This build started out of the need for a large project table and my stubborn nature, sure that I could make it happen on a REAL budget. I work with large pieces of art on a daily basis and needed a surface that would allow me plenty of work space, paint space, dry space, spread out space and easy to reach STORAGE.
I decided to try building a table out of inexpensive Target shelves and it totally worked so here we are!
Things you'll need:
1. 4 shelving units for your four "table legs", in whatever sizes suit your needs and fit the size of your overall table top dimensions.
2. Melamine board cut to the size of your table top surface (you can get this at your local home improvement store and they will cut it for you).
3. Trim boards for the table top, the width equalling the thickness of the top of your shelf + the thickness of your melamine board (so it will cover both when attached to the sides of your tabletop). I used 1 1/4" trim.
4. Trim for any exposed back/side edges of your shelving legs (see building directions for more details on whether or not you will need this).
4. Thin plywood to back your shelves if they do not come with plywood backing.
5. Trim boards or corner trim for exposed corners of the desk (optional). I used 1 1/2" lath.
6. Caulk or wood filler.
7. Screws, the length equaling the thickness of your shelf top + half the thickness of your tabletop (I used #10 1 3/4" wood screws)
8. Wire nails (I used #18 5/8")
9. (Recommended) L brackets to secure other shelf corners under desktop
First, here were my original plans, for the placement of the shelves and the look I wanted for the front of the desk which faces the door. In essence, these four shelves would serve as the four 'legs' of my table. This method can easily be adjusted to the size tabletop you want, therefore dictating the shelf sizes and placement to suit your needs.
These are the three Target shelf sizes I used, doubling up on the smallest size for my two frontmost shelves.
ATTACH PLYWOOD BACKING
These shelves don't come with a plywood backing (most don't) and I wanted to add them for easier storage (since they wouldn't be backing up against a wall) as well as to keep from being able to look through one side of the table and see the other side. The backing also helps with any side-to-side shift in the shelving.
This is a SUPER simple fix.
1. Purchase a thin plywood and cut just smaller than the height and width of the back of each shelf (or have them do it for you at your home improvement store). Before attaching, paint the inside of the shelf backing your desired color.
2. To attach, lay shelf front side down and tack your plywood paint-side down using your wire nails, onto the back perimeter of your shelf.
3. Repeat for additional shelves.
PREPPING THE SHELVES
Note: Have your melamine board cut at your home improvement store to the measurements you want your final table top (not including any trim). This will make the at-home assembly quick and simple!
I chose melamine because it is extremely durable and hard for the work I would be doing as well as to keep the center more secure since I was making a large table. If building a smaller table, you could use a hardwood plywood or other material if desired.
1. Mark the places on each shelf where you will be securing it to the melamine board table top. I suggest doing so on all of the corners of the shelving that align with the edge of the tabletop. You can also attach the inner corners of the shelves using this method, though I chose to use L-brackets which I will get to later.
2. Drill a small pilot hole through the top of each mark using a 1/16th drill bit where you'd like to secure the screws to the table top. This will show you where the screws will enter through the underside of the shelf top.
3. If you would like your screw heads to be flush with the underside of the shelf when finished, use a Forstner bit to drill a 1/8" deep hole the size of your screw head in the place where your initial pilot hole was. This will allow your screw to hide flush against the top of the shelf making it easier to slide items or baskets in and out.
4. Now, using a bit just smaller than the size of your screws, drill a pilot hole through the same route as your original smaller pilot hole and through the indent created by the Forstner bit. You don't need to drill a pilot through the table top.
ATTACHING THE TABLE TOP
Now it's time to attach your table top. It should already be cut to the size of the finished table you want, minus the width of any trim. Make sure each corner is square before attaching to your shelving.
1. Lay your tabletop on all four shelving units.
2. Align the first shelf with the table top, making sure the top is flush with the outermost edge of the shelf. This will be important for attaching trim later.
3. Clamp your table top to your shelf and then from the underside, screw your shelf into the table top. Make sure to turn the screws very tightly to ensure you've closed any gap between the shelf and tabletop (since we didn't pilot the hole in the tabletop).
Your trim pieces should be the width of the top of your shelf + the width of the tabletop board you chose.
1. Cut side trim pieces first, to the exact length of your tabletop.
2. Attach to the side of your tabletop using wood glue and tack nails every four inches or so, making sure there are no gaps.
3. Once both sides are done, cut the front and back trim pieces to the exact length of your table top, now including the width of the two side trim pieces. Glue and tack those in the same way as step 2.
If you do a similar design to mine, where a side of the shelf is facing outward, you will want to add trim to those edges since you will see where your plywood backing meets the edge of the shelf back. You can see in the photo below, I had yet to add this trim and the side of the desk facing the door looks unfinished where the back corner of the shelf is showing.
You can do this either with corner trim (an L shaped length of wood cut to the height of the shelf and tacked on) or using two straight pieces of lath or other trim that meet at the corner of your shelf edge. I chose to use two pieces of lath trim simply because I wanted a straight rather than curved outer edge. It also allowed me to cut one piece longer than the other to hide even more of the inner corner of the shelf where it meets the tabletop.
1. Cut these trim pieces to the height of your shelf corner.
2. Attach using wood glue and wire nails. If using lath like I did, make sure both pieces are square and meet as perfectly as possible all the way down.
1. Using caulk or wood filler, fill and smooth the cracks between your trim and tabletop, corners where trim meet, nail holes and edges of any trim along the sides of exposed shelves.
2. When dry, sand all edges smooth and remove any dust or debris.
3. Paint! I chose white to create the illusion of one solid piece.
4. If desired, seal with water-based polyurethane or other sealant for added protection, depending on the use your surface will be getting.
Each of the shelves came with two L-brackets for attaching to the wall. For my last step, I used these brackets to attach any unattached inner corners of the shelving to the center of the melamine board. This helped even more with side to side movement and strength as well as giving much-needed support when lifting or moving the table itself.
That's it! This project table has not only been a fantastic work space but also a really fun and unexpected gathering space for my family while I work. The spaces between shelves have allowed the kids to pull up a stool, chat with me, virtual-school with me and live the day-life alongside my work. It has really been a blessing and a great tool for productivity and multi-tasking.
LOOKING BACK ON THE BUILD
Though this tabletop can handle a good deal of weight, the base is still inexpensive shelving, so it's not the type of build you would likely dance on when you're finished, ha! That said, it has been more than sturdy enough for holding many wood rounds and supplies at a time, leaning on, etc, and using pre-constructed shelving can save you a lot of time which is a bonus!
Two things I would do differently if I did it again--
1. If you have two shelves that will end up really close to one another under the table, consider putting any side trim on the corners of those shelves before attaching them to the tabletop. Because it was difficult to nail in so close to the other shelf on the right side of my table, it turned out a little messier than I'd like.
2. I find I frequently sit in my rolling chair and want to pull myself in toward the table while holding onto the lath trim and it doesn't quite want to support that weight. I will likely add a supporting piece in the inner edge underneath the table front, where the melamine board and trim meet, so they are a little stronger and I can pull myself in when needed!
If you decide to build a project table, tag me @avaberrylane on Instagram so I can see!