The Perfect Coffee Table - Fun for Kids and Classy for Adults




Introduction: The Perfect Coffee Table - Fun for Kids and Classy for Adults

A while back I began remodeling my basement to be a fun kid play place. I am building a bunch of different things to make the space fun and functional, with the centerpiece being a beautiful coffee table that doubles as a lego and play table. My wife and I discussed a few designs and decided on something that could contain all of the legos, but also look like a nice piece of furniture when not being used for play. So I built a top out of maple with a couple of removable/flippable center panels for playtime. There is also a hidden box to store all of the legos. It was a fun project to build and the kids love it!

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Lumber - the exact amount will vary depending upon what kind of lumber you use and how efficient you are. I built my project out of rough cut maple and used about 20 board feet of lumber.

1/2 inch plywood - these come in sheets of 4x8 feet. You will only need one piece of around 4x2.5 feet (actual dimensions will vary depending upon the final dimensions of your table - more on that later)

Wood glue, screws, dowels (depending upon your type of joinery), caulk

4 (or more) 32x32 dot lego baseplates

Paint - primer, cabinet paint, chalkboard paint

Polyurethane finish and perhaps stain if you don't want a natural finish

The tools needed will vary depending upon how it is constructed, but here are the tools I used:

Miter saw, table saw, jointer, thickness planer, dowelling jig, cordless drill, clamps, kreg pocket hole jig, sander, paintbrush and roller, forstner bit.

Step 1: Check Out the Video!

Step 2: Planning

After deciding on the final design, the next step is to determine the dimensions so that building can begin. I made a few changes to the project as I was building it, but ultimately my final measurements for the table were 18 inches tall, 30 inches deep and 54 inches wide. My original design was for the coffee table to be taller and I first cut the pieces longer, but we ultimately decided that a standard coffee table height of 18 inches would be the most functional. If I were to do it again, I would also make the piece less wide by a few inches so that I could fit a single panel in the bottom as the base, but more on that later.

When I first start building a project, I always make a rough drawing of my design, but I generally don’t use any software (something that I hope to get better at doing in the future). For this project I used another coffee table that I had built as a rough model (you can see a picture of that here:

Step 3: Cutting and Milling the Lumber Used for the Base

My table, both the base and top, will be built out of hard maple. It an exceptional wood in terms of strength and workability, but you could also use just about any other wood. Pine is readily available and can be purchased already milled, but you will need to be careful about wood selection as some pine has a tendency to warp (mainly due to how it is prepared). Poplar would be a good wood to use for painted pieces, but will require more sanding than maple prior to painting. Poplar, in general, is not a pretty wood and would not make for a nice top. If using poplar for painted pieces, I would suggest using a more attractive wood for the top.

I use a jointer to get flat edges and a thickness planer to get all of the boards to a uniform thickness (3/4 of an inch). I also use a miter saw to cut the pieces to the appropriate lengths and a table saw to rip the boards to proper widths. If you were using pre-milled lumber you would only need a simple saw to cut the proper lengths (and maybe a table saw if some boards need to be ripped along an edge).

All of my boards are milled to ¾ of an inch thick and cut to 2 inches wide* (with one exception explained below). The lengths of the boards vary depending upon what part of the table the piece is meant for. Once all of my boards have been milled and cut here is what I end up with:

4@ 18 inches – For the legs/corner pieces

4@ 18 inches – also for the legs/corner pieces *these pieces should be cut to 1 ¼ inches rather than 2 inches because these will be glued to the other corner pieces and we want a uniform width of 2 inches on all sides (see the next step for more details).

4@ 50 inches – for the top and bottom skirt of the wide sides

4@ 26 inches – for the top and bottom skirt of the short sides

6@ 6 inches – for braces between the top and bottom skirts – 2 for each of the long sides and 1 for each of the short sides (see pictures for more info).

Step 4: Joinery

Joinery refers to how all of the pieces are joined together and once all of my pieces of wood are milled and cut, I prepare for my joinery. There are many methods for joining pieces of wood together and it should be noted that some methods (like mortise and tenon) may require longer pieces than what I have noted above. For my joinery I will be using a Rockler doweling jig. It is time consuming to drill all of the holes, but the jig helps with alignment and strength. I drill 2 holes into the ends of all of the top/bottom skirts and braces and then corresponding holes in the legs and the top/bottom skirts (for the braces that will be included between the two). From the top of the table to the bottom of the skirt each side measures at 10 inches and one brace is paced in the center of the smaller sides and two braces placed equidistant from the edges on the larger sides.

As a side note, one of the reasons that I cut all of my pieces at 2 inches is because that is how wide my jig is and I have learned that alignment is much easier when you simply match the jig up to the edges rather than trying to line up center lines.

Step 5: Gluing the Legs

For the legs, I want to give the illusion of four larger pieces of wood each 2 inches by 2 inches square. To accomplish this I take the 8 pieces of wood cut at 18 inches and glue them together at the corners. As mentioned above, I cut one side of each leg to 1 ¼ inches wide to that when they are joined with the other piece which is ¾ of an inch thick, the combined width of each side will be 2 inches.

Note: I drilled the dowel holes in the legs before they were glued together because it is much easier to do to flat pieces.

Step 6: Adding a Groove for Panels

I plan on adding a panel to each side in-between the legs, the top/bottom skirts and the brace pieces. I use a router table and a router bit to add a ¼ inch groove to each side where the panels will sit. See the picture to get an idea as to what the pieces look like once the grooves are made.

I am using ¼ inch plywood for the panels and before Glue-up I cut them to the appropriate sizes.

