This is my tutorial for building a vintage inspired slat table/bench. Inspired by the Nelson slat tables, these are made from all types of wood, teak being the most common. This one is made from poplar, available at most big box stores and sold by the linear foot. During this tutorial we're going to make a slat bench rather then a table, its total dimensions will be 46"x16"x18", turning one of these into a table is simple, they sell 12" legs which you can get at most stores or order online, that will reduce the total height of the piece to 14.5" and is perfect for a coffee table.
Estimated Time : 2-3 days
3 medium bar clamps
Scrap straight piece of wood roughly 4'
1 Fine and Extra fine sanding sponge
(5) 1x2x8 poplar boards
(1) 1x3x8 poplar board
(1) 1x4x6 poplar board
(4) 22" table legs
(4) mounting brackets
(6) 1/2" plugs
Box of #8 1" 5/8th screws
(1) can of sandable primer
(2) cans of satin black
And with that here we go.
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Step 1: Video of Me Building the Table.
Here's a video I slapped together of me building the table using the steps outlined here.
Hope you enjoy it
Step 2: Cutting Your Boards to Length
After gathering all our pieces the first thing we need to do is cut all of our 8' boards down to length, first take a saw blade off the end of each of the boards to give them a new smooth edge, then mark out 46" from your new edge and clamp your piece down to your miter saw where your blade falls on the right side of your line. Install a stop block at the end of the board to insure that all your pieces from here forward will all be the same length. Your 1x2x8 and 1x3x8s will all be chopped down to 46".
Set all these pieces to the side, and remove one of your 1x2x46"s from the stack, we're only going to use 9 of them.
Also make sure to set aside all of your small 1x2 end pieces we're going to use them as spacers later in the project.
Step 3: Measuring and Cutting Your 45's and Creating a Second Stop Block.
Now grab your 9 1x2x46" pieces, measure down a half inch from the top of one of the boards and mark out a 45.
Take a scrap piece of lumber you have laying around and cut a 45 in it, line your saw blade up with your marked pencil line on your 1x2x46" and slide your stop block up to meet it, clamp your stop block down and make your first cut.
Flip your board and repeat the process, make sure you keep your angles going in the right direction, you've got one piece left over from the cut down process in case you screw one up. Its just one of those stupid little things that if you're not paying attention you'll mess it up, trust me i've done it.
Once you have all 9 pieces 45'd down, set 8 of them aside and grab your 1x3x46's" and line up the long edges and trace your 45 over to the 1x3x46", extend the line with your speed square, reset your stop block for the 1x3s and make 4 more cuts.
Step 4: Sand, Sand, Sand... and More Sanding.
Using 120 sand paper, you're going to want to sand all your pieces now, you dont really have to worry about the tops of the pieces because we can get those sanded once the table is completed. But you want to clean up your 45's of any tear out, and certainly we want to give any end grain a really good sanding. Also the inside lengths of all the pieces we really want to spend some time sanding.
Most of the time you're going to see saw marks in these boards, its really important to sand these out, they're from the mill where they cut all these pieces to length, and if you dont get these out once you paint the piece they're going to show through. So take your time and make sure you get all the inside facing pieces really sanded well. I usually just sand to 120 and move on, but if you like you can go up to 220, at least on the end grain because that's really going to soak up the paint.
Step 5: Prepping Your Workspace and Table Construction.
Prep is everything with this table, if you dont have good 90s then your table is going to be wonky and out of line, and thats just no good.
So take your drywall square and secure it to your work bench, then take a scrap straight piece of lumber and with your framing square align it 90 degrees perpendicular to your drywall square and secure it down. I use two screws to hold it down to the table top, but if you can use grip clamps if you like. But you want to make sure its really secure because you're going to be clamping your bench/table to this piece.
Now once your table is prepped for construction, take one of your 1x3x46's and place it down against your scrap wood and make sure the end is flush with your drywall square. Place 3 pieces of scrap 1x2 along the board, one at each end and one just offset from the center. Dont place your middle piece in the center, otherwise once you attach your support pieces you'll never be able to get the center spacers out.
