Building a DIY Coffee Table
With all these pallets around the yard I’ve been sort of obsessed with researching ideas for what to do with all of it. Plus I’ve really been wanting to do a reclaimed wood project with some fencing material that has surfaced in the neighborhood. I have seen a lot of small DIY coffee tables and table-planters floating around so when my wife asked if I could build a coffee table for the patio I knew what I wanted to do. I needed a long, narrow coffee table with a clean finished top and an offset planter for a small succulent garden space for my wife. Once I was able to get the materials together and think through the construction, I waited until I had a free afternoon and got to work.
DIY Coffee Table Materials
Most of this coffee table can be made with reclaimed wood and the final table design and size will depend on what kind of wood you can get. I used some 1x pieces from an older pallet for the sides and the rest is posts and slats from a 50 year old wood fence in my neighborhood. The posts are roughly 2×3 and the slats are probably 1/2 x3 (were probably 1×4 at one point in time). I based my sizing on the wood available. Since the pallet boards were 48″ long, I made the table 48″ long then figured I could get a lot of use of the material if I kept the interior dimension at 18″. To get a slight overlap on the top I ended up cutting the fencing for the top at 22″. You’ll want an extra pallet board and a 1×2 or two to create some structure under the wood top. The idea here is to be able to add the table top with all the fasteners attached under the table so you don’t see any screw heads on the table’s surface. For fasteners I highly prefer using cabinet screws in 1 1/4″ and 1 1/2″ lengths. Cabinet screws work great for this kind of project because they are self-tapping, grab the wood well and have a widened head like a built in washer which helps secure the wood.
- Measure twice, cut once! Cutting all your pieces and making sure the lengths all match is important for building a table that sits firmly and has a level top. Do your math, then do all your cuts at once (as many as you can) to make sure they’re consistent.
- I started by building the framework. Attach the legs to the side supports, long side first, then attach the short sides to create the main “box” of the table. Make sure your boards are square and your legs level. This will set the framework for the rest of the build so take your time and get it right.
- Screw the three side of the planter box together. To make sure the planter doesn’t float below the sides use the same size boards for your planter that you used for the side supports and secure the bottom of the planter between the boards (not below it). You can place the planter anywhere within the box, I chose to offset it so that there is still a nice sized table on one side. Place your planter where you want it and secure it with a couple of screws on either side. You want the top and bottom of the planter box to be flush with the top and bottom of your side boards.
- With the planter in place, measure your open space on either side and cut the extra 1×6 so you have one piece that fits snugly on either side. We will use this to fasten the table top boards. We’ll screw the top boards to this later, so set it aside until ready.
- Measure the width of the table and figure out how much you want the top to overlap. For my table, I chose 22″ which gave me about 1/2″ overlap on either side. Cut all the top boards at once, carefully measuring to make sure they are consistent. Choose the best boards for the top, you really don’t want to use wood that is too warped or bowed. Because we’re working with reclaimed wood each piece will be unique and have different character. Choosing which boards go where as you line them up will make a difference in the finished product so take your time and be creative with placement. Mine were all fairly consistent but I did choose some with more or less paint to them, attractive knots and cool grain splitting.
- Now the tricky part: Attaching the table top pieces to the 1x6s cut to fit. I turned the pieces upside down on my workbench and laid the 1×6 over it with careful attention to alignment. Figure out here you need to start your support piece by figuring out how far you need to overlap the top boards into the planter. Measure twice, then measure again…you want this right before you start screwing everything together. Use at least two screws per board to secure the table top to the 1×6 so they don’t turn when you move it. Do the same for both sides of the planter.
- With your table top screwed together, set it in place on the table’s frame. Everything should fit nice and secure. Adjust it so that your overhang is even on both sides then screw the 1×6 to the frame from the outside of the box. This will hold it in place so you can flip the table over.
- Lay down some cardboard or a blanket and flip the table over. Use the 1×2 stripping against the inside of the box frame and screw into the table top boards, then run a couple screws into the side walls as well. This should shore up the whole structure and secure the table top. Repeat for both sides of the planter.
- Flip the table back over and start your finish work. I sanded my table top with 80 grit paper on a belt sander to strip the old finish and level the boards. Then I used 120 grit paper to get a nicer finish. I will probably keep working at the finish with finer grit paper until I have nice polished look. I haven’t decided if I will wax coat the top or not.
- Drill 2 or 3 holes in the bottom of the planter box for drainage and line it with plastic PVC liner so the wet soil won’t warp the wood. Cut a couple holes in the liner to correspond with the holes you drilled. Fill with the soil of your choice (depending on what you’re planting) and choose your plants.
Finish out your Table
The finish work is all up to your personal preference. Paint the table top for a finished look, or do a quick wash with a couple of colors and sand it again for a distressed finish. I will probably leave mine raw and just wax coat it to protect it from the elements.
Using the planter is all personal preference too, so get creative. You could use it to grow herbs, do a succulent garden like we did or just fill it with decorative rock. Even leaving it empty and using it for decorative pieces could be nice. A really cool idea would be to place some cool collectibles or specimen rocks or seashells in the box and then cover it with a piece of glass. I’d love to see what you guys come up with if you build your own. Feel free to send pictures!Modern Steader Grow. Cook. Live.