Now that our extension is finished, our old furniture is looking pretty past it. Our second-hand dining table that I picked up from a mate 6 years ago being a prime example. As much as we’d love to go out and splurge on loads of cool stuff, we’re not exactly swimming in cash at the moment. There’s no shortage of homemade scaffold board tables doing the rounds on Pinterest/Instagram so we thought we’d give it a go and are dead chuffed with the result.
I should say from the outset that this method requires a few bits of kit that you may not have unless you’re a pretty keen DIYer. A similar table and bench can be achieved by using really simple techniques and gear which I’ve highlighted where poss.
The first decision was whether we should use reclaimed scaffold boards or fresh ones. As we were after something that looked a bit worn in, it would seem to make sense to buy reclaimed. However, getting old boards into a fit state before they can be used as a dining table top would involve a ruthless amount of planing and sanding which just ends up removing most, or all, of the character. It was easier to just pop down to B&Q and buy some new boards and add some character, so that’s what we did.
I can’t stress enough how important it is that you pick the boards that aren’t twisted, cupped or bowed in any way. Basically, if it’s wonky, it’s no good, so spend some time looking down the length of a few boards before you select the ones that are good enough to make the cut. To achieve a consistently flat table top with seamless joins the wood you use needs to be in excellent condition and so if you need to look through 30 boards to find the 4 best ones, that’s time well spent.
The photo above shows a length of scaffold board that’s straight along its edge which is key to achieving a good glue joint. However, the photo below is of a board that is badly cupped and so no good for a dining table, unless you have fancy kit and don’t mind reducing the thickness of the wood. Having said this, I ended up using cupped boards for the dining bench which was a pain – more deets later on about how I dealt with these.
Along with checking the boards are true, testing how dry they are is also really important. I bought a moisture meter (£25 off Amazon) especially for this project as buying wood that is too wet would A) require drying out inside for weeks/months and B) likely lead to warping during the drying process. So the goal was to find boards that were under 10% moisture on both sides.
Here’s a good example of what can happen to scaffold board tabletops that aren’t properly dried out. Sure, it looks like a friendly, smiley face, but not ideal when your drink is leaning over and plate is wobbling all over the place. You can see that some strips of wood have been screwed into the bottom to keep the wood stable but if the wood’s not dry when you assemble, it will not stay flat.
Once I’d got the boards home, I chose which sides I wanted to be on show and marked them. Basil kindly added some pawprints to make sure I didn’t forget. Scaffold boards are 225mm in width so 4 together = 900mm which just happens to be about the perfect dining table width. They’re 38mm thick which, again, is spot on for a chunky looking table top.
Some people say that it’s important to alternate the direction of the grain from board to board to reduce the likelihood of cupping. Others say it doesn’t matter. I played it safe and alternated them which you can just about see in the end grain on this photo.
The next job was to reduce the chance of the boards leaking resin. Some boards may not need this, but ours had a fair few spots where resin was leaking. I hovered a heat gun over these areas and mopped up as much of the bubbling resin as possible.
Before making this table, biscuits meant only one thing to me. But it turns out that biscuits are also wee oval-shaped bits of wood that are used to join two larger pieces of wood. You don’t need to use biscuits – you could use dowels, or even just join the boards from the underneath with a long section of timber and screws. However, from the research I did, using biscuits offers the best combo of strength and alignment.
After lining the scaffold boards up in their final position, I marked the position where the biscuits would be. I used 5 biscuits along each length. I then separated the boards and used my router with a biscuit-cutting bit to cut the slots for the biscuits to sit in.
Here’s what the slot looks like.
Then I did a dry fit with the biscuits to make sure everything lined up and the boards were meeting properly.
It all looked good, so I gave the scaffold board edges a quick sand to round them over.
Now for the exciting/stressful bit – gluing the boards together. It was too cold outside for the glue to cure properly so I did this inside. If you decide to go down the route of screwing a couple of lengths of wood up into boards from the bottom, you won’t need to do this step. However, making sure the boards have properly dried out is particularly crucial if using this method as otherwise you’ll find that over time gaps develop between the boards and they may even start to crack.
