The Benchwright coffee table from Ana White (originally by Pottery Barn) has been on my wishlist ever since we moved to the farm. I loved the look of it, the storage potential that came with the drawers and lower shelf, and the DIY factor–building myself versus buying is pretty much always a win.
Well, I’m excited to share that the coffee table is finally done, just in time for Ellie’s arrival.
In a lot of ways, the new coffee table may not look all that different from our old one.
The old one cost $15 at a garage sale when Matt and I were furnishing our very first house. My Dad helped me add a lower shelf, and then I painted the whole thing dark brown–and I just discovered that I missed a spot on the inside of one of the legs. It only took me 10 years to notice. Whoopsie.
The size and the shelf worked really well for us, so I knew I’d like those on the Benchwright. But I was ready to move away from the heavy brown paint to real wood, and I loved the idea of drawers to tuck things away–like remotes, if it turns out our new small person likes buttons.
I won’t post a full tutorial because Ana’s plans have that pretty well covered. I’ll talk a bit about some of the changes I made and what worked and what didn’t.
I will say that this is my first time using an Ana White plan. I think her library is a tremendous resource for DIYers. I would agree with the “advanced” rating on this plan, not because of the drawers or overall complexity, but because a certain amount of detail is skimmed over on the plans.
I’m not sure if this is typical of Ana’s plans, but I often had to study the drawings, written instructions and cut list together to figure out what piece went where. In fact, I had two tabs open on my computer so that I could quickly reference the cut list without scrolling up and down repeatedly.
Nothing stumped me, but I did spend some time figuring things out as I went, and I think that would have been the case even if I hadn’t customized the plan.
Speaking of, I made one big change to this coffee table by doubling the number of drawers so that we had two on each side.
On the fireplace and TV side we can store newspaper, the lighter or DVDs.
Then on the couch side we can tuck away remotes, magazines, books or other Mama and Daddy things.
The shelf underneath can hold bébé things, like toys or books–and be easily accessed for time in the
baby jail play yard.
Doubling the number of drawers was not as difficult as I thought it might be. If you want to do this yourself, it’s important to start building the coffee table at step 8, the drawer frames.
Two sets of drawers slightly changes the dimensions of the coffee table, so you need the drawers first to determine all of the other measurements.
In Ana’s plan, the table measures 24 inches wide from the outer edge of each leg (this is not the overall width, as the top has an overhang that makes Ana’s table 27 1/2 inches wide in total). My table ended up being 27 1/4 inches from leg to leg.
In Ana’s plan, her drawers are 16 inches deep. I didn’t want the table to turn out too much wider than hers, so I shortened the drawers to 12 inches. All of the length measurements I kept the same. As you can see from the measurements above, my table ended up being 3 1/4 inches wider than Ana’s–not too much bigger.
I made two face frames–Ana’s plan calls for just one–so that I had one for each set of drawers. All of the drawers connect to one centre support, which again, I built according to Ana’s plan. The only change was the location because my support is right in the middle of the table.
The back end of the drawer slides share the centre support. Installing the drawer slides determined the placement of all of the frames and the overall dimensions of the table. I used 12 inch drawer guides by Richelieu and attached them with 3/4 inch screws.
Drawers are intimidating to a lot of people. They’re actually not all that difficult. With purchased slides, you build your drawers to be 1 inch smaller than your opening. The slides take a half inch on either side.
On the table, you attach the slides in 3/4 of an inch from the outside edge. On the drawer, you attach them even with the front edge of the box. At the end, you cover the front of your drawer box with a “face” that hides the slides and the gaps. (Ana’s plans cover all of these details, so trust the instructions.)
Ana preaches throughout the plan the importance of building your drawers and frames square. I found that wasn’t a huge challenge. I followed the measurements, used my speed square and made sure my saw blade was set properly. The result was that everything stayed pretty square.
Once I had the drawer frames built and the slides installed, I knew what the new width of the coffee table was going to be. Again, 27 1/4 inches (not factoring in the top).
This affected the side “aprons” on the top and bottom, and the dimensions of the bottom shelf and top. Again, I kept the length and height the same as on Ana’s plan.
