Upcycling An Old Larder Door Into A Kitchen Table

This is the tale of an old larder door, no one knows how old the larder door is except that in its time it has been painted over so much that the paint flakes to the touch. At one point someone came along and looked at the old flaking kitchen with its horsehair plaster walls and bowing ceiling, and said to the owner, 'You know what this needs? Cladding'. A square mile of fake tongue and groove later, the result was a sad looking kitchen caught in the 1950s. That fake tongue and groove hid real tongue and groove making anyone who knew the owners of this kitchen think, why the hell did you do that? This though is the tale of upcycling an old larder door into a kitchen table

1950s kitchen

A few years ago we ripped the old kitchen out, the old larder screen was rotten and the electrics were dodgy but the larder door, we saved that. For a while it sat outside and the paint flaked and fell off. We had no idea what to do with it until we started rejigging the kitchen, and building a new larder. Out went the solid fuel oven and all the horse hair plaster. We moved the kitchen to the far end away from the back door, turning our plans around and creating a new herb garden to pop out to. Suddenly, there were echoes of our old house at Drovers but now we had space down by the back door for something else. We went out and got an old table, it was great for eating at but was too low to cook on, it ended up in the family room. People have moved on since farmhouse tables first came into production, and these tables are just too short to work at. We discovered this when we had the sink fitted, opting to have it higher and make washing up easier. Why couldn't the table be higher, another worktop? In came that old larder door, stored for a year to dry out. At one point we laid it flat and placed weights on it to stop it from warping. 

old door

There was one problem with our door, it wasn't square and it was too big. Well, we had two problems. We didn't want a traditional width table but when you go hunting for narrow tables you end up with a massive expense or a trestle table; they are always too short, too long or too narrow. We didn't have this problem with the old larder door, we just had to agree on size. In our case we wanted a table that was 168cm (5' 5" approx.) x 67cm (2' 2" approx.) x 83cm high (2' 7" approx). Most tables are around 76cm high  (2' 5" approx). The table would not be worktop high, which is traditionally 90cm (2' 11" approx) but somewhere between the backbreaking traditional height and something more manageable but we had a door that was somewhat larger than this. Out came the circular saw, a set square, a tape measure and the realisation that the battens on the back were not square to the tongue and groove.

Old door

We had a table top but not legs, we also needed to clear off some old paint that lingered, so we opened the windows, donned a mask and started to scrape.

Paint scraper

Scraping off paint

We ended up with the door clean of the old hinges and old paint. Then we started to measure out for new legs, the legs would be simple structure with two cross rails at the top and one at the bottom. It is at this point that confusion could set in but just follow the photos below and you'll see what we did.

Old door

We cut four legs for the table to raise the whole structure up to 83cm (2' 8" approx.). We did this by hand rather than use a circular saw, we wanted neat cuts, and though a table saw would have done this well, a hand held circular saw is not the best tool for the job as it tends to snag and tear, it is also hard to stay on line with a circular compared to a table or hand saw because you cannot see where the blade is cutting on a short cut.

Making a table

We then cut four cross rails of 36cm (1' 2" approx.) for either end of the legs, the two cross rails would connect the legs at each end. Rather than go for joints we decided on screws and glue approach. As the whole structure in the end will be secured to the old door, there is little risk of movement.

Glue joints

We glued the joints before screwing, carefully marking out on the legs where the 36cm cross rails will go, this allowed us to mark one drilled hole for a 10cm (4") screw. You could use self tapping screws but there is always a risk with pine of hitting knots and splintering. In our case we like to drill a pilot hole.

Pilot holes

This is easy to do by simply marking on the leg the depth of the 36cm cross rail and then using a ruler to mark a cross on the wood, as above, and then drill the pilot hole.

Pilot hole

Don't do this by holding the piece of wood to be drilled, always place in a vice or workmate, this means that the pilot hole will be straight and lessens the chance of you snapping a drill bit. We go that extra step in counter-sinking our pilot holes so we can hide the screws later with some filler. This is optional but we think this allows for a better finish.

Counter sink drill bit

A counter-sink drill bit does what it says on the tin and creates a tiny well for the screw head to go down in to which you can then fill later with filler.

Drill hole

We made the two end legs in a work mate, applying glue to the joints and screwing them tight and wiping off any excess glue with a damp cloth. A tip for getting tight joint is to drive the screw home first and if there is a gap between the two pieces of wood to loosen off the screw and then drive home again, this will close the joint and you will know you have done this as excess glue will be forced out. Leave to dry for 24 hours. We laid our legs flat on the ground and weighed them down to avoid any movement or warping.

Legs

As there are battens on the old door, we are using them to define how the long cross rails will be attached, ours are 156cm (5' 1" approx.), this was done by placing one set of legs on the underside of the old larder door and then placing the long cross rail against the legs, marking again a central drill hole which was a little proud of the top of the table due to the cross battens on the old larder door.

How to drill

We marked off on the long cross rail the centre of the wood, this means we kept the rail straight at both ends and means the screws go into the 156cm cross rail at the same point. This allows us to square up the frame beneath the old larder door top.

Avoiding mistakes in woodwork

It is then a matter of drilling holes again, counter-sinking them and then glue, and screw. Do invest in some good screws, we are using 10cm (4") screws for this job, these will catch on the glue as this pass and drive it into the grain.

Kitchen table

We then had the two 156cm cross rails on that form the base beneath the table top. However, you cannot leave a table like this as the legs which naturally splay out over time, and the joints will quickly start to weaken. You need a third long cross rail which must measure the same length as the other two long cross rails, in this case 156cm (5' 1" approx). This should actually pull the two sets of legs towards each other, so do check all joints after doing this final part of the legs.

Kitchen table

Next, we want to attach the old larder door to this new frame, so out comes the drill again to create four pilot holes on the two middle battens of the old larder door, see photo above.

Table building

Which we naturally counter-sink to hide the screws.

Drill

Then we screw to the door at four points. Do this by securing first one screw in one corner and then cross at a 45 degree angle to the next screw hole, this allows you to square up as you go by using a set square or Pythagora's theorem. Set squares are easier.

Table

Finally, we flip the whole thing the right way round, wipe off any excess glue we couldn't reach before and tidy up.

Kitchen table

There we have it, one finished table. Now all we need to do is sand off any rough edges, fill in the screw holes, paint the legs and oil the table top. Not bad for an old larder door that could easily have been used for firewood. This is a sentimental nod to that old kitchen and the whole project cost under £20, and is unique to our home. The whole project from start to finish takes around 30 hours, as you have to allow 24 hours for each set of legs at either end to dry and set square. We'll allow these joints to dry for another 24 hours before completing the sanding, painting and oiling but even before that we have another surface to use.


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