Salvaged from the ruins of old homes, factories, and outbuildings, reclaimed wood has a history, heft, quality, and character you won't find in the new stock sold at your local lumberyard or home center. Many vintage beams, joists, and boards were originally cut from trees that grew slowly as they competed for sun and nutrients in forests. This made for tightly spaced growth rings and wood that's typically harder and more dense than timber sourced from many of today's quick-yield tree farms.
Thankfully, buying reclaimed wood has gotten easier and, in some cases, cheaper, given the rising cost of new hardwood, which is often imported from far-flung locales. Expect to pay $2 to $20 per linear foot, depending on the type and dimension. Where you shop also impacts the price. Reuse centers tend to sell old wood "as is" at a discount, but you often have to contend with splinters, grime, and nails. Dealers specializing in vintage lumber charge more in exchange for a wider selection and re-milled wood that's ready to use.
Then there are the lucky finds, such as the three Douglas fir beams that I rescued from a Dumpster. Their massive size—about 6½ feet long by 15 inches wide—made them ideal for a communal dining table like the ones I've been admiring at all those trendy farm-to-table restaurants cropping up everywhere. Read on to see how I made mine.
Overview for Building a Table from Salvaged Beams
Much the way a picnic-table top is constructed, I joined three reclaimed beams from below using 2x8 wood straps secured with 5/16-by-3½-inch lag screws. The industrial-look base is made from ¾-inch gas pipe and coordinating elbows, tees, and flanges, all from the home center. Download a blueprint for the base.
Assemble the Pipe Base
By doing a dry fit with the base resting on the beams and straps, you can ensure proper alignment by loosening or tightening the fittings. Length and width can vary, but table height is typically 28 to 30 inches.
Cut the Two Wood Straps
Cut the two wood straps, and bevel the ends using a compound miter saw. The straps should be a few inches shorter than the width of the three beams clamped edge to edge.
How Long is Too Long
Determine the length of the top, and use a T-square and pencil to mark cutlines across the face of the beams on both ends.
Cut the Beams
With the beams faceup and clamped edge to edge, use a circular saw to make a straight 90-degree cut along your pencil line on each end. Flip the beams facedown, and bevel the bottom edges by adjusting the blade on your circular saw to a 45-degree angle (shown). The bevel gives a beefy top a lighter, more finished look.
Secure the Straps
Clamp the straps to the beams, and drill pilot holes for the lag screws, staggering them every 4 inches. Use a spade bit to bore recesses for the screwheads, and twist in the fasteners with a socket wrench.
Attach the Base
Position the connecting flange for each of the four legs on top of the straps, and mark the screw holes. Remove the base, and drill pilot holes at the marks for ¼-by-2½-inch wood screws. Replace the base and drive in the screws.
Sand the Top
Turn the table right-side up and, wearing a dust mask and protective glasses, use a random-orbit sander fitted with 60- or 80-grit paper to remove the rough top layer. Follow with a finer grit to smooth it.
Complete the Table
Complete the table by applying shellac to darken the wood and seal it. Let dry, and follow with a coat of beeswax polish to fill surface cracks. Now gather your friends for a celebratory potluck to christen your new table.