Something new from The Sniper, Barry Tucker, who joined the Men’s Shed Movement a few months ago to pursue a long-held interest in carpentry.
The project is to salvage a battered low table, restore its metal legs, extend them somehow, rebuild the structure supporting the table top, replace the top and end up with a taller work bench. The timber will come from salvaged pallets.
I inherited the old table below, which had a worm farm sitting on it. The metal legs appear to have been painted with blue enamel; beneath that there are glimpses of a silver finish — probably nickle plate; surely not stainless steel. The first step is to place the table upside down on my new work bench (also made entirely from recycled pallets) and unscrew the timber supports and the table top, which will go to the tip. The old timber supports were a peculiar half-frame that didn’t provide full support for the 3-ply table top (now disintegrating), which was covered with a Laminex-type material.
The goal is to salvage and restore the metal legs and use them to carry an easily squared up, oblong frame to support the new bench top.
The next step is to scrub the rust and peeling paint off the metal legs.
After scrubbing and wiping a good coat of rust-converting undercoat was applied. I will add a layer of enamel spray paint.
The timber for the supporting frame, the bench top and the leg extensions will come from pallets discarded by bulky goods retailers. My last collection included some really solid and lengthy pieces of timber. These pallets are destined for the tip, unless someone picks them up and takes them home for projects like this one.
With patience, care and a lot of muscle, the pallets can be taken apart with a wrecking bar. Be careful with the nails. There are many of them and some are rusty. Nails can be hammered back and pulled out with a wrecking bar; not as easy as it sounds. Alternatively, the protruding nails can be hammered flat, but only if they will be covered with something eventually to protect unwary fingers. Other alternatives are to cut off the protruding nails with a heavy pair of pliers, a nail puller or a small angle grinder
If you are going to dress the recycled timber using a hand plane or any high-speed machinery, or dock or rip the timber, or cut any joints into it you will want to be sure you have removed every nail completely to avoid damaging your equipment or injury to yourself. I got tired of hammering the nails back through and decided to cut them off with pliers. The first sharp I cut off hit me in the forehead! I’ll be wearing goggles when I resume this task and I’ll be armed with heavier pliers.
Pallet nails are made of high tensile steel, I’m told, and are fired into the wood with a nail gun. Some have a twisted shank, like a screw, and have a fine copper thread running through the twist. They do not come out easily. When the sharps are cut off with pliers or an end gripping nail puller they take off like bullets. When they are cut off with an angle grinder they simply fall to the side. Carefully collect and thoughtfully dispose of each sharp to avoid injury to anyone.
I have separated enough timber from one pallet for the oblong-shaped support structure for the bench top and two or three cross sections, to be fixed by half-joints at each end, glued and screwed. I have a choice of thick or thin planks for the bench top.
I added a nail puller and a small angle grinder to my kit this morning. It is worth the expense because I will be recycling a lot of these pallets.
Two main beams were measured, cut, drilled (using existing recessed screw holes in the metal frame) and screwed into position. Everything has squared up perfectly, after pulling on alternating ends of the metal legs to ensure the side and end measurements were exactly the same.
It was necessary to screw the two long beams into position to ensure the cross members could be measured and cut accurately for a firm and strong fit.
The decking, or bench top, will be produced from the narrow pallet in the centre of the picture above. The length of those boards determined the length of the two main beams. This is all undressed timber, with some warping. No need for anything fancy here.
The metal frame has four more recessed screw holes near the centre of the structure. I was going to utilise them, but have decided to spread the two centre cross members further apart.
It is interesting to see the various stages and the available timber come together. I have noticed the same thing when writing fiction, as other authors will be aware. You can write yourself into a pickle and, just when you need it, a solution magically appears.
The next step will be to number each of the cross members before marking out the positions for the half-joints that will fix them into position. This is necessary to ensure each beam ends up in its original marked out position because, again, the timber is undressed, of varying width and thickness and has suffered some warping.
