7 design mistakes with our convertible coffee table

7 mistakes we made building our convertible coffee table

Words from the Workshop

There’s a reason you build a prototype of any new idea. The reason is to make all your mistakes early (and boy did we make some mistakes with the London Table). Yet the satisfaction when it finally all comes together is immeasurable.

When you plan a design on paper (or on screen) you believe you are accounting for all the things that could go wrong. That’s the first mistake. No computer simulation is like the real thing. Ask any carpenter and they will tell you that a build with moving parts is a nightmare.

The strange thing is we knew all this at the start, and still went ahead with the project. Mad. Here are the coffee table design mistakes we made and the solutions we found.

Length of leg

OMG, the trouble we had with the legs. We needed the legs to be short enough in the coffee table position to ensure the feet didn’t extend beyond the length of the table, yet they had to be long enough in the dining table position to add stability and height.

On paper, we thought we had it right, but real-life physics has a way of telling you “you’re wrong”. We thought about getting some NASA Scientists involved in the calculations, but in the end, decided on trial and error. Thankfully we now have the perfect leg length (for those that are interested, it’s 118cm – or 46.5 inches if you are over 50).

Bespoke jigs

Then somebody (me) decided the legs and feet would look great if they were round poles instead of square. Oops.

The problem with round legs and feet is they move when you are attempting to drill them. In addition, trying to locate the middle on a curved surface is a challenge (“Hello, NASA?”).

The solution was to build a bespoke jig for the pillar drill. The clamps keep the leg or foot firmly in place and it’s just a matter of ‘measure twice, drill once’.

In the picture, you can see the bed of the pillar drill is horizontal. That’s its normal position. To drill the holes at either end of the feet we had to turn the bed vertically. This is not normal. It took ages to loosen the bolts that hold the bed in position, then strap the jig to it and finally drill… and you thought coffee table design was glamourous.

Aligning holes

Setting up the jig doesn’t solve all the problems. We still had to ensure when we released the foot from the jig to drill a new hole at the other end, the two holes had to align perfectly. If not, the legs would be at different angles (not a good look) and we would have to start all over again. That happened a few times.

So we developed an aligning tool which is ingenious (and top-secret). We can now drill the holes in the feet and legs with confidence, no more trial and error.

MDF frame

To be honest I’m still not sure why we even experimented with the idea of an MDF frame. We don’t like MDF. But it’s good to explore all the avenues so you are not left with the “What if…” question at the end of the project.

Fortunately (unfortunately), the MDF frame just wasn’t sturdy enough to take the weight and withstand the rise and fall of the table. This is probably a good time to mention the London Table has been thoroughly tested in our homes for 8 months, that’s how we know MDF is not a good idea.

Hard vs softwood

So hardwoods are things like Oak, Ash, Walnut, Maple or Beech. Softwoods are Pine, Redwood, Larch, Fir or Cedar.

Broadly speaking hardwoods are hard and durable, softwoods are soft and workable. Softwoods are also typically less expensive, which is important when you are building something that has to be affordable.

We started with a softwood frame, but quickly established it just wasn’t sturdy enough. So back to the drawing board.

In the end, we decided on Ash, Oak and Sapele. All hardwoods.

The cost of building

You never really know when you start a project how long it will take. You can have an educated guess, but it will probably be inaccurate because you cannot predict all the problems you will encounter.

This was certainly true of the London Table. It actually takes double the time to produce our convertible coffee table than we anticipated. One factor is the extra features we added as we were building, like the addition of a name badge.

“Measure twice, cut once”

That motto gets drilled into you when you start a career in furniture design and manufacture, yet even the most seasoned professionals still trip up. Thankfully, now we have a finished product, and all the measurements, we don’t have to worry.

The silliest mistake was with the tabletop. The frame was 44mm deep, so we built the tabletop with a 50mm edge. This would ensure it covered the frame. At least that’s what we thought.

What we forgot was that the tabletop was 12mm thick. The result was a table edge that didn’t cover the frame. Doh! See the embarrassing photo. We now manufacture a tabletop edge deeper than 50mm.

Result of our coffee table design

The result is we have a lot of love for the London Table. She has thrown us a few curve balls but now looks beautiful – as well as functional. At the end of the project, we decided to give her a name. Alice. That was my mum’s name. And every table we produce also has a female name because every one has its own personality 🙂

Author: Graham Smith

Graham is the Founder of Hot Tea Workshop. He lives in a small London flat with limited space. His need for multi-purpose furniture was the inspiration for the London Table and sparked his interest in small space living and tiny homes.