Wheel Table Base

Years ago, my brother Adam picked up this huge painted wheel at an Indianapolis antique shop. He had visions of making it into a glass topped table. A great idea. Only problem was, he doesn't build stuff. So it sat in his hallway, cool but fairly useless.

raw wheel

So twenty years later I begin to build furniture. One day he calls me up to ask if I will finally bring his idea to life, and build a base for his wheel to make a dining table for the new house that he and his girlfriend Sally share. I finally delivered the completed table a few weeks ago. Neither of us knew then how arduous the process would be, but here's the short version of a fairly long and involved story.

I was up to my ears in other projects when Adam contacted me, so he was kept waiting for a few months before I was able to even think about his table. In the interim he showed me a pretty cool table base in a vintage store in Indianapolis that he and Sally thought would be a good jumping off point for a table base. I wasn't sure at first, but decided that it could probably work and would save me a lot of time, so he went ahead and bought it and I lugged it back to the shop in Goshen. When I got it there I set a thin piece of plywood on the base and put the wheel on top. Hmmmmmmm…

wheel with vintage base

wheel with vintage base

I love the base. But wasn't really feeling that such a lightweight, four-legged base with a big, heavy, six-spoked wheel tabletop was the right fit, so I made a quick sketch of an alternate idea.

concept drawing

The drawing wasn't correct, since I was proposing a six-legged table and the drawing only had two. But it was sufficient for the purpose. Adam and Sally approved of the new direction and we were off to the races. But NO purple. Damn!

Now to really figure out those legs. And how to connect them together… but that can wait.

five part legs are made up of small, medium and large components

five part legs are made up of small, medium and large components

I wanted the legs to be perfect arcs, without imperfections, so I cut the curves with a router, using a compass jig instead of a saw. I finished up the cuts on the bandsaw and spindle sander.

ready to start cutting

ready to start cutting

completed templates

completed templates

These became the templates for the large, medium and small leg components. The legs pieces (all thirty of them) were roughed out of Baltic birch plywood with a handheld jigsaw, and then trimmed to within about an eighth of an inch of final size on the bandsaw. Then the legs were finished up with a trimmer bit on the router table, replicating the template shape. And then of course there was the sanding. Lots and lots of sanding.

But before I started sanding I wanted to get a feel for the piece, and how I was going to join the legs together.

But I was getting ahead of myself. Because of how I decided to finish the piece, with stained edges and painted faces, I had to start applying finishes before assembling the legs. Why should I make it easy on myself?

stain samples with paint chip

stain samples with paint chip

The staining began with orange acrylic paint…

orange legs

followed by a dark stain.

dark stained legs

The finishing is really rough at this point. I followed up with lots more sanding and polyurethane for the edges, and then paint for the faces of the medium and large leg components.

And finally leg assembly begins.

leg assembly underway

leg assembly underway

You can see my assembly jig in the background. I used it to put the leg components together while keeping their radiuses perfectly aligned. The outsides of the legs (small components) will be painted once the glue has set up and the clamps are removed.

Now to figure out how to connect the six legs together.

If we go back to this point…

inverted table mock up

inverted table mock up

I'm figuring out the optimal placement for the legs in relationship to the wheel. For stability and hopefully for looks too. It's at this point that I hit upon the idea for a central hub. It begins by making and then gluing up these small parts…

hub components (yep, another jig)

hub components (yep, another jig)

and ends up looking like this.

the heart of the table base

the heart of the table base

I can't begin to say how satisfied I was with this piece of the puzzle. Things were really coming together now. Meanwhile… Adam was just wondering why it was taking me so long. (to be fair, he never said a word)

I still wasn't sure how the hub would connect to the legs. I thought about just gluing and clamping the legs to the hub. I thought about reinforcing it with screws, but wasn't sure how I would drive the screws within the tight confines of the hub interior. The answer came from an unsolicited, but welcome, source. One of the senior members of The Goshen Woodworker's Guild, former high school industrial arts teacher Dave Jester, suggested I use hanger bolts. It was the perfect solution to a vexing problem. Thank you so much, Dave.

Hub with stain, paint and hanger bolts. Interior got a final coat of paint.

Hub with stain, paint and hanger bolts. Interior got a final coat of paint.

I reconfigured my leg assembly jig as a drill press jig. The hanger bolts needed to be correctly positioned and exactly parallel to the foot of the legs. The fun never ends.

drill press jig

drill press jig

It finally started going together

So far so good. But now I needed to resolve the connection between the base and the wheel itself… the true heart of the table.

To be continued…