My interest in mid-century modern style was sparked while reading a Smithsonian article about Frank Lloyd Wright back in 2009 (the article is pretty ancient now, but still a great read!), and since then my love for the clean lines and nature-inspired elements of the style that defined the 40s and 50s has only grown. I had been hunting for the perfect hairpin leg coffee table at the right price for a while, with zero luck, when the idea occurred to me to make my own. Riding a high of equal parts inspiration and caffeine, I parked myself in our spare bedroom, and started researching. When I finally emerged, empty coffee cup in hand, I had a plan.
And I can’t wait to share it with you!
This is seriously the easiest hairpin leg coffee table tutorial ever, and as the title suggests, you also get a sweet little side table out of the deal. And the final product looks slicker than Don Draper’s hair before his pitch to the boys at Lucky Strike.
Let’s get started, shall we?
- “Project Panel” from The Home Depot (we used their 6×2 ft., 1/2 in. thick Birch panel)
- Hairpin Legs (I picked up one set of 16″, and one set of 28″ legs from here)
- Cordless Drill
- Stain (I used Minwax Oil-Based Wood Finish in Dark Walnut)
- Polyurethane Clear Coat
- Brush (I snagged a cheaper one for about $6 from Home Depot while I was picking up the wood)
- Old Sheet or Drop Cloth
1. Gather Your Materials
The Wood Panel
You can certainly use any size wood you want (and you can get it from anywhere you want), but the ease of this particular project is due in large part to the “Project Panel” I found at my local Home Depot. It was a great price because it’s made up of a cheaper core with an outer layer of nicer wood (called a veneer). The outer veneer on our birch panel was smooth and solid, and the panel was just thick enough to hold the hairpin leg screws, but not so thick that your table lost it’s mid-century sleekness. This is not an ad I swear, though I’m absolutely game if you are, Home Depot…Call me?
I chose the Birch panel because I liked the grain the best, and I asked the nice man in the lumber department to make one cut for me right at the four-foot mark. This gave me two pieces: one 4×2 ft. (for my coffee table top), and one 2 ft. square (for my side table top). Leave no wood behind!
You can find hairpin legs for sale all over the internet, but I’m an impatient millennial. After some savvy googling, I found these sets at the Rockler Hardware near my apartment and was able to pick them up the same day. If you don’t have a Rockler near you, try calling your local hardware stores (I’ve found that big chains like Home Depot and Lowe’s don’t carry this sort of thing). If you have no luck, ordering online isn’t so bad and the selection is great (I love these, these and these on Amazon, which you won’t have to wait long for if you have Prime!).
2. Attach Your Legs
Lay your table pieces on your drop cloth so that the side you want to use as the top is facing down, and the underside is facing up. Carefully measure where you want to attach your legs, mark using a pencil, and drill your pilot holes.
I chose to attach the L-shaped leg brackets about an inch from each corner of the table top. Hairpin legs slant slightly outward as they reach the floor, and I wanted the tip of each leg to hit the floor directly under the corners of the tabletop. Where you place your legs is up to you, just make sure they’re symmetrical so that your table is sturdy.
Screw your legs on, and your tables are done!
1. Use masking tape to mark where to stop when drilling your pilot holes.
2. If your table legs come with longer screws, use washers to ensure they don’t poke through the table top. We used washers just in case, but our wood was thick enough that we could have gotten away with skipping this step.
3. Add a dab of wood glue to your drill hole before you put in the screw just to give it a little extra hold.
4. If a hunky husband and adorable pup volunteer to help, let them! Trust me, it’ll be cute.
3. Stain and Seal
When it comes to stain you’ve got a few options:
- Oil-based: stinks quite a bit, takes FOR-E-VER to dry, but provides smooth, even coverage
- Water-based: stinks slightly less, dries quickly, coverage can turn out uneven if you’re not quick
I went with the oil-based option (Minwax’s Dark Walnut) because I’m not quick with a brush, and I really wanted a nice, even finish. Whichever option you choose, be sure you’re working in a well ventilated area. A garage or driveway would be ideal, but if you’re in an apartment like me, open all the windows in the room you’re using as your workspace, and set up fans to create a cross breeze.
To seal the stain in I used Polyurethane (also by Minwax). I applied two coats on every surface of each table, with ample dry time and a light sanding between each layer. I added one extra layer for good measure on each of the table tops because who really uses coasters, I ask you?
Polycrylic (the water-based version of Minwax’s Polyurethane) would also work for this step. Just make sure, if you used the oil-based stain, that your stain is completely dry before applying the Polycrylic, or the water/oil combo could cause peeling. Polycrylic has held up really well for me when using it on painted furniture, and if you chose the water-based stain, this is the sealer for you. Follow the directions on whatever stain and sealer you choose, and make sure to allow the proper amount of drying time in between coats.
Once your new coffee table and side table have fully dried it’s time to set them up in your living room, give yourself a pat on the back, and enjoy!
I’d love to hear how your tables turn out in the comments below!