Coffee tables can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. That goes for the design and the building operation. This makes them the perfect project for new woodworkers and DIYers. Also, it's pretty difficult for you to end up with a product that won't hold your coffee.
This table includes some beginner and intermediate techniques that are perfect for practice and skill building. I built this table for a client that came to me with the design.
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Step 1: Cut Your Shelf to Size
Let's start with the bottom piece, the shelf. It's the largest piece in the project besides the glass. I used 3/4" walnut veneered MDF for this piece. I had it left over from another project and it was the perfect width. AlI needed to do was cut it to length. If you decide to build this, I would recommend using a veneered plywood or hardwood. The MDF worked out just fine in the end. I just don't enjoy working with it. It's extremely dusty!
To cut the wood, I first measured and marked out the appropriate length minus the distance from the blade to the outside edge of my circular saw base. On that line, we can clamp down a straight edge and in my case I use an aluminum level. Next place down a strip of blue painters tape where you're going to make the cut and make sure to put it in on both sides of the board and without wrinkles or bubbles. Now we can reference the outside edge of our circular saw and make the cut. After cutting, check for square and accuracy. Make adjustments if necessary.
Step 2: Cut the Stretchers
Now let's work on the stretchers. The panel we used for the shelf is just 3/4" thick and it would look a bit flimsy if we left it as is so we're going to make the material thicker around the edges. We cut down some walnut to the exact length of our shelf. One piece for each side.
Step 3: Route the Strechers
These stretcher can be glued on as they are but I opted to cut a rabbet on them. This hides most of the material underneath the MDF shelf piece and minimizes the amount of end grain you see on the corners. I made the stretchers about 1 1/2" x 3/4" and the rabbet is 1" x 5/8". I used a 1/4" up-spiral bit in a router table and took a lot of shallow passes to get a clean and straight cut.
Step 4: Fit the Stretchers Into Each Other
Next we have to remove some material on the end of two of the stretchers so they can fit into each other. I chose to do this on the longer stretchers because I thought it would be more pleasing to the eye. We can use a handsaw to cut down to the bottom of the rabbet and then use a chisel to chop out the remaining material. Make sure to hold your tools square to end up with a square cut.
Step 5: Glue Up
It's time to join the stretchers to the shelf. I did this glue up in two different steps. I first glued on the longer pieces and then glued on the shorter ones. It seemed easier to manage everything this way. I apply glue to both faces of the rabbet and clamp both long pieces on at the same time. Before I clamped the clamps tight, I fit the short pieces into their positions. This made it easy to line up the longer pieces. Once the glue dried, I took off the clamps and glued on the short stretchers. I don't have clamps that are long enough to reach from one end of the shelf to the other so I taped the pieces in place using blue painters tape.
Step 6: Cut and Sand
At this point the main assembly and most of the difficult work is done. Now let's work on the eight pieces that make up the supports for the glass and the legs. These are fairly simple. The width and thickness is the same on all the pieces but the length is different. Of course you want all of your supports to be the same length and all your legs to be the same length. The best way to do this is to use a stop block.
Once the pieces are cut, you can sand them. And while you're at it, this is a good time to sand the shelf.
Step 7: Attach the Supports to the Base
With this project we want as few screws as visible as possible. In order for this to happen, we have to attach the supports for the glass first. You need to measure careful and think about where you want the supports and legs to be. On this table the supports and legs look like one continuous piece so think about placement. You don't want to run into the stretchers.
First things first, after measuring, drill the holes in the shelf that we'll use to screw the supports to the shelf. To transfer the holes to the supports, puts screws in the holes and have them stick out slightly on the other side. Place your support piece where they'll go and press them down onto the screws so the screws leave an impression in the end grain. Now you know where to drill the holes in the supports. Be careful to drill these holes straight and square.
I added a bit of style points be changing the orientation of the supports. Two face one way and the other two the other way. This gives it some visual interest as opposed them all facing the same way.
Screwing into end grain like this isn't a particularly strong connection. To remedy this I used very long screws, about 3", and also used wood glue. With these two things, the supports are very strong. They are also not very long, about 10", so there isn't much stress if pressed from the side.
Step 8: Attach the Legs
Attaching the legs is a very similar process to attaching the supports but we're going to use pocket screws. We can drill three pocket screw holes. Two on one side and one in between those two on the other side. Here again you have to be careful to line up the legs to be even with the supports. Take your time because any unevenness will be visible. It's also a good idea to add wood glue here too.
Step 9: Apply the Finish
This shelf isn't a very heavily used area of the table. It may hold a magazine or laptop so we don't need a heavy, thick film finish. I used 4 coats of danish oil. The oil finish also leaves a close to the wood feel.
Step 10: "Attach" the Glass
After bringing this table into the room it'll be used, we can place the glass on top. However, before we do this we need to secure it. There are two different ways you can go about this. You can use some clear silicone or adhesive to secure the glass and make sure it won't slip off. Or you can take the method I took and use clear double sided tape. The tape is great because you can adjust the glass if you didn't place it on straight the first time, however the silicone or adhesive is much stronger. I recommend using clear silicone.
It's a good idea to use tempered glass here. This way if it were to break, it would break into small pieces and not large shards. Laminated glass would be even better. Here I used 1/4" tempered and tinted glass. After seeing the glass on the table, I wish I went with a thicker glass. Around 5/16". I don't think this glass will break under normal circumstances but the thicker option would be safer in case it's under stress and would look a bit better.
Step 11: Congratulations!
Your new coffee table is all done and looks great so make sure you use a coaster!
If you have any questions, let me know down below.
You can watch the video here on how I built this coffee table.
You can also find me on Youtube
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