Make This Mid-Century Modern Side Table for Less Than $56!

Make This Mid-Century Modern Side Table for Less Than $56!
A beginner's DIY project that looks like it cost hundreds of dollars.

For better or for worse, the young, modern gentleman does a lot of things in front of his television. He eats dinner, works on his laptop, and entertains guests all from his couch. Because of this, we end up with some cheap, ugly tray table – a piece of function over form – defiling our living rooms that we’ve worked so hard to make nice while living on a budget.

It’s time to ditch that plastic monstrosity and take things into our own hands.

This beautiful metal and wood “C table” has clear design hints from several twentieth century design styles including Bauhaus, International, and Mid-century Modern. The use of metal and wood also creates an industrial feel that fits perfectly with Primer’s other dead-simple DIY projects like our Industrial Bar Light, Pipe Side Table, Bar Cart, and Giant Map & Frame.

Do not be intimidated if you’re new to DIY. This project could not be simpler.

Materials Needed:

  • Ikea VITTSJÖ laptop stand – $25
  • 13 3/4” by 21 5/8” Wood plank – $8 or less
  • Wood stain, $5 (I used Rust-oleum American Walnut Ultimate Wood Stain)
  • Polyurethane, $7 (I used Varathane Semi-gloss Heavy Use Formula)
  • Foam brush
  • Sand paper – medium/course and very fine
  • 6 screws, less than an inch long

Step 1: Pick up the Ikea laptop stand

The idea for this project first came when I stumbled across the Vittsjo laptop stand during a recent walk around Ikea. I wasn’t a fan of the glass, but the metal shape was perfect and at $25, it’s a steal.

Ikea Laptop Stand hack diy c table side table VITTSJÖ

Step 2: Get your wood (and other supplies)

Head over to your local big box home improvement store. I swung by Lowes and found this 1 x 16 x 3 panel for less than $8. It’s much larger than what we’ll need here, but it was the smallest board available that matched our 13 3/4” width. Annnnnd you’ll have a nice leftover panel you can use for another DIY project.

diy side table c table

Step 3: Have them cut it for you

Even if you have the tools to do it yourself, why bother? It takes the Lowes guy 45 seconds to mark your board and cut it on their giant saw. I strongly recommend measuring the cut board afterward just in case there was any miscommunication or poor measuring. You don’t want to get home and realize it’s too short.

Step 4: Put together the laptop stand and fit the board

Unpack everything and assemble the laptop stand. Loosely position the board to ensure proper fit. Remove the board and…

Step 5: Drill holes in the metal tabs meant to hold the glass top

The laptop stand has six little metal tabs that stick out where the included glass top is supposed to go. Instead, we’re going to use these to fasten our wood top to the metal frame.

DIY IKea Hack Side Table

I used 6 screws that I had laying around that are slightly shorter than an inch. If you hold one up next to the frame and wood don’t be alarmed if it looks like it’ll be too long. There is a space between the metal tab and the wood, as you can see here:

Once your holes are all drilled, place the board back on the frame and clamp in place. Use a sharpie or pen to mark where the holes should go on the wood. We’ll use these to start pilot holes.

A good trick for choosing which drill bit to use for your pilot holes is to hold your screw underneath your drill bit. You should only see the threads of the screw sticking out:

how to pick the right size drill bit for pilot holes

Step 6: Sand

I’ve done quite a number of DIY projects by this point that involve wood and I can shamefully say that this is the first one I’ve actually paid enough attention to while sanding.

Sanding, especially to beginners, can seem like something you want to skip over and move on so you can get your project assembled. You’re excited and after a few passes with sand paper, it seems smooth enough.

However, THIS is the most important part of the entire process. This is what will separate your finished product from made-it-yourself-table to an impressive piece of real furniture.

To sand properly, begin with a courser grit sand paper. Sand paper grit numbers are used to identify the size of the abrading materials embedded in the paper. Higher numbers are finer and thus your wood will be smoother. However, you can’t take your Lowes board and start with a very fine sand paper, you must start with a courser grit and move up.

For this project, I only used two grits: a medium P80 and very fine p220. (Don’t get too caught up on using these exact grits, just know you need to start with a courser grit and move to a finer grit to really get that glassy smooth finish when you’re done.)

Start with your course grit sandpaper, scraping off splinters and imperfections. Give the edges a light pass to make them less sharp. Don’t forget to sand the bottom too: We want this to be a completely finished piece of furniture.

Once the board feels smooth and even all over, then go back with your fine sand paper. As soon as you do a couple of passes with this you’ll realize why you’re doing it – it’ll make your wood buttery soft.

It’s important to remember that your board will never be smoother than it is at this point. It is common for the wood grain to raise slightly after staining and applying polyurethane causing a rougher feel, so that’s why getting it extra smooth right now is so important.

Step 7: Stain

The board should still be removed from the frame at this point. You may be tempted to leave the board attached, but the stain and polyurethane will collect in the valley between the wood and metal and will be hard to remove. Set up shop somewhere with drop cloths, newspaper, or a tarp underneath the wood. I 100% recommend wearing gloves for the staining process, otherwise it will get on your skin and can take a couple of days to get completely off.

