Sunday, February 3, 2013

How to Shorten a Table and Save Money

Several years ago, we purchased one of those trendy counter-top height tables.  I really like the table.  It has a butterfly leaf that hides in the center.  Unfortunately, now that we have small children, what seemed like a good idea at the time is all of a sudden become a safety hazard.  After one too many falls out of our uber-tall chairs, I decided to do something about it.  The only problem is that our table has tapered legs and if I was to saw through them with a miter saw as I had originally planned, we would end up with funky angles at the bottom of each leg, which would cause some major unevenness in the table.  That would be no good.  After much research, I decided the best way would be to tackle this project with a hand saw since I didn't really trust myself to be able to calculate the angles and the bevel on my saw.

I like to use the hand saw and ours is nothing special.  We got it at our local discount tool store and I have used it for quite a few of my projects.  I never thought it would be something I would use in order to modify a piece of furniture, but surprisingly it makes a pretty smooth, clean cut.

Step 1

Tape one of the legs all the way around.  (I know my table leg is pretty dirty huh?) Does this tape look familiar to you?  It is the tape from my recent painting project! - Note the line drawn level across 2 sides of the table leg.

Step 2
Keeping the table leg attached to the table, with the table flipped upside down, measure 29 -30 inches from the table top to the bottom of the leg you have taped and mark the edge of the taped leg.  Use a level to mark straight lines across 2 sides of the table leg.  This will allow you to align your saw up properly for a nice, level cut.

Step 3
Remove your table leg and take it over to the place where you will be doing your cutting.  I used my garage stairs because it is nice and low and I am better able to pull the saw smoothly since they are low to the ground.  Clamp your table leg to the stair in order to secure it.  I used C clamps (an 8 inch C clamp to fasten the leg to the stair.)

Don't forget to use some wood scraps as padding between the clamp and the work surface to prevent scratching of your table leg.

Step 4
Clamp a 2x4 along the edge of 1 line, leaving space for your saw blade to cut right next to the line.  Clamp either another 2x4 or (in my case I used my metal carpenter's square) across the top line, leaving the same amount of space for your saw blade.  The cut made by your saw blade is called the kerf and in woodworking, you always need to make allowances for the kerf.  In my case, I have my table leg clamped in such a way that the edge of the kerf will line right up next to my drawn lines and will be cutting through the end of my table leg that I am discarding.

Step 5

When you saw, go slowly!!! I say again: go slowly!  This is key to getting a nice clean cut.  If you have wrapped your tape all the way around the leg, this should also help to prevent splintering and give you a great cut with your handsaw.  Start by lining your saw blade up with your guide and pull back smoothly and gently to get a notch started for your saw blade.  Once the notch is started, grip your saw by making a U-shape between your thumb and first finger of your cutting hand.  Line your finger up while holding the saw and pointing your 1st finger toward the tip of the blade in the direction you are cutting in order to guide the saw.  Stabilize the saw with your Thumb on the other side of the grip (also pointing the tip of your thumb toward the end of the saw blade) and pull the entire length of the saw blade smoothly and at a steady speed as you cut.  I got my best results when I didn't try to push the saw blade or dig in too deep as I was sawing.  I just let the weight of the saw and a consistent sawing stroke help me cut.  It takes more time but believe me, it is worth it in the end.

Once you have successfully sawed off the end of one leg using the above steps, take the long part of the leg you sawed off and unfasten another leg in order to initially mark it for your next set of cutting lines.  I actually momentarily unfastened each leg in order to put my first pencil mark on  the corner between 2 sides where I was going to draw my cut lines.  In order to make sure that I drew level lines, I ended up re-fastening the leg back to the table and using my level to draw my two cutting lines before taking the leg off the table in order to cut it down to size.  I just wanted to make sure I was accurate to how the leg sits in the table so I didn't end up with a wobbly table and uneven legs. 

Use that same first cut leg as a pattern to measure every cutting line for each of the other 3 legs.  Mark it with a piece of tape or a sticker.  If you are not consistent in choosing to use that same leg as your pattern leg, you will gradually end up cutting your legs longer or shorter because of slight cutting inaccuracies that will end up compounding your error with each cut.

Here it is...the finished product.  I put my chairs that originally came with the table in the background so you can see how much I took off the height of the table.  Make sure you have some nail-in furniture sliders to put into the bottom of your table legs or try to salvage the buttons off your original legs by prying them out with pliers or a putty knife.  I was able to do this and it really helps finish it off nicely.  Congratulations, you have just saved several hundred dollars on the purchase of a newer and shorter table!


  1. Sarah, thank you so much for this post! I am getting ready to do the same thing to what is probably the same identical table you have in this picture. And for the same reason: child safety.

    So, my question is... obviously, we'll have to do this to the chairs as well. My husband thinks I am going to completely butcher the entire set. (He of little faith.) But I think it is doable...

    You know those stabilizing bars between the legs of the chairs? I'm wondering how I re-fit those after I've cut my chair legs down to size.

    Thanks to anyone who can help with this!

  2. Hillary, I would not recommend cutting the chairs. I originally thought that I would be able to do it too, but if you look at the chairs, they are curved in order to counter-balance the weight of the person sitting on the seat and reclining against the back. If you cut the chairs, that curve will be too much for the new height of the chair that you cut it to and if you try to lean back against the back of the chair, you risk tipping over. I would just Craig's List the old chairs and purchase some new ones. I found some that were the exact same color as my table from an online site and they were X-back style....(I'll try to find the URL from where I ordered them and post it up here)....they have been great. They very much resemble some chairs from my favorite (barn of pottery...hee hee) store only I paid less than 100$ per chair that I had to assemble myself. So far, everyone who has seen my chop job and new chairs has liked it including the husband! The color of chairs I ordered was something like cappucino or chocolate brown.

  3. I just wanted to give my input on our counter height table cut down. Ours looks almost identical to yours in the picture( with more milk stains and hand prints :) but we cut our chairs down as well and it came out perfect!!! Very sturdy and looks amazing.. Just saved some cash so thanks for te post!

    1. Do you have pictures of your cut job for the chairs by chance? I'm looking at doing the same.

  4. We are doing the same thing (for the same reason) and I would also love a pic of the chairs (if you have one), and would like to know how much height did you remove from the table?

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