Then follow this up with a 1x2x46" and add 3 more spacers, repeat this process through the width of the table. Inevitably some of your pieces will be bowed, but that's ok, just make sure all the ends are flush with your drywall square and everything will get pulled straight once we clamp these pieces together. Also you want to make sure all your pieces are laying flat against your work space table.
Once you've completed all your lay out, start with one clamp on the end with your drywall square, you just want to tighten it up a little bit, dont go crazy just yet, just enough to hold it in place. Make sure all your pieces are flush, and work your way to the other end, clamping just a little bit, checking to make sure everything is in line, and then moving onto the next clamp.
Here is where you want to get rid of any bows or pieces that are off the workspace, use some scrap to push them down if they're up, and then tighten the clamps fully down.
Step 6: Spacing and Cutting Your Cross Supports.
Now run your tape measure down the length of your table, make one mark on your 1x3x46" at 8" one at 23" and one at 38". This will evenly space out your cross supports, use your framing square to transfer your marks to the other side
Next make sure all your clamps are nice and tight and take a measurement of the width between your two 1x3x46's, mine worked out to be right about 14 1/4th. Take your 1x4x6' over to your miter saw and cut out three 14 1/4th pieces, using your speed square mark out the center point of both ends of these pieces. Bring them back to your table, and line up your cross support marks with the marks on your 1x4x14 1/4th. Use your speed square to make sure they're perpendicular to your outside boards and use a nail gun to tack down your supports.
If you like you can use a little glue here underneath these to give them a little extra support, but we're going to be putting 2 screws per slat into each of these boards, and that will be plenty to hold everything together. But if you like to glue and screw, by all means get crazy with the cheese whiz.
Step 7: Screwing Down Your Cross Supports and Securing the Side Rails.
Take your speed square and give yourself a good estimate of where the center point of your slats goes under your cross supports, you want to be fairly accurate with this because any drift may cause some break out between the slats and its just going to look ugly. So take your time here give yourself some good lines to work off.
Once you've completed that, grab your drill and insert a bit that's just a little smaller then the size of your screws, pilot holes are key here, you just want to make sure you get into the 1x2's underneath your cross supports.
Drill a lot of holes, 2 per each slat across all three cross supports, then go back and use a counter sink bit on all those holes you just drilled. This will help immensely at cutting down the chance of your cross supports cracking, but its not a certainty.
Once you've done that, check to make sure once again that all your slats are laying flat against your work surface, then start screwing them down. Dont go crazy tight with these, we're seriously over screwing these, but if any of your pieces is really out of wack and curved and bowed and what not, this will really help hold everything true.
Sadly on one of my last pieces I had some cracking even with my countersinks. So what I do is just pull the screw out all together and take some wood glue and fill in the void, take a grip clamp and slap it together, wait 20 minutes and move on. Like I said we're really over doing it on the screws so missing 1 here or there wont be a huge deal, just if you get a massive split down one of your boards, especially on one of the two end boards where the leg mounts will go, you might want to consider replacing it all together.
Step 8: Attaching Your Side Rails to Your Cross Supports.
This is a very important step, and one you want to be very exact in your measurements and your pilot holes.
Take a measurement from the top (actually when flipped over its the bottom) of your side rail (1x3x46") to the middle of your cross support. Then transfer this distance over to the outside of your side rail and lining it up with your previous marks for your cross supports, make a mark.
Drill a pilot hole on this mark, really try to get this one straight through the center of your cross support. Then use your counter sink bit to bore out the hole, dont go too deep we need a lot of wood to grip here to really hold these sides on, but you need enough of a hole to get your plugs glued in after they're screwed.
Go slow and take your time when screwing in these side rails to the cross supports, you dont want the screw gun bouncing out of the screw head and slamming straight into the rail. Really give it some good tension on that screw and repeat along both sides of your table.
