Ok, I get it. These old factory carts like the one on the left are cool. They sport an appealing combination of rustic wood and old metal hardware. What’s not to like about that? You can practically see an army of grimy 11-year-old children push these carts around some nameless factory in the 1920s. These poor kids would probably roll over in their unmarked graves if they knew these same carts were now being resold to a new generation for upwards of $2,000.
Offered everywhere these days from the likes of Restoration Hardware, vintage factory carts are indeed an awesome choice for your next coffee table. But here’s the problem. I only have one spot in my house where a coffee table looks appropriate. But I do have lots of rooms that need side tables. I think you see where I’m going with this. It’s factory cart meets side table time. Besides a slightly wider dimension, I also will put drawers on the opposing sides to make this piece look more like a functional factory cart and less like a side table with wheels.
I’m using the same reclaimed wood that I have in the last couple of my woodworking projects; reclaimed gangway planks. These boards vary in length and height but average about 2″ in thickness. I’ve milled the boards into lengths that are roughly the width of their average thickness and cut enough material to make 2 side tables.
You can change the heights of your vertical sections to accommodate the height of your sofa, bed or whatever you are using these side tables alongside. After the initial cuts, I’ve rough sanded the material with 40 grit and 120 grit sandpaper. Then, I will go over all the material to figure out which sides I’d like to showcase and which are to far gone. The latter will be rotated on the inside of the table frame.
Now to start with the assembly. I’m using wood screws with hardwood dowel plugs which makes things pretty straight forward. The vertical lengths are offset slightly for a small aesthetic preference. Otherwise, the butt joint looks a bit forced.
Also, another option is whether to place a solid piece of material on top of the frame or to have the top piece replace the framing material. As you can see from the photo to the left, I’m using an identical frame on the top and the bottom and will later use a slightly larger board on the top of the table.
Now, I will go ahead and thoroughly sand with 120 and 220 grit sandpaper. After checking the entire unit over for any squiggly marks left by the rougher sanding sessions, I will stain the entire piece. I’m going with Briwax Dark Brown here as a I plan to use a lighter tone on the drawers. Important for even application that the Briwax has melted. After the Briwax goes on, I’ve applied Minwax Classic Grey. I use this stain to mostly fill in the holes and dents of the wood while toning down the brightness of the Briwax. Without this grey stain, you’d use a lot of the more expensive Briwax material to fill in the voids.
After the side tables have been stained, I started to work on the drawer fronts and table sides. Unlike the reclaimed dresser that I built in a previous blog entry, I didn’t want to use barn wood as they didn’t use that type of material inside a factory. However, I took some of this barn wood that had the traditional raised grey texture and run it through the planer. I was a bit surprised just how great the wood looked. It has a warm hue while displaying the endearing marks of wear from it’s years outside. Just a quick wipe with Briwax Light Brown and it was good to go.
Next, I banged out the drawers. These are crafted with 3/4″ cedar planks that I purchased from my local home improvement center. Like some of my other projects, I don’t use fancy routing or joining techniques for these drawers. In fact, they are very heavy and crude. I justify this by pointing to the original factory carts. While they weren’t made out of lightweight cedar, they are heavy, crude and built thick. Life in a factory is hard. Since the drawers are on both sides, they are very small. Big enough to hold a remote or a diaper. Not big enough for a bag of Doritos.
After these elements have been completed, I set out working on the table tops. I’ve made the top slightly wider than the underlying frames and rounded the corners. If this cart had seen time in a busy factory, it wouldn’t sport fresh cut lines like that of new wood. For that reason and not because I can’t measure, I’ve also varied my dowels and used the sides of the wood that show tantalizing wear and tear.
After the top has been screwed on, it’s time to install the metal wheels. Traditional factory carts have swivel castors on each end and a single pair of larger wheels in the middle of the cart. However, I don’t want to walk by the side table, stub my toes and curse your god. Besides, those swivels can cost a lot of dough on eBay. In fact, the hardware is often more expensive than an original cart that includes hardware. Go figure. I’ve used 5″ wheels and had axles made that were the right length to go through the unit and host a set of wheels. I’ve also found cast iron drawer pulls that match the patina of the wheels for the most part. Now all that’s left is a liberal application of tung oil and a thorough buffing. How do you think it turned out?