cracking.

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The glue-up for the table frames was a bit stressful. I worked as quickly as possible, and tried to remember to wipe away all of the excess glue. My first timer joinery was mostly hidden in the process, which is probably for the best.

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Once I had the frames assembled and squared up, I clamped them to the bench and added some corner blocks to prevent them from twisting.

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After another overnight wait for the glue to cure, it was time to affix the table frames to the tops. Before doing so, I sanded everything down through 120 grit, 200 grit, and 000 steel wool to prepare for the finish.

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One of the things that I love about this project is the contrast of all the different varieties of wood that make up the laminate table tops. I didn’t want to lose this contrast when applying a finish, so I didn’t stain the wood at all. Instead, I just layered up some wipe-on polyurethane.

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Each table got two coats, and the table tops got a third coat for good measure. I sanded with 000 steel wool between each coat to remove any imperfections.

The finished tables look great in our living room. I’m really proud of the way that they turned out, especially considering that they’re my very first large furniture project. Now I just need to find time to build a coffee table to match.

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