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I want to make a coffee table out of railway sleepers

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AndrewH

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I was wondering if anyone had any advice for me, i am a novice carpenter and i have aquired 2 canadian oak railway sleepers and have had them cut. My plan is to use 3 metre length cuts for the table top and 2 shorter length to span underneath the table from one side to the other for the legs. Now my first problem is that when they were cut, the ends weren't cut evenly, meaning not quite a metre in length, give or take a few mill and the cuts also aren't straight, they are cut diagonally, all i have is a power plane, will this be ok the even out the end grain on the sleepers?

Also i am after any advice on how to join the sleepers together, first of all i am wondering how to connect the three for the table top, is it best to biscuit join them and if so, how big do the biscuits have to be for railway sleepers? As well as that, what is the best way to connect the table top to the legs, i have a hand held router, although i'm not yet fully competent in using it, i'm better just using a saw but i'm put off because of the strong oak?

Any help is greatly apprerciated,

Thanks

Andrew
 

Hudson Carpentry

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Welcome

Out of the tools you have said I would would make a jig to use the router as a "thicknesser" to square up the ends, in your situation maybe the planer is the best option but you will need to do some sanding after and come in from both ends so you don't break out the end grain. However if you have some spare funds I would invest in a new saw that can make the cut. It wouldn't need to cut through in one but a pass over each face or just the top and bottom.

As sleepers are heavy I would just simply use a few dowels dry just to keep the top located to the 2 legs, butt jointing the 3 top lengths. I may use some glue if I had kids, just encase.
 

Jacob

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Rough planks made from sleepers - I wouldn't bother trying to join them together. Just have them side by side. with or without gaps - just nail/screw them to your cross pieces underneath. Nailing in hard/thick stuff; pre-drill say about 1/2 to 2/3 the diameter of the nails. Build it then saw off the ends.
 

turnamere

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I have a similar project on the back burner using some sizeable chunks of Douglas Fir left over from the roof trusses in the extension. I'm probably going to rout a 1/4" groove in the mating faces and then cut a plywood tongue to form the world's larges biscuit. Obviously the groove will start/end clear of the end face of the boards.
 

jimi43

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Butt joint the edges of each plank...

Make a frame out of squared sections and legs and slap the top on with screws.

Make sure you plane the bottom so you have a level crossing! :mrgreen:

Coat? Ok...I'm going.... :oops:

Jim
 

JMcK

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Are they new sleepers or recovered?

I ask because if they are recovered they may well have been treated and, personally, I would not use them for such a purpose. Some of the treatments are carcinogenic.
 

AndyT

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What's not clear is how these sleepers have been cut. I was imagining that they were just cut to length, and are about (say) 150mm x 250mm in cross section, so the 'legs' are two short bits lying down, the 'top' some longer bits of the same, spanning across them, making a chunky table which is 300mm high, 3000mm long and 3 x 250mm = 750mm wide

Others are imagining that the sleepers have been ripped into thinner (but chunky) planks.

Could you please clarify, or add a picture? (when you have made 3 posts in total.)
 

SpikOle

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Hi, Please see the post from JMcK above....Sleepers are treated with some very nasty stuff that you do not want to bring into your house.

P.S. 1: I once visited a friend in the southern part of Sweden (Sölvesborg). His obviously not so lucky neighbours had build themselves a whole house out of railraoad sleepers. Not sure what happened to them (and how fast) but i was told that the house had been empty for many many years :)

P.S. 2: My own late grandfather got fatal cancer some 60 years ago. He had bought himself a very modern, good looking and stylish suit in the 1930's ....made out of asbestos fibres.... :(

P.S. 3: The above suit was eventually stolen when hanging to dry in their garden. I am sure that the thief eventually had to pay a very high price for the crime...

Enjoy Your Day
Ole
 

jimi43

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Some sleepers were kept in yards without being treated and only treated when actually laid.

These untreated sleepers are commonly sold at a premium over treated sleepers which are only used for garden features.

So not all sleepers are dangerous and indeed...some are made from really nice woods.

Jim
 

AndrewH

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Thanks for your advice, just to confirm, the sleepers aren't treated, not sure about butt joining them, would that be strong enough?
 

cambournepete

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Assuming they're solid lengths of sleeper you're using, why not joint them with dowels, but leaving a slight gap between them as a design feature? That would save you having to smooth them for jointing.
Similarly for the cross pieces join those to the cross pieces with dowel.
I'm thinking 1" or more dowel here...
 

AndyT

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Andrew, if you are using big chunky timbers throughout (which you have not yet clarified) then don't glue them together - you'll end up with a table that you will never be able to move!

All you need is something to stop the long bits falling off or going out of line. A full size notch out of the underside is quite easy for you to do - saw two shallow cross cuts just a bit wider than the support, then use your electric plane to remove the wood between the cuts. 10mm would be enough. You can then move each piece on its own and build up your table where you want it.
 

AndrewH

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Thanks Andy and Pete, think that was kind of what i was thinking and yes they are big chunky timbers throughout as in the picture!
 

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