Q&A / 

Dining Room Table

cable spools for table legs

Dining Room Table | These cable reels make excellent pedestal bases for a table.

DEAR TIM: It is a very long story, but I have a dining room with eight chairs and no table. Ten days from now, I am having a dinner party and do not have the thousands of dollars at this time to buy the table I really want. I have any number of oversized table cloths so whatever table I use will not really be seen. Money is really tight after the holidays so what in the world can I do? Mary R., Cincinnati, OH

DEAR MARY: Oh gosh, you are in a bind! Fine furniture that can last generations can be expensive but it is also worth the wait. But as you outlined, that option is not on the table - no pun intended. As desperate as your dilemma sounds, I have been faced with them before on past remodeling jobs where I needed to provide customers a temporary table. You may find this hard to believe, but I can produce the sturdy table you need in one hour at a cost less than $40.00.

What size should your table measure?

The economy table that will hide under your tablecloth needs to be eight feet long, 42 inches wide and 30 inches high. These dimensions match those of most dining room tables that will seat 8 people comfortably: three on each side and a person at each end of the table. The actual height of a table is fairly critical and is commonly matched to the height of the chairs. If you have a breakfast or kitchen table in your home, move one of your dining room chairs up to it, sit down and check to see if you feel comfortable at the table. If so, the dining room table you are going to assemble should match that table height plus or minus one-half inch.

What is the least expensive solution to a quick table?

The least expensive solution and the one that can be assembled with minimal ease requires two stops on your trip to acquire material. You need to visit a lumber yard and an electrical parts distribution business. The electric parts business is one that typically sells all of their products to residential, commercial and industrial electricians. These are the places where you will find circuit breaker panels, specialty switches, conduit of all types, etc. But they almost always have hundreds of large empty cable reels back behind the warehouse. These reels sometimes are available for free or can be purchased for a very small fee.

What is a cable reel?

A cable reel is a round object that holds long lengths of electrical cable. It is the same thing you have on a fishing rod, but much larger. They come in all sorts of sizes and I know for a fact you can get ones that are perfect for your needs. You need two cable reels that measure 29 inches wide and 25 inches in diameter.

Can a cable reel or reels make a base for a table top?

dining room table

This table was assembled in 10 minutes. The rest of the time was spent cutting the plywood and rounding the corners.

When you place these cable reels on their side, they make solid bases for the table top. The 29 inch width becomes a 29 inch high platform when the reels are laid on their sides. You will then place a three-quarter inch thick piece of plywood on top of the reels to create the actual table. The reels should be placed in the center of the room spaced just one foot from each other. This will create 8.5 inches of overhang on the sides and a generous 17 inch overhang at each end of the table top. Once the plywood is in place, drive 4 two-inch long screws through the plywood into each reel to securely fasten the top to the reels.

When you cut 6 inches off the width of the 48 inch plywood to make the top, use a simple wood rasp to round off the corners of the plywood. If you do not do this, there is a good chance the table cloth will tear if pulled against one of the sharp 90 degree corners. It is also a good idea to use some coarse sandpaper on the top edges of the plywood to remove any splinters.

The finished dining room table

The finished product at Mary R's house!

If you have time, you can apply stain that matches your chairs to the lower half of the cable reels. This is not necessary, but it will help to complete the illusion. I would not be concerned in the least about the appearance of this temporary table. When the chairs are in place around the table, there is a very good chance you may not see the cable reels. If you are worried, use the same slight of hand magicians use. Direct your guests attention to a magnificent centerpiece arrangement in the middle of the table!

Mary R. wrote back after the party. Read her email to me below!

If you can't find cable reels, you can use simple saw horses to support the plywood top. Many home centers have simple parts that allow you to create saw horse using metal brackets and 2x4 material.

If you choose to do this, be sure you install diagonal cross bracing on the legs of the sawhorses. This bracing is additional 2x4 material that travels from the top of on leg to the bottom of the other leg on each sawhorse. Without it, the horses can collapse without warning. An accident like this would be devastating while all the guests were halfway through dinner. Cable reels exhibit enormous stability. A table supported with these will rarely tip over.

January 30, 2004 - I am blessed to get wonderful emails from readers of my column. Here are two that provide great suggestions if you need to make an affordable table:

Your column in today's Chicago Tribune, January 30, 2004, recommends using plywood for a table top. I would certainly want to put an extra cloth sheet folded to the right size on the plywood before placing a tablecloth on it This would prevent more snags and serve as a "silencing cloth". Actually, I would rather see the questioner use a 36 inch flat hollow door from a lumber yard that may have a scratch or two on it. They even come prefinished. Something of this sort can be gotten at "Menard's" or "Home Depot". Just ask around. There are amazing items for little money that are damaged. Being a 75 year old woman who has been the handyman of my home for over 50 years, I enjoy reading what young people like you come up with. Believe me, there is wisdom in old age.


Pat Hutchison

Author's Note: Pat, this youngster appreciates your advice! TC

Jo Potter wrote to me and shared these great comments:

I just read your column on constructing a quick and inexpensive dining table, and thought you might be interested in another method that a friend of mine used. The legs were turned spindles designed for stairs - not the skinny ones, but the ones that would be newel posts or corner posts. They had a square base, probably about 4", then some turning for detail, and a square top. On these was "box" with an edge of wood trim - slightly rounded at the top, then straight. Into this box went a solid core door panel. The whole thing was painted and looked quite nice... not at all like a table made from a door.


February 17, 2004

Well, I just got an email from Mary, the woman who asked me the question that was the seed for this column. Let her tell you how well the table worked:

Hi Tim,

I couldn't wait to let you know that we fooled 'em! The party I hosted was fantastic - great food, great fun and great friends. With all of my china, crystal, and candles out on the table, my dining room looked awesome. I've always wanted a large dining room table because we love to entertain. Having a sit down dinner for 10 is something we've always wanted to do and after last night, will do more often.

We sat down at the table at 8:15 p.m. and got up at midnight. It wasn't until about 11:00 p.m. that I finally had to spill the beans. Someone commented that they didn't remember this neat, large table in our old house so I said it was new. Then, someone said they were looking for a table and asked where I got it. I told them one of my great clients actually made it for me. Then I couldn't stand it anymore - must be that Catholic can't-lie thing in me - so I said why don't you lift the cloth and take a look. THEY WERE SHOCKED!!! They simply could not believe it. The husband of the couple looking for the table told his wife they were finished looking and going to do the same thing. I don't think she will really go for this, but it was cute how much the husband liked the table.

Mary R.


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