This is an updated version of a post on my old blog. I have answered some of the questions I got in comments below and made the instructions a little easier to follow.
Several years ago, we purchased one of those trendy counter-top height tables. I really like the table and thought it would be a nice, practical piece of furniture at the time. It has a butterfly leaf that hides in the center and allows us to make the table larger for guests. Unfortunately, now that we have small children, what seemed like a good idea at the time has suddenly become a safety hazard. After one too many falls out of our uber-tall chairs, I decided to do something about it. The only problem is that our table has tapered legs and if I was to saw through them with a miter saw as I had originally planned, we would end up with funky angles at the bottom of each leg, which would cause some major unevenness in the table. That would be a wobbly and horrible long-term solution. After much research, I decided the best way would be to tackle this project with a hand saw since I didn’t really trust myself to be able to calculate the angles and adjust the bevel on my saw.
I like to use the hand saw and ours is nothing special. I have used it for a number of my projects, but never thought it would be something I would use in order to modify a piece of furniture. Surprisingly, it makes a smooth, clean cut. Who cares if it isn’t a “power” tool!
Step 1: Tape the legs
Tape one of the legs all the way around with painter’s masking tape. I had just completed a bathroom painting job and re-purposed some of my used masking tape, hence, the light blue painted area. (I know my table leg is pretty dirty huh?) – Note the line drawn level across 2 sides of the table leg.
Step 2: Measure and mark
Keeping the table leg attached to the table, with the table flipped upside down, measure 29 -30 inches from the table top to the bottom of the leg you have taped and mark the edge of the taped leg. This is a typical height for a kitchen table. Use a level to mark straight lines across 2 sides of the table leg. This will allow you to align your saw up properly for a nice, level cut. You may have heard of the old adage: “Measure twice, cut once.” This is crucial here! From the picture under step 1, you can see where I have drawn my straight lines using my level. This is where I cut my legs. I used the lines I drew to guide me in cutting later.
Step 3: Clamp your table leg
Remove your table leg and take it over to the place where you will be doing your cutting. (I used my garage stairs because it is nice and low and I am better able to pull the saw smoothly since they are low to the ground. You could also clamp your table leg to an outdoor deck or to a work table.) Clamp your table leg to the stair in order to secure it. I used C clamps (an 8 inch C clamp to fasten the leg to the stair.)
Don’t forget to use some wood scraps as padding between the clamp and the work surface to prevent scratching of your table leg.
Step 4: Use wood scraps as a cutting guide.
Cutting guides are important because of the angles you are working with in cutting your table legs.
Clamp a 2×4 along the edge of 1 line, leaving space for your saw blade to cut right next to the line. Clamp either another 2×4 or (in my case I used my metal carpenter’s square) across the top line, leaving the same amount of space for your saw blade. The cut made by your saw blade is called the kerf and in woodworking, you always need to make allowances for the kerf. Sometimes your sawblade will turn a good 1/4 inch of wood into sawdust. Make sure your saw edge is cutting the kerf out of the wasted lower part of the table leg. This will insure you have table legs of the same height after you are done cutting. In my case, I have my table leg clamped in such a way that the edge of the kerf will line right up next to my drawn lines and will be cutting through the end of my table leg that I am discarding.
Step 5: Carefully cut along your lines
When you saw, go slowly!!! I say again: go slowly! This is the key to getting a nice clean cut. If you have wrapped your tape all the way around the leg, this should also help to prevent splintering and give you a great cut with your handsaw. Start by lining your saw blade up with your guide and pull back smoothly and gently to get a notch started for your saw blade. Once the notch is started, grip your saw by making a U-shape between your thumb and first finger of your cutting hand. Line your finger up while holding the saw and pointing your 1st finger toward the tip of the blade in the direction you are cutting in order to guide the saw. Stabilize the saw with your Thumb on the other side of the grip (also pointing the tip of your thumb toward the end of the saw blade) and pull the entire length of the saw blade smoothly and at a steady speed as you cut. I got my best results when I didn’t try to push the saw blade or dig in too deep as I was sawing. Just let the weight of the saw and a consistent sawing stroke help make the cut. It takes more time but believe me, it is worth it in the end.
Step 6: Use your cut table leg as a template
Once you have successfully sawed off the end of one leg using the above steps, take the long part of the leg you sawed off and unfasten another leg in order to initially mark it for your next set of cutting lines. Lay them down flush with each other on a flat surface. Draw your cutting lines on two adjacent surfaces of your table leg by using the previously cut leg as a template. I actually momentarily unfastened each leg in order to put my first pencil mark on the corner between 2 sides where I was going to draw my cut lines. In order to make sure that I drew level lines, I ended up re-fastening the leg back to the table and using my level to draw my two cutting lines before taking the leg off the table in order to cut it down to size. I just wanted to make sure I was accurate to how the leg sits in the table so I didn’t end up with a wobbly table and uneven legs.
Use that same first cut leg as a pattern to measure every cutting line for each of the other 3 legs. Mark it with a piece of tape or a sticker. If you are not consistent in choosing to use that same leg as your pattern leg, you will gradually end up cutting your legs longer or shorter because of slight cutting inaccuracies that will end up compounding your error with each cut.
Here it is…the finished product. I put my chairs that originally came with the table in the background so you can see how much I took off the height of the table. Make sure you have some nail-in furniture sliders to put into the bottom of your table legs or try to salvage the buttons off your original legs by prying them out with pliers or a putty knife. We tried using glue on felt sliders but they attracted dog hair and grime. Go with the nail in sliders or salvage your old ones if you can. Congratulations, you have just saved several hundred dollars on the purchase of a newer and shorter table!
I couldn’t cut my tall chairs down. The angles would have made them tippy and it would have altered the center of gravity. Instead, I bought some matching X-back chairs online. I thought they looked a lot like the ones Pottery Barn used to sell. They usually come in packages of 2 and require some assembly. My chairs also did not come with sliders nailed into the bottoms of the chair legs. I had to nail in my own. They have worked great for our family. Someone on Craig’s list was happy to purchase my old, taller chairs for a very reasonable price!
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How have you saved money by re-purposing or re-finishing used furniture in the past? Leave a comment about your own project or feel free to ask me any questions you might have about trying this particular project.
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