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How to Build a Display Coffee Table

From our Hammer It Out series: Show off your collectibles with an acrylic-topped case that does double duty as a living room table

A cardboard box buried in the garage is no home for your grandfather's hand tools or your own hard-won collectibles. Why not showcase them properly, in a coffee table with a sunken inset and a removable top that you build yourself? With little more than a few lengths of lumber, some stock legs, and a sheet of acrylic, you'll have a DIY display coffee table that's fittingly handsome for the history on display.

Paint: Valspar's Royal Navy

Table legs: Waddell 21 ¼-inch Country Pine Traditional Wood Table Leg, Lowe's

RELATED: See all Hammer It Out projects.

Display Coffee Table Overview

Illustration by Doug Adams

Download fun extras including drink and food pairings to go with this project.

Cut List

Our shadowbox coffee table cut list is based on table legs with a 2¼-by-2¼- inch section on top that's 5 inches long. This unturned portion of post provides the flats to attach the apron pieces; its width will affect the dimensions of the tabletop frame, so be sure to adjust your measurements accordingly if you go with legs of a different size.

1x5 apron: 2 @ 22½ inches

1x5 apron: 2 @ 46½ inches

1x1 support strips and edge strips: 2 @ 21 inches

1x1 support strips: 2 @ 45 inches

1x1 screw strips: 8 @ 4½ inches

Baseboard for tabletop frame: 2 @ 26½ inches (tip to tip)

Baseboard for tabletop frame: 2 @ 53½ inches (tip to tip)

1x1 edge strips: 2 @ 26½ inches (tip to tip)

1x1 edge strips: 2 @ 53½ inches (tip to tip)

Acrylic sheet: 1 @ 27 by 51 inches

½-inch plywood bottom: 1 @ 24 by 48 inches

Step 1: Cut the apron pieces and cleats

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Using a miter saw, cut the 1x5 apron pieces and 1x1 support strips and screw strips to size.

Step 2: Attach the cleats to the apron

Photo by Ryan Benyi

On each apron piece, glue and position a long support strip flush with the bottom edge, and a short screw strip flush with each end. The supports will hold the plywood display bottom. The screw strips create a block for attaching the apron pieces to the legs. To secure the strips, first tack them in place using a pneumatic nail gun and 1¼-inch nails. Then, using a countersink drill bit, create pilot holes in the strips and sink a 1¼-inch screw through the strip and into the apron.

Step 3: Attach the apron pieces to the legs

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Apply wood glue to the edge of an apron assembly, and position it against a leg so that everything is flush at the top and inside of the leg, as shown. Drill pilot holes through the screw strip and into the leg, then secure it using 1¼-inch screws. Continue joining each leg and apron piece until the perimeter of the base is complete.

Step 4: Mark the display bottom

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Set the table's base upside down on the floor. Align the inner edges of the apron with the outer edges of the display bottom so that the frame would slip over the floor if not for the screw strips at the corners. Mark the outline of the screw strips at each corner, as shown.

Step 5: Notch the display bottom

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Using a jigsaw, cut notches for the screw strips at each corner of the display bottom. Slip the bottom into the table's base so that it rests on the support strips along the bottom edge of each apron piece. Tack the bottom in place with 1-inch nails.

Step 6: Miter the tabletop frame and edge pieces

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Miter the ends of each tabletop frame piece and 1x1 lip piece at opposing 45-degree angles. The detail on the top edge of the baseboard should line the inside of the frame.

Step 7: Attach the edge strips to the tabletop frame pieces

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Apply wood glue to the 1x1 edge strips and lay them flat on their corresponding frame pieces, flush at the outer edges and mitered ends. Using the pneumatic nail gun, attach the edge strips to the frame pieces using 1-inch nails.

Step 8: Assemble the tabletop frame

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Once all the frame and strip pieces have been constructed, apply wood glue and a touch of cyanoacrylate glue to their mitered edges, one joint at a time. Join the corners to create a rectangle, then nail from the outside edge through each mitered joint using 1¼-inch nails.

Step 9: Cut the acrylic

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Using a permanent marker, draw cutlines on the acrylic sheet using a straightedge. Cut along the lines using a jigsaw with a metal-cutting blade.

TOH TIP: To prevent the shoe of the jigsaw from scraping the acrylic, stick painter's tape to the underside.

Step 10: Assemble the table

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Place the acrylic sheet on the table's base so that, as you're looking down on it, its corners match the corners of the legs. Place the frame on top so that it locks around the acrylic and the legs. Fill the fastener holes and joints with wood filler, then sand and paint the entire assembly.