DIY: Wooden Table Top Tutorial

in DIY, Photography & Props

DIY: How to make a wooden table top prop

I promised many of you a “How To” on the table tops we’ve been using for the last couple of months. They’re super easy to do, the one pictured below I actually did all by myself today in under an hour… with the help of a couple of convenience items to help with the sanding.

The table tops are double-sided – two for one! – and are 2 feet square. The cost of the project will vary based on items you might already have but the biggest expense is the wood at about $25 – that’s $12.50 per “table” – not too shabby at all, especially when you think about the alternative of actually buying an entire table. Or the gigantic house you’d need to store all that extra furniture!

DIY: How to make a wooden table top

Items you’ll need:
A napping toddler
8 “wide” wooden planks 1/4 in x 24 in x 4 in
8 “skinny” wooden planks 1/4 in x 24 in x 3 in
Wood glue
Sand paper in medium grit (80-120)
Heavy items to weigh down the table top (books, canned goods, or boxes of leftover travertine tiles from the garage)
Wood stain
Paper towels
Paint brush

Awesome things that you don’t need, but if you have them, it will make this project faster and more enjoyable:

Cold beer
Electric sander

When you buy the wood, look for pieces that aren’t warped, excessively longer or shorter than the others, and, if you can get lucky, don’t carry the telltale “new wood” planer marks. We purchased the most inexpensive wood that we could find. You’ll likely find them in 2- and 4-ft pieces. If you have a saw at home, you might consider getting the 4 ft pieces to decrease the cost of your project a bit.

We mostly used the basic assembly instructions from Love & Olive Oil, who crafted a beautiful turquoise table top, and applied our own personal preferences. The possibilities and variations are limitless!

1. Pick a side of each plank to be the tabletop – by default, I made the non-stickered side the top.

2. Sand away the planer marks on the top side of each board. This is a personal preference, we preferred not to have the uniform lines show through the surface. If you have an electric sander, this is seconds per plank. Manually, a little longer. And a little sweatier. These are planer marks:

Planer marks

3. Sand off the corners of the long edges of the top side. Another personal preference. When you glue the boards together, this will help break up the top so that it looks like it was made of wooden planks instead of one solid slab of wood. You get the appearance of grooves without fussing with actual grooves, shifting boards, uneven gaps, and glue seepage. Check out the photos of the finished boards above or the one below after step 6 to see the “grooves.”

4. Protect your work surface with a drop cloth or newspaper. Placing the “top” side of each board down, lay down 8 planks (4 wide, 4 skinny), alternating between the wide and skinny planks. Line up the edges on one side – the edges of the “back” side will likely not line up properly due to slight variations of plank length.

DIY: How to make a wooden table top prop

5. Squirt wood glue over the surface.

DIY: How to make a wooden table top prop

6. Lay the remaining 8 planks down perpendicular to the bottom, “top” side up. Line up the edges on one side.

DIY: How to make a wooden table top prop

7. Weigh the table top down with something heavy – cookbooks, boxes, canned goods, whatever you have. Let sit for 24 hours.

DIY: How to make a wooden table top prop

You now have 2 table tops that just need to be stained and/or painted!

8. Working one side at a time, wipe the table top with a damp paper towel – damp wood stains better than dry wood.

9. Apply stain with a paper towel or paint brush, following the directions on the can.

10. Lightly brush on the paint color of your choice: we have white, blue, red, and a plain stained side that I might paint black… and the two unfinished sides from the pictures above. I’m thinking a light, bright yellow. Or maybe orange. No – purple!

42 comments… add one

  • I was just asking Ben if he could make me a couple fake table tops and now it seems I can just do it myself! :) Thanks, Shawnda!

  • When I saw you had posted this I did a little fist pump and no I’m not from Jersey. lol

  • Just told Toby Shawnda this is his project this weekend!:)

  • Awesome idea! I will be attempting this in the near future. I don’t have to worry about the sleeping toddler just yet though 😉

  • My girls are all in their 20’s & I don’t have any toddlers. Can I still make these table tops, or should I borrow yours so that I can have all the proper ingredients? :)

  • Thank you for this post!! I’ve been meaning to make some for a while now… I’ve been using my butcher block as a “table”, my wood cutting boards, fake wood laminate countertops (gross) or the cement back stoop. This is such an easy, affordable, and easy-to-store alternative :)

  • wow thanks for sharing your secrets :) it is so simple!

  • I love how your first ingredient is a napping toddler. I have a one-year-old, so I get it.

    Totally bookmarking this.

  • I bookmarked this!
    My baby nephew is turning one in a week! Can’t wait to make stuff with him! Hopefully he’ll paint some doodles on my wooden table! 😛

  • I might just have to make one of these for all my photography needs. My sheet of white poster board has seen better days.

