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Monday, 15 July 2013

Pallet chest/ coffee table

Recently we had noticed that our padded ottoman coffee table was in pretty serious need of replacement.   Although it was starting to show some signs of wear the real issue was that it no longer worked in our space.
This "new" house (we have now been here for seven months) had a different layout and more floor space in the living room so what we needed was really something much larger.
It was really important to us that the coffee table had storage space, but not just shelving underneath.  Our ottoman is home to all the nap mats we use for daycare as well as spare blankets ect.  So, for visual appeal this coffee table had to include closed in storage much like our padded ottoman did.
 I found this one online at Pottery Barn for almost $800!!! I liked the table but $800? Really? I think not.  So I decided to make one with help from That Guy and a friend.

My wood chest came out costing a little under $50.  Here is my cost break down:

Plywood- on hand $0
5 wood pallets - $0
Liquid nails - on hand - $0
Sandpaper - $6
Screws -$4
Stain - $4
Hinges - $8
Sawzall blade - $8
Polyurethane - $16
Less than $50

First we had to source out some free wood pallets.  This was a bit trickier than I had anticipated. I asked a few friends if they had seen any free pallets around the city and one friend "helpfully" told me "They have a ton behind Canadian Tire, just back your car up behind the store and load up".  What I gathered from the employee screaming at me while loading the pallets is that not all wood pallets are free for the taking after all- and the ones behind Canadian Tire are most certainly not.
 So after a bit more asking around a nice gentleman from my church piped up that the place he works gets only "single use" pallets and they would be happy to have me come take some off their hands.

So That Guy went down and loaded up a borrowed truck with wood pallets and surprised me at home one afternoon with them. Some girls get flowers, I love my man all the more when he shows his affection with free building materials for me :)

Next I watched a bunch of tutorials on youtube about the best way to disassemble the pallets. I watched every video method I could find until I was sure I was an expert.  Since I do not have a bunch of fancy tools, I thought I would go with the method wherein you simply knock the wood apart with a hammer.  What could go wrong?
I do NOT know where everyone in those tutorial videos get their wood pallets, but it is not from around here! What happened when I tried to "gently knock the wood apart with a hammer", you ask? Well gentle readers, the answer is so much splintered and broken wood slats. The pallets in the videos must have been put together very flimsily because the pallets I had would not be knocked apart.  The pallets laughed at me for trying (I imagine, haha).

My frustration level now being  rather high I decided the next logical step was simply to borrow a Sawzall (so named because it can saw through anything with the right blade) and simply cut right through all those nails. With the purchase of a metal cutting blade this worked remarkably well!!  Some thoughts on using a Sawzall to cut apart your wood pallets: SAFETY FIRST!!!! Please wear safety glasses- yes you! You need them! Sunglasses are NOT the same, wear safety glasses!  Also, that Sawzall is like a jackhammer in your hands.  So be sure your pallets are properly propped up and supported before you start cutting. Also be sure you have a wide stance and cut away from your body.
The pro here is that this method is about a hundred times faster than hammering or using a crowbar or any other method I saw.  Added bonus is that you get to keep the nail heads in your wood.  This both eliminates many holes that would be otherwise left while adding some real character to your piece.

Once all your pallets are apart comes the sanding step.  **Sigh** This is no ones favourite step, but so necessary.  I do own a palm sander, and I highly, highly recommend you use one too.  Also, buy decent sandpaper.  For this purpose you will find that dollarstore sandpaper is a total waste of time and money. Spend $3 per package and get something that will really do the trick.   I started with a 60 grit paper to get the majority of the imperfections taken care of.  Then I went with a 100 grit, also using decent sandpaper.   After that, your additional grits (I did 120 and 220) can be from the dollarstore since they have less "work" to do and the main function of these grits is to make the wood prettier.
This is where having a dear, loving friend come to your house and help you sand under the noon day sun in your backyard on a day that is 33*C before humidex is invaluable.  Thank you to the moon, Sabrina!!

So much sanding!

Each of the boards on our pallets were 40 inches long, so we decided that was a natural length for our chest coffee table. We did not want to go 40 inches wide because 1. That would make a HUGE table and we did not need that 2. We did not have enough wood pallets on hand to complete a table that big and 3. We wanted to try to make use out of some of the wood that had splintered when I was trying other disassembly  methods.  
We went with  a table that was 40 inches long, 26 inches wide and 15 inches tall including the lid.
So our next step was to cut the boards we needed to be 26 inches into 26 inch boards, haha.

Next we took some of the leftover "scrap" pieces and cut them to be the interior supports.

Finally it was time to get started on the actual assembly! We "dry fit" the chest and That Guy pre drilled the holes he would need.  This is a step that will totally save you time and frustration. Even if you think you don't need to pre-drill your holes, pre- drill them anyways.

We took our internal support and added some liquid nails. I suppose this step is optional but it really does help the piece be stronger, so I recommend it.  Then That Guy put the box frame together using a total of 104 screws (well that was box and lid).

Assembly of  box 

More box assembly
 Next we cut a piece of on hand ply wood  to the size we needed for the bottom of the box, and got that in place.
Bottom going on

Box base done!! :)
Lid done. What a messy yard I had after this project!

 Then I stained it.  I used two sample sized containers of chestnut Varathane stain that I bought from Big Lots! for $2 per container.  Use rubber gloves for this.  Also, when you're done lay your rag flat to dry before you dispose of it, otherwise it can combust.  Really.  We stained the inside and outside of the box as well as the top and bottom of the lid.
After the stain was really dry (we let it sit for 24 hours) we used a "quick dry" Polyurethane to seal it in. I use quotations around "quick dry" because it still had a min six hour dry time. Not so quick. 

Finally we were able to add some hinges and put it in our living room!

I would still love a decorative latch on the side opposite the hinges but I have yet to find just the right one so it will have to wait. 

I love this chest coffee table and spending $800 on the Pottery Barn version certainly wouldn't have made me love it any more!


  1. Fantastic job! I'm totally impressed

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