How to Build a Table

How to Build a Table

Even basic woodworking can benefit from a little bling. In this project, you'll build a basic table and then choose how to decorate it—think inlay, stencils, fancy finishes. This simple design also lends itself well to stretching or squishing to fit your space. Simply consistently adjust the dimensions of all the materials to change its size.


• Measuring tape

• Pencil

• Miter saw or handsaw

• Bar clamps (at least 3)

• Hammer

• Tools for decorative effects


• Three 6-foot 1 × 4 pine boards

• One 8-foot 1 × 4 pine board

• One 6-foot 1 × 1 pine board

• Four 2" × 2" table legs, cut to desired table height

• Brad nails

• Sandpaper

• Wood glue

• Materials for decorative effects as desired

1 Select and cut the three 6-foot 1 × 4 pine boards in half with a saw to make six 3-foot 1 × 4 strips.

2 Join these boards to form a 36" × 24" tabletop. Lay the six 3-foot boards side by side on a flat surface, glue between each board, adjust until flush and flat, and use at least three bar clamps to hold the boards together while they dry (at least 4 to 6 hours). Once dry, sand the tabletop until smooth.

How to Build a Table

3 Measure, mark, and cut two 20½" lengths of 1 × 4 and two 22" lengths of 1 × 4. You will use these four pieces to make a boxlike frame for your tabletop to sit on. Center the four boards on their sides in a square on the underside of your tabletop, with the 22" pieces outside the 20½" pieces. With the frame perfectly square, drive two brad nails per side through the 22" pieces into the ends of the 20½" pieces to hold the frame together. Later, you'll attach this frame to the tabletop.

How to Build a Table

4 Saw four 2 × 2s to equal lengths for the legs. Kitchen or dining tables are usually about 29" tall, and end tables are usually about 24" tall. Place the four legs in the inside corners of the 1 × 4 frame you made in the previous step, flush to the top, and drive brad nails through the 1 × 4s to hold the legs in place.

How to Build a Table

5 Measure the four distances along the frame between the inside faces of your 2 × 2 legs. Cut four lengths of 1 × 1 to this measurement and fix them between the legs, against the frame and flush with its top. Drive brad nails through the 1 × 1s to attach them to the frame.

How to Build a Table

6 Add the tabletop. Center it on the frame and use brad nails spaced about every 6 inches, driven up through the 1 × 1s to hold it in place.

How to Build a Table

7 Slightly countersink all nails and cover the heads with a mixture of wood glue and sawdust (optional). Sand the table until smooth, then paint, stain, and decorate as desired (see Suggested Decorative Effects, following).

Suggested Decorative Effects

Inlay. A router, some wood veneer, and a little artistic moxie can turn a table into a treasure. Draw the shapes of your inlay on carbon tracing paper, then onto thin wood veneer. Once the inlays are on the veneer, carefully cut them out with a sharp, fine-toothed jigsaw. Working with one piece at a time, use double-sided tape to hold the inlays on the tabletop and trace deep lines around them with a utility knife. Remove the taped inlays and switch to your router. Use a 1/16" bit set to the depth of your wood veneer to carefully rout your shapes into the wood. Glue the inlays in place and clamp until dry. Sand the tabletop smooth. End with a protective finish.

Mosaic. Any small, tilelike pieces can be used for mosaics: bits of Venetian glass, ceramic pieces, mirrors, small stones, sea glass, marbles, and so on. Use a hammer to make small shapes and tile nippers to further sculpt them. Plan your mosaic pattern and then outline it in pencil on your tabletop. Dab adhesive on the back of every piece—you'll need to match it to your mosaic materials. Try to leave less than ⅛" between pieces, using small tiles to fill spaces. Once the tiles are in place, use a rubber squeegee to spread grout across the entire surface of the project, being sure to fill all gaps. In this case, you'll want to use fine grout. Choose a grout color that complements your mosaic and table, and consider a polymer grout if you imagine heavy use. Let the grout set until firm, at least 15 to 20 minutes, and then wipe it from the tile with a cloth or wet sponge. Scrape sticky grout with a wooden or other non-scratch tool. If you use porous material, consider finishing with a sealant.

Distress. In order to distress a finish, you must first put one on. Either stain and then distress or distress and then stain—both work equally well. If you'll be staining as the final step, focus on adding dents to the wood. Try one of these destructive options: Flay the table with a chain, beat it with a sock filled with nuts and bolts, or throw an old tool at your table (it works!). If you will be distressing after finishing, use extremely coarse sandpaper—50 or 60 grit—to rough up the paint or finish, adding scratches and clouds.