Your first task is to find suitable pallets. The table is built from three pallets. You need two pallets that look very similar to each other and are virtually the same size to form the bulk of the table top. The third pallet is going to be broken apart for the wood. If the third pallet is the same as the first two (in terms of colour and size) then you’ll get a uniform table. If you’re looking to do a really thorough job and end up with something good enough for inside dining, then that should be your preference. But if you’re looking for something fun and rustic for outside, then it’s okay if the third pallet is radically different. You will just end up with a random wood pattern.
The hardest part of the whole project is taking the pallets apart without breaking the wood and losing your cool! There are specific tools you can buy for taking pallets apart, but personally I use traditional tools and use it as a fitness session!
Turn your pallet over, get a sturdy old flathead screwdriver, and use a hammer to gently loosen the struts on the underside of the pallet. Take your time and ease them and the nails up gently, as you want to keep this wood to use on the topside. Take off the bottom three struts on each of the two table pallets, and take the third pallet apart completely. Then have a sit down and a big glass of water!
Time to join the pallets together. Once you’ve stripped the bottom struts off, line up the two pallets with the topside facing down. Line up the outside and central wood beams exactly and get some strips of wood (ideally from the pallet you’ve taken apart) and use them to join the two pallets together. Use screws for this as using nails could damage the pallets.
Once you’ve joined the pallets in three or four places on the main wooden spines, then flip the whole thing over to start completing the table top.
At this stage you can also nail on a pallet strip at either end of the table so that there is an edge all the way round.
With all the leftover pallet wood from underneath these two pallets and the third pallet, you want to start filling in the gaps on the table top. Measure the width of the gaps either side, as they won’t be uniform. Then draw the size it needs to be to fit onto the spare strip of wood.
Cut the strip to almost exactly the size you need, but slightly too big is better than way too small. Some small gaps are okay with this rustic look, but not too many. You can use a handsaw, but it is easier with an electric jigsaw or circular saw.
Now shape each piece to fit. Ideally each strip of wood is just a tiny bit too big to fit in, so that you can shape it to fit exactly. Clamp each piece in a vice or small work table and use a plane to get it down to the exact size.
This process can take a while, but it’s hugely satisfying getting the strips to gradually fit. It’s like completing a jigsaw puzzle! And as you can see from my table, different types of wood are not a problem as they give a striking striped table top.
When you start sanding, the striking candy-striped effect will start to calm down a little and you’ll start to get some beautiful wood patterns. If you’re looking for a fancy table for inside dining, then you’ll want to make things super smooth and uniform. If this is for outside, then I just give a light sand. You just need to obviously take off rough edges and anything that can cause splinters. But by leaving plenty of texture and contrast, you get an effect that really makes you appreciate how beautiful, natural and unique wood can be.
How you approach the table legs will depend on what you want the table for. You can buy some beautiful legs at Bunnings for a really classy feel. Vintage black metal legs, pine legs or chrome legs can also all be used. If it’s for outside, I usually just try and use some off cuts of wood to continue the rustic and homemade look. For the four corners a square post is great to use, then I supplement that with any thick timber for the supporting middle legs. If there is paint on the off-cuts that doesn’t matter, just sand it back.
You can use brackets or more complex ways to fit legs, but I just use long galvanised bolts with nuts. I do this partly because I love the look of the bolt heads on the outside of the table – they add an industrial touch to the rustic table. Drill through the wooden struts and the table legs at different heights and at right angles to each other, then tighten the bolts with an adjustable spanner. This will be strong enough for everyday use, although I’d advise against dancing on the table top if a barbecue gets out of hand!
Next step is to varnish the table. For this I use a gloss or ultra-gloss oil-based varnish. Pour some from the tin into a plastic paint pot (a few centimetres deep) and then add a small capful of turps to loosen it. This makes it easier for brushing on. Take a paint brush and paint it on, going with the grain. It’ll take around 6 hours to dry. The more coats you do, the deeper and shinier the finish.
Alternatively, you can paint the table lightly in white paint and then sand the whole thing back to get a distressed antique wood finish. You could even paint the table in different colours – whatever you like. It’s a cheap table to experiment with.
When it comes to styling, if you add something classic and stylish and vintage, it seems to lift the table further. Vintage glassware and ornaments from Op Shops are a fun addition, or Bunnings has a great selection of outside plants and candles.
Congratulations if this is your first table. Now start making more for your friends and family. They make impressive and thoughtful gifts!