Do It Yourself Pipe Table, Day One: Planning

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Completed Pipe Table

Custom-built Pipe Table

I’ve liked the look of DIY pipe furniture since I first noticed pieces a few months ago. I thought a pipe table would be pretty easy and economical to make. And I could custom make one to fit my exact needs as I furnish my apartment.

I started with ambitious dreams: I was going to build my kitchen table! I first bought a pocket joiner jig so I could make the tabletop without exposed screws. I’m glad I didn’t jump head first into this big project. Like most things in life, you need to learn to walk before you run.

This weekend I really got the itch to build a short pipe table that can go under my living room window. The window faces east so I’ve got good morning light and is an ideal spot for houseplants. The windowsill is 22 inches above the floor and 71 inches wide. That’s an odd size for a commercial table. Since the table is small and meant for plants this is a good project to follow my pipe dream [hah!]

Pipe Table Planning

pipe table sketch

Initial pipe table sketch – I told you I’m no artist!

I started the project by sketching the dimensions for the pipe table. I’m nobody’s artist so my sketches look like stick figure people but they helped me collect my thoughts.

My table legs needed some way to keep them from splaying out. This simple design has crossbars between the legs on each short side and another crossbar running the width of the table.

Tee fitting

Tee fitting

My pipe legs use tees to hold the pipe sections together. A tee is a steel pipe fitting that is shaped like a letter “T” (figures, right?) The purpose of a tee is to connect three sections of pipe together.

The top and bottom of each pipe leg are terminated with a flange. A flange is a flat piece that screws onto the end of the pipe and has screw holes in it. It makes for a broad flat foot on the bottom and provides a way to attach the leg to the underside of the tabletop.

Pipe flange

Pipe flange

Shopping for Pipe Table Parts

Once I had my basic plan together I went to the local Home Depot to get an idea of how much this project would cost. I knew how many pieces I needed and I had a good idea of the sizes. What I was really vague on was how much pipe I’d need.

When I got to the Depot I went to the plumbing department and looked at my options. The pipe I chose is called “Schedule 40” steel pipe. Schedule 40 pipe has a moderately thick wall and is typically used for high-pressure liquids and gasses. One-half inch pipe looked too wimpy, and one-inch pipe looked too fat. The 3/4 inch diameter is just the right size for this project.

Schedule 40 is a great choice for making furniture because it is readily available and is more than strong enough for all household pipe furniture needs. Since we’re making furniture and not transporting liquids and gasses through our pipe we don’t have to worry about using thread tape or pipe dope to seal the joints. We’ll screw the pieces together hand-tight.

By the way, if you look around the Web you’ll see some people make furniture with copper pipe. My advice is: don’t do it! Copper is much weaker than steel and could easily buckle under a heavy weight.

Once I got to the store I found that I can use short pre-cut and pre-threaded sections of pipe called nipples. Nipples come in various lengths from an inch to around 18 inches, and my local Home Depot carries a big variety of them. I made my project much easier by using nipples for the short pieces, and modifying my dimensions slightly to work with the available sizes. With judicious use of nipples, when all was said and done I only had to have one pipe cut and threaded by the staff – nice!

The prototype table leg under the window. With the tabletop on it'll be the perfect height!

The prototype table leg under the window. With the tabletop on it’ll be the perfect height!

Before I committed to buying all the pipes and fittings for the project I purchased the flanges, nipples, and a tee to make one leg. I bought a few different nipple lengths to fit together and see how the height would work out. In other words, I did this because I can’t do “pipe math”.

Second sketch - an end view of the pipe table leg assembly

Second sketch – an end view of the pipe table leg assembly

When I got the leg height right I made another sketch to get a handle on the nipple sizes and number of each I’ll need. Then I made a spreadsheet parts list to calculate the cost of goods, including tax.

Schedule 40 pipe is covered with a film of sticky oil; the oil is a protectant so the pipe won’t rust while it’s on the shelf. You’ll need a degreaser to clean and strip the oil off the pipe. Leave the pipe bare if you wish, or you can get really funky with your color choice (yellow, anyone?) This is your table – get creative with it! Clean the oil off regardless of whether you plan to paint or not.

So far up we haven’t discussed the tabletop. My original thought was to scavenge some scrap pallets and use the wood for the tabletop. The problem is pallet wood is typically pretty thin. I figured I would need to go to the local sawmill to get some wood that would work for me. Before I left the store I headed over to the lumber section to see what they had. The first thing that caught my attention was some cedar fence boards, but they are too thin and bow across a 71″ span. Then I saw some 2×4’s and thought “hey, they’ll fit in just right with the industrial look I’m trying to achieve”.

Now that I’ve got a good idea of the parts I’ll need I’ll have to figure out how I’m going to proceed. Tomorrow we’ll do the actual construction. This is going to be easier than you think – in a few hours you’ll have a beautiful pipe table!

About George

Hi I'm George McDonnell. I live in Northeast Ohio and this blog is full of my thoughts about my lifestyle: Veterans' issues, fitness, men's stuff, apartment life, and Yoga.

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