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How to build a simple coffee table using pallet timber

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Difficulty: Beginner

This simple coffee table is a great first project for those just starting to work with recycled pallet wood. You could use it as a stepping stone before making a pallet dining table.


The coffee table can be completed in just a few hours and can be easily converted into a desk if you prefer.


Step 1

You can make this coffee table with two pallets – one for the base and one for the wood strips. But it’s even easier if you just use one pallet and then buy some rough pine strips from the timber section at Bunnings. They are very cheap and mean that you can avoid the sweat and tears of trying to take a pallet apart.


1.1 Use a pallet as the base.jpg  1.2 Pine strips to fill the gaps .jpg

Step 2

Measure the wood strips to fit your pallet in terms of length and then measure the width they need to be. Draw this on with a pencil. Each width is likely to be different as pallets are rarely uniform. You can cut the lengths of wood with a handsaw, but you really need an electric jigsaw or circular saw to cut the width to size.


2.1 Measure the strips.jpg  2.2 Cut the strips to fit.jpg

Step 3

There’s something satisfying about using a plane. It reminds me of watching my dad in his workshop when I was a kid. While you want to cut the wood strips as close to the right size as possible, make sure they’re a snug fit by just shaving off those last few millimetres. You don’t need to sand the edges, just get them as close to the right size as possible and then just tap them in place lightly with a rubber mallet if they need it. You will find there’s usually a bit of give in this type of wood.

3.1 Plane the strips to fit.jpg  3.2 Tap into place with a rubber mallet.jpg


Step 4

When the strips are all in place, just tap the ends to get them lined up perfectly and then fix in place with nails. You only need 50mm tacks and they should go into the soft wood easily. It’s good if there’s some difference in the colour and texture of the strips as it gives a unique pattern to the table. Even if they’re radically different and form stripes it can be fun. And sanding them all back will even things out if you want a uniform look.


4.1 Strips all in place.jpg  4.2 Fix strips in place with nails.jpg

Step 5

You can sand the table by hand, but an electric sander will make things so much easier. My old one did the whole job of top, side and edges in less than an hour. A pack of five sanding sheets was enough for the project. It’s not uniform, but there’s a smoothness all over, with no edges that will give you splinters. There’s also enough natural grains and lines left to give a really beautiful and natural pattern - something you only really get with homemade furniture like this. You can see at the half way point the difference that sanding makes.  


5.1 Sand the table..jpg  5.2 Sand just enough to make smooth.jpg

Step 6

For my table I wanted wood on the underside so that it creates shelves below the table top for storage. You don’t need to do this, but it’s worth doing for that extra bit of style. The added benefit is that you don’t need to laboriously cut them to fit exactly as they can’t be seen. Just make sure there is enough wood with small enough gaps that they can hold books. Nail them in place and don’t worry about varnishing afterwards. Give them a quick sand on top though, so you don’t catch a splinter in the future.


6.1 Add shelves below the table top.jpg

Step 7

There are plenty of alternatives when it comes to what the table sits on. I like to use caster wheels to give an industrial feel. And if the table is to live on an outside deck, then it makes it easier to wheel around as you need it. An alternative is pre-made table legs from Bunnings, or make your own legs from bits of scrap wood. If it’s going to sit in the lounge and you like to put your feet up, then make sure the caster wheels have fastening brakes or the constant movement will become very annoying!


You might also choose to install long legs for a high table or desk. Changing the legs is quick and easy so you can transform your table in just 10 minutes.


7.1 Caster wheels give an industrial feel.jpg  7.2 Table legs are an alternative.jpg  7.3 Coffee table converted into a desk.jpg

Step 8

There are plenty of ways to finish your table. I’ve done ones in the past that are painted white and then sanded back to form a vintage wood look. You can also paint with bright primary colours and then add gloss varnish. For this one, the wood tones were really pretty and subtle, so I just wanted a gloss varnish to bring these up. I bought some ultra gloss varnish and put about an inch and a half in a plastic pot and added a splash of turps to loosen it up. Paint the varnish on really quickly with a big brush. Two coats is enough, but keep going if you want a deeper colour.


Now you’re all finished. You have a stylish, natural and industrial-looking coffee table that you can use inside or out. You might even want to add some rope lights on the underside of the table to give a cool glow at night. These tables are fun to make, so add as much fun as you can.


8.1 Time to finish the table off.jpg  8.2 Use an ultra gloss varnish.jpg  8.3 The Finished Result.jpg


  • 1 pallet
  • 10 1.5m pine strips (or a second pallet instead)
  • 50mm nails
  • 4 trolley wheels or table legs
  • Sandpaper
  • Ultra gloss varnish
  • Paint brush
  • Paint pot
  • Mineral Turpentine


  • Hammer
  • Tape measure or ruler
  • Pencil
  • Saw (preferably electric)
  • Plane
  • Electric sander
  • Vice or clamps


1.1 Use a pallet as the base.jpg

1.2 Pine strips to fill the gaps .jpg

2.1 Measure the strips.jpg

2.2 Cut the strips to fit.jpg

3.1 Plane the strips to fit.jpg

3.2 Tap into place with a rubber mallet.jpg

4.1 Strips all in place.jpg

4.2 Fix strips in place with nails.jpg

5.1 Sand the table..jpg

5.2 Sand just enough to make smooth.jpg

6.1 Add shelves below the table top.jpg

7.1 Caster wheels give an industrial feel.jpg

7.2 Table legs are an alternative.jpg

7.3 Coffee table converted into a desk.jpg

8.1 Time to finish the table off.jpg

8.2 Use an ultra gloss varnish.jpg

8.3 The Finished Result.jpg

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