Introduction: Type a Coffee Table

About: I am a paper engineer, writer, maker and chemist wannabe. In addition to pop-up cards I design and build furniture, lights, costumes or whatever I happen to need at the time. Lipstick, a mixing studio, all-pur…

You know those annoying people who do everything at once? Well, this coffee table has the same personality. It does it all. Coffee table, foot rest, glass holder, magazine rack, and storage unit. All the functions are separated. I don't like seeing stacks of magazines and books on the table so I provided a rack on the side. Rounded edges and a soft top offer a rest for weary feet, but since beverages and feet don't mix, I designed a protected shelf which wraps around the table and keeps your drinks out of harm's way. Finally, since I am a city apartment dweller and space is at a premium I can't afford to have any piece of furniture which does not double up as storage -- hence the removable top.

Additional features include casters, to make cleaning easier, and two mirrored sides which serve both to reduce the piece's visual mass, and to entertain any babies who might be crawling around. Occasionally when those babies grow older they might dump the entire contents of the coffee table on the floor, climb into it and turn it into a race car, creating mayhem. This function should be discouraged. It is, after all, just a coffee table.

(Thank you to Nathalie Schueller who took the beautiful pictures in this step)

Step 1: Materials and Tools

I built this with MDF but if I were to redo it today I would choose my new favorite material with an ugly name: plyboo. This is a very strong, beautiful, ecological material and it's incredibly easy to sand and finish. Basically it is plywood made from bamboo, and although it's becoming more and more popular it isn't annoyingly trendy (yet). If you do choose plyboo, be warned: it is harder than regular plywood and it will break your screws unless you drill generous pilot holes first. If you use MDF, you will need to be very careful finishing it properly with several coats of polyurethane: MDF is very sensitive to moisture and will swell up where it gets wet.

When I made this a few years ago I covered the top (M) and shelf (L) with a soft rubber. It looked great but it didn't stand up to wear very well, especially after my kids got into the habit of gouging it with pencils. So I covered those pieces with some grey vinyl. You can see in the intro pictures it's holding up pretty well and has a nice soft feel when you put your glass down. In these plans I decided these pieces will NOT be covered, just stained and finished like the rest of the wood. Of course you can do as you wish, but you will have to make minor adjustments (in the width of the wood) if you want to cover them.

Materials (as shown in these drawings rather than my prototype):

3/4" thick lumber for pieces A B E F G H I & M. Pieces C & D are drawn 3/4" thick, but you could use 1/2" just as well (D would then need to be 1/4" longer than I specified). C & D are not visible from the outside, so you can use plain plywood instead of the better material you'll use for the visible pieces.

(4) casters. Get the type you can screw on, rather than the kind with the rod.

(2) 1/8" thick plexiglass mirrors (pieces J & K)

Glue for mirrors (not regular glue -- mirror glue will not damage the silver backing material)

(3 or 4) square rods or scrap pieces of 3/4" plywood. I just drew 3 of these, but you can put a fourth one in. These pieces serve to screw the sides together but also to hold up the lid (M).

(6) small metal brackets and (1) bigger angle (see picture)

Black stain for pieces B, L, M & part of E (you don't have to stain these pieces of course -- but I think they help make the table appear lighter, less like the big box it really is)

Polyurethane if you are using MDF -- Dutch oil works great with plyboo.

Tools (this is where you will see why I'm entering this contest):

You need a table saw -- which I don't have -- or you can get the lumberyard cut your pieces. They will only cut rectangles.

For A, E, I, L, and for B's rounded edge I only had a jig saw which did the trick, but a hand-held circular saw might work better for some of those cuts.

A drill with a 3/4" bit for the holes on M, and to make pilot holes for your screws.

A hand-held sander

Optional: clamps, or at least another pair of hands. A cordless screwdriver

I don't have this, but a router would be very handy for the edges. I used my sander instead, which was very boring and dusty work.

