This is the story of how we created a farmhouse table for our dining room in the style of Restoration Hardware. It’s a table that goes for anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 in a retail store; yet we made it for a mere fraction of that cost, in our garage.
It all started while looking for furniture for a new home. As you may know, furniture can become very expensive part of moving. Often times people move to save money, only to find that they spent more just in the move.
We were looking for a very specific kind of table; one you might see in a home that’s decorated with a farmhouse feel, made out of wood, heavy, sturdy, rustic, yet elegantly finished and able to seat a big family.
If money were no object, we would fill our whole whole home with furniture from Restoration Hardware. That’s the style we were going for.
At one point, my wife suggested that I build a table. She started searching the Internet for DIY dining room tables. At first I was hesitant, but the more I thought about it, the more I was on board.
This is also the story of how I began my DIY woodworking journey. My grandfather always did woodworking projects, and I always found it fascinating. When I was young, my friend and I would build wooden ramps for our bicycles, just messing around and emulating Grandpa.
When my wife suggested that I go to farmhouse table. It resurrected this memory.
Once I set my mind to it, I was very excited about the possibilities.
The materials to build it would only cost around $300. As a bonus, I could buy new tools with the savings, which would be there for many projects to come.
I stayed fairly true to the design the Tommy went with. I made some simple modifications in the crossbar below the table, and made two benches instead of one.
Everyone that comes to our house is impressed with the quality, craftsmanship, and capacity of our new farmhouse table. It truly is the new center of our gatherings when we have company over.
The table comfortable seats eight without the extensions and we’ve fit as many as fourteen with the extensions connected.
As an added bonus, the project gave me a chance to grow even closer to my grandparents, who had made a piece of furniture for all their grandchildren upon marriage. Since I had waited so long to get married, they were no longer able to make one for us. I stayed in contact with them almost daily while constructing the table to get their advice. So, as it turns out, they were able to give us our wedding present after all!
My grandfather primarily helped me with the cutting, assembling, and problem-solving upfront; and my grandmother helped me with the sanding and finish. This was the arrangement they had in their woodworking days.
At first, I thought the project would take about a month’s worth of weekends. And as I got started, it looked like I was going to hit that goal.
That was until I started sanding. Since I only had a random orbital sander, and the farmhouse table with two benches had a lot of surface area, it seemed to take forever. The surface area had to be finished so people can sit on the benches, put their arms on the table, and eat off of it comfortably.
It ended up taking me about three months total, putting in about 20 hours per week. The reason it took so long was in large part because it was the first time I made the table, and my first major woodworking project in general.
I now find that the second time I do a DIY project it usually goes about twice as fast. Plus, next time I’ll use a belt sander, which will probably save me about a month.
Even though it took longer than expected, especially in a hot Texas garage over the summer, it was well worth it. I would recommend the experience to anyone. I’ve been asked many times, after someone sees the table, if I would consider making one for them as well. “How much would it cost,” people like to ask.
In reality, if you take the amount of time it took, and multiplied it by the hourly rate I charge clients for content marketing services, one might as well buy it at Restoration Hardware for a fraction of the price. But, I’m not into DIY woodworking to make money. I do it for a creative outlet, to work with my hands, and for the satisfaction that brings when I make something useful for my family or someone else.
It’s very possible that I’ll make one for someone else one day, but I don’t believe in charging friends and family for a gift like this.
This is a project that a fairly new woodworker could pull off. The difficulty comes in the amount of time and labor that you have to put into it, not necessarily the technique. You can get away with just a few tools such as a table saw, sander, and clamps; but you would definitely save time with more advanced tools such as a sliding miter saw, belt sander, router, etc.
You also have to remember that the finished table is going to weigh a lot more than several people are capable of carrying. We decided that if we ever move again, we will move the table top separately from the base.
I decided to go all out by choosing the largest table of the plans that Tommy offered. I made two benches, and I made two extensions.
The project would become a little easier if you were only doing one or two of these components.
Everyone wants to know what kind of wood it’s made of. I think they’re probably expecting something fancy. I like the fact that it’s made out of simple #2 pine lumber that you could find at most local hardware stores.
You may not be able to find all of the types of wood you need at a big box hardware store. For example, to find 4 x 4’s of #2 pine, I had to go to my local mom-and-pop hardware store. But, I kind of like the fact that I got to know it, and now I’m a regular.
I decided to use pocket holes, which means buying a Kreg jig (around $100), and I’m glad I did. It hides the holes and it creates a very solid joints.
I ended up buying several hundred Kreg screws along with the Kreg jig..
Other materials that went into the table included lots of wood glue (my grandfather loves Gorilla Glue), and little wooden connector dowels to hold the tabletop together.
I’ll separate the tools needed for this project into those that are absolutely necessary (for minimalists), and optional tools: which are helpful and will speed up the project, but could be left out in a pinch.
Initial Design Decisions
The first decision was how big we wanted the table. It’s important to measure your dining room (or were whatever room you’re going to put it in) before you start the project. Make sure there’s enough room to walk around the table while someone sitting down at it.
Another consideration is how many people you’d like to entertain at the table. We decided to go with a fairly large table that, with extensions, could seat as many as 14 people.
General assembly steps
For very detailed assembly instructions, I would highly recommend the article on TommyAndEllie.com. In general, this is the order in which I recommend completing the project:
- Cut down all the wood to size.
