How To: Make a 4-Element Table with PVC Pipe

Make a 4-Element Table with PVC Pipe

How to Make a 4-Element Table with PVC Pipe

Now, I know what you're thinking...

"I need an extra sexy coffee table that is like no other."

OK, Maybe not. Maybe you're thinking, "I need a conversation starter that doesn't have to do with economic injustice, Left/Right political paradigms or health insurance. I need it to be frivolous, snappy, and to have enough science involved to have one conversation that doesn't become an argument, and I need it before my family gets here for the holidays."

OK, Maybe not that, either. OK, maybe I don't know what you're thinking. OK, maybe by now, your cognitive thought stream is completely immersed in the beautiful poetry that is this How-To.

Anyway....

This is the Four-Element Table, and it's high time you learned how to make it.

How to Make a 4-Element Table with PVC Pipe

To create this delightful oddity...

You Will Need

MATERIALS:

  • 2 10' Sticks of PVC pipe (3/4" for this example, but use what you like)
  • 8 Slip Slide Tees
  • 4 Round End Caps
  • PVC Cement, Cleaner and Primer
  • Glass or Polycarbonate Tabletop (I recommend polycarbonate; it can stop bullets)

TOOLS

  • Measuring Tape
  • Cutting Tool (Miter Saw, Band Saw, Ratcheting Pipe Cutter)
  • Marking Tool (I use a marker, some people use pencils)
  • Angle Set (Helps, but not necessary)
  • Level (A must!)
  • Spring Clamps (Or tape, but clamps are way better)
  • Bending Tools (I use a PVC Bendit, but you could probably do this with a heat gun, it'd just be hard.)
  • Forming Materials (MDF, Melamine, Formica, bendy board, Build-A-Bend)
  • Hot Glue Gun

You probably don't need everything on the tools list, but the more you have, the easier the job is.  Once you get it all together, take a minute to mentally prepare for what you're about to do. Run through the instructions from beginning to end so that you have a solid concept of every step of the process. If you're not super experienced at bending PVC, do a few test bends with scrap pieces so that you know exactly what it's going to feel like. From there, the whole process is a snap.

Step 1 Set Up Simple Elevation Drawings

You really don't have to get too crazy at all. You can just draw a couple of curves on a sheet of paper that establish your curve length, rise and run from the center. What numbers and gauge of pipe you choose is up to you, just make sure you know what they are so you aren't winging it when you set your forms.

How to Make a 4-Element Table with PVC Pipe

Step 2 Set Forms for the Arms

For this example, I'm using MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) and some leftover formica strips from some countertops to set up my forms. You don't have to use exactly what I'm using, as long as you follow the general principle, everything will work beautifully.

How to Make a 4-Element Table with PVC Pipe

Strike out a baseline and a center point for your element, then mark your completed run. On the left hand side of the picture, you can see the baseline and the run mark on it. In this case, the arms are 31" long with a 6" deep curve. 

Then, using a framing square, mark the exact locations of your rise points. In this case, I went 15 1/2" from the center and then rose out 6". Using a hot glue gun, set your fence material on edge with one point at one end of your final curve. Glue that spot, and then allow your fence material to make a natural curve that touches your center point. Glue that spot as well, and then move to the opposite end point. Make sure that the curve is consistent from one end to the next. Glue the last spot and the run a bead of glue down the entire length of your fence. Make marks for the center and ends along your fence. You'll use these to make cuts after you bend so that your pieces are identical.

Step 3 Heat up the PVC & Press it Gently into the Form

This is the heating system that I'm using. There is more than one way to do this, but internal pipe heaters make long bends like these very easy.

How to Make a 4-Element Table with PVC Pipe

After the entire length of the pipe is flexible like al dente pasta, pull it off of the bender and put it into the form. It helps to compress the pipe lengthwise ever so slightly to help it conform to your forming system.

How to Make a 4-Element Table with PVC Pipe

Mark the center and ends of the pipe, and then cut off the excess. Set these pieces aside for now.

