Metal Tabletop Patina

Tables with metal tops rich in color and texture create effects from quilted copper to leathery.

A round tabletop made from scrap metal has a patchwork design. 

Don Short

West End Architectural Salvage is in Des Moines, Iowa, but the 50,000-square-foot store is a destination for vintage-minded shoppers from all over the Midwest. Owner Don Short is famous in the salvage biz (he’s had shows on HGTV and the DIY Network) and he’s creative in repurposing items—including scrap. Among his custom furniture offerings, Don’s “line” of unique tabletops made from salvaged tin and copper has become a signature of the West End Salvage brand.

“We started using old tin ceiling in projects 12 years ago,” Short explains, “which eventually led to our making patchwork pieces out of scraps: from ceiling tiles, copper gutters, roof flashing, and copper canning boilers—which aren’t uncommon in this agricultural state.”

The store’s recycled metal tabletops are each unique: symmetrical or abstract, ”quilted” or with a motif.

Don Short

Tips on Techniques

If you’re set on making a tabletop out of copper canning boilers, the challenge is to find enough of them: a 4′-square top, for example, or 16 square feet, takes a half-dozen boilers. The first step in fabrication is cutting off the top steel ring and cutting the handles away from the boiler body. Next step is to cut the flat bottom away from the body. Then the boiler body is cut to so the oval can become a flat sheet. At this point you have two usable pieces of copper, its bottom and the now-flat body. The material may be cut with tinsnips or metal shears into the shapes and sizes for patterns in your tabletop design.

Don Short prefers to make the tops from two thicknesses of ” plywood, for a solid substrate that won’t warp. The plywood is cut to size for the design and then the two thicknesses are glued and screwed together.

“Now comes the tedious process of flattening, nailing, and re-flattening the pieces as they are applied,” Short explains. Attach metal to the top using an air nail gun and /” brad nails, spacing nails about ” apart at the edges of each piece. Flattening the copper a second time, with a hammer, prevents the metal from wrinkling. Keep overlap to a minimum to ensure a flatter surface. When you reach the edges of the top, bend the copper over the edge and again around the underside. “You’ll need to nail before and after each bend to keep the copper pieces from wanting to spring back to flat,” Short advises.

Once all the pieces are nailed in place, Short goes over the surface once more with a hammer to reset any nail heads that are still sticking up. Any sharp edges must be sanded. Keep sanding to a minimum if the goal is to keep the aged patina.

These metal tabletops are finished with at least five coats of water-based polyurethane, applied with a brush. After drying and before the next coat, lightly sand the surface and wipe with a clean tack cloth.

At West End Salvage, they make bases out of just about any found item: cream separator bases for end tables, old machinery legs for dining tables, even grain augers for console tables. They also use standard restaurant bases and steel bases fabricated in their shop.

Tags: Architectural Salvage copper DIY Leather OHJ April 2019 tables

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