- Notch out the legs and cross-bars using a table saw and chisel
- Sand down all the pieces with a belt sander working up to 200 grit
- Assemble the base using a Kreg Jig
- Assemble the table top using a Kreg Jig and/or a Dowling Jig and wood glue.
- Heavily sand the whole table, with special emphasis on the table and bench tops with a random orbital sander working up to 300 grit.
- Move the table top and base separately to the dining room (covered with drop cloths).
- Apply pre-stain conditioner and stain to the base
- Attach the table top to the base, being VERY careful not to punch a screw through the table top.
- Apply pre-stain conditioner and stain to the table top, benches, and extentions
- Apply five coats of urethane top coat to everything, lightly sanding with damp, 800 grit wet/dry sandpaper
- Let it dry for several days and enjoy!
As I mentioned before, the finish is the hardest and most time consuming part. It will test your patience, which is why I imagine my grandfather always left it for my grandmother.
You start by sanding… Lots and lots and lots of sanding. You can start with a belt sander, But you’ll need to finish with a random orbital sander.
As my grandmother told me, knowing when you’re done is an individual preference. Use your fingers to test the texture and stop when it’s to your satisfaction. There are going to be flaws, so just realize that’ll be part of the character.
The most important part, to me, is to become perfectly smooth on the table top and the bench tops. I spent the most time on those portions and a little less time on the legs, and even less time on the underside of the table.
When it’s smooth to your liking, it’s time to start the finish.
Finishing is more of an art than a science. If you read 10 different blogs, you’ll find 10 different techniques. And the same goes for anyone you ask. Because of this, I defaulted to someone I trusted the most in this matter, my grandmother.
She set the foundation for my finish, and then I added some techniques that I picked up online.
Here’s the order of elements I used in the finish:
- Pre-stain conditioner
- One coat of stain
- Five coats of General Finishes EnduroVar
There was some light sanding with 800 grit wet/dry sandpaper in between, but that was about it.
You’ll find a lot of debate online on how much to sand and with what kind of paper. Also, some people suggest using a sanding sealer in addition to or in place of pre-stain conditioner.
Oil vs. Water-Based Finishes
One big decision you’re going to have to make is whether to use oil or water based finishes. The first piece of advice my grandmother had for me was to use a water-based clearcoat on top. She calls it varnish, which is a little bit more specific than what I was using, but I’ll go with varnish.
She suggested a water-based topcoat for number of reasons. First, it’s much easier on your nose and senses, especially if you’re doing the finish in the house. Oil-based finishes will just about run you out of house and home.
Second of all, it dries much faster: as fast as 30 minutes; as opposed to several hours or more for oil-based.
In addition, the cleanup is much much easier.
Defenders of oil-based topcoats will cite durability and quality as the main reason. While this may have been an argument 20 years ago, water-based finishes have come along way. In fact, the finish I used (Endurovar by General Finishes) actually emulates an oil-based finish.
One thing I liked about oil based finishes is that they leave a golden tint on the piece of furniture, which will glow in the light at certain angles. Depending on your taste, this is either a good thing or a bad thing. I thought it gave the finish some really cool depth and brought out the grain. The Endurovar finish emulated this golden quality just like an oil-based finish.
You also want to consider that on a piece of furniture like a table, there will be lots of hands, silverware, plates, cufflinks, kids toys, etc., banging up against it. That’s why it’s important to use a high-quality topcoat that will stand the test of time. I don’t recommend settling for a lower quality topcoat that you might find at a big box store.
I learned quite a bit on this, my first large-scale DIY woodworking project. For example, these projects always take twice as long as you think they will.
Sand First, Then Assemble – Next time, I will sand all the individual pieces before I assemble them, and then give it a final sanding once it’s together. In this project, I waited until it was assembled to sand, and it becomes hard to reach some of the corner areas. Plus, before the wood is assembled, you can rotate it in any direction to find the most convenient sanding angle.
Careful With the Wood Glue – I also learned that wood glue can be a mess if not controlled. I was pretty sloppy when applying the wood glue to the tabletop, which led to agonizing hours with the sander and an exacto-knife. Once you put the stain down, the areas that still have glue present will remain a lighter color than the others. There are a few of those areas on my table, (but I never point them out to guests!)
Warp – It’s almost impossible to completely avoid warp on the finished table. Start by choosing the straightest boards you can find in your lumberyard. I was lucky to find a very patient employee at the yard who helped me sort through hundreds of boards to find the straightest boards with the fewest knots.
Even if you find the straightest boards you can, you’ll still find that they want to go every which direction. Binding them together helps to tame their wild tendencies, but in the end, I still had a little bit of unevenness. I placed felt pads under all of the legs, and some of the legs received two pads to compensate for warp. No one ever notices and it feels perfectly flat.
Remember, a craftsman never points out flaws to his or her guests!
The First Use
Using the table for the first time with family was a very gratifying experience. Everyone wanted to run their fingers on the smooth finish and admire the beautifully stained wood grain. All the long hot hours in my garage paid off. Now, we feel a special sense of pride every time we use it.
I’ll leave you with a funny story. The other day, we had guests over for dinner. My wife told them that I had made the table. “That’s nice,” one of our guests said, thinking she meant that I had just “set” the table.
As my wife continued to tell the story about how we found the design and bought the materials and made the thing in the garage, a lightbulb went off in our guest’s head. “He MADE this?”
“Yes, he made it.”
She was shocked.