Introduction: How to Build Glass Top Shadow Box Coffee Table

A recent project I completed was a glass top shadow box coffee table.The customer wanted the table refinished and we made some cosmetic changes to update the look.See pictures.

Well her friend had been looking for something similar on the internet but had not had any luck.She asked if that was something I could make for her.Here is the result!I hope you like it!

She wanted something more traditional.I started by looking for a reasonably priced table leg.The one I found was from Van Dyke’s Restorers.They have tons of shapes and sizes.It was on sale, around $16 each plus some shipping.I sketched up a square table per her request. The table would be 42” wide, 42” long and 18 ¾” tall.(the sketch originally had a 15” leg but it did not suit her). I attempted to use stock wood for all the components to keep it simple, on time and on budget.

Materials / tools:

(4) table legs of choice

(4) 1” x6” x 8’#1 pine for the tabletop and skirt

(2) 1” x 2” x 8’ pine

(2) ¾” x ½” trim pine (stop?)

(2) ¾” decorative trim

(1) 4’ x 4’ ¼” birch plywood for the base of the shadowbox area

Nail gun

Miter saw



Pocket hole jig

Circular saw

Router with ¼” bit

Hand sander (palm rotary is what I have)

Safety First!  Wear goggles, dust mask,  ear protection, gloves!  Don't skip because it is inconvenient! 
Bad things can happen and never when you expect.  I recently had to rush my helper to the eye doctor.  We had finished  cutting, sanding etc. on a different project.  Just doing some assembly.  However, he bumped something and saw dust came raining down on him.  Some got in his eye.  He was in agony and had to have his eye cleaned and treated by the Doctor.  He is fine now but they were worried for a time about cornea damage.  So it is a good idea to keep your safety gear on whenever possible and keep your shop clean and orderly.

Photos:  Our project, before and after on the original, the legs we used and finally our original sketch

Step 1: Step 1

Step 1

I began by cutting two 1”x 6” x 8’ in half.I then routed a quarter inch wide/ deep groove on each board to hold the glass flush to the top.Each section needed to be 42” so I then miter cut 45 degree at each end to the proper length.I ended up with 4 sections that made the frame of the top.

I test fit the pieces upside down on the floor and placed the legs in place to check spacing.I centered the legs along the miter cut evenly.I then measured that space to determine the skirt length.I then cut the remaining 1” x 6” boards to make the pieces for the skirt and set them aside.I took the top pieces inside to the flattest most level spot in my house, our kitchen island.I placed the top pieces on the counter, ran glue on the miters and then used a strap clamp to pull the pieces together.Flat items tend to bow when strapped so I placed a heavy paint can on each corner while they dried. To keep my wife happy and her not kill me, I placed a small piece of wax paper under each area that was glued so that it wouldn’t leak on the counter top.

Step 2: Step 2

Step 2
My plan was to use pocket screws for everything.   I used a Kreg pocket hole jig (one of my favorite tools) to drill 5 evenly spaced holes on each skirt piece on the inside top edge to mount to the table top.  I then drilled 3 on each end to mount to the legs.  I won’t go into the use of the jig here.  There are many wonderful Instructables on here that can show you how.   Time to assemble the skirt and legs.  A helper will come in handy here.  I had one for a short while but then had to manage by myself with the use of a bar clamp.  I placed two legs upside down at each end of a skirt piece (upside down also). Place glue on each end of the skirt.  I clamped the three pieces together so I could insert the pocket screws.  Repeat the other side.  The reason I did this on the floor was to keep all parts flush so they would be flush to the table top.  Once the pieces set up join the two halves with the remaining two boards in the same fashion.

Step 3: Step 3

Step 3

I unclamped the top.It wasn’t as sturdy as I hoped.However,I only needed it to stay together while I screwed the skirt toit.  I flipped over the top.  I then flipped all the joined legs and skirt upside down and placed the works on top of the table top.Once centered, I traced the skirt and legs on the underside of the table top.I moved everything over and ran glue around the marked areas of the top.I then placed the skirt and legs back in place.I proceeded to to screw pocket screws around the perimeter, zigzagging from side to side to help it from wiggling out of place while I worked.The block end of the legs added much needed stability to the mitered corners of the top.Reluctantly I shot one or two nails in each of the corners of the top to keep them from separating while everything dried.The basic table was done.

Step 4: Step 4

Step 4

Once everything dried overnight,  I began by adding decorative trim on the edges of the skirt.  It added character to the table but would also hide the edge of the plywood bottom I would put I later.  The top piece I cut and placed at the top between the legs.  The other piece I placed along the bottom edge of the skirt overhanging approx. ¼”.  I cheated by holding a piece of ¼” scrap on the edge while I glued and nailed it.  No measuring.  Repeat on all 4 sides.  I then glued and nailed a 1” x 2” on the inside of the skirt at the top.  It added more stability to the top and helped hide the pocket screws.  I placed ¾” x ½” pine at the corners of the legs.  This would hide the edge of the bottom plywood when installed for a more finished look. 

Step 5: Step 5

Step 5

The table was finally assembled.  I filled the cracks in the mitered corners with wood filler being careful not to over fill the area.  Wood filler, like glue, can block the stain sometimes and not allow a nice finish.  Once all nail holes etc. were filled and dried, everything got a sanding.  I sanded the mitered corners the most to have a flat finished joint.  The rest got a light sanding to prep for staining.  Everything was stained with  three coats of a chestnut color oil stain.  I then added two coats of satin water poly.  The wood still had an uneven look to the stain so I glazed everything.  It helped even out the color and add some character.  I gave everything two more coats of poly. 

During all this the weather had turned and I never was able to get a sheet of ¼” ply.  I finally had a chance to trudge out but now I had to stain and finish the bottom separately.  I measured the base and cut the bottom.  After a dry fit, I applied glue and then put it back in but I used small wood screws to hold it in place.  After that it was off to the glass place.  I wanted them to fit the glass in case things had come out of square.  I almost forgot, before leaving for the glass I drilled a small hole in one corner of the bottom where it wasn’t too noticeable. A little stain hid the fresh cut hole.   A small dowel was cut to push through the hole to lift the glass.  After all, the table is for displaying small nick nacks and needs to open easily without breaking off your fingernails or gouging the top with a knife or screwdriver.    

Well, that’s about it.  I hope you like the finished product.  The table is easily modified to any size you need.  If you have a glass top table already, consider putting a bottom in it to make a shadow box.  I look forward to your comments,questions and feedback.  By the way, the customer was thrilled with her new table!