So with the drawer frames done, I went back to step 2 and started building the base. I say step 2 because for the bottom shelf (step 1), I used a piece of nice plywood, rather than piecing it together out of 1x12s as the plan called for. I had some good quality plywood leftover from another project, and it seemed easier to use that when I would have had to add an additional small piece of lumber to the 1x12s to get the width I needed.
The one issue that I uncovered with the base, which would have been an issue even if I’d built the coffee table completely according to plan, was teeny gaps around the legs and drawer frames. Ana’s plan relies on exact measurements of your lumber. As in no overlap.
They’re little tiny hairline gaps (despite looking giant in that picture), but they had me worried for awhile. I didn’t love the idea of seeing the gaps on my finished table. Fortunately, with the drawers and top in place, there are enough shadows that you can’t tell the joints aren’t completely tight. If I shine a flashlight through them, you’d see them, but I don’t expect that to happen, so I’m not worrying about them now.
For the top, you may recall that I debated whether 1-by or 2-by stock was the best choice. The resounding feedback on my last post was 2-by and you guys were all right.
When it came to the top, I decided that I wanted less of an overhang than Ana’s plan called for. Her table appears to have a roughly 3 inch overhang on either end and 1 3/4 inch overhang on the sides. I decided a 1 inch overhang all the way around was what I was aiming for, which meant my top was going to be 52 inches by about 30 inches.
The top is probably the area I struggled with most. Calculating the dimensions and the materials I needed wasn’t the problem. The problem was the wood itself. I bought all of my lumber at Home Depot, and the selection at my local store was terrible. In the 2×8 and 2×6 piles (I ended up using both to get the measurements I wanted), most of the wood looked like it had been chewed by a wild animal. Those that hadn’t been mauled were twisted like spaghetti noodles. In hindsight, I should have gone to my local lumber mill, but after this pregnant lady had single-handedly dismantled most of the stack, I just wanted to buy some wood and go home.
As I did when I made our wood countertop, I had the wood milled to ensure my pieces were completely square without the rounded edges typical of stock lumber. The staff member at HD was not at all happy by my request (apparently they’re not permitted to rip lumber like that), but he did it for me (looking over his shoulder for his manager the whole time).
The square edges make it much, much easier to get a tight joint and smooth top between the boards. However, because my lumber was so badly warped, we ended up with a few imperfect joints. Matt used all of his strength to try and hold the boards straight while I screwed them together (using my Kreg Jig).
In the end, the joints aren’t bad, but they aren’t great. I used a bunch of woodfiller, which is visible along some of the joints. I also sanded and sanded a few spots that were particularly chewed, which gave us a couple of dips.
The biggest issue though is that the top as a whole had a huge twist from the warped boards.
When we attached the top to the base, it pulled the base out of line. We ended up with a very tippy table. Matt’s advice was to ball up some paper and tuck it under the elevated leg. Thank you, husband.
My solution was that we each spent some time sitting on opposite corners of the table, trying to bend the top back into shape. We managed to twist it in the right direction a bit, but not quite all the way. I leveled it with a stack of foam pads. Perhaps not all that different than a ball of paper, but I feel like it’s a little less obvious.
Fortunately, all of our drawers still slide nicely and haven’t been pulled too far out of square. Just in case each drawer fits slightly differently, I’ve labelled the bottom and frame of the drawers so that we know which goes where.
None of our furniture is precious, so I’m happy to live with the top as it is. We have meals and snacks at this table. We put our feet up. Some day, Ellie will likely be drumming and then colouring on the coffee table. I’m not going to worry about any of it.
If I decide to in the future, the top will be easy to rebuild–with better lumber. It could also be replaced with a beautiful live edge piece if I want to go for something a little more precious.
We finished off the table with stain in Minwax Provincial, a couple of coats of Varathane and simple black handles from Lee Valley.
I’m very pleased with how it all came together and that we were able to build this ourselves. I love having it in the living room after years of envisioning it in our home.
Thanks Ana for a very good plan. Thanks everyone for your input on this project. If you have any questions about the drawers or other aspects of this table, please leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to explain my process.