DIY Pallet Coffee Table

DIY Pallet Coffee Table

My friend, Su, emailed me one day asking if I could help her build a coffee table. She had been browsing around sites that offered a variety of projects and found WonderForest. A blog by a young designer/artist/entrepreneur named Dana. She had posted a DIY coffee table project made from scrap pallets she found nearby. This seemed to be the best solution to a serious lack of surface space for her living room. It also helps that she works for a large service print company that has a variety of pallets to choose from. So, off we set to building a table.

What you need
First and foremost for those who dont have a shop laying around waiting to be used. Here is a list of materials and tools needed to finish the project.

  • Hammer
  • Flatbar (helpful and cleaner than a hammer with stubborn nails)
  • Nails (short and long, new ones – dont use the old ones)
  • Sandpaper (I used 60, 100, and 150)
  • Saw (in case you need to cut things down)
  • Pen/pencil/paper (dont laugh, you would be surprised)
  • Stain (your table, your poison)
  • Clean towels, nitrile gloves, brushes or sponges (for stain)
  • T-Square (helpful but not necessary)
  • Power sander (again stupid helpful but if you have arms like Popeye you’ll be fine)

The build
Since Su had a good number of pallets to choose from, she was able to get fairly decent looking newer ones. She also didn’t want to get something overbearing and cumbersome, so she chose two at half size. Once we got the wood into the shop we started tossing around ideas about how best to making her new table.

There were a few noticeable concerns. Like the layout of the boards. On a normal pallet they run the full length of the pallet, but the shorter half sized ones run side to side and have additional support boards underneath running long ways. So we simply built our design from this and kept the direction of the wood. Another concern was the wood blocks instead of solid boards for bases. We considered just using them to separate the top from the magazine shelf, but they were all too oddly shaped. Luckily, I have extra 2×4’s laying around to cut down and fill in the missing parts to match the original design posted to The Wonder Forest.


After a bit, I thought the design could use a little bit better stability and changed the location of the legs. The plan was to inset them flush to the edges and up to the underside of the top surface. They are also going to be cut into the magazine shelf on the outside of the 2×4 cross pieces. That may not be clear now, but will make sense later when finished. You may be able to see the idea in one of the quick sketches I drew out.

Su was actually happy with the sketch above and we went to town disassembling the pallets. They came apart fairly easy, but at the same time took a little finess. The wood was so soft and light, if you pulled too hard on the existing nails, they would either go right through the wood, or the flatbar would crack it in half.

We got all the wood pulled from each of the pallets, the nails removed and the extra bits of wood blocks, that we decided to completely ditch, cleared away and stacked accordingly.

After which, we lined them out in a way that would best close the gaps between the boards. Honestly, it didn’t really matter in the end separating them out, cause we ended up picking and choosing the best ones for the top…the rest got bottom bunk. Fortunately the pallets were built fairly close and didn’t need to much mix and matching to get them nice and tight.

I guess in retrospect this is where we should have stained and put them together after, I didn’t want to deal with a bunch of individual pieces of wood and stain and all that goes on with staining so I decided to get the top and bottom of the table pieced together and sanded and stained as two single objects.
I used small head finishing nails so to hide the nails when punched through the surface of the wood, I didn’t want more holes in addition to the existing holes that were placed in the original build. I did this also, so when we sanded down the surface, the paper wouldn’t rip on the nail head and helped fill in the holes a little. Makes for a cleaner surface. Once the two halves were completed, its party time…sanding party that is.
Su was pretty excited about this part, I believe there was even a dance in there somewhere before she actually sanded. After a good hour of sanding at a number of grits, the sanding party was no longer fun and she was totally over it. It was a good laugh. Since we chose the side of the boards that weren’t previously sanded, I started at 60 grit and graduated up to 100 then 150. I felt that was enough, since I didn’t want it to look too nice and take away from a rustic feel; although the wood on the pallet did look brand new.
The sanding went a lot quicker than I had expected, this is some really soft wood. Stuff just melted away, it was a pleasure I rarely get with sanding. Once completed, it was staining time. I didn’t have enough stain for this whole project so we made a trip to Lowe’s and got some darker stain of her choosing, called Kona. It’s very dark and will go nicely with her existing furniture.
We got a little caught up in the moment and in trying to test a strip I spilled a bit of the stain in the middle of the table. So much for the test strip. Luckily, Su, was happy with the darkness of the stain and we went to town. Getting the stain into the cracks was a little difficult and will definitely need some attention again at a later point.
It poses a little more work but we are both happy with the results and dont mind huffing fumes while touching up missed areas. The wood was extremely porous and the stain took very well.
After touching up the unstained areas and getting a satisfied overall feel it was time to finish the assembly. Since the top and the bottom were in two separate pieces the plan was to hold them together using the legs. This would also give better stability to the table by nailing the legs to both the top and the bottom halves.
This leg looks a little wonky but it’s not.
I really like this little piece of wood. Kind of stands out next to the larger pieces. I feel it really adds a lot of character.
Something I completely forgot to do when putting the legs on was level the thing, I got lucky I guess. the whole table sits very sturdy and doesn’t wobble.
This project was pretty easy to do, even if you don’t have much experience with working with wood its a great beginner project that creates beautiful results. It was also practically free to do too; I mean, if you already have all of the tools and materials. All in all, it is a great weekend project if your looking for something creative to do. Thank you again, Dana for sharing this great idea. I know I am happy with the outcome and so is Su.
Below are some shots of the finished build in her apartment.
Please leave feedback comment or whatever you crazy kids do these days to spread things over the interwebs.

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