Once this is done you can pop your clamps off, you shouldnt see any expansion of your table, maybe just a little but with all the screws and what not we have holding this thing together, it really shouldnt move at all.
Flip your table up on its side, pour some glue into your screw holes and insert a plug into each one, give them a little tap or a bit tap if need with a mallet to secure them and then do the same to the other side.
Lay your table top down again, and remove your leg mounting brackets from their packaging. Using your marks from your cross supports, line up the edge of your bracket with the center point and screw down. I've always just screwed these in just straight through the wood without a pilot hole and never had one break out, but by all means if you want to do some pilot holes go for it.
Once your plugs are dry, take a cut off saw and cut them flush with your rails.
Step 9: Optional, Cutting Down Your Table Legs
For this one it was being built as a bench, so the stock table leg sizes dont come in the right height for the table to be at the proper bench height. So I had to cut them down if you're making a coffee table, then you can buy the 12" version of the leg and move right to installing the legs and prepping for paint.
But if you want to build yours as a bench, please check out my tutorial on cutting down the table legs here
And that will give you all the information you need on how to take the stock 22" table leg down to the correct height for this bench. Also you'll get to make a cool little gauge to the find the center of a dowel too. So you might want to check that out just in case as well, cause its pretty handy if you find yourself drilling center holes in a lot of dowels.
Step 10: Hey Look More Sanding, and Prepping for Paint.
Now that you have the basic construction of your table complete, with the legs. You're going to want to sand all exposed surfaces down to at least 120. Start off at 80 and give everything a good sanding, make sure to remove any saw marks left from the mill on the top of your table, and make sure your plugs along the side rails are nice and flush.
I use a finish sander here rather then an orbital, for one the orbital has a tendency to really concave the wood along the plugs and once painted you're really going to see those divots, and two, sanding the top slats with an orbital is just a exercise in the best way to pull the paper off the bottom of the sander without using your hands.
So grab yourself a finish sander and go over everything, also make sure to knock down the edges of the slats and side rails to take some of the sharpness off the edges. This is a good step to take even if its being used as a coffee table as well as a bench.
Any small holes in the wood, from knots or around your plugs you'll want to take some sandable/paintable wood fill and fill in those gaps otherwise after painting you're really going to see them.
Once that's all done, you're going to want to wrap the ends of your table legs in tape, otherwise you're going to get over-spray on them and its going to look crappy, so take your time and make sure all the metal shiny bits are covered in tape.
Step 11: Priming, Sanding, Painting, Sanding, Painting.
Start with your table/bench legs up on your painting table, out doors in a ventilated space. One can of primer should make you through the bottom and top of the table.
Make sure to get between the slats and around all the table legs.
Once that's dry give it a quick sand, I use an fine sanding sponge, like 3 bucks at the depot and great for this kind of work.
You're going to want to make sure you get all the dust off the piece, so if you have an air compressor give it a good blast of air, or you can use tact cloth, or just a damp paper towel to get all your primer dust off.
Then starting off on the bottom again shoot which ever color you picked, making sure to get between the slats as best you can from underneath, flip the table and do the same to the top. Let it dry and give it a sand with and extra fine sanding sponge, repeat as necessary until you're happy with the final product.
Just make sure to clean your piece between each sanding.
Step 12: Hey You're Done! (examples of Other Tables I've Built With This Method)
After your happy with the results of paint you're done.
I used a satin black on this table, but I've done them in high gloss black, white, even purple for customers. Also I've done a more high end piece out of solid maple using the same techniques. Feel free to experiment with woods, cedar would be a great choice if you planned on using this outside as a bench.
I hope you enjoyed my tutorial and I really hope you enjoy your finish piece.
Any questions or suggestions please feel free to drop a comment below or shoot me a message. I make a ton of these tables for customers, and my building process is constantly upgrading, but for the past 10 or so these are the steps I take to produce a quality piece but I'm always looking to improve so any suggestions I'd be happy to hear them.
Have fun and thanks for reading.