How to Upcycle a Table Top - Hints, Tips and Creative Inspiration

Article Topics:

  1. Upcycling Philosophy
  2. Upcycling Culture
  3. Ways to Find Items to Upcycle
  4. Wood Table Top Preparation
  5. Metal Table Legs
  6. Table Top Upcycling Inspiration

In today's world, sustainability and thriftiness have become more critical than ever. As the cost of living continues to rise, those of us who are environmentally conscious are looking for creative ways to save money, while reducing our ecological footprint. In light of that, upcycling, the craft of repurposing old or discarded items into something new and interesting, has gained significant popularity.

In this article, we'll explore how to find tables and table tops to upcycle, ideas on how to renovate them, a step by step guide on how to strip and prepare wood, and how tubular steel table legs can help create a stylish and eco-friendly kitchen table, dining table or coffee table.

Dining room table - kitchen table - natural unfinished top -

Let's begin by exploring what upcycling is and take a deeper dive into the reasons why it's become a commonplace practice.

Upcycling Philosophy

Sustainability

The drive to reuse or repurpose furniture and materials is rooted in sustainability. Upcycling is about reducing waste, extending the lifespan of items, and repurposing materials.

Reduced Cost

Reducing furniture cost is important for some upcyclers. By transforming old furniture and repurposing materials, you can save money and avoid the costs of purchasing new items. It's a cheap, cost effective way to furnish your home.

Bucking Consumerism

For some upcyclers, motivation comes for wanting to have an air of authenticity in their home furnishings, as an alternative to mass produced, flat packed furniture items. There's great appeal in tables, cabinets, bookcases etc. that will last and not fall apart after a few years when moved.

Self Expression

Each upcycled piece is unique. The philosophy celebrates individuality and self-expression, creating pieces that reflects your personal style and tastes. For example, there are many ways to renovate a top, to completely transform it: paint it, wax it, stain it, varnish it, lacquer it, whatever works for a particular room.

Fun, pallet coffee table - slatted tabletop -white paint

Upcycling Culture

Upcycling is a DIY culture. Serious upcyclers take pride in rolling up their sleeves, experimenting, and being inspired by learning new techniques and skills.

Appreciating Craftmanship

Upcycling can involve working with older pieces. Many upcyclers aim to preserve and honour original designs, materials and quality for those special, standout pieces with some vintage credentials or historical value.

Well crafted, upcycled dining set with black iron chairs

Flipping

Some upcyclers search out pieces to renovate and 'flip', to sell on for a profit. Selling upcycled furniture on platforms such as Etsy or at local markets can help you reach a wider audience to help support your craft.

Think about how much you will realistically sell your upcycled table for, and then work back, considering any applicable sales taxes, materials, and transport costs, and adding a healthy profit for yourself. That will give you an idea of what to pay for your table, top, legs etc.

For savvy upcyclers, flipping can be really lucrative, as well as being eco-conscious — a great combination.

Modern dining room table - with chairs - glass panel cabinet

Ways to Find Items to Upcycle

There is perhaps an art, as well as the craft, to successful upcycling. And part of that is knowing where to find things to upcycle. Having a keen eye and experience helps.

Let's say a person wants to create upcycled tables to flip. They are not only looking for complete tables, but are also keeping an eye out for tops and flat surfaces such as planks or pallets that might work as tops, with the addition of legs from other sources.

Used furniture market - figures haggling

Antique Shops and Flea Markets

Antique and second hand shops can be treasure troves. You'll often find a range of items, including tables and tops, at affordable prices, ideal for upcycling projects.

Under cover flea market - close-up of bare light bulb

Also consider higher price items. They can be worth the investment if you're looking for a statement piece to upcycle, or a higher end item to flip.

Online Marketplaces

Online marketplaces like Etsy, Facebook Marketplace and eBay can be goldmines for used furniture. You can also search for tables in your local online small ads and filter results based on your preferences. Be sure to inspect items in person before buying, and don’t be afraid to negotiate the price when necessary.

Wood Reclamation Yards

A great place to find a top to upcycle is at wood reclamation and architectural salvage yards. This could be an actual old top, a piece from other furniture, or any planks that can offer a suitable flat surface.

Pile of reclaimed planks

It will take a keen eye and some imagination to spot a gem. That means being careful to ensure that the wood you choose is flat, that it isn't too thick, and has, or can create, a level, straight top for a kitchen table or dining table. However, for a coffee table it's perhaps easier to get creative and use old pallets or unsymmetrical pieces for a quirkier or more rustic look.

Coffee table - thick tree trunk cross section - light varnish look

'Free Stuff' Groups

Free stuff groups on social media can be excellent resources for finding free or heavily discounted furniture. Many people give away items they no longer need, and you might just come across a coffee table, kitchen table, dining table or top that's perfect for upcycling.

Skip Diving

Ok. This is perhaps a controversial one and it's certainly not for everyone. Driving around looking for full skips or discarded items by the roadside is a way to find some good stuff to upcycle. Here's a top tip: if a skip has a cover on it, or is on someone's driveway, leave it alone.

