Welcome! I’ve done something a bit different for this post, because this is actually the conclusion of the coffee table project. If you want to check out this awesome project from the beginning, click here to read Part One first! If you’ve already read part one, carry on!
About to Be Finished!
Once I had the whole table glued together and the two lid panels ready, I used a trim router to rout a cove (little indention) for fingers to more easily grab the lid to open it. This is not necessary, but I thought it looked nice and added a “fancy” element to the design. I also pre-drilled some of the holes for the hinges. To find the location of the hinges took a little math. I knew the overall length of the table and since I had two doors I divided that in half to get two sections. Then I divided each section into thirds (because each door will have two hinges) and marked that spot. That mark would be the center of each hinge. More about the hinges later.
The finish I used on this table is Arm-R-Seal Satin Oil-Based polyurethane by the company General Finishes. It is available at Woodcraft (click here to check it out) and other places and is not terribly expensive. There are of course other quality products out there and if you have a favorite feel free to use that. I used this one because it is super easy to apply and it leaves a very nice clean finish on the work piece. The oil-based polyurethane soaks into the wood and helps to protect it from moisture and small scratches. Since this table will see a lot of wear, it was important to me that the finish be as pretty and durable as possible without covering up the natural look of the wood.
As it says on the can, I first vacuumed the whole table with a shop vac and then cleaned the whole project with a rag with some mineral spirits on it to get up any loose dust. I also made some small panel holders using a scrap piece of plywood and screws. The flat door panels would sit on these while they dried so that the finish wouldn’t be messed up by laying flat on the workbench. Check out the pictures for a closer look at the holders and how they work.
I used a clean rag (not the same as the mineral spirits rag) for each coat of finish, and for the first coat put down a pretty thick layer. A lot of this got soaked into the dry wood, so it almost didn’t look like I had done anything. After each layer, I ran the cloth back and forth across the entire length of the piece to clean up any streaks. Between coats I sanded lightly with a 320 grit sane paper and then re-cleaned lightly with mineral spirits before the next coat. I put on 4 coats in all, about 4 hours apart each. For a great video on how to apply this finish, check out this AWESOME video by Matt Cremona.
One note about my finishing process. Most people like to finish their boards before they assemble the piece, rather than after like I did. I think that could definitely work but I’m always afraid I’m going to nick or scratch the finish during the assembly process so I waited to do it until afterward. In my opinion, there are benefits and drawbacks to doing it either way but as long as you’re careful in what you’re doing the end result can still be beautiful.
Before putting on the hinges I put on the metal frame that would sit under the wooden box and the four cast-iron wheels the table would rest on. I wanted to do this before the lids were on just so they wouldn’t be flopping around or get the finished messed up. During a previous day’s glue-ups I had used my time waiting for the glue to dry to drill the holes in the metal frame. I figured out which side of the frame I wanted to be the bottom and then drilled a small hole through the top and bottom for the screws to go through. After drilling the small holes I went back and drilled them out to slightly over a half inch wide, into just the bottom side. I started with a smaller bit and gradually worked my way up to that size. I also used my drill press which made it very easy and much safer for my wrists than my handheld drill. I used metal screws to hold this on even though they were going into the wood. The larger holes acted as a way for me to get the screw into the wood from inside of the metal frame, and they needed to be that size for me to fit my driver through them. Check out the pictures for a better look.
As I mentioned I also used four cast-iron wheels. One thing I learned about the wheels is that they come in sizes, and the sizes are for the wheel part by itself, not the entire unit. The whole unit also has a bracket to attach it to the project, and that can make it taller than the inch size you are looking for, so take that into account if you decide to use them.
Since my wheels are all able to pivot 360 degrees, I made sure to position them as close to the metal frame as I could while still allowing for their whole movement. I used a pencil to trace the screw holes in the bracket before drilling pilot holes in the wood. ALWAYS drill pilot holes or else you could very easily end up splitting your nice coffee table bottom right down the middle with a big crack.
It All Hinges on This
The hinges I chose have one screw on the top part of the hinge and wrap around the board on the bottom section. The top section is just flat like normal. I like these hinges because they are more or less self-centering from front to back and they’re hidden inside of the table when the door is closed. I only drilled the top hole at first to keep the hinges stationary while I marked and fastened them on the lids. Lastly I put small rubber bumpers on the outside edges of the lids so they would rest quietly on the box when they were closed.
There are lots of different ways to go about putting on the lid side of a hinge. Most of these involve either a friend or some kind of apparatus building to hold the lid stable while you attach the hinges. THERE IS A BETTER WAY! If you lay the box hinge-side-down (generally on its back) and then put pieces of wood the same thickness as the doors UNDER the box to lift it up, then the hinges should be at exactly the right height to install them on the doors. No apparati required. Everything is nice and solid and you can amaze your friends at your resourcefulness.
Testing the Fit
Once everything was secured and attached, I set the table down for the first time on its wheels and checked the doors to make sure they were aligned right. Most hinges, these included, have some elongated holes so that you can adjust the door to fit in different directions. My doors did not fit perfectly at first but after loosening the screws slightly and some adjustments they fit great now. Check that your doors fit nicely both opened and closed. If things are not aligned properly it’s possible they could hit each other if they are both opened together. I also pushed the table around in small circles to make sure that all four wheels rolled well and pivoted like they were supposed to.
In the end, this was a very difficult but very fun project and it’s going to a great home. I learned how to do a lot of techniques I was not familiar with before that now I can use on other projects!
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