Mid Century Coffee Table




First, this design isn't necessarily my own. It's a common mid century design that I added some of my favorite details to. Mainly the box joinery. Sorry about the images being smaller, I only took these with my iPhone and updated my progress on Instagram a while back. My Instagram is @jessemckee if you enjoy following woodworkers like I do.

I didn't come up with plans for this since I judged the height first by the height of my couch, then by proportion of the legs and box opening last. The end product ended up being 24x48" and the box is 9.5" tall and the legs are 6" tall.

My favorite wood is walnut and I ordered around 30 board feet of 4/4 S4S (surfaced on all 4 sides) from my local hardwood dealer. I ordered a bit extra for possible mess-ups, so not sure what my table ended up using.

All the materials for this project totaled to roughly $175. That's for the wood and finish.

Step 1: Thicknessing and Surfacing the Wood

I roughly cut my pieces to size with a couple inches longer than needed for good measure (in case I screwed up my box joints later) then ran all my boards through the thickness planer first to guarantee a perfect glue-up. With the wood being S4S, this saved a lot of time not having to use the jointer.

Step 2: Glue Up the Panels

I used a biscuit jointer on all the pieces for alignment as I glued everything up.

Step 3:

The boards all glued up. The walnut is incredible.

Step 4: Box Joints

Most of us have seen multiple variations of box jointing jigs for the table saw, but when you have a piece that is 48-50" long, that jig is a little small and I don't have the ceiling height to push the ends through my table saw. So, I made a portable jig to be used with the router that can track down the piece as I cut out each box individually. It actually didn't take long once the jig was set up. I'm sure this jig is common and has a name, but I couldn't seem to find anything so this came from my brain and probably could have been made a bit better.

Knowing that I had two lateral pieces and three vertical pieces, I wanted to cut them all at once for perfect alignment. The jig was made to sandwich all the pieces. It worked surprisingly well.

Step 5: Dry Fit

The moment of truth. The first dry fit. It was a little snug, but nothing a chisel couldn't fix. Once this worked, I was able to mark out the center mortices which was probably the scariest thing. You can see a little closer of an image of the center mortices a few images down.

Step 6: Center Mortices

For the center mortises, I took the center vertical piece and flipped it upside down on the top to mark my holes. Then on to cutting into the perfect top... Take a deep breath. I bored out most of the material using a forstner bit and chiseled the holes square. My biggest concern was that when I would push the vertical piece up the mortices from the bottom that I would blow something out, but luckily the walnut was hard enough that it held together nicely.

Step 7: Assembly and Gluing of the Box

Now to glue it up. Never enough clamps. Luckily, my workbench was super flat at the time and I used it as a reference for warp prevention.

Step 8: The Legs

Now on to the legs. I wanted the legs to be 6" tall and strong. It's a coffee table, in the center of the room and I want to put my feet on it, and sometimes I will sit on it to put my shoes on or my kid will want to crawl all over it and jump off when I'm not looking. So I decided to do open mortice and tenons to attach the feet to the aprons.

Here's my tenon jig modified to accept the angle I decided on. Maybe a 20 degree angle? I don't remember. Do whatever makes you happy.

Step 9: Legs Assembled

Here are the legs all cut, and glued up. I added some oak dowels for decoration and possible added strength. The legs attach to the box by screws.

Step 10:

Here's the piece before final sanding and finishing.

Step 11: The Finish

Now to disassemble and finish. I went with a satin wipe on poly from General Finishes. Around 4 coats on the entire piece and 6-7 coats on the top. Even after building up that many coats, it still feels natural and water rings still haven't shown up after a year's worth of use.

Step 12: Done

Here's the final product. I still love it and would love to build another someday just for the fun of it.

On a Budget Contest

Participated in the
On a Budget Contest



    • Frozen Treats Challenge

      Frozen Treats Challenge
    • Beauty Tips Contest

      Beauty Tips Contest
    • Sensors Contest

      Sensors Contest

    37 Discussions


    2 years ago

    First of all...this is a great piece of furniture! I have a couple of questions.

    How did you cut the joints on the top and bottom pieces? Did your reference of the joints you cut on the side and middle pieces?

    Also did you use the same jig on the bottom and top piece since the are just two boards and not three?




    3 years ago

    I was just looking at making a mid-century modern coffee table similar in design to what you made here. I choke at the value of the Walnut. I wish I had a retailer that sold wood that cheaply - I bought a piece of 4/4 teak for trimming mine and it was $40+/bf. What a beautiful table and I really like the leg detail. You have some superior wood working skills. I am looking to make mine out of plywood covered in teak veneer. I piles of teak veneer, which I picked up for a song at a local auction. The table will be nothing fancy, assembled with just screws and glue, and I will be using a central drawer compartment to stiffen it.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    When you are glueing the boards together, how do you avoid the overflow glue seeping into the wood? I recently did a project that I glued and wiped the excess. Then I sanded it after it was dry and when I stained it I noticed the glue had penetrated the wood. Any advice much appreciated! (Awesome table)

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Don't wipe it off. Take it off after it dries. I learned that from a high school woodwork shop teacher.


    4 years ago on Step 12

    Wow, you did a professional job. A modern classic.

    Very nice. I would definitely have that in my living room. Only change I would make is to use dovetails on the ends for added strength (i have kids that like to climb on stuff)

    3 replies

    Dovetails would look great as well. With the boxy shape of the piece, I thought box joints would be appropriate visually. With the structure of this piece, dovetails and box joints would have the same structural integrity. If I were doing drawer fronts where force were being pulled, dovetails would be superior. This piece has zero movement or racking. My kid climbs all over it and it's not going anywhere. I also usually stand on it to change the light bulbs in the fan above.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Great instructable! I too, another rookie, would love to see the details of your router jig. I just followed you on Instagram. Ahh, I am so inspired now and stuck at my day job behind a desk!

    AWESOME! As a total rookie woodworker, I'm having a little trouble understanding the router jig section, and would love you to expound on that. Great work!

    2 replies

    Thanks! I think I'm gonna try to make a separate Instructable on just the jig in the next few weeks. It turned out to be fairly primitive.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks Jesse! I would also love to see more details on how your built that jig and how to use it. I'm a novice like Hal Nine Thousand with only a few small tools at home, so it would be awesome to see how I could do this kind of joinery without fancy equipment :-)


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I agree about the walnut! If I didn't already have a Lane walnut MCM coffee table, I'd be ready to build this one! Gorgeous!

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    The mid century era of Lane, Maloof and Herman Miller is definitely my favorite. I wish every one of my commissions were in that style.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Wow, this is absolutely effing gorgeous.

    I'm very fond of the visible joinery, it adds a lot to the aesthetic of this project. Kudos man!

    As someone else mentioned, I'm pretty curious about your router jig, would be glad to read about it if you have time to make an instructable on it.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Ha, thanks for the kind words. I'll definitely have one on the jig soon. Maybe a couple weeks.