How to Make a Wood Coffee Table

You can make a coffee table out of any kind of wood, even an old tree stump. The kind of wood coffee table you make will depend on your skill as a woodworker, the tools you have, the kind of wood you have -- or can get -- and personal preference. If you are skilled and have the tools, you can make a classy table with rounded legs and a wood parquet top. Or you can find a suitable tree stump and top it with a giant slab cut from a big tree trunk. (You can sometimes buy these at a garden store.)


Step 1

Design a table to fit your decorating scheme, budget and wood-working ability. At its simplest, a coffee table is a slab of wood -- generally about 18 inches wide by 36 inches long -- atop a base usually about 15 inches high, although these dimensions can vary. The wood can be oak, maple or walnut for a formal style; teak or fir for Danish modern; pine or cedar for rustic or cypress; or similar wood for a tree-trunk table. Some people make coffee tables of old crates or pallets; some buy exotic hardwoods from specialty dealers. Anything can work with imagination and skill.

Step 2

Build a base. This can be as simple as four legs, square or round, which will fasten directly to the top. Or you can build a frame -- four legs joined on all sides by horizontal braces -- with the elements fashioned on a wood lathe, cut in special shapes with a band saw or similar tool or squared off with a table saw. Design your base so the screws or other joiners that hold it together are hidden. This can be done by mitering a rectangular box, then attaching legs and braces to it with screws from the inside. Or you can use mortise and tenon or similar jointing techniques.

Step 3

Make a top. This can be as simple as a couple of slabs of wood -- or even one very wide one -- smoothed on all sides and edges. Or you can glue several strips together, laid flat on a work surface and clamped on the sides. Or you can use plywood or other inexpensive board as a base, edge it with mitered molding of some sort, then fill the interior with cut squares, parquet insets or other finish lumber. It will take some special tools and wood-working skill to make parquet squares by cutting slices of wood and gluing them together, then cutting them into precise squares. Or you can just hunt up a giant cypress or redwood slab and set it on a tree trunk or other base.

Step 4

Finish with stain, paint or protective sealer. Sand all wood pieces thoroughly, to make them smooth and even. This can be done by hand, with a power hand sander or with a professional style planer/sander. All surfaces should be smooth and free of cut marks or other blemishes. Apply a stain of your choice or paint. (For instance, one 50-plus-year-old oak coffee table was finished with multiple coats of tractor paint). If you use a stain, apply a polyurethane top coat, either glossy or satin finish, to protect the surface.

Bob Haring

Bob Haring has been a news writer and editor for more than 50 years, mostly with the Associated Press and then as executive editor of the Tulsa, Okla. "World." Since retiring he has written freelance stories and a weekly computer security column. Haring holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.