You can add originality to your sofa with do-it-yourself cement legs. These beautiful “designer” replacement legs were made of cement that was cast into low-cost drinking glasses used as molds.
Often when I’m thinking about making furniture, I first decide what shape or style I want and then work through what material and tool choices I have to see if I can get it done. In the case of these legs, I wanted mid-century modern tapered loveliness, but I didn’t have a lathe to be able to shape wood in the conventional way. I perseverated for months. I bought an 80-year-old non-working lathe but later had to admit to myself that I wasn’t ready to get on that train. I tried sanding round and square dowels to the tapered shape. This sort of worked, but was very slow. I thought of buying flat wooden craft circles of different sizes, stacking and gluing them to get the shape. Wow, a lot of work. Also, when I thought about different ways of making the coveted mid-century modern tapered leg, I always weighed the reality that I could make it this way (whatever way I was considering), but if it was going to look bad (and there was a good possibility of it looking bad), and the tools and supplies were going to cost a fair bit of money, why not just go to one of those Etsy shops and drop a few dollars on some very lovely turned wood tapered legs. Why not!
Well, some day I probably will, but in the meantime, the cement idea came to me. And as much as I like tapered wood legs, I adore the aesthetics of the concrete. And I can make four of them for less than buying one of the wood lovelies, which is a consideration right now, with wood lovelies being way down on the list of things to spend money on.
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The Cement Replacement Sofa Leg project has three main parts:
This coffee table is made of construction-grade lumber with plumbing pipe legs. Being very sturdy, it can also be used as a bench.
MAKING THE PLUMBING PIPE LEGS
four 3⁄8” (size) x 12″ (length) galvanized plumbing pipes
four 3⁄8” galvanized pipe flanges
four 3⁄4” rubber chair tips
Bin primer (shellac-based, optional)
spray paint (with rust inhibitor)
These legs are very simple to make. They are made with 3⁄8” galvanized plumbing pipe that comes threaded on each end. This size (3⁄8“) is the “thinnest” I could find locally, at Menards. The matching 3⁄8” flange is only available at Lowes in my area. The next size larger, 1⁄2“, is widely available, an option if you don’t want to track the other down.
The first step is to prep the pipes and flanges for painting. Remove any greasy residue with ordinary dish soap, rinse well, then wipe them down with vinegar. The vinegar pre-treatment helps paint adhere since your paint and the galvanized coating that comes on the pipes/flanges don’t like each other that well. Let them dry thoroughly.
The pipe legs can be painted with any rust inhibiting paint. It’s a good idea to coat them first with BIN primer (shellac-based) but is not necessary. The primer just increases the likelihood that you’ll get good adhesion of your decorative paint finish. Screw the flanges on the pipes before painting. I spray painted my pipes and flanges with the BIN primer then with Rust-Oleum Universal Metallic Flat Soft Iron spray paint as my finish coat.
I let the paint cure for a day, then put a 3⁄4” rubber chair tip on the end of each pipe. (You will need bigger chair tips if you used pipe larger than 3/8.”)
Here’s a photo of the finished leg. This plumbing pipe leg is a workhorse that can be used for all sorts of furniture projects where you need something very sturdy. The chair tip gives it a modern retro utilitarian look. (Yes, I’m laughing at myself as I write this!)
MAKING THE COFFEE TABLE TOP
one 2 in x 10 in x 8 ft pine board (lumber)
one 1 in x 6 in x 8 ft pine board
circular saw with crosscutting blade (optional)
pencil, tape measure, ruler
palm sander (or orbital sander), sandpaper
#10 x 1 3⁄4″ flat-head wood screws
drill, #8 drill bit for wood
clear wood finish (such as Zinsser SealCoat and Minwax Wipe-On Poly)
The top of the coffee table is made of one 2 in x 10 in by 8 ft long construction-grade lumber board, cut in half to give two 4 ft boards. Construction lumber is one of my favorites, partly because it is inexpensive (board for this table top was about $7 at Menards) and partly because I like wood that has “character.” When shopping for wood, I look for interesting wood grain, rough edges, knots, color. Maybe you’ve seen me. I’m the crazy lady in the lumber isle moving stacks to find the perfect board.
You might not want to go so rustic. If that’s the case, look for “clear” lumber that has minimal defects (knots, cracks, stain, etc.). Or you may even want a hardwood coffee table top, like oak or cherry. Get a board that speaks to you, that lifts you up in spirit when you look at it. The top is the main focal point of this coffee table, so no sense making it with wood you are not that fond of looking at. That’s how I think about it anyway.
So get your 8 ft board (or buy two 4 ft boards). Most stores that sell lumber will cut it in half for you, or you can do it yourself with a circular saw. If cutting it yourself, be sure to use a blade that is intended for crosscutting (across the grain), rather than “ripping.” When I cut mine, I had no idea there were different types of blades. I just used what we had in the circular saw. It was so hard to cut, I thought there was something wrong with the saw. So I looked into it, and fiddlesticks! A crosscutting blade is needed for making cross cuts in lumber. Lesson learned.
Next, put your two 2 in x 10 in boards together. I flipped and turned mine to decide which way the grain patterns and knots looked best. Once you get that set, measure the width of the two boards together. Because my boards weren’t square, I left a little gap between the boards so that the overall width was the same at both ends of the future coffee table top. So if you are leaving a gap, include that in your width measurement. Then cut two pieces of the 1 in x 6 in board to this width. Cut one 1 in x 6 in board at 36 in. This board will be attached to provide support along the underside length of the coffee table.
