Making a coffee table out of recycled pallets

When you buy yourself a nice new coffee table it might just arrive on the back of a dirty, broken and ugly old pallet. A pallet which, like so many of its fellow pallet brothers, gets used, abused and discarded as a piece of rubbish. But where some might see a simple piece of functional scrap wood, I saw potential.

I thought it would be nice to upcycle one of these old pallets into something equally functional but considerably more middle class and ‘shabby-chic’; a coffee table.

Sourcing the pallets

Now, I’ve seen pallet tables for sale online through places like Etsy; and they sell for £200 and up. I’m lucky to work above a busy warehouse, where there are always pallets going spare. We managed to get 4 pallets into the back of my little Astra, so that should be plenty of wood to build a nice coffee table. So far the budget is £0.

The hard part

It turns out that ripping pallets apart without breaking all the bits you need is very physical and very tiring. Thankfully Mrs J got involved taking on sourcing the wood for the top whilst I worked on the structure.

It was seriously hard work, those pallets are built to last. It didn’t help that it was a scorching hot day- but we got there in the end.

Coffee table assembly

Next we had to fix the bits together. I didn’t have quite enough ‘nice’ corner pieces, so a few of the bigger central supports were cut down to size to help created the height of the lower shelf. The wood itself is pretty soft, although it varies a lot from piece to piece, so sawing isn’t actually too bad.

Pallets are notoriously rough, splintered and cracked. So it took a fair bit of sanding to make this thing even remotely child friendly. It turns out Mrs J is a dab hand when it comes to electric sanders; she had it ready to go in no time.

Painting the coffee table

Make a pallet coffee table

Painting the table

Once the structure was built we elected to paint it before nailing on the top. We found an old can of greyish-white emulsion paint which we watered down to give a rustic white-wash effect.

Our aim was to make this a single-day build so we couldn’t waste time waiting for paint to dry! We decided to do the painting in the sunshine to speed things up a bit. Lifting the table outside we released just how heavy it was; this was going to be a solid old table!

Fitting the top

Finally it was time to get the top nailed on. We had rough cut the planks and laid them out in an order that left the least gaps possible. Each bit of wood was a unique shape, thickness and wood type; so it really is like Tetris.

Once the planks were on we planed them down to make the top even without loosing its rustic charm. Next we sawed the edges as straight as we could before sanding the top down.

Make a pallet coffee table

The finished table!

The final step was to apply several coats of Danish oil to the wood, to try and bring out some of the natural beauty. Looking at the finished piece it’s hard to believe that all the wood came from 3 dirty old pallets (we only needed three in the end). But it really is a thing of beauty!

The finished coffee table

So there we go. The whole build took two of us around 6 hours (including drying time and a lunch break). Thanks to the paint and oil my mum had lying around in her garage, this build has cost us absolutely nothing. We’re looking forward to getting this thing into our living room so we can tell all our guests just how hard we worked so they could put their drinks down on such a charming and rustic coffee table! It’s one of a kind and we love it!

We made sure to preserve the character of the pallets and we selected the wood carefully, so that the interesting bits were on show not hidden away. All in all the spirit of the pallets is still there, and we added a kind of Ibizan-cool to this stack of ‘scrap-wood’.

Check out my other on-going wood work project; building my own acoustic guitar here!

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