This project gave me an excuse for a trip to Screwfix to pick up some reeeeeally long sash clamps. I used 5 long clamps in total, but ideally you’d have more. I did another dry fit, this time with clamps, as a trial run. You can see some small gaps under the first clamp where light is showing through and so the table top wasn’t perfectly flat, but this was definitely within tolerance for my skill level.
After running through the process in my head 37 times, I started slapping glue on, making sure to get lots in the slots as glue makes biscuits expand to snuggly fill the slot.
With the glue slathered on, I lined up all the boards and clamped them together. The biscuits came into their own here as it made it impossible to get the positioning and alignment of the boards wrong. Spacing the clamps evenly and with a firm but not overly tight pressure is key to achieving a good glue up. The clamps at the end of the table that are clamping two lengths of wood are called cauls and help with alignment if the boards are trying to get away from each other at the end where biscuits aren’t present.
Make sure that anything making contact with the wood during the glue up can’t become inadvertently glued to the table top! I covered the cauls with foil tape I had hanging around.
The below photo illustrates what I mean when I keep harping on about alignment. The boards are close to perfectly flat, and that’s because the biscuits are all cut at the same depth into the wood so when you come to clamp up they want to be aligned.
I probably didn’t put enough glue in between the boards I used for the table as there wasn’t a great deal of glue squeezing out when I tightened the clamps. Glue squeeze is good, so I lobbed more glue onto the boards when making the bench,
I found the best way to get rid of the excess glue was to wait for it to semi-dry (around 2-3 hours) and then gently scrape off with a chisel.
I then let it dry for a day and tentatively removed the clamps. To my joy, it held together.
Cutting & sanding
Back in the workshop, I cut the table to it’s final length, 180cm. I used a speed square to mark the cut line and used a circular saw against a spirit level. To keep things more simple, you could ask the place you buy your boards from to cut them to their final length for you (which also may help getting them in the car). Most places will do this, including B&Q.
I used an almost new, 40 tooth blade to get a clean cut.
I checked both diagonals were the same to confirm that the cuts were square.
Then it was onto my old friend, sanding. I started a 60 grit sanding disk and moved up to 80 and then 120 to leave a smooth finish.
I gave all the edges and corners a light sand with 120 grit to round them off. I thought about using my router for this but opted for sanding as it’s a pretty rustic table and so perfectly consistent rounded edges wouldn’t look right.
A few hours later, the sanding was finally finished so I gave the table a good wipe down. I handed over to my glamorous assistant, Haz, to apply the finishing touches and take all the glory.
After trying various treatments including stains, oils, and even burning techniques on sections of scrap, we couldn’t find a finish we were happy with. This was well annoying. After some Googling, we came across this blog post which suggested rubbing soil into the boards to give them an aged look. Sure enough, smearing some compost into a test piece came out great!
With the table back inside, Haz started rubbing compost onto the table top.
It was a bit odd to see dirt being thrown all over the thing that I’d spent a fair few hours putting together…
After some trial and error, we found the best method was smear compost in and then to brush/hoover away the excess. Haz repeated the process a 3 times, by which point there was no blotchiness left but the colour wasn’t overly dark.
We decided to go with Osmo TopOil in clear matt to give a really subtle finish.
There’s a few ways you can apply this stuff, but we just opted to thinly apply it with a paintbrush. 2 coats, with 10 hours drying in between, seemed to do the trick.
We’re so chuffed with how it came out!
One last thing on applying the oil: it’s important to apply the same number of coats to the bottom as the top. This may seem like waste of time/oil, but if you don’t do this then the table will be more likely to warp over time. I’m not going to claim I fully understand the science behind this, but enough credible sources say that this is important so I did as I was told!
Making the bench was a very similar process to the table, although there were 2 key differences.
Firstly, 2 scaffold boards would be 45cm deep which is too much, and 1 would be way too small. I rip cut 70mm off one of the scaffold boards so that the total depth would be 38cm, just about right for the average bum. If you’re trying to keep things simple, you could either just use two full width boards or ask the place you’re buying the boards to cut them down.
Secondly, the boards I used to make the bench were both badly cupped. I already had these boards so rather than shell out on new boards I thought I’d have a go at sorting these out.
In an ideal world, I’d have a fancy planer/thicknesser that would make flattening these boards a doddle. However, I had to make do with an electric planer. I marked on the areas that I’d have to remove to get the boards flat. This included the edges, that turned upwards and bottom, which curved outwards in the middle
I got to work with removing the marked areas, running loads of shallow passes with the planer.
