Sunday, September 20, 2009

Trash to Treasure (or how a $5 shelf became a $100 table)


OK, so I am obsessed with HGTV and the DIY Network. I even have the most expensive package of satellite channels (250) just so I can get DIY. Well one of my favorite features are the "trash to treasure" shows. I guess I get it from my dad, but I love taking something from a flea market or even out of the trash (yes I am a big dumpster diver from way back) and make it into something useful. While my dad really takes a broken up dresser and makes into into something beautiful, most of my projects to date have only consisted of tightening up some legs and a fresh coat of paint.

A few years ago on one of my garage sale (tag sale for those of you on the eastern seaboard) expeditions I came across three restaurant-quality stainless steel shelves for $5 a piece. Well seriously, who could pass up a deal like that? They were even still in the boxes! I didn't initially have a use for them, but knew the wheels were already turning in my head so that wouldn't be a problem. The first two quickly became the top for the bar in my basement. Like so many homes here in "south city" St. Louis, my basement features a 50s-style party bar, complete with knotty pine, bamboo matting, rope edge shelves and plenty of kitsch. The bar itself was in pretty good shape, but needed a new top to replace the odd linoleum covered one. A coat of paint, wood end caps and two stainless steel shelves butted together made for the perfect "modern" top for my upgraded bar.

For the last 3 years the third remaining shelf has been sitting in my garage (along with a bunch of other stuff I keep dragging home) just mocking me to make something out of it. My foundation is made of stone so the walls are too irregular to hang shelves from so simply mounting the shelf to the wall was our of the question. It it was going to be anything it would have to be free standing.

One of the staples of the "trash to treasure" makeovers is the use of galvanized steel conduit pipes. The shows just love to take something like an old door, add four pieces of pipes for legs and "ta-dah", you have a table! So simple and so inexpensive, at least that is what they always say on the show...

So, something clicked in my head and the wheels were turning. I wanted to have some more drink prep area behind my bar and wouldn't a stainless steel table to match the bar just be perfect? I did a bit of research online and found that indeed galvanized pipe (I guess it is actually used for electrical conduit, I never really did find out its actual intended usage) is relatively inexpensive. A short section or fitting is only a couple bucks a piece, so seemed like the idea solution to my problem. A quick sketch to determine the pieces I was going to need and I was ready to head to Home Depot. I decided that I needed to have a second shelf and that could be made out of scrap wood from some old glass block shelves (another dumpster find) I had made for my first apartment that had long been disassembled.

I happened to have the Tuesday off after Labor Day so decided to use that as my errand running and project completing day. I arrived at Home Depot with list in hand and after some searching finally found the galvanized pipe section. I decided that I could use 1/2" pipe instead of the larger 1" sections that the TV designers favor. It was a dollar so so cheaper, depending on the section, so since I had only paid $5 for the top I really wanted to go for the whole "make something great for nothing" experience.

Here is what I ended up with when I got home:

  • 3' poplar board $3.98
  • 3' aspen board 2@$1.70
  • 36" galvanized pipe 2@$8.02
  • 18" galvanized pipe 4@$5.05
  • 12" galvanized pipe 4@ $3.36
  • 8" galvanized pipe 2@ $2.66
  • 4" galvanized pipe 4@ $1.24
  • galvanized cap 4@ $1.33
  • galvanized tee 8@ $1.57
  • galvanized flange 4@4.25
So, have you been doing the math in your head? Come on, the short sections are only $1.24 and the tees only $1.33, this is going to be a great inexpensive project, right? WRONG! All these little pieces added up to over $100!! Well, Mr. Hardhead was already well into the project at this point so I took my cart of pipe and my considerably lighter wallet home to start my construction project.

Of course you can never go to Home Depot just once. I realized after I got home that the 8" sections I bought were too long so had to go back and exchange those for 6" lengths. Hey, they were each 88¢ cheaper! I also realized that I didn't need a 36" board for my back splash, but a 48" length. Whoops, that was $6.85 instead of $3.98, there goes my 88¢ (x2) savings. I also hadn't thought about how I was going to get the lower shelf secured so had to get four "pipe straps", but hey, they were only 19¢ each! So, after much cussing and cutting and screwing pipes together and some leftover paint from the bar my table was complete (after 8+ hours of work) and ready for use.

I really am quite pleased with how it turned out and it looks and works great next to the bar.

Lessened learned: The things you see on TV do-it-yourself shows are neither as easy nor as cheap as they appear to be...