My friend’s apartment in Toulouse, France, was really lacking furniture so I challenged myself to find a design I could build with whatever materials I could reclaim from the garbage, a budget of 10€ and nothing for tools but a saw, some sanding paper, a drill (or the kind of stuff not-so-manual people keep in their toolboxes).
While browsing instructables, I came upon what I felt was the most promising design, the Ten Green coffee table by Zero-Waste. It is built with easy to come by materials (wine bottles and wood), but what I found problematic was the hardware used for the tensioning system, which for the three levels of tables would have costed me at least 50€. While it certainly looks great, it was totally over my budget so upon realization of that fact at the hardware store, I got my brain to work and stated walking up and down the alleys for inspiration and quickly came to figure out a more economical solution with nothing but screw eyes and strings.
The wood: a pallet
Finding wine bottles is trivial (especially in France), but cheap wood is another story. There were plenty of discarded pallets in the streets, but it took me a while to find a suitable one. It had to be large enough, clean (ie: mostly free of dirt, cement and/or paint) and built with decent quality wood which for pallets is very uncommon. I forgot to take a picture of the whole pallet so this one does not quite do it justice. It was a pain to carry across the city, back-breaking work cutting it and immensely tedious to sand the pieces manually but I managed to build my two tables out of it.
Apart from the physical hardships of working without power tools processing the pallet into decent looking surfaces was a piece of cake. I cut up the pallet in even size planks (which numbered 30) and then sanded them down to remove some coarseness (they use very low grade timber). I then assembled them into levels and drilled the four corners of the bottom levels with a hole large enough for the neck of a bottle to fit in.
The wine bottles: Cabernet-Sauvigon, Shiraz, etc.
The part most will enjoyed the most. Be careful though, wine bottles vary in shape between brands so you should buy bottles in four. If you want bottles very quickly ask a nearby restaurant if he can put them away for you and come pick them up after a service.
With two levels done, I screwed eyes at the eight inside corners of the table, inserted the wine bottles and layed the table upside down to build the tensioning system. Starting from a bottom eye, I routed the string in the upper eye and then to the opposite corner and down again; Tied both ends and repeated for the other side. To prevent the ends of the strings from fraying, I dipped them in melted candle wax. Then, all there there was left to do was to put a long enough (to give torque) wood screw with an unthreaded shank between the two strings where they met in the middle of the table and turn to tighten the rope. Once I felt there was enough tension I simply drove the screw in the surface above to lock the whole system in place. Make sure the string is able to withstand a fair amount of tension because you need some if the bottles are to be kept tightly sandwiched between the two levels.
Assembling a two (or more) level table was a matter of simply repeating the process. The two level table ended up being more stable because the wood was just thick enough for the neck of the upper level bottles to lock itself inside the dip of the bottle below. The necks will make nice feet but If you want more adherence on the floor or want to protect it, you can put back corks into you bottles. Also, you are by no means limited to wine bottles, it could be beer bottles (on a good night with a few friends, you can get enough for a full shelving unit), or hard liquor bottles (but they take more time to accumulate in quantity).