Retro Style Side Table with Legs Made of Wood Shims

Retro style round side table with wood shim tapered legs.

This side table has a mid-century flair with tapered legs that are made out of ordinary cedar wood shims.  I paired the shim legs with a table top made of thin hardboard and a round glass topper.


DIY tapered legs made of wood shims.
retro style round side table with vase of orange flowers

This project has three main parts:

  • Making the wood shim legs
  • Making the table top
  • Assembling the top and legs

Making the Wood Shim Legs

Tools/Supplies: 16″ cedar wood shims, wood glue, bar clamps, miter box/saw, ruler, paper, pencil, sandpaper, palm sander, polyurethane, 3″x 3″ T-braces, drill, screws, screwdriver, level

The legs are made of 16″ cedar wood shims which are available at most hardware and home improvement stores.  I especially like the quality of shims at Menards. These wood shims commonly come in packages of 42. You’ll need six shims for each leg and then some extra for the clamping part.  After you open the package, look through and sort into “keepers” and “other.”  My “other” pile included any shims that weren’t as wide, as well as shims with soft wood or missing pieces.  I arranged and rearranged darker and lighter shims for each leg until I was happy with the color variation of the shims.

Now before you start slinging glue around, I highly recommend you do a dry run of clamping up a leg without glue. The first time I did this, I surprised myself, and not in a good way. Once you start gluing, you’ll have about 10 minutes before you need to clamp the shims to ensure a good glue bond, so you will want to know what you’re doing. When making my first leg, I spent much of the 10 minutes struggling with the clamps and rummaging in the garage for more clamps!

Use Titebond 3 wood glue (or another wood/yellow/carpenter’s glue).  Put a generous amount of glue on one side of the first shim and spread well. For spreading the glue, I used a little tool designed for cutting-in when painting, but you could also use your finger or a paper towel, etc.  Stack the wood shims as you get them covered with glue. Don’t put wood glue on the 6th shim.  You are ready to clamp!

You will need at least three clamps, and more is better.  I used four 6-inch bar clamps and two other clamps.  I bought all my clamps at Harbor Freight, and they work fine.  Bar clamps are best for this project.

To get even clamping, put three unglued shims on each side of the glued shims, in the opposite direction as your leg shims (see first photo below). Clamp, and then leave alone for the recommended time for your glue.  I usually leave them clamped for about 12 hours. After unclamping, pop off the unglued shims with a little pressure. I only have one set of clamps, so I did one leg at a time. It was easy to do, but took two days to make the four legs.

Next you will need to level the top and bottom of each leg.  To determine my cut lines, I taped two pieces of paper together so that the long dimension was the length I wanted for the leg (i.e., 14 12“). I then placed the paper rectangle over the leg and marked at the top and bottom of the paper.

I cut the ends off using my miter box and hand saw.  The miter box I use is a Stanley Delux Miter Box with Saw (Model # 20-600D), which I bought at Home Depot.  I mention this because this miter box has pins that can be positioned to hold the wood in place while cutting.  This is especially helpful for these triangle-shaped shim legs.  After straightening the ends, I sanded the legs with a palm sander using 150 and 220 grit sand paper, and I finished with solvent-based satin polyurethane.  You can finish to your liking.

Attach the shim legs to the bottom of the table top using 3″ x 3″ T-braces.  I’ll describe how to attach the braces to the legs now, and later how to attach the braces to the table top.  Place a brace on top of the leg as shown in the photo below, and mark where you’ll drill pilot holes for the screws.  Use two #6 x 1 12” sheet metal screws for each leg. I used a drill bit that was a little smaller in diameter than the screw and put painters tape on the drill bit at 1 12” as a drill depth guide.

