Posted by Tim Vidra / October 10, 2012
How To: DIY Stump Table
You guys, we made a table from a slice of tree stump, no joke! We mentioned tackling a DIY project we were pretty excited about weekend before last — well we finally got it finished and this is it. Here's the whole (very long) story of how this all came about and step by step instructions of exactly how it went down in the event you want to tackle making one of your own!
We started out with a stump — obviously. What's funny about how this all came about is in how we actually found and brought the stump home. Mary walks Basil through the Fan (our neighborhood) every morning and pretty much takes the same route. On her daily walk she began coming across this same stump on the side of the street where the trash and recycling are put out:
It just sat there day after day and about 2 weeks after she began seeing it she started telling me each evening how she wanted me to go get it so we could make something out of it. I kinda brushed it off at first thinking it would get picked up, but let me tell you how persistent Mary can be once she gets an idea in her head. You can probably tell that by the third week in a row she was walking by this stump that we drove over to it one evening and picked it up off the sidewalk to bring home.
The stump was heavy as all get out but I was able to get it in the front seat of the car safely, buckle her in and bring her back home (please don't ask me why my shorts are riding up so high in this photo, maybe the most embarrassing shot of me on the blog to date):
Once getting the stump slice back home, we set it in our garage to hang out and let it continue to dry out for another week while we talked about what we wanted to do with it. We decided a side table to replace the red stool we've been using in place of a table in our family room could be pretty awesome, so we went for it!
Mary had already been on the lookout for a set of hairpin legs, thinking we might like to raise the trunk our TV sits on, so we went ahead and bought this handmade set of 3 from Cream Street Shop on Etsy. Not only were they super affordable, but they are made right here in Virginia — we were sold.
Since we knew we'd want to make the stump into a side table in-between our 2 couches, we'd need the end result to be right around 24 inches tall. Once we had the stump hanging out in our garage we were able to measure it to find it was 10 inches tall. This is how we were able to determine the length of the legs we'd need to order. We figured 14" legs plus the 10" tall stump would put us right into the sweet spot.
Weekend before last, after a week or more sealed off in our garage, we brought the stump out in the alley to start working on it. I'd talked to a woodworking friend of mine who lent me a handheld planer tool and recommended a woodcrafting shop I check out for protectants and sealing finishes for the table.
We really liked the overall look and feel of the stump the way it was, so we wanted to keep it as natural as possible while making sure we elevated it to the next level in terms of craftsmanship. Mary and I were hoping to leave the natural bark on the outside of the stump instead of peeling it off but weren't sure if it was doomed to fall off due to the following crack in the bark:
The expert at the woodcraft store told us so long as there wasn't a black line all the way around the stump where the bark meets the wood that we'd be fine to leave it in tact. We were excited to find we'd be able to leave the bark on ours for that more natural look we were going for.
Like I said, we quite literally set up this DIY operation in our back alley:
After sweeping and wiping down the stump of all external debris and areas that were bound to break off, out came the planer to really get this job started. I began by running it around the full perimeter of the stump's edge to knock off the outermost layer of bark and really smooth out the edges of this soon to be table:
See how chamfering around the full edge exposed the internal layers, created a redish ring around the stump and really smoothed out that outer layer while giving it some added definition and dimension:
This is where we both began to get really excited that we were actually going to pull this whole "operation stump table" off. Then it was on to planing the flat top of the stump to level things out and really take off that top layer of wood that had been exposed to the elements for who knows how long:
Planing the top surface was pretty straightforward — it just took a steady hand and a little patience before we'd gotten that fresh layer of exposed wood we were looking for. Then it was time to pull out the sander. Have I mentioned how much I loved that this "DIY project" required the use or more than a few of my power tools?
We began with a rough 80 grit sandpaper to really even out the top of the table and eliminate any remaining lines from where I'd completed the planing:
All I have to say is, thank goodness for the electric sander. Mary and I were both a little anal about getting every last line and imperfection out of the top of that stump, so the sanding portion of this project is what took the longest.
I sanded and sanded:
Then I took a break and Mary began sanding! We sanded and sanded and then sanded some more until we eventually began seeing those lines disappear. Also, who doesn't love seeing a woman working with power tools?
At one point, I set down my Full Sail LTD beer on the top of the stump while Mary was still sanding — it was at that point that this little table was beginning to come to life for me. I could envision weekends with sports on the TV and a beer on the stump table by my side...it would only be a matter of time.
After we got every last ridge out of the top of this stump, I sanded it a couple more times with a finer grit sandpaper to really smooth and polish things up.
Once we finished sanding Mary said her arms felt like jelly. Then we looked at the table and realized how much the top of it looked like the face of an owl:
See the two big eyes and beak in the middle? Pretty crazy right?
We decided we wanted this side to be the top of the table since the double rings were most prominent on this side. Given the two sets of rings, we figured this slice of the tree must have been the portion of the stump where twins were about to emerge and branch out.
After all that sanding it was time for a little wood stabilizer before flipping this puppy over to work on the bottom.
The expert at the Woodcraft store (along with my woodworker friend) recommended we use Wood Juice. Honestly, we were sold on the name alone, not to mention the fact it boasts being able to prevent checking, cracking and warping in wood.
I poured and thoroughly wiped on 2 coats of the wood juice, which was fun to watch since the wood promptly absorbed it into all of it's nooks, crannies and rings, bubbling up a little as if it were thirsty.