After roughly removing the majority of the material with the planer, I moved onto low grit sanding discs with the orbital sander to even things up. Soon enough, the boards were looking a lot flatter and thinner than before.
After this prep work, we gave the bench the old compost treatment and oiled it as we did with the table top.
Fixing the legs
There are loads of different styles of legs you can buy online. Our favourite is the trapezium-style, but rather than buying them we took advantage of my Dad’s metalwork skills. The main advantage of this was that we could make them to the exact size that we wanted but cost-wise I don’t think it worked out cheaper than buying them ready-made.
Our bench legs are 42cm high to leave a final height of 45cm once the scaffold boards had been planed and sanded back to around 3cm. The table legs are 71cm high, with the final height close to 75cm with the 38mm boards on top.
Before attaching the legs, I routed out the bottom of the table top and bench where the legs sit to a shall depth. This is an unnecessary step, but it helps make the fixing bolts more discreet and also helps disguise any variation in the bottom of the boards as it recesses the fixing plate.
First up, I marked the position of the legs, making sure they were square. For the table top, I made sure that the leg positioning would allow for the bench to sit under the table so it can be tucked underneath when we’re not using it.
I used a spirit level as a straight edge to guide the router around the edges of where the plates would sit.
Once the outer line of the area to be routed was established, I routed out all the material in the middle until the bottom of the table looked like this and was ready to have the legs attached.
The easiest way to attach the legs to the boards is to simply screw through the holes in the plate. That’s fine but doesn’t allow you to easily take apart and reassemble the table if you need to move or transport it as you can’t use the same screw holes multiple times. Another benefit of this is that one day I’d love to make and sell some of these tables and so being able to take it apart & reassemble easily is a big plus. So, instead of screwing, I used threaded inserts and bolts. This is the first project I’ve used these babies on and they’re bloody wonderful.
With the legs sat in their final position, I marked the position of the plate holes onto the table.
Next, I drilled holes at a diameter of slightly less than the outer thread of the inserts. I then gave the inserts a wee tap into the hole to start them off, and then used my impact driver with a hex bit to drive them down into the hole.
This provided a very secure threaded opening to bolt the bottom of the table top into.
Plopping the legs back into position, I then drove M6 bolts through the plate and into the threaded inserts as a trial fit. I found that unless the holes were perfectly centred over the threaded inserts, the bolts weren’t keen on the idea of being tightened into place. The solution to this is to drill the plate holes out to 8mm with an HSS bit to give a little more leeway.
It was then over to Haz, the painting queen, to spray the legs with a matt black paint.
The very last step was to refit the freshly painted legs.
And we were done!
We’ve been looking forward to this project for months but it kept getting pushed down the priority list. We’re really pleased how it’s turned out and are now counting down the days until we can have people round to enjoy it with us #lockdown3.0. We’re on the hunt for some chairs to go round the other side which will allow the table to comfortably seat 6 people, or 8 if they have particularly narrow shoulders
All-in, the table and bench cost £175 to make. This is probably a couple of hundred quid cheaper than how much you could buy it for, but this project wasn’t just about saving cash. We wanted to make something that was the exact size and finish that we were after, and it was great to get my Dad’s and Haz’ help. By making it ourselves, we’ve also been able to spend a good chunk of time on it, making sure it’s really robust and so should last us many years.
- 6 lengths of untreated scaffold board (very straight & true, moisture content ideally below 10%)
- Biscuits (size 20)
- Wood glue
- Compost (I’m sure dry soil would do the same job)
- Osmo TopOil in clear matt
- Trapezium legs for bench and table
- Matt black industrial spray paint
- Wood moisture meter
- Circular saw
- Heat gun (if you need to remove any resin)
- Router with biscuit bit, or biscuit jointer
- Sash clamps (I used 5 to glue up a 1.8metre long table)
- Quick clamps
- Speed square
- Straight edge eg: spirit level
- Random orbital sander with disks of various grit levels
- Electric planer (if you need to flatten out boards)
- Stiff brush
- Combi drill with bits
- Impact driver with bits
- M6 threaded inserts
- M6 bolts