Introduction: How to Build a Modern Coffee Table
I've been wanting a modern, light wood coffee table with rounded ends for awhile, so I finally built one. This video is a tutorial of how I took solid maple lumber and layers of maple plywood and turned them into an awesome modern coffee table.
Check out the video above to see much more detail about how I built it.
My website has the table's dimensions: https://www.makergray.com/wood/2018/4/9/moderncoffeetable
Step 1: Tools and Materials
Materials and Tools I used to make this project (affiliate):
- 3/4” Maple Plywood
- Circular Saw - https://amzn.to/2WSrF7Q
- Wood Glue - https://amzn.to/2D8lqFx
- Kreg Accu Cut - https://amzn.to/2ItpC66
- Biscuit Joiner - https://amzn.to/2U6uHDV
- Biscuits - https://amzn.to/2uXKryF
- Belt Sander - https://amzn.to/2D4BcBm
- Orbital Sander - https://amzn.to/2uWHM8A
- Jigsaw - https://amzn.to/2G8twP4
- Table Saw - https://amzn.to/2ULJKXQ
- Bandsaw - https://low.es/2IaMdoZ
- Trim Router - https://amzn.to/2YXmJk9
- Japanese Pull Saw - https://amzn.to/2GaUnv6
- Finish - https://amzn.to/2P0goQc
- Dust Mask - https://amzn.to/2G8w8wm
Step 2: Cut & Glue Top Boards
I’m starting by making the table top. And for that, I’m using 3 ¾ maple boards that I picked up from my local hard wood lumber yard. I found the center of the boards and then made a rough cut to cut the boards in two.
Now that I have 6 boards, I paired them off making 3 1.5” boards, and then glued each pair together with wood glue.
I had a lot of surface area to glue and not a lot of time before the glue started to set up so I worked quickly to get each pair together once the glue was applied. And once they were all glued up, I sandwiched the three couples together in clamps to make the most use of the clamps I have.
Step 3: Make the Edges Straight
After letting the glue dry overnight, I unclamped my three boards and got started with making the edges straight. These 3 boards are going to be glued together side by side to make a table top, so establishing a straight edge where the boards meet, with no gaps, is my goal.
To do this, I got out my Kreg Accu Cut to help my circular saw run in the straightest line possible. This Accu Cut is just a straight track that has a guide that attaches to most circular saws.
Step 4: Prepare the Edges to Join
Here, you see me lining out marks across the two seems where I’ll be joining the boards together. These marks are going to guide my biscuit joiner. A biscuit joiner is just a tool that cuts out slots in the mating edges to help make the joining of the edges more accurate.
To do this, you line up the joiner on the matching marked lines to cut out slots in each board.
Step 5: Glue Up the Boards
Next I applied wood glue on the edges to be joined, as well as in the slots.
I then inserted these biscuits in each slot of one piece of wood. Then, with the mating piece of wood, you slide the biscuits into their corresponding slots. And again, this is just helping to make the joining of the edges more accurate.
Once both joints were glued, I was able to put this table top into clamps to dry.
Step 6: Sand the Top Flat
After letting the glue dry overnight, I was able to move my top outside with my belt sander to start sanding. To rough flatten this top I started with 80 grit sandpaper. And then I moved to 120 grit to further smooth it all out.
The final shape of this coffee table will have rounded ends. When it came time to cut the curves, I didn’t have anything on hand to accurately draw the half circle cut lines I wanted. So I looked around my shop and got creative with some leftover stud shimming material from a past bathroom renovation. It was flexible enough to curve nicely, but stiff enough to hold up while I drew my lines. I placed temporary screws into my bench top to be extra hands to hold the template in place. And then I was able to draw my round cut lines.
Step 8: Cut the Curved Ends
To cut each end, I used my jigsaw and cut just outside of the line. That way I could then use my belt sander and sand to the line to make sure the curves were nice and round.
I then flipped my table upside down and added a chamfered edge to the bottom with my palm router. And with that detail done, my top was roughly done!
Step 9: Cut & Glue Strips for the Base
The base of this coffee table is going to be made out of stacked strips of maple plywood. To make these strips, I cut 2.5” wide pieces on my table saw. I cut enough strips that would create the height I wanted the base to be once they were stacked together.
When I had enough plywood strips for my two base ends, I glued them up three strips at a time and then sandwiched them all into clamps to dry. You’ll see why I only glued three at a time here in a second.
Step 10: Prepare the Base for Cutting
Once they were dry I took the top pieces and marked where Il'l need to cut out some material for the table top to sit in. Then to make my cut lines for the curved ends, I grabbed a small rounded jar of plumbers putty, which was the perfect sized round template to draw my lines.
Step 11: Cut the Base Ends
To make these round cuts I used my band saw. And this is why I kept my glue ups for this base at 3 inches or less. My small band saw has a 3” depth.
For the curved ends, I again cut just outside of the line. Ill go back later and sand to the line to make these curves nice and round. The band saw also worked great for cutting away the material for the table top to sit in.
Step 12: Glue Up the Base Pieces
Once they were all cut, I applied glue between each board and clamped each base up. I let that dry overnight and then for the first time got a good look at how these bases would really look with the top. And I have to say, it looked even better than I imagined.
Step 13: Make the Center Brace
I’m going to want these two bases to stay in place so I’m going to add a center brace to tie them together. For this I just took a leftover piece of plywood to the table saw and ripped it in half
I glued these two pieces together to make a thicker 1.5” wide brace.
I then made a cut on each base for the center brace to sit in. I made the cuts with my Japanese pull saw. I just made multiple cuts and then used a hammer and a chisel to remove the meat in the middle and clean everything up.
I then wrapped some sand paper around a sanding block and smoothed out the inside of the recess.
Step 14: Sanding
With all my cuts done I moved on to sanding. I used my belt sander, starting with 80 grit paper, and surface flattened the sides – getting rid of any glue squeeze out and rough spots. Then I moved to the curved ends and sanded the edges, making them nice and round.
And then again with my orbital sander with 180 grit sandpaper to finish it up.
With everything sanded I took the center brace piece and glued it in to the two slots I made on each base, connecting them together.
Step 15: Applying Finish
To prepare for finish on the table top, I first wiped a damp rag over the wood which raises the grain of the wood fibers. You can’t prevent raised grain with a water based finish, which is what I’ll be using, so it’s good to deal with it first so the finish comes out smooth. After letting the top dry, I then sanded it smooth with my orbital sander.
The finish I’m using is High Performance Satin by General Finishes. It’s my new favorite finish and I can’t recommend it enough. I love this finish on light woods like this maple because it dries crystal clear and doesn’t change the color of the wood or cause it to slightly yellow at all.
Now that I’m applying this water based finish, the wood grain won’t raise again nearly as much as it did with the first wetting, helping to keep this table top super smooth. I applied three coats of this finish to the top and the base, of course drying and sanding in between coats.
And with the finish applied, the coffee table is done!
I'm thrilled with how this coffee table came together and I love the way it looks in my living room. I'm also super happy with how durable it is.
Runner Up in the