You could really see the intricacies of the wood coming through at this point. Once the stabilizer was applied to our liking, we covered it in plastic, as the instructions called for, and took a break. Whew!
Later that day we came back out, flipped the stump over and started almost from the beginning. Before doing so, here's what the top of the stump looked like after the stabilizer had fully absorbed:
After flipping it over, I planed all the way around the edge of the bottom of the stump, then instead of planing the surface I went straight into rough sanding. Since we knew this side would be the bottom of the table, we didn't put quite as much sweat and tears into ensuring the smoothness was perfect — we were just going for level:
You may be able to see why we chose the other side as the top of the table from the picture above — we just liked the way the two rings were so much larger and more prominent on the flip side. You can also see how this slice of the stump must have been the starting ground for where the single trunk of the tree became two judging from how close the rings are on this bottom side.
Once I got a rough sanding done on this side, we went for another couple coats of the Wood Juice to ensure overall protection:
While we waited for those applications to absorb and dry, we took the opportunity to go ahead and spray the rough bark sides of the stump with a low odor clear gloss finishing spray:
Like we said before, we love the look of the natural bark and wanted to keep it in tact. That being said, we didn't want to have to constantly be cleaning up little bark pieces and particles around the table once it was inside, so the clear gloss finishing spray made sure to seal everything in place and add a subtle sheen to the natural bark.
After spraying and waiting for everything to dry, it was time to pull out the power drill and install the hairpin legs:
We eyeballed placement for best look and feel, then I slowly drilled each screw into place, ensuring the legs were level and sturdy. Once they were drilled into place, we called it a day and let our table sit overnight to continue to absorb the wood protector:
The next day we virtually jumped out of bed to go check on the table, flip it over and see how things were taking shape:
As I flipped the table over, two thoughts went through my head. One being how heavy this sucker was and two being how things were about to get real:
Things were completely level after the flip (so we high fived) and we could envision this little project actually turning into the table we'd been talking about! We felt like we were on the home stretch as we whipped out the can of topcoat and began sealing this stump table off for good.
As for the topcoat, we again went with what the expert from the woodcraft store recommended — this Arm-R-Seal Oil & Urethane Topcoat:
We told him we wanted the top of the table to be completely sealed and functional, yet retain it's natural look and feel without being too glossy. He told us this satin finish oil and urethane topcoat would do the trick and if properly applied that we'd be able to rest sweaty and wet glasses all over the top of the table with no damage. This sounded too good to be true, not to mention the fact we don't (as a rule) leave sweaty glasses to hang out on wood surfaces, but we liked the sound of what we heard, so we went with it. I will admit that the thought of resting my ice cold glass beer bottle on this table while watching a game or two did cross my mind...
We applied a very thin and even layer of the topcoat along the grain of the wood using a foam craft brush (recommended for consistency) and watched as the top of the wood began to really shine through and come to life:
Applying the topcoat was fun in that we knew we were almost finished with the project and it was a pretty methodical and relaxing process since we had to go really slow and even. After we got the first full application of topcoat on the table, we cleaned everything up and let it sit to dry over the next 24 hours.
This is probably my favorite picture from the whole table making process — a man in his workshop, it's a beautiful thing:
Over the next several evenings, we'd creep into the garage to get a sneak peek at how our little table was shaping up and apply a new layer topcoat:
We ended up putting 5 very thin and even coats of the topcoat on the surface of the table, just to make sure things were sealed and set. After the 4th coat I gently sanded and buffed the topcoat with a #220 fine grit sandpaper before putting the final topcoat on. Sanding and buffing allows for a final smoothing of any ridges in the sealer and allows for a cleaner application of the final coat.
24 hours after applying the final coat of sealer, we carefully brought the table inside to dry and cure further over the next couple of days in our front room. While the stump had plenty of time to dry in the garage, the differences in humidity of being indoors vs. outside vary greatly, so we really wanted to give the table a chance to take shape and set up in its final surroundings before putting it to use.
Here's how she looks in all of her glory:
We just love the natural wood look paired with the industrial metal hairpin legs — which we think give the table a little bit of a retro modern feeling too. We're also really happy with how the satin finish topcoat created a bit of a sheen on the top of the table without being glossy or high shine — it really allowed the natural intricacies of the wood to take center stage:
Once we were ready to put the table to use for real, Mary started fussing with flowers, mirror glass vases, candles and magazines — all I could think was, what is happening to my manly beer table!?
She assured me she just wanted to show the table in it's best light for this blog reveal and that our remotes, drinking glasses and other "real life" staples would most likely soon overtake the table once outside of the camera's spotlight. I bought it and went with it, though the books and flowers are still on the table as we speak and I have to admit, they are growing on me.
We snapped a ton of photos of the table in it's new home as a side table between our two couches in the family room:
And finally, a shot of the new table with Basil sleeping in the foreground — you know, for good measure:
What's that? You want to see a better one with Jerry in it too? Well, since you asked:
And the before and after:
This is the first piece of furniture Mary and I have made together, and we're feeling pretty proud of it. We're still in what we like to call the honeymoon phase with our new little tree slice table — every time we walk by it we stop to admire it and say something along the lines of "can you believe we made that table, it's just so cool."
We also feel like the table has helped with the evolution of this room — replacing the red stool with something a little more substantial just makes the space feel that much more homey.
We hope this post has helped show how easy it can be to transform something headed for the trash into a beautiful piece of functional furniture that could be a new focal point in your home! What have you been working on lately?