On Friday I posted about the new modern metal coffee table that I DIYed:
It only has one slight problem:
Details, amiright? But I promise, I successfully fixed it and I’ll share that soon (Update: here’s the link to the post where I fix this thing) — I actually think it looks even better than the original now. (If that’s possible….) In the meantime, we can ignore the slightly wonky frame and focus on the sleek wood top I made. I’m so so happy with this thing, and I can’t believe it’s not butter made out of plywood!
(Am I the only one now thinking of this?)
BUT I DIGRESS. Today I thought I would share how I made this amazing “doesn’t look but plywood but actually is” tabletop, in case you want to make your own.
Here’s the supplies list:
- Wood: Originally I thought I would need to piece together multiple boards to get the 36″x36″ dimensions I needed for the tabletop (plus a little extra since the width of the angled steel would add another 1/4″ to the length of each side of the frame). But then Naomi suggested looking at plywood, and even though I had images of crappy flimsy plywood we actually found a really nice piece of birch plywood that was 3/4″ thick.
It came in a 4′ x 8′ sheet, and I had them cut it to 38″x38″ in the store so I could fit in in my car (I wanted to cut it precisely from home once I had the exact dimensions of the frame, and sometimes they can be a little off when they cut roughly at the store so I always leave a little extra). That cut left more than 50% of the original piece, and the guy who cut it was super nice and offered to take the unused part back and only charge me 50% of the original price. Score! Always worth asking about this if you buy a much bigger piece and have it cut.
Here’s the awesome machine they use to cut big pieces:
I guess I don’t need one in my home, but when has that ever stopped me from coveting?
- Veneer edging: To cover up the unattractive plywood edges of the tabletop, Naomi found this awesome “veneer edging” that gets ironed on and then stained to match. They don’t seem to have it listed on the Home Depot website, but here’s a photo:
- Scrap wood to reinforce tabletop
- Minwax stain (I used “Espresso”) and Minwax wipe-on water-based poly
- Orbital sander
- Table saw or jig saw (if you don’t get it cut exactly to size in the store)
Here’s how I proceeded:
The first step was to pick which side of the plywood I wanted to be the top. I just looked at both sides and decided I liked the grain on one side better, and designated this my top.
Next I needed to cut the wood to the exact right size. I waited until I had constructed the metal frame, and then placed the plywood on my work table with the frame on top of it.
I lined up the frame the way I wanted it along two of the edges (I wanted very little overhang):
Then I drew a line with a long straight edge along the other two edges to show where I would need to cut to eliminate the overhang on those two sides:
I then clamped the plywood to my work table with the first edge I wanted to trim hanging over the side, and used the jigsaw to cut down the line I’d marked. I repeated this on the second edge I needed to cut, and voila I had my final dimensions! The jigsaw definitely chewed up the wood a little along the top edge of the cut, so it was good that I had picked which side I wanted to be the top for the final product and placed this facing down when I made the cut.
Next it was time to sand. I used my orbital sander with an 80 grit sanding pad to sand both sides of the plywood as well as around all the edges. Lots of sanding was essential to getting the glossy look I wanted at the end.
I wiped the wood clean with a cloth, and then it was time to try the iron-on veneer. I wasn’t sure how well this would work, but it ended up being awesome.
I just followed the directions on the packaging, which were very clear. The first step was to cut a length of the veneer that was a little bit longer than my first edge.
Then I used my iron — which I’d heated on the “cotton” setting — to press the veneer against the edge of the plywood. The veneer was a little wider than the edge of the tabletop, so I was sure to line it up flush along the top with the excess along the bottom where I planned to trim it down when I was done.
The heat from the iron melted the adhesive on the back of the veneer, then I used a sanding block to apply even pressure to the veneer where I’d just heated it.
The point here is to keep the veneer tightly pressed along the tabletop as the adhesive cools (which takes only a few seconds) — you can’t use the iron for this because the heat from the iron will keep the glue liquid, so it’s only once you’ve removed the iron that you can get the veneer to stay solidly in place. The great thing is that if you make a mistake, you can just reheat the veneer and peel it right off to reposition.
I just worked my way down the edge, heating and then pressing until I made it to the end of the first edge. It took me a little while to figure out the corners and this is where I made my mistake: the first time I cut the excess veneer off right at the corner, but when I went back to look at it minutes later it had shrunk down shorter. I guess when it’s fully cooled, it contracts a little. So to get a good corner, what I did was leave a little excess at the end of the each edge, and then once everything had cooled I cut the excess so the pieces of veneer met smoothly at each corner and used the iron to heat them again and the sanding block to press them together for a nice snug fit.
It’s a little trial and error, but you can always reheat and reposition if needed.
What a difference the veneer makes from the raw plywood edges!
Next I used the sanding block to sand the surface of the veneer, as well as the top edge where it met the plywood. I was actually able to get a little bit of a rounded edge, so it doesn’t look like an overly-square edge where the veneer and tabletop meet and it doesn’t at all feel like it might peel off. It really feels like part of the table.
On the bottom side where I’d left the excess thickness of the veneer, I just used a sanding block to sand this down to pretty much the surface of the tabletop.
Next it was time to stain! I applied a first coat of my minwax stain with a brush, allowed it to penetrate for 15 minutes, and then wiped off any excess.
I let it dry for four hours, and then repeated with a second coat. The following morning, I flipped the top over and stained the bottom. This time I just did one coat, since the bottom won’t be visible.
After letting that dry for 30 minutes, I flipped it over again. Since I didn’t want to wait for it to dry 100%, I actually used paper cups to create a base that I placed the wood on, that way the slightly-sticky bottom wasn’t flush against my dropcloth but I could still work on the top of the wood.
I applied a first coat of the Minwax wipe-on poly, letting that dry for a few hours.
Then I sanded the whole thing with my orbital sander, which is definitely a little scary because it looks like you’re messing up the finish. But this is the key to a smooth, glossy final product.
After sanding and wiping the tabletop clean with a cloth, I applied another coat of the poly. Once it dried, it looked so shiny!
Of course, I realized that I had forgotten to do a little reinforcing that I wanted to do to prevent sagging over time, so once the top was totally dry I flipped it over and screwed three pieces of scrapwood across to back to add some support (I just cut them to size on my tablesaw):
Then I did a fresh coat of stain over the support pieces so they blended in.
Then it was time to attach the top to the frame! Enter the handy brackets I had secured to the frame when I built it:
All I needed to do was put a small screw through each bracket into the tabletop, and I was done!
All told the top cost me just $31.50:
- Plywood (50% off the original price since I was able to buy just half the sheet): $24.99
- Veneer edging: $6.50
- Minwax stain and water-based poly: already owned
Not bad for something that I think looks a lot higher end! I love the grain, and how sleek and glossy the finished result is.
So am I the only one who didn’t know you could make plywood look so nice?