At this point, I noticed that one board was higher than the other on one end when they were laying flat on the floor. Because I wanted a flat coffee table top, I sanded this down. I started with a palm sander and 40 grit sandpaper, but switched to my belt sander to get it done faster.
Now sand, sand, sand. You can sand as much or little as you want. I tend to sand the heck out of things. I started with 60 grit sandpaper and moved up to 100, 150, then finally 220 grit. I spent a lot of time with the 60 grit sandpaper on the ends of the boards, which were very rough, before moving on to the medium (100, 150) and fine (180, 220) grit sandpaper. I sanded for at least an hour. I usually find it easier to pre-sand boards, but you could put the coffee table top together (described below) and then sand. Safety reminder: Sawdust is hard on the lungs, so always wear a dust mask when you sand.
Next, you will attach the three 1 in x 6 in pieces to the underside of your 2 in x 10 table top boards. These boards connect the top boards together and help minimize warping. Flip your two 2 in x 10 in boards over so that the “good” side is toward the floor and the underside is up. Don’t forget to do this! Now pick up one end of both boards and make sure the boards are oriented how you want them relative to each other. Are they positioned how you want them? Okay, time to put the coffee table top together.
I used #10 x 1 3⁄4” flat-head wood screws, and a #8 wood drill bit. I marked the drill bit at 1 3⁄4” with a piece of green painters tape as a drill bit depth guide. I always drill a pilot hole, then put the screw in before going on to the next pilot hole.
You can see in the photo below the general placement of the support boards and screws. The exact placement of the screws doesn’t matter. I need to mention that if you notice in this photo there is one longer board along the center and two smaller boards on each side of it in the center. This is where you will install your 36 in long board (1 in x 6 in). You won’t need three boards here, just the one 36 in board. I originally installed the legs in a different location, but didn’t like it, so I rearranged things. This is what I ended up with.
Before you put your legs on, apply finish to the coffee table top. The first step is to vacuum it good to remove sawdust. So far in my young history of making furniture, I almost always put clear finishes on wood instead of stain. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that I have worked mainly with pine, which is notoriously hard to stain and have it look good. The reason pine is hard to stain is that it is a soft wood with open pores that “take up” the stain unevenly. The uneven stain uptake makes the wood look “blotchy” or “muddy.” And I’m not kidding when I say it can look bad. The second reason is that I love seeing the wood grain. That’s just me.
I have heard that dark-stained wood is in style right now, so there’s that. If you want to try to stain your pine boards, first seal the wood with a coat of dewaxed shellac, such as Zinsser SealCoat, or a wood conditioner. The dewaxed shellac seals the wood so that any subsequent stain stays on the wood surface, and doesn’t get into the pores to make it blotchy. Wood conditioner, used with oil-based stains, decreases blotching but I’m not sure how it works. Neither dewaxed shellac or wood conditioner are foolproof as far as blotching. Always test your staining strategy on scrap wood of the same type as the wood you’ll be staining. Research the pre-treatment products in relation to the stain you’ll be using. I’ll probably get into staining as time goes on and furniture gets made, so later I’ll have more to tell you about that.
I sealed my coffee table top with Zinsser SealCoat, which I mentioned is dewaxed shellac. I like the look of dewaxed shellac as a final finish, but it is not very protective. I wanted a finish that won’t scratch easily or get water stains because this coffee table will get a lot of use. So after the shellac, I applied several coats of Minwax Wipe-On Poly Clear Satin, a thinned clear polyurethane finish that is very easy to apply. I applied both the shellac and polyurethane with pieces of an old cotton t-shirt.
The pre-treatment coat of shellac is not really necessary with the wipe-on poly, but I like it because the wipe-on poly has a slight yellow color to it, and I don’t want the pine to suck it up and turn it slightly blotchy. Okay, I’m really not sure if that happens, but I do the SealCoat first anyway.
Another finish I have used is Minwax Satin Polycrylic Protective Finish. This is water-based, and I don’t put the shellac coat under this because it is very clear. I apply this with a paint brush. I have found that this dries so quickly that I have trouble with it leaving visible brush strokes unless I add a little Floetrol, which is a paint aide that slows drying.
ATTACHING THE LEGS TO THE COFFEE TABLE TOP
coffee table top
plumbing pipe legs
pencil, tape measure/ruler
#10 x 1 3⁄4″ flat-head wood screws
drill, #8 drill bit for wood
Position the flanges of the legs 1 inch from the outside edge of the end boards. Mark the location of the screw pilot holes. Like before, put painters tape on your drill bit 1 3⁄4” from the end of the bit, and drill your pilot holes to the depth of the tape. Attach the legs with #10 x 1 3⁄4” flat-head wood screws.
Two of my flanges did not lay flat on the wood, which meant that the legs “leaned,” and who likes that? The legs looked wonky, and not in a good way. In this situation, leaners can happen for two reasons that I can think of. The flanges are not always perfectly flat, and combine that with wood that may not be flat, and you can get legs that don’t stand “true.” I wanted the legs to be perfectly perpendicular to the floor, you know, like store-bought furniture.
It took some trial and error to get them all straight, but here’s how I got them in order. I backed out the screws a bit and put cut pieces of wood shims underneath the flanges on the offending side(s). I then tightened the screws and checked to see if they were true. I used a level to check the legs, but really you can use anything that has a similar shape and can be positioned next to the leg. You want the distance between the leg and the level to be the same from top to bottom (see photo). To see how true the leg is, check at two places, 90 degrees apart. (The flange screws are 90 degrees apart.)
That’s it! Here are a few more photos.
I hope you liked this coffee table project. As you can see, inexpensive pine lumber boards and plumbing pipes are the perfect ingredients for sturdy, beautiful coffee tables. Now go make some furniture!