Introduction: Beautiful Inexpensive Rustic Coffee Table

Hello fellow makers and DIYers,

This is a simple yet beautiful project that can add a lot of character and charm to any living room. This rustic style is very popular now and luckily, if you are a beginner like me, it is not very hard to make things look rough or rustic!

This is my first foray into furniture making and I have very basic wood working skills. Also, I have no power tools, except for a cheap drill! I made the whole thing using hand tools but if you have power woodworking tool, that will definitely help.

Note: this project uses construction lumber, which is notorious for not always being straight and uniform. As a result, don't expect things to come out perfect. Unlike finish carpentry, some parts of this project will rely less on precision and more on "eye-balling".

Important Note: I will walk you through the whole process, but it is crucial to understand that the measurements I will give are to be used as a general guideline and not to be followed strictly. I encourage you to customize it to your needs and size requirements. As a matter of fact, you will inevitably find yourself making changes.

Step 1: Gather Your Tools

If you don't have a fully equipped woodworking shop with the latest and greatest professional tools, then rejoice, you won't need any!

This project mainly uses hand tools. The only electrical tool you will need is a drill. If you have a sander, that could come in handy, but you can also sand it by hand.


  • A hand saw (if you have a miter saw, you will save a ton of time and frustration, but I did not)
  • Measuring tape
  • Drill
  • Drill bits
  • A speed square (it really comes in handy, and it is worth the investment if you don't have one)
  • A pocket plane (also called Surform plane) to smooth uneven surfaces
  • Pencil
  • Sandpaper or a hand-held sander

Step 2: Decide on the Dimensions Prior to Acquiring the Wood

This is the trickiest part of the project.

You will need to decide on how big you want the coffee table to be. That will depend on how much space you have in your living room. In my case, we recently acquired a long sofa and my wife wanted a long coffee table, so I decided to make it long and rectangular, which worked really well for our living room.

I chose the dimensions in a way that maximized the usage of lumber. For example, most 2x4s come in 8' lengths, so I acquired 6 and I sawed them in half to use for the top surface of the table and so I had no wasted wood. You can make yours shorter or longer, but keep in mind that if you go longer than what I did in my project, you might end up having to acquire more wood and you might end up with a lot of extra scrap pieces.

My design consists of the following:

Legs: 4x4 at 15" each (One 8' board of 4x4 was more than enough)

Side joiners to connect the legs: 1x4 of varying lengths (depending on the size of your table, you might need at least two 8' boards)

Top boards: I used 6 pieces of 2x4 and one piece of 2x2 in the middle. All were cut to a length of 4' (48"). So three 8' studs and one 2x2 board was all that I needed.

My dimensions:

Height: 15" for the legs

Total height: 16.5"

Width: 22.5"

Length: 59"

Note: I wanted a short coffee table because our couch sits kind of low. You might want yours to be slightly taller.

Step 3: Gather Your Lumber and Supplies

You obviously need the wood, and you will also need a few other things. I will list everything below.

So if you follow my dimensions as discussed in the previous section, you will need:

  • One 8' 2x2
  • Three 8' 2x4
  • One 8' 2x6
  • Two 8' 1x4
  • One 8' 4x4

Other supplies:

  • Screws: 2.75" drywall screws worked the best for me
  • Wood glue
  • Wood filler/wood putty to cover up holes (make sure whatever you use here is stainable)
  • Finish: I used a Minwax golden oak finish

Total cost: depending on whether you have some of this stuff or not, it could be anywhere from $20 to $40.

Note: if you have access to some free lumber, then go for it! I did re-purpose some lumber in this project but most of it was bought from Menards since I currently don't have access to any scrap lumber. If you do, I encourage you to try to up-cycle it for this project.

Step 4: Important Notes on Buying Lumber

Please read this carefully as it will save you a lot of frustration later on.