Step 4 Set Forms for the Legs; Heat, Form & Cool

The method here is just the same as the method for forming the arms, but naturally, the pieces are a little different. The advantage to using hot glue for your forming setups is that you can scrape it off and re-use the base board as many times as you want.

How to Make a 4-Element Table with PVC Pipe

The arc for the legs is 14" wide and 19" high. Repeat the arm process on these dimensions, and your four elements are complete.

Step 5 Get your Dog Bones Ready

A dog bone is a fitting combo that uses two slip slide tees connected with a very small section of pipe. They are very useful in furniture design if you're trying to make non-standard pieces.

How to Make a 4-Element Table with PVC Pipe

Feel free to cement these pieces. Make sure that they are perfectly parallel, or your table is going to be VERY hard to square up.

Step 6 Do a Dry Assembly Before Any Cementing

This project is super curvy, so you want to make sure you're working on a very level surface so you can make sure the thing is straight. Dry assembly takes time and patience on a project like this, and things like spring clamps mean the difference between resounding success and maddening frustration. One trick to this is to pull numbers from the edges of the elements to where you actually want the fittings to land. Make sure that your numbers are all the same, and the project will be partially square right when you slap it together.

How to Make a 4-Element Table with PVC Pipe

You can see that the spring clamps are keeping those arms in place, and I've used pigmented cement so you can see where I've started to "tack" it together. I use tack cementing on projects like this because sometimes you end up needing to break a joint to get the whole thing to cement right.

How to Make a 4-Element Table with PVC Pipe

An angle set is an optional tool for all of this. It helps to make sure the the angles of the legs all relate to the floor in exactly the same way. Honestly, though, an angle set is kind of a pain to use on a curved piece of pipe, and unless you're already confident you can pull good readings from it, you might as well not bother with it.

Step 7 Once You've Got the Whole Thing Squared, Do a Final Glue Up

You have to do some non-standard cementing on the slip slide tees, rolling the brush in a way that works cement deep into the joints.

How to Make a 4-Element Table with PVC Pipe

Allow all this to cure for at least two hours, and then add end caps.

Step 8 Finish your project. Paint and final touches.

To be honest, the best advice for finishing PVC projects can be found through this link.  This clicks through to a discussion forum that has the best advice I have ever seen on the subject.

Admire your finished work, and let the creative juices flow. This is just the tip of a HUGE iceberg.

13 Comments

This is fantastic. Wow. Thanks for sharing, Adam.

Really great. I'd really like to try this out one day (when I have room). Is it better to keep the bottom of the legs at an angle, or could they be cut straight to be parallel to the floor surface? Or would it not work with the end caps? Or are the four end caps for the top part, where the glass rests?

The rule on leg angles has everything to do with the load the table is going to bear. There's another version of this table that has eight elements instead of four. I'll put it on the coarkboard as soon as I'm finished with this.

Just think that if you're planning on having dinner on a table like this, you want to make sure that the legs are perfectly plumb or at least very close to it. It is possible to combine angles in truss-like ways to create complimentary sets that equal out to 0 degrees and still have striking design impact.
On the other hand, a table like this is best suited for coffee for three, and that's about it. If your house is like mine and every flat surface ends up with a pile of books on it, you're going to want to go with a heavier design.

That makes total sense. Thanks for explaining. I'd love for something like this to have the cooler leg angles, but from time to time, I can really pile some weight onto my current coffee table, so if I ever get around to doing this, I'll need to go with the sturdier approach.

It took a minute, but I added the Eight-Element Table to the coarkboard, so if you want to see one design possibility, you can see it there.

That looks great! I'd be a little concerned that the PVC will warp over time. I have often experienced that it will when under constant pressure, like when leaning against a wall - or possibly holding up a table. In any case it looks nice. If it does warp I'm sure you could pour concrete or something into the pipe to make it hold permanently.

I've noticed that straight pipe loses its shape rather quickly, but once you've bent it, as long as the bend faces away from the flow of gravity, it holds up beautifully.

Awesome... how much weight can the PVC hold?

Yet another example of some badass indoor furniture. I have pretty much changed my tune on using PVC indoors. This is now on my to-do list.

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