Full skip on street

If you spot a table or wood that you think you can use, be sure it's been thrown out, and make sure you know and follow local laws and regulation.

Wood Table Top Preparation

Before you start renovating your top, you’ll need to prepare the surface properly. The following steps will help you achieve a clean, smooth natural finish as a base to begin. Here’s what you will need to get the job done:

  • Old newspapers or drop cloths

  • Safety goggles and a dust mask

  • Rubber gloves

  • Paintbrush or small roller

  • Paint scraper or putty knife

  • Paint stripper or varnish remover

  • Sandpaper (various grits)

  • Tack cloth or a lint-free cloth

  • Stain or paint (optional for finishing)

Choose a well-ventilated workspace, preferably outdoors or in a garage. Lay down old newspapers or drop cloths to catch any debris and protect your work area. Use your safety goggles, a dust mask, and rubber gloves to protect yourself from potentially harmful fumes, dust, and chemicals during the renovation process.

Figure smoothing a tabletop

  1. If your table or wood top has any hardware, such as screws or brackets, remove them to ensure a smoother and more thorough renovation. Keep the hardware in a safe place for reinstallation later. Note: if removing hardware disassembles your table, then renovate the parts separately.
  2. Before applying  your chosen finish, clean the surface to remove dirt and grime. Use a mixture of warm water and mild dish soap or sugar soap. Gently rub the table using a soft cloth or sponge, to remove dirt and dust, and then rinse thoroughly. Wait for a few hours to allow to dry completely.
  3. Depending on the wood's current finish, you may need a paint or varnish stripper, always following the manufacturer's instructions.
  4. Use a paint scraper or putty knife to gently scrape away the old finish, working in the direction of the grain. Continue this process section by section until the entire surface is free of the old finish. Before sanding, ensure the wood is fully stripped and dry.
  5. Sanding is a crucial step to achieve a smooth, even surface on the wood. Start with a coarser-grit sandpaper (around 80 or 100 g) and gradually move to finer grits (around 150 – 220 g). Always sand in the direction of the grain.
  6. After sanding, use a lint-free, damp cloth to thoroughly wipe down the table to remove any sanding dust. This is essential for a clean finish. Let stand for a while to dry.

Now you're ready to get started with your chosen finish, whether it's keeping a raw look, whitewashing or painting, varnishing, staining, or waxing.

Your top will need legs. Metal legs are commonly used and are available in a variety of styles.

Metal Table Legs

Steel tube table legs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from shorter, wide legs, longer, slimmer tube legs, to frame-type metal bases (which are more expensive). You will need to decide which option is best for your top, the table's style and its purpose.

Steel tube leg - satin silver

Attaching metal legs to the top is often as simple as screwing the wooden top to the legs in such a way so that the table stands level and stable. For square or rectangle tops this is obviously at each of the four corners. But for a round or unsymmetrical top, getting leg placing right can be trickier. Experimenting with leg placement will reveal the optimum position.

Steel tube legs - black

Table Top Upcycle Inspiration

Raw Wood

A raw wood table creates a natural feel that can appeal to a variety of interiors and design styles, from rustic farmhouse to industrial loft.

Juxtaposing more traditional-style tops with modern elements, such as metal legs, can create an interesting look.

Bare wooden tabletop - wide grain - distressed look

Whitewashing

Whitewashing can give kitchen tables an understated, Shaker-style look, with a clean simplicity that never ages.

Whitewash painted table planks - paint brush - chalk paint - distressed look

Wax and Varnish

Waxing or varnishing your top will give it a more sophisticated look, while preserving the natural beauty of the grain.

Paint brush applying coat of varnish to upcycled tabletop

Stains and Oils

Stains and oils have a similar effect to varnishing and waxing. The main difference is they don't have the lustre or sheen, with an almost matte finish. Light or dark? The choice is yours. It will depend on your eye and the style of the room.

Dark stained dining tabletop

Paint

Painting is perhaps the most common top finish. Remember to prime the wood, use masking tape, and apply two coats. Or use a chalk paint, that requires no primer and can be applied directly to clean wood. Check our Annie Sloan chalk paint for colours.

Small paint pots - nature colours - arranged with clean paint brushes -  Annie Sloan chalk paint

Final Thoughts

In this article we've explored upcycling philosophy and culture, as well as offered some hints and tips on how to find items, how to go about upcycling a top, and some examples of finish options for inspiration.

Hopefully you're feeling inspired to become an upcycler, to save or even make some money, to help do your bit for the environment, and have some fun in the process.

However you choose to go about your upcycle project, I hope you enjoy your new table and the ongoing upcycling journey towards your ideal, eco-friendly home, perhaps even making a few quid along the way.

For more DIY inspiration try our blog for home improvement and interior design insights, how-to guides and more. And for all your hardware needs visit Hiatt Hardware.