After putting in your screws, turn each leg over and stand them up to see how straight the legs stand. Hopefully, they are reasonably perpendicular to the floor.  In the photo below, notice that the space between the yellow level and the leg is about the same at the top as it is at the bottom of the leg.  This is what you want.  If the legs don’t stand straight now, they’ll look wonky after you attach them to the table top.  One of mine didn’t stand straight, and I didn’t want to re-cut because then it would be shorter than the other legs. So, I backed out the screws a little, cut a piece of the end of a spare wood shim, put it under one side of the brace, then retightened the screws.  It took a bit of trial and error with different thicknesses of shim pieces to get it right.

Making the Table Top

Tools/Supplies: 14” hardboard, jigsaw, 20 TPI jigsaw blade, ruler, scrap wood, pencil, nail, carpet tape, optional edge-glued round panel

I used 14” double-sided tempered hardboard (smooth on both sides), which I got at Menard’s.  The other big-box home improvement stores in my area have the kind of hardboard that is smooth/tempered on only one side, which will work fine if you face the tempered side out.  You’ll see what I mean as we get into the details. A 2′ x 2′ piece of hardboard is enough for the table top.

Let me pause here and tell you that making the hardboard table top is not difficult, but it may be a bit more labor-intensive than what you want to get into right now.  Instead of making the table top with hardboard as I’ll describe, you could buy an “edge-glued round panel” (15″ for the same size table as mine), available at hardware/home improvement stores. This will make a thicker table top, so it will maybe look “bulkier” than mine.  It’s an option that I’m sure would look good, just different.

Okay, back to the hardboard.  You’ll need to cut two circles, one 13″ and one 15″ diameter.  I’m going to show you how to cut perfect circles with your jigsaw. This is a skill that could come in handy for all sorts of furniture projects.  First, I made a jig with a scrap piece of 14” hardboard. The piece of hardboard should be at least 10″ long, cut to the approximate shape shown in the photo.  I made mine quite a bit longer so that I can use it later to cut larger circles for other projects.

On the wider end of the jig about 3″ from the end, draw a straight line as shown.

Cut to the end of the line using your jigsaw.

I cut the 15″ diameter circle first. For this size, I put a dot at 7 12” from the jigsaw blade. This measurement (7 12“) is half of the diameter of the 15″ circle.  (This measurement will change when you cut the 13” circle.)

Before you start cutting, you will need to support the hardboard off the ground (so you are not sawing the floor!) on something that does not stick out past where you will cut the circle.  Several pieces of wood glued together will work for the support.  I used an old gallon of paint with a piece of wood screwed to the top.  Put the piece of hardboard on top of your support. Pound a nail through the hardboard and into the support at the 7 12” mark.  Next, put a pencil in the jig (where you’ll put the jigsaw in a minute). Rotate the jig to draw the circle.  Check to see that the diameter of the circle is 15.”

For cutting hardboard, it’s best to use a blade with a high tooth count, called “teeth per inch” or TPI.  I used a 20 TPI blade from Home Depot.  If you can’t find a 20 TPI blade, look for one that is recommended for laminated flooring.  (Be sure to get a blade that has a flank that is compatible with your jigsaw.)  First you’ll cut what I call a  “start wedge.”  Rotate the jig out of the way and cut a wedge with your jigsaw, following the shape of the circle for about an inch.

Now put some carpet tape on the bottom of the jigsaw.

As shown in the photos, rotate the jig to the wedge cutout, and put the jigsaw blade into the slot of the jig. Press the jigsaw down firmly so the carpet tape holds the jigsaw in place.  Ready to cut!

Push the jigsaw forward as you cut. The jig rotates around the nail at the center, and you’ll cut a perfect circle. Cut a second circle, this one 13″ diameter.  Remember to change the nail location on the jig to 6 12‘ from the blade, which is half the diameter of the 13″ circle.

fINISHING THE tABLE tOP

Tools/Supplies:  wood filler/spackle, sandpaper, spray paint, clear spray finish

The 15″ circle will become the top of the table.  The legs are attached with screws to the 13″ circle, and then the 13″ hardboard (with the legs attached) is glued to the 15″ top.  I painted the 15″ top, then coated it with a clear protective finish.  The 13″ circle got only the protective clear coat, not paint. You, of course, can finish these however you like.  Now, my details.