Step 2: Cut

Since I lack a proper workshop and tools, this was the hardest step for me. Getting the lumber yard to cut the rectangles was definitely worth the money. These pieces need to be cut very precisely, with true straight angles otherwise they will not fit together properly. The drawings show the detailed dimensions, but I will list the rectangle sizes here:

3/4" lumber:

A 17 1/2" by 21 1/4"
B 22" by 12"
C 11 1/4" by 12" (note: this piece can also be 1/2" lumber. Other dimensions would stay the same)
D 11 1/4" by 17 1/4" (this piece can also be 1/2". If C & D are 1/2, this should measure 11.25" by 17.5")
E 12" by 18 1/4"
F 4" by 4"
G 4" by 17 1/2"
H 12" by 4"
I 26" by 20"

A & E can be cut easily with a jig saw -- it doesn't matter so much if your line is a bit wobbly because these cuts are invisible and don't need to be perfectly flush. I also cut the hole out of "I" with a jig saw which is not ideal: no matter how hard you try you will not get a perfectly straight edge. L also need to be as straight as possible. If I were to redo the table today I would use a hand held circular saw and then finish the corners with the jig saw. Another advantage to that is you could use the cutout from "I" to make "M"
Again I used a jig saw to make the rounded corners of B, I and L, then I used my sander to smooth them out. Basically I just did it by eye -- very unprofessional I know. The curve starts about 2" from the corner. The rounded edges of H, I, L were made with my sander: slow, boring, messy work which should really have been done with a router. In these drawing I have given F a rounded edge too, even though I did not build it that way on my prototype. (Note: I did not draw some of the rounded edges in my 3D model because I thought it would be easier to see the dimensions without the curves -- you can see those in the pictures of the prototype)

1/8" plexiglass mirror:

J 12" by 12"
K 18 1/8" by 12"

Square rods.

These can be 1" by 1" lumber or just scrap pieces of 3/4" plyboo. You can have 3 or 4 of them (depending on how you want to join C & D) and they should all be 11 1/4" long

Step 3: Stain and Finish

Sand all the 3/4" lumber.

Stain pieces B, L & M in black. Part E is only partially stained: the side which faces out towards the magazine rack is black, as is the edge and the part next to the L shelf. The part which abuts B is natural. You could use paint if you prefer, but I like seeing the grain behind the color. Also stain won't chip the way paint will.

Finish all the pieces with polyurethane or dutch oil if you are using plyboo. Again, you must use a MIMIMUM of 2 coats of polyurethane if you are using MDF. Cover all sides and edges. If MDF gets wet it will swell up and stain. Also, with MDF you will need to round ALL the edges at least a little bit, because sharp angles will chip easily.

Step 4: Assemble

I designed this table so I could build it with my limited tools and skills: all you need is to be able to screw two pieces of wood together to assemble this. I find an extra pair of hands to hold it for you while you drill pilot holes and tighten the screws even more helpful than clamps -- but that's a matter of personal preference. Clamps will do too.

Since I made this so long ago I can't give you the details and precise order of assembly: there isn't any single correct way to do it anyway. Here are a few pointers though:

Start with the base (A) and work your way around and up. I have visible screws on pieces F, G and H only. I did not need to attach H to G I only screwed it into E. I found that the corner square rods inside the storage area were strong enough to hold B in place without needing to screw it onto A.
After you assembled the base with the 4 wooden sides (ABCD &E) and the magazine holder (F, G & H) you can glue K to C and J to B. Be careful though and don't clamp the mirror! I did... (see picture).

To attach the shelf, mark where it will be on the mirror (the top is alined to the top of F) and drill 5 pilot holes (3 on one side, 2 on the other) all the way through to the storage area. Drill corresponding pilot holes on the inside of the L, and screw it on from inside the box. Then add the brackets for reinforcement.

Attach the top (I) and the casters, and you're done!

Don't forget to post picture of your finished product in the comments, I'd love to see them! Oh, and do vote for me so I can get some much needed tools... Thanks!

Craftsman Workshop of the Future Contest

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Craftsman Workshop of the Future Contest