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One of the problems with writing an article titled ‘How to Build a Table’ is that for every person who reads it, each one will have a different concept of the type of table they would like to build.
We could write an entire book full of table designs and ideas, and still only cover a fraction of the possibilities. In fact, if you think of all the variables in terms of materials, shape, size, usage, and visual design, we could probably write several books.
So, the instructions we are going to give you obviously aren’t going to cover every possible table that you might wish to make, and rather than try to include every material, we are going to use wood, which, is what the vast majority of tables are made from anyway.
Our outline should give you enough guidance to make a table and also allow you to vary it as per your preferences.
Your Table Design and Dimensions
The first step in making anything is always to plan it properly and a table is no different. For your own table, you may wish to do some research online or visit furniture stores to see if any of the designs you see spark some ideas.
When finalizing which design you wish to pursue our advice is to err on the side of the practicalities of using your table rather than the aesthetics. Bear in mind a table is something that is primarily something you use, rather than look at.
Once you have settled on a design then you should create a rough outline of its design, ideally using a ruler and pencil. This way you should be able to draw it to scale in order to determine the exact dimensions you are going to use.
Obviously, the type of table is going to have an influence on those dimensions and the number of pieces of lumber you will need, with a kitchen table being a much larger undertaking than a lamp table.
The other consideration with respect to the dimensions is rounding them up by at least 1/2 inch to take account of the fact that lumber is often sold in lengths which are slightly smaller than the listed sizes. The last thing you want is to get your lumber home, start making your table and realize it’s too short for the length you planned for.
Choosing the Wood Type
There are lots of variables that can play into the choice of wood. Whether you are experienced or a beginner at woodworking projects is one of them, and the type of table you are making is another.
For simple projects and for those who are relative beginners, pine is an excellent choice, whereas if you are making a more elaborate table, such as a dining table, hardwoods like cherry and maple are popular.
Budget considerations also play a part so if you are looking for an inexpensive option you might try Douglas fir, or poplar, although be aware that if you plan to stain your table, poplar is not the easiest to do it with. For tables that are going to be used outside look for treated pine wood, or redwood.
Building a Basic Table for Your Lounge or Living Room
So far, the instructions have been fairly generic and will apply to just about any type of wooden table you may make, but to get more specific we are going to outline how to build a simple table that could be used as a lounge or coffee table. For this, you need three lengths for the tabletop, two apron lengths, two apron widths, and four pieces for the legs.
The other items you will need are:
- Power drill + power screwdriver
- Wood glue
- 2 1/2 inch pocket hole screws
- 1/4 inch lag screws
- 2 sheets of sandpaper (1 x 80 grit, 1 x 220 grit)
- Microfiber cloth
- Wood stain
If you do not currently have a power drill or screwdriver, we suggest you consider the Black+Decker 20v Max Cordless Drill / Driver which is one of the bestselling tools of its type.
Building the Tabletop and Apron
This stage, which begins the construction of your table, is done in five steps.
Lay the three tabletop planks side by side on a clean, flat surface. Ensure that the side facing down is the side of the tabletop that you want to be seen when the table is complete.
Drill holes where you plan to have the pocket screws which are going to hold the tabletop planks together. Make the holes in the two side planks and drill them at an angle of about 45° so that the holes extend into the center plank. The holes should be about 7 inches apart and the drill hole should be around 3 inches deep.
Place the pocket hole screws in each of the holes you have drilled and then screw them in so that they secure the planks together.
Using a pencil and the apron pieces as a guide, mark lines along the lengths and widths of the underside of the tabletop, one inch from the edge. Spread wood glue along each of the lines you just drew.
Our recommendation for wood glue is Titebond III Ultimate Wood Glue which has one of the highest review ratings of any wood glue on the market.
Place each apron length in position. Use the clamps to hold the apron pieces in position overnight to ensure that they are secure. You can also secure them further using pocket screws if you wish.
Securing the Table Legs
This is a 5-step process which is probably the most important as without the legs being level and secure you are going to end up with a table which is wobbly, so please take care which each step.
Take the four legs and place them next to each other on a completely flat surface. Check to ensure they are all exactly the same length, and if necessary, saw or file any excess. Do not assume that the lumber store has cut each one exactly the same length.
In each corner where the apron meets, use enough glue to cover the inner side of the apron and the underside of the tabletop. Place each leg in position in each of these corners and secure it using a clamp.
For each leg, drill two pilot holes using a 1/4 inch drill bit. One hole should come through the side apron and into the leg and the other from the top apron and into the leg. When all holes have been drilled you should have eight of them with each leg having two holes which are at right angles to each other.
Secure the four legs using the 1/4 inch lag screws. Before a final tightening of the screws, you should ensure that all the legs are level and sitting at right angles with respect to the underside of the tabletop.
Wait until the recommended drying time for the wood glue has expired. Once it has done so, flip the table over and place it on its legs. Check to see if it is sitting stable and that there is no wobbling. If there is, it’s likely that one of the legs is slightly longer than the others. If so, use sandpaper to gradually rub it down to the correct size.
Finishing and Staining Your Table
This 5-step process is where you will get your table looking at its best and ready for use.
Using the course 80-grit sandpaper rub over all the surfaces of your table including the sides of the legs and the underside of the tabletop. Try to follow the grain of the wood as you do so. This will remove any excess bumps or uneven areas.
Using the finer 220 grit sandpaper rub over all the exact same surfaces in the same way, including following the grain as you rub. This prepares the wood for staining.
Before beginning the staining process, you should remove all debris such as dust and other particles that will have been created during the sandpapering process. Use a microfiber cloth to wash the wood and then wait for it to dry.
Following the manufacturer’s instructions with regards to mixing, apply the first staining to your table. Apply the stain using a brush and by using strokes that follow the grain of the wood. Ensure you cover every inch of the table’s surface with stain. Allow the first stain coat to dry overnight.
After it dries, do not be too alarmed at how the first staining looks as it is likely to seem uneven with some light and darker areas. This is normal and will be resolved by applying the second staining following the same guidelines as you did with the first one. Remove any excess stain with a rag before allowing it to dry. After the second staining has dried your table should be ready for use