Before I started painting, I filled in the nail hole with Minwax Stainable Wood Filler and then sanded it smooth.  Any kind of drywall spackle will work for this, too.

My top is kind of a greenish aged metallic look, which happened after multiple false starts.  Let me explain. I originally spray painted the table top a forest green. What was I thinking?  Then gold.  Not right.  Then another gold.  Still not right.  Then a different color green, this one hammered.  No.  By this time, my husband thought I’d gone mad.  Between each coat, I sanded lightly with 220 grit sand paper. After the hammered green, I tried silver.  Still not happy. So I prepped for the next color.  I sanded the silver lightly, which exposed a bit of the previous hammered green layer of paint. Oh wow.  I liked it!  Some things just don’t work out–until they do.  Finally, I coated the painted top with a clear coat for extra protection.

To summarize for my table top, I spray painted with Rust-Oleum Hammered Verde Green enamel paint, then Rust-Oleum Metallic Finish Silver.  I then lightly sanded the silver table top by hand with fine sand paper (220 grit), revealing some of the green underneath.  I gave my table top a few coats of Rust-Oleum Ultra Cover Clear (semi-gloss).  Not having that much experience with spray-painted furniture, I’m not sure how necessary this clear coat is, but I thought best to err on the side of overkill.

Assembling

Tools/Supplies: string, measuring tape, pencil/pen, four 3″x 3″ T braces, twelve #6 x 14” sheet metal screws, nail, hammer, painter’s tape, Seal-All contact adhesive

First, I had to figure out where to put the legs, equidistant on the circle.  After an unsuccessful geometry project, I went back to my rural Michigan roots: I used twine (well actually string).  I wrapped the string around the hardboard circle, cut the string to get the circumference, then used a tape measure to get the length of the piece of string in inches I divided this measurement by 4, then marked these measurements on the string.  I wrapped the string back around the circle and transferred the marks to the hardboard.  (Where the string meets was one of the marks.)  I didn’t want to mark directly on the hardboard, so I put four small bits of painter’s tape on first.

I then positioned the legs on the marks (on the painter’s tape), with the legs sticking out 1″ over the edge of the hardboard circle.  I then marked the screw pilot hole locations.

The #6 x 14” sheet metal screws (from Home Depot–not available at other big box stores) are very short and don’t need much of a pilot hole.  I used a nail to sort of puncture the surface of the hardboard.  It won’t matter if your nail goes all the way through the hardboard, as long as the nail diameter is less than your screw diameter.

Next, I applied Seal-All contact adhesive to the underside of the first T-brace and put it back in place.  Before putting in the screws, I dipped them in Seal-All contact adhesive for a little extra holding power.  I attached the other three shim legs in the same way.

I also used Seal-All contact cement to glue the 15″ hardboard top to the 13″ base.  To do this, I spread some Seal-All on the two sides to be joined.  I waited about a minute as per the Seal-All instructions, then put the two together in place.  I found that I could move the circles a little bit once I put the two together, but not much.  So you’ll want to try to drop it where you need it to be.  If you are using hardboard that is smooth on only one side, glue the rough sides together.

The round glass is a 20″ table topper that I bought at Walmart.  I just set it on top, and it doesn’t slip around.  You could attach it with a bit of Seal-All if you want it to be more permanent.  You could also skip the glass altogether if that’s not your style.

Here’s a few more photos.

retro style round side table with tapered wood shim legs top front view
DIY furniture table leg made of wood shims
close up of DIY round table top

So what do you think?  I hope this project inspires you to make some furniture!  Feel free to drop me an e-mail about your project, and from time to time I’ll devote a post to viewer-submitted creations.

Thanks for visiting.  Now go make furniture, because it doesn’t make itself!