Step 7: Glue-up

Before adding any glue to the piece I check to make sure that all of the pieces fit. It is always a good idea to dry fit all of the pieces first to make sure that no adjustments are needed because once you begin adding glue the clock starts ticking and it is too late to make any changes.

The glue up is straightforward, but in order to manage it I glue up the smaller sides first and after a day, glue up the longer sides. I add glue to all of the grooves, dowel holes and the dowels themselves and then clamp it up. Gluing up the larger pieces was a challenge because my longest clamps were slightly too short – one other reason to make the whole table a bit smaller. I rigged up a system using ratchet straps and some spacers for the corners and it worked out okay (not great, but okay)..

Step 8: Building the Inside Box

With the shell of the table completed, I need to put in the bottom of the box. I added a few brace pieces on the very bottom between the two larger sides to brace the bottom. I attached them with pocket hole screws and it is very strong. It may be overkill, but I want it to be strong enough so that there is no risk of it falling apart if one of the kids decides to jump in the center (I dunno how likely that is, but kids are unpredictable and we just can’t have nice things and so I like to plan for every scenario).

Once the braces are in I cut the bottom out of ½ inch plywood and glue/screw it down. This thing is not going anywhere. As I said earlier, if I were to build this piece again, it would not be so wide. Because it was more than 48 inches (which is the standard width of a panel) I had to cut a panel the long way in order to fit it. If the inner dimension was 48 inches (49 ½ total accounting for ¾ of an inch for each side) then there would be fewer cuts and less waste.

Step 9: Adding a Top Rest

The next step is critical as it allows for the top pieces to fit on the base. I mill and cut 4 pieces of wood that are then added to the top of the inside of the table. This will allow space for the top border and the top panels to sit without falling into the box. the pieces are all cut 2 inches wide and attached with pocket holes on the bottom where they won't be seen.

Step 10: Painting the Base

With the base finished I need to prep for glue. Apart from sanding all of the pieces, I also made sure that I caulked all of the cracks in the box. Lego pieces can be very small and I want to make sure that there aren’t any nooks or crannies where tiny pieces could get lodged or lost. You may notice from the pictures that I added caulk before the previous step of adding the top rest, but I definitely added the top rest before we painted.

We then painted a coat of primer and then a coat of paint. I am using special paint that is designed specifically for furniture and gives a hard protective coating.

Step 11: Building the Top: Border

The top is built in three sections. The first is the border, the and the second and third are the two center panels. For the border, I only need 4 pieces of wood that will be ripped to 3 inches wide. I am careful to cut them so that they will hang over the base about ¾ of an inch on each side and still give plenty of room on the inside for the center panels to sit. I milled and planed them in the same way that I milled all of the other boards, but because these pieces were not going to be painted I was very selective in the lumber the I chose. I attached the pieces to each other with dowels.

After clamping them overnight I sanded and added a roundover to soften the edge. From there I put a couple of coats of polyurethane finish and attached the base using screws. Generally with a table top one would need to be concerned with wood movement, but because these are only single boards, the movement will be minimal and so I felt that screws would work just fine. With the top border installed there is still about an half inch for the center panels to sit.

Step 12: Building the Top: Center Panels

I build the two center panels out of ½ inch plywood; I could have built them out of maple boards glued together to form a panel, but felt that this would be too heavy for the kids to manage. I cut the plywood slightly smaller than the holes that they will fill so that they there is space for them to move slightly; if they were too tight, they could not be lifted.

As one of my main objectives is to have a table that will double as a play table and a nice piece of furniture, I make maple veneer strips that are ¼ of an inch thick which will then be glued to one side of the plywood pieces that I cut. In order to do this, I resaw maple boards. Resawing just means that I take boards that have been sawed before and saw them again thinner. It is best to do this with a band saw, but I don’t have one and so I use a table saw. Once I resaw the boards I use the thickness planer to ensure that they are all ¼ of an inch thick. I then glue all the boards to my center panels. Each piece is slightly larger than the panel when I glue them, but that was intentional (better too long than too short). After glue-up, I trim them down with a plane.

When I glued the veneers on, I just placed heavy items like paint cans to weigh the wood down and thought that would be enough. There was a bit of curling on a few of the ends, however, and so I had to go back and clamp and glue some of the edges again. If I were to do this again, I would clamp the pieces face down and flat against a flat surface (with perhaps some wax paper between to make sure that I don’t glue the boards down). I think that would have made the glue-up more uniform and cut back on the curling.

With the quarter inch pieces glued to the base, the center panels now sit flush with the border.

At this point we also glue the lego baseplates down one one piece and use chalk paint on the other. Almost finished!

Step 13: Drilling Holes

In order to be able to pull the center panels in and out there needs to be a way to grab them. For this I drilled a hole on each side big enough for a few fingers to grab it. I used a 1 ¼ inch forstner bit to drill the holes. Forstner bits are critical because they cut carefully and will not mar the wood. I start on the maple side first and drill most of the way, but then flip it over and drill the rest from the other side. There was a bit of tear out on the plywood side, but that is simple to fix.

Step 14: Sit Back and Enjoy Your Handiwork!

After another coat of polyurethane, it is finished! I love how beautiful and functional it is. It is pretty enough to sit in any living room, but when opened up it can create endless hours of fun and enjoyment for the kiddos.

If you enjoyed this project, please consider checking out my other projects. I build all sorts of things around the house and for my family. I have other instructables or you can check out my YouTube channel,, follow me on instagram, or take a look at my website,

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    2 years ago

    Fantastically clever! I may need to make one of these! Blessings in the contest. :)