I’m not looking forward to cutting these half-joints with my tricky 4.5 cm hand-held electric saw. The short cutting line soon disappears under the body of the saw, the laser beam guide is useless, the saw pulls to the right and cuts at a slight angle rather than at 90 degrees. The timber I am using for the bench top supporting frame is not the usual soft pine commonly used in pallets. It’s a white hardwood (?) and it’s dense. The saw cuts through it so slowly that every cut is showing burn marks. I’ll try to get a piece of this wood identified at the Men’s Shed. I may have to take the marked up wooden supports to the Men’s Shed to have the half-joints cut on our compound bench saw. It is very accurate and produces a clean finish.
After assembly the wooden support frame will be removed and the metal support structure will be given a thick coat of outdoor enamel over its rust-converting base coat.
One unsolved problem is how to extend the metal legs to give me the height I want. I have drawn up three possibilities, but they all involve too much work. I like a simple design when I can achieve it. The right solution will turn up when the time arrives. Just like getting a fiction character out of a pickle.
I was not able to use the narrow pallet because levering the planks away from their supporting members split the timber almost every time. I couldn’t remove them by sawing through the ends because I had already decided to use them full length.
I had to start again with a heavier pallet. The same problem presented itself due to the nature of the nails. You can see three of them above. I decided to sacrifice the planks on the underside of the heavier pallet by sawing through them, which allowed me to knock the cross members sideways. This loosens the boards and allows the claw of the wrecking bar to get a grip on the nails — one of the recommended methods for dismantling pallets.
A sledge hammer would have been safer than swinging a double-ended mattock across the front of your legs with considerable force. However, the hoe end of the mattock and the mechanical advantage provided by its long handle was perfect for prising the planks loose.
There was still a lot of collateral damage, along with less than desirable planks being salvaged and the better ones being wrecked. Plan B, Mark II, will involve making the bench top from some shorter pieces of timber. It will be fine. Plan B, Mark II, didn’t work because I can’t cut a straight line with my little electric saw!
I took the wood for the bench top supports to the Men’s Shed to finish the marking out and to cut the half-joints. The results were less than desirable because, frankly, I was not listened to by the two professionals who did the job (one completed the marking up and the other did the cutting). My very careful marking out was not accepted because it didn’t line up when the two long beams were placed side-by-side. I explained that some of the undressed wood was slightly warped, its appearance was not critical and everything would line up as intended. Some of my cutting lines were “adjusted” and the width and depth of the half-joints varied.
One of the operators assembled the finished job on the saw bench, but ignored my labeling of Front, Rear, LH side and the numbering left to right of the cross members. When I assembled the support structure in my kitchen, some of the joints had gaps of 2 mm or more, they were not flush and one was so tight it had to be encouraged with a hammer.
I would have preferred to do the job myself, but I haven’t been authorised to use the compound bench saw. That is weird because I use our drop saw, band saw, drill press, belt sander, thicknesser, planing machine and the wood lathes.
Although they are not perfect, the half-joints will do the job of providing a solid base for the bench top. The bench is unlikely to bear more weight than a few pot plants and a bag of seeding mixture or fertilizer. There will be gaps between the bench top planks to facilitate the run-off of rain water and debris.
I took the deck timbers to the Men’s Shed so I could cut clean, straight ends with the drop saw, following a frustrating afternoon trying to do this with a small, hand-held electric saw. The cut drifts to the right and at a slight angle to 90 degrees. A Men’s Shed member who has one of these saws said the cut drifts when the blade heats up; I don’t understand why. When docking (cutting the end off and working across the grain), the saw will cut a straight line if the guide rail is used, but for that you need a square cut on the end of the timber to start with.
The bench top has now been screwed down. There’s a space of about 7 mm between the boards to allow for the run off of rainwater and debris. The next step will be surface preparation, mainly filling the old nail holes, before applying the undercoat and top coats.
I’m leaving the bench at its original height until I come up with the perfect solution for extending the legs. Long legs tend to be unstable, causing sideways movement and twisting. I think a solution will involve a lower shelf, which will stabilise the bench and be useful for storage. I’ve also had some “flashes” about a double-decker bench — the lower deck giving me the height I want and the two decks easily coming apart for greater versatility. I’ve no idea how it might be achieved, as yet, but I am looking forward to the challenge.