If you’ve never stained wood before, don’t be intimidated. It is super easy. Simply wipe on the stain in the direction of the grain with a lint free rag or sponge, allow to penetrate for 1-2 minutes, and wipe off with a clean lint free rag. (Old t-shirts work well for this.) I went back and did this two or three more times, but just know the first pass is the darkest. The wood can only soak up so much stain; the second pass won’t make it twice as dark.

how to stain wood ikea hack

Allowing extra stain to dry on the board is not a good way of getting it darker either, it’ll just look splotchy.

Don’t forget to do the bottom as well!

Step 8: Protect with polyurethane

Since we want this to be a high-functioning table to hold glasses, plates, and other things, we need to adequately protect it. We do this by applying several coats of polyurethane to keep moisture from getting into the wood, which can cause stains or warping.

The stain I used allows for polyurethane treatment after drying for an hour, but follow your specific stain’s instructions. Use a foam brush to apply a thin coat of polyurethane, while brushing in the direction of the grain. Even out any places that extra polyurethane has collected. Allow it to completely dry for a couple of hours.

how to apply polyurethane ikea hack diy

Once dried, give another light sanding pass with your very fine sand paper. The polyurethane should come off as white dust if properly dried. We do this to even out thicker areas of polyurethane and sanding between coats ensures maximum protection.

Wipe the board down to remove all of the sanding dust, and apply another coat of polyurethane. Repeat this process for a total of 3 coats of polyurethane. This attention is what will ensure protection from spilled drinks. You won’t even need to use a coaster.

Step 8: Attach the board and enjoy

Position your board on the frame and insert the screws into the pilot holes through the metal tabs.

If you make one yourself, please share a photo of it in the comments, I’d love to see it!

Make this DIY Ikea Hack "C Table" for less than $56!

Make this DIY Ikea Hack "C Table" for less than $56!

Andrew is the founder and editor of Primer. He's a graduate of American University and currently lives in Los Angeles. Read more about Primer on our About page. On Instagram: @andrewsnavely and @primermagazine.

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  • Alex Miller

    This looks outstanding. I’ve been wanting to work on a few projects over the summer months for the new apartment I’ll move into in August. This fits the bill perfectly. Thank you, Andrew!

  • Adams Tegeler

    Very cool table Andrew. Its amazing how relatively simple and inexpensive it is to make affordable furniture pieces upscale

    I am in the process of doing th same thing to this desk from Target:
    http://www.target.com/p/threshold-mixed-material-desk/-/A-14404863#prodSlot=_1_6

    It has a great metal frame, but the top is made of fake wood. At $69.99 (plus an additional 10% off this week) you can’t beat the price. For not much more, and a little bit of work I can have a real wood desktop. I will add a picture of the finished piece.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Nice! That looks awesome, can’t wait to see the finished piece.

      • Keqing

        Loved making this. Thanks for the detailed step-by-step!

        • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

          It turned out great! Thanks so much for sharing the picture, looks perfect in your setup.

          • Keqing

            Thanks man! Love this site, and looking forward to seeing more free art downloads!!

    • concerned_citizen

      Any update on the table project?

      • Adams Tegeler

        concerned_citizen the plans got a little derailed. The desk didn’t fit in the area I needed as well as I had hoped. Ended up going with something more temporary for the time being.

  • Rob Dc

    Keep these coming!

  • b

    what is that couch?

  • Daniel Bollendorf

    This is perfect for what I need. I use a full keyboard and mouse for a HTPC I have hooked up to my TV and this is a lot nicer than the old tray table I’m using now.

  • Adam Brewton

    Great work and an excellent DIY project!

  • Sam Miller

    Has anyone seen something like that Ikea stand only taller? I would love to do something like this for my bedside, but my bed is pretty high up.

    The finished product looks amazing!

  • Jacob Crim

    My girlfriend and I are moving into our first apartment. How would one go about painting the legs of the side table. Just spray paint with primer already added I would assume??

  • Erin D.

    Here’s how ours turned out!

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      It looks perfect! Thanks for sharing the photo!

  • Gatewood Brown

    Went with a grey stain to keep things bright. The laptop table is perfect for the reading corner in my bedroom.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Looks awesome! Love the rest of the room!

  • Pars Haupt

    A little late to the party but wanted to share anyways.
    Thanks for the great idea Andrew. Cheers.

    • Erica

      That wood is gorgeous!!

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Whoa! Love the wood. How’d you do it?

      • Pars Haupt

        Hey Andrew, I’m glad you like it. It’s glued acacia wood. I sanded it like you did and finished the wood with unscented bee furniture wax.
        Happy new year.

  • Erica

    This is great! I didn’t want to pay the prices I saw at Pier 1. They had a mosaic one that I am sure I could copy. What a great idea to use the IKEA laptop stand. I was going to weld my own but then thought, hell, I might as well buy one after all that! The Ikea stand is perfect- and at a steal!!

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      If you make one I’d love to see it! :)

  • Ian C Johnson

    Really classy diy project.

    Heads up to anybody doing this project: measure the frame before getting the wood cut. The measurements in the article were about 1/4 inch short!

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Mine match correctly and the others who made the project haven’t had a problem either.

      • Ian C Johnson

        More of a best practice to measure twice cut once :) . Thanks for these articles! I’ll post a picture soon of the table, bed stand and stencil artwork.

        • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

          Yes!! I’d love to see them! :)