Construction lumber is not particularly known for being precise and uniform. You will have to pick your boards very carefully. You will typically have the option to buy a "cheap" or "kiln-dried" stud or a "quality" stud. The latter might be slightly more expensive but definitely worth the extra small expense.

Purchasing a board that is labeled by your hardware store as "quality" grade is not enough. You will need to make sure that the board is straight.

How to check for warps and crowns:

Pick up a board and place one end on the floor and the other end at eye level. Look down the corner of the board and make sure it is perfectly straight. Turn it and check all the corners. You will notice most of them have a huge crown or are severely warped. Stay away from those boards. Try your best to find straight ones. Also make sure the board does not have any major splits or defects. See the images above to understand how to inspect your lumber before you buy it.

Reminder: a 2x4 is NOT really 2 inches by 4 inches!

You might have known this, but when it comes to construction lumber, the common measurement is actually bigger than the actual measurement! Here are the actual measurements of some common sizes:

2x4: 1.5" x 3.5"

2x6: 1.5" x 5.5"

1x4: 0.75" x 3.5"

4x4: 3.5" x 3.5"

Keep that in mind when you measure and design your table.

Helpful suggestion:

If you will be cutting everything by hand, I high recommend you have some of the cuts made at the store, which they'll do for free. Cutting the legs, which are made of 4x4, is very challenging! Unless you are a master at using the hand saw, your sawing job will not be straight. It is easier to make a straight cut on a piece of 2x4 but on the 4x4 cuts, it is not very easy. I messed up 3 of the legs and had to go back to the store and have them cut it for me with a miter saw.

Step 5: How to Operate the Manual Hand Saw (Informational Step)

If you have a miter saw or some other power tool that you use to make your cuts, you can skip this step.

For those who are new to woodworking and only have a manual hand saw, this might be beneficial.

Follow these instructions and see the images included in this step for best results:

  1. Using a measuring tap, measure the desired length, making sure the tape is straight and pulled tight
  2. Make a mark with a pen or pencil. I prefer the arrow style mark so I know where to draw the line (see image)
  3. With your speed square and using the edge of the board, make a line of where you are going to cut
  4. Place the board on a surface that is off the ground, and secure it by stepping on it with one foot and holding it with one of your hands (so you have two points of contact with the board)
  5. Position yourself directly above the line of where you will be making the cut
  6. Start by making one quick notch in the wood. I usually place my saw on the mark and make one straight quick pull, creating a notch that will become the starting point of my cut.
  7. Remember that if you cut straight on the mark, depending on the thickness of your saw, your final result will be slightly smaller than expected because you did not factor in the thickness of the saw blade. This is more of a concern with more advanced "finish" carpentry, but for this project just try to be consistent (i.e. if you are going to cut a little to the left of the line, then do that throughout your project so you don't end up with uneven pieces.
  8. Now that you made a notch, start moving your saw up and down at a consistent speed and always making sure that the direction of your cut is perpendicular to the length of the board.
  9. As you get close to cutting through, gently support the piece that is about to fall off. If you don't do that, it might snap off before you finish the cut which will cause damage to your cut piece.

Important safety tip:

Be VERY careful to keep your hand several inches away from the mark as you hold the board. It is very tempting to get your hand close to the mark to achieve more stability, but before you know it, you might injure yourself badly with the saw that is being operated by your other hand! See image.

Update: Expert Advice from Commenter Lee Wilkerson

I received some great comments after this instructable was published and this is one worth sharing, courtesy of Lee Wilkerson:

"Great job. I would point out, though, that when using any kind of saw, you should position your sawing SHOULDER and elbow directly in line with your cut and behind the cut zone. This greatly aids in cutting straight lines. Also, when using a handsaw, the blade should be around a 45 degree angle to the work. I also always position my holding hand's index finger beside the cut-line as a reference for the initial starting draw-point for the saw. Always start a handsaw with a drawing stroke rather than a push stroke. The teeth on handsaws are angled so that the push stroke cuts the wood and the draw stroke clears the sawdust from the cut."