  • Thnks for shrin this :)

  • Wow, this tutorial is awesome! Thank you so much for putting it together. I’m definitely going to do this at some point. We have everything except the wood!

  • I need to get on this project!!

  • It’s like you read my mind. I’ve been telling my husband I want a wood table top for my pictures and he’s been trying to figure out how or where to get one. Thank you for this. Looks pretty simple.

  • Ah I’m so glad you did this post! I am always getting questions about my “wooden table”…now I am just going to direct them all to this post! :)

  • this is great! such an easy “table”! will definitely be making some of these to take better pics!

  • Awesome! This is the first thing ever to make me actually want to drive all the way to a Home Depot! Thanks for sharing!

  • Tres Delicious

    Great photography. It could help us a lot, what’s lacking on us are the woods.

  • Thanks so much for this! So interesting.

  • Love how you mixed the wide/narrow planks! I’ve been hankering for some more colors (my 4 I’ve already done clearly aren’t enough), so may give that a try for the next round! They look awesome! :)

  • This tutorial is amazing! I’m totally doing this! Thank you SO much for sharing!

  • Very cool! I will definitely be making one of these!!

  • Hey Shawnda, I’m so glad you shared this! I’m not very handy (and neither is my hubby, haha) but I think we can probably handle this :) Just one question – would you be able to elaborate on the kind of stain and paint you used? Any particular brands/shades/finishes to look for? Thanks!

    • Hey Cara – We bought MinWax wooden stain in Cherry (the teeny, tiny can) and one other color, but it has been misplaced in the garage somewhere. We picked up sample sized containers of paint in Satin finish (we bought them at Lowe’s so it was Olympic brand). I just found pretty blue and dark red paint chips and the paint counter guy did the rest! Hope that helps – happy to answer questions if you need any more info

      • Probably a silly question, but just wanted to clarify–do you add the solid paint color when the wood stain is still wet or did you wait until it dries? (love the way the wood stain shows through on the tables)

        • Yes, let the stain dry. (It will do so really quickly.)

          • Tamara

            I am jumping in here a year later…but if you are doing a color, you stain the wood first…then paint over it? lightly paint? Did you sand the paint a bit to make it look worn?

          • I used a dry brush, barely dipped it in paint, and then lightly brushed it over the wood. If you get too much coverage with the paint, sandpaper is your best friend! You can stain the wood if you want a darker look peeking out from underneath. Check out the stain in this DIY post, it’s a great way to get that aged look quickly:

  • In step 3, you write “sand off the corners.” Do you mean the long edges? I think so based on the photo after step 6, but I just want to be sure. I love this idea and am waiting for a free weekend to make some “table tops.” Thanks for sharing this idea and showing all the steps.

    • Maria – yep! The long edges. The picture after step 6 is a good “after” shot of the sanded pieces.

  • Pixie

    Stumbles upon this while catching up on the blog. LOVE it! So totally making this for pictures of everything from sewing projects, to foodie stuff and jewlery making. THANK YOU!

  • Great tutorial! My husband and I made one of these today and it looks great. I cannot wait to try it.

  • Ooh. Thanks for sharing this. I think I’m going to try my first ever crafts project and make a couple table tops!

  • patsy

    Oh do I need this!! I have been trying to remove the damaged veneer from a great antique table, but after many hours I think I will have to give up and try a new top. I want to make sure I understand……If I have a good base on the table, I just cut the board lengths I need and glue to the origianl table top? Do I need to secure the new top with screws from the bottom? I think the boards will give this table a whole new life. I can’t wait to finish it. Thank you so much for being here TODAY!

  • Astronomynoob

    Wow, what a great article. Im getting ready to do a bunch of catalog shots for a spice company that’s going to require an assortment of backgrounds for each category. This is going to make things so much easier. Thanks.

  • I’m so excited someone told me about this! I’ve been trying to figure out where to find a good vintagey board! Now I know! Thanks for this!!!

  • Success! I finally (!!) got around to make my tabletops and they are awesome! Thanks for the great instructions.

  • Yaaay! Your my hero! 😉

  • I’ve got two sets sitting under heavy books right now drying overnight. Thank you so much for this! I bought the 8 planks of wood like you said but when I put them together it was uneven so I used 3 wide and 2 small for a perfect 2ft square table. Because of the extra I have enough for another set! I’m so excited I’m just starting to get into food photography so I found your blog just in time . Thanks!!

  • What paint due to use to color the wood? can one side be turned into chalkboard

    • I used regular ol’ interior latex paint. No reason you can’t use chalkboard paint – great idea!

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