Build Your Own Industrial-Style Furniture

There are plenty of instructions online, but don't go in blind. Here's what you've got to know first.

Industrial furniture has been in vogue for some time now, and for good reason. Combining repurposed wood with metal plumbing supplies gives you an affordable DIY that adds some rustic relief to an otherwise IKEA-heavy living space. There are a ton of blog posts on how to construct these projects that you can look up to get building, but there are some pitfalls to be aware of before you get started.

The Hardware

The online tutorials toss around a lot of jargon. Here’s a quick lexicon on what they're talking about:

  • Lag screw : A screw with a hexagonal head. Preferred for these projects because they look way more heavy metal than the round screws your parents used to put together their deck.

  • Rough cut or repurposed lumber : Rough cut lumber is hewn from a tree trunk and then shaped into a rectangle. Repurposed lumber is older stuff that's been used for something else a long time, like a barn, and has been beaten by the elements but is still functional. Both of these tend to have really beautiful grains.

  • Flanges : These attach pipes to surfaces. Flanges can be expensive -- Home Depot charges around $4 each. Buying them online doesn’t help much because even though they're often under $2, they're so heavy enough that you make up for it in shipping costs. Since Home Depot matches lower prices, print the web vendor’s info and bring it in. They might cut you a deal.

Finishing Touches

Okay, so you bought some boards and sanded them as smooth as beach wood. Now you have to apply a sealant and perhaps a stain, quite possibly ruining everything. No pressure. A few things to keep in mind:

  • You may not need a stain. If you like your wood grain, you don’t want a stain to hide that. If you just put two coats of polyurethane on it separated by a light sanding with 300-grit paper, it will make the grain pop. It also protects from rings when your stupid friends don’t use coasters. Use satin, water-based polyurethane – it’s the most natural, least shiny look and will dry quickly.

  • If you do use a stain, don't let it dry on top of the wood. If you want a light stain, let it sit for 15 or 30 seconds and wipe it off with an old t-shirt. For a more profound stain, let it sit longer, but still wipe it off in the direction of the grain – otherwise it will be sticky forever.

  • Tung oil and linseed oil are fantastic for subtle colors and really making grain stand out. But be aware they take a very long time to soak into the wood. Like, we’re talking weeks or even months, depending on the size of the project.

Other Tips

Just a couple more things to keep in mind about workflow:

  • Don't try to sand by hand. There's no reason for it until you get into the final stages of finishing. Get a random orbital sander for under $50 and you'll save yourself hours, blisters, and the humiliation of buying one three weeks after you blew off this advice.

  • Planing and jointing -- that is, getting the wood perfectly flat and parallel -- isn't absolutely essential but is definitely advisable. The plumbing pipes and flanges that look cool and industrial are actually made for being inside a wall, not on display. That means the threading might be a little different on each pipe/flange combination. To make things relatively straight on your project, you better start with a level tabletop.

  • Don’t spend $150 on butcherblock lumber. You can use food-safe wood glue and two pipe clamps to turn three 2x6s into a butcherblock tabletop, especially if you’ve planed and jointed them beforehand. If you go that route, use a wet rag to wipe off excess glue while it's still wet. Dried glue with polyurethane looks like earwax.

Now you're ready to tackle the DIY blogs for instructions and get started on a project. And when you're finally done, you're that guy who builds his own furniture.

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