Step 6: How We Will Be Attaching the Different Pieces Together (Informational Step for Beginners)

We will be attaching the different pieces together throughout this project using two screws and wood glue. All the screws need to be pre-drilled!

See the images for how we will attach the side joiners to the legs, as an example.

  1. measure and decide where your pieces need to be. Make a mark using a pen or pencil.
  2. hold the two pieces tightly making sure everything is flush, and drill two small holes. Use a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the thickness of your screw.
  3. apply wood glue
  4. drill the screws into the pre-drilled holes and sink the head of the screw slightly below the surface of the board (so it can be filled later to conceal the screw hole)
  5. wipe off any excess glue

Step 7: Attach the Legs and Side Joiners

For my specific example, the legs are 15" long, out of 4x4

The joiners are 20" long, out of 1x4

Remember to keep 3/4" gap (see image) for the long joiners in subsequent steps.

Attach the joiners to the legs, making sure the top is flush and the joiner is 3/4" away from the edge of each leg.

See step 6 if you need more information on how to do that.

Remember to pre-drill 2 holes, apply glue, then drill in your screws.

Step 8: Complete the Leg Assembly

In this step, we will build the rest of what I call the "leg assembly". For each of the two leg assemblies, we will attach a small piece of 1x4, and to that piece we will attach the outer joiner. See images for more details.

Both of those pieces were made from 1x4.

In my specific example, the small bracket was only about 2.5" long.

The outside joiner was about 14.5" long.

I suggest you measure distance between your table legs and cut the pieces accordingly. By now you will be starting to experience the consequences of using construction lumber, and you will soon realize that you have to measure and cut things according to different lengths than what you initially anticipated.

Step 9: Join the Two Leg Assemblies

Use what will eventually become the center top board of your table. Find the middle points of each of the leg joiners. Attach the top board to the two joiners. Use only one screw on each side (for a total of two screws for this step).

See the image for more details.

For my center board, I used a 2x2. I figured it might be more attractive to have a smaller middle piece flanked by three 2x4s on each side. You can do the same or use something else instead. Whatever you do, I suggest that you use an odd number of boards (like 5 or 7 or 9).

I also suggest that you have the end of that middle piece go a little past the leg joiners. If you make it flush, then the 2x6 breadboard piece which we will attach later will have to be flush with the corner of the table and the whole thing might not look as attractive.

Note: by attaching this piece, you have finalized the length of the table! So adjust accordingly if you want a different length.

Step 10: Attach the Side Railings (Side Joiners)

To finish the frame that will support the top, we now attach the front and rear railing, or long joiner, joining the front and the back legs together.

The front and rear railings will be pieces of 1x4, cut to length. Before you measure and cut the pieces to the exact length, make sure you measure the table (using the 4 legs) and make sure it is square. It is likely that the front is wider than the rear, or vice versa. Since the top center board has only one screw on each side, you should be able to adjust the legs a little bit so it is square.

Update: Important Tip (that I wish I implemented)

A few suggestions were made in the comment section about adding cross braces to support the top boards. Although I did not do this when I built my table, I highly recommend it. The point of these braces are not so much for load bearing, but more for a way to make the top nice and even.

I contemplated adding cross support pieces when I was building my table but I thought to myself "meh, I only have 48 inches in length of the top boards so I will be fine and I am not going to put anything that heavy on the table anyway", but in hindsight, having some support pieces would have forced the top boards to be level and flush together. I ended up running into some issues and hand to spend a lot of time planing the top surface with my pocket planer.

See the image above for more information. You can choose to add three pieces of 1x4, or even 2x2. Avoid 2x4 because that will add too much weight. Some commenters even added one cross piece in the middle and were happy with the result.

I would like to thank the commenter "RetiredLE" for the comment and illustration.

