Occasionally home renovation projects can yield opportunities to delve into the exciting world of reclaiming “junk” and repurposing it into something useful. Last year while working on a renovation project at an old hotel, I found myself ripping out a set of French doors that were bound for an untimely date with the dumpster. As I took them off their hinges I realized that they were configured in such a way that would lend itself particularly well to a second life as a coffee table. The steps below are a general guide on how to go about doing the same with any old doors in your own home that might be ready for a second life.
Step 1: Create a Design
My particular project had me working with a relatively rare door configuration: two slender French doors that were designed more like sidelights*. Each door had a wood panel on the bottom and two stacked glass panels on top. Each of the two lower wood panel sections would serve as the sides (or legs) of the table, and together the upper glass panels would become the tabletop. Your design may vary according to your own taste and door configuration, but don’t be afraid to get creative. Remember that the focus of many repurposing projects is to accentuate the character and characteristics of the material you’ve saved from the trash heap.
*The decorative panels you sometimes see on one or both sides of an entry door.
Step 2: Cut Up Your Door(s)
This is where you will want to take some time to do a little math. A little patience and planning now will go a long way toward a final product that you can be proud of. Think about things like how high and wide you want your table to be and what features you want to accentuate, and then try to reconcile that with the dimensions and construction of your door. For my project, my main consideration was that I wanted the central stile* on my tabletop to be the same width as my outside rails and stiles. In order to make this happen I first had to cut off the paneled bottom of each door and then rip a small portion off the hinge side of each of the glass panels. Instead of discarding the cutoffs, I used them for lateral supports near the floor, between the legs of the table. These supports weren’t exactly necessary, but when you're working with reclaimed materials it’s always fun trying to figure out how to use every piece of the reclaimed object in your new piece of furniture.
* “Stile” is the technical term for the vertical framing members of a door. The “rails” run horizontally between the stiles. Together, the rails and stiles hold the glass or raised panels in your door.
Step 3: Prepare Your Components
Some older doors might begin to fall apart once you start cutting into them. This is only a problem if they are falling apart due to things like water rot or termite damage. If it looks like the critters have had their way with your door, this may be the time to begin searching for another door to reclaim. A little surface rot in the right place is no big deal if you clean out the soft or loose debris. It’ll probably even add a little character to your final product. Even if your components seem a little rickety or loose, you’re probably still in good shape. In this case all you need to do is shore up any parts that may have come loose during the cutting process. Apply some professional grade wood glue where needed, clamp the piece together, and allow it to set per the glue manufacturer’s specifications.
Step 4: Assemble Your Tabletop
When you are ready to assemble your table’s components, you have numerous options available to you in the way of mechanical fasteners. If you are joining two doors together like I did for my tabletop, the best and fastest way to get a good bond between them is with biscuits and wood glue. If you don’t have access to a biscuit joiner, you can drill corresponding holes on the adjoining side of each panel and connect them with glued dowels instead of biscuits. Be sure to glue both your biscuits/dowels and the adjoining surfaces, and then clamp the pieces together until the glue sets. Remember to wipe off any glue over-squeeze now. It’ll save you having to scrape and sand cured glue off your finished surface later.
Step 5: Attach Your Tabletop to the Legs
For connecting the tabletop and lateral supports to the legs, I like to use a combination of wood glue and countersunk wood screws. A countersink drill bit will work just fine here, but if you think this might be the first of many furniture building projects I’d recommend investing the money in a pocket screw jig. This nifty little tool will give you the perfect angle, depth, and spacing for any of your countersunk-screw needs. You can find both the pocket screw jig and the countersink drill bit at your local tool shop or big-box hardware store. Angle your pre-drilled holes up from the legs so that the screws will cinch the tabletop down onto the legs. I like to locate these holes on the inside surface of the legs so they’re not visible on the outside of the piece. Be sure to place the holes such that your screws are “biting” enough of the tabletop so that they won’t tear out or put too much stress on your glue joint.
Step 6: Finish Your Table
The degree to which you finish your coffee table is limited only by the scope of your own imagination. My doors were painted different colors on either side, so I chose to paint my table a simple off-white that would compliment my living room. The hinge mortises and holes and gouges from the old hardware added a unique aspect of rustic character to my table, so I chose to leave the mortises unpainted and not fill or sand the other distressed features on the doors. I’m a fan of the rustic look, but if it’s not your thing this would be the time to break out the wood filler and sandpaper. I have also seen folks re-mount the door’s original hardware in its original position once the table was assembled. But again, what you do here is strictly a matter of your own taste and preferences.
Step 7: Enjoy
There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of saving something from the trash pile and turning it into something beautiful. So kick back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.