Step 11: Attach the Top Boards

Before you attach the top boards, I suggest that you line them up and make sure they're exactly the same length. If you have any boards with damage or defects, this would be a good time to decide which side of that board you want facing up (the table top) and which side will face the bottom)

Start attaching the boards but starting out from the middle and going out. Make sure each board is sitting tightly next to its neighbor and the ends are flush together. Then put two screws on each board. Remember to make sure the screws go in past the surface so we can later fill them with putty or wood filler.

Note: the outside top boards can be screwed into the legs but some of the boards in the middle have to be screwed carefully to the leg joiners. Since the leg joiners are less than an inch thick, this could be a tricky process. I suggest you use your speed square to trace where the joiner should be and verify that your screw went in correctly by looking at the table from the bottom. I had to redo several of my screws.

Step 12: Attach the 2x6 Breadboards

Measure and cut two pieces of 2x6. In my example, the length of the 2x6 pieces will be equivalent to the width of the table (as determined by the 7 boards in the middle that we just attached in the previous step). That works out to be 22.5".

There is a number of spots where you can screw into. Just make sure that everything is flush and even.

Your table is now complete! Now it is time to make it pretty.

Step 13: Fill Holes and Gaps, Even Out the Top Surface

Fill all the screw holes with putty or wood filler.

Inspect the surface. Mine was not even in some places, so I used a filler material where I had gaps due to uneven cuts.

Warning: I used a filler that, unbeknownst to me, was more like cement. The material hardened quickly and was cement-like and did not absorb the wood finish later on. I proceeded to spend the next couple of hours removing it (with hand tools, that was a lot of work). So make sure that you are familiar with the filler you're using and it might be a good idea to test it first.

You also might find that some of the top board are not even and one might be higher that the other. This could be an issue because it might cause a glass of wine or a cup of coffee to tip over and spill. I used my pocket plane to even out those edges, and use filler material in some places. Use your creativity, and muscles!

Important note: don't be shy to use your pocket planer to even out the surface. The planing action will give the wood those attractive scratches and marks that make it look rustic when you stain it! As a matter of fact, even if the surface was perfectly level, go ahead and plane so it acquires some scratches!

Update from the Comments:

After publishing this instructable, several commenters suggested that a great wood filler is mixing saw dust and sanding dust with PVA glue. It dries nicely and when it dries, it accepts the stain and blends in nicely with the wood. I have not tried that myself but this seems like a popular trick. See the comments for more information and the discussion on this topic.

Step 14: Sand It!

If you are lucky, you have an orbital sander or some other way to sand it quickly. If you don't have one, then you're in for a workout!

Use sandpaper and sand the top surface very well. Clean the surfaces as you go so you're sanding the wood directly. Apply some pressure as you sand. You can use a small block of scrap wood and wrap the sandpaper around it. Also, sand all the edges. Some of those edges can be sharp and could be a safety concern, especially if you have children. Make sure you sand all the sharp surfaces and slivers etc.

After you are done sanding, clean it with a rag or a brush and sand some more!

Step 15: Apply a Wood FInish

After you sanded it thoroughly, clean it well and wipe off all the surfaces with a rag.

Using a clean rag or a brush, apply a stain of your choice.

Follow the instructions on the can. You will typically apply a coat, wait 15 minutes, then wipe it off.

Stain the surface, but also stain the legs and all the side connectors and joiners. I did not stain the underside of the table.

Depending on the desired color, you might need to apply multiple coats. I applied about 3 coats.

After applying the last coat, give it around 8 hours (or overnight) to completely dry.

Step 16: Enjoy It!

Your final product will look stunning. What's more stunning will be the fact that you made it. This table will be heavy and sturdy. It will definitely be very expensive if you were to buy a table like this, but you can conceivably make it for very cheap.

If you decide to follow this instructable, I would love to hear from you in the comments. If you are able to successfully build it, please share some images.

If you have any tips or helpful hints, feel free to share that as well so others can see them.

Happy making!

This project was inspired by these two projects:


On a Budget Contest

Second Prize in the
On a Budget Contest