How to Build a Coffee Table with Sliding Top (Under $80)


Building a coffee table can be a great project to tap into your creative side and allow you to work with your hands. A coffee table with a sliding top is not only a unique job to challenge yourself with but is also very functional with the additional storage it provides. With the proper tools and construction elements, you can easily build a sliding top under $80. 

How to build a coffee table with a sliding top: 

  1. Plan construction and layout
  2. Acquire cutting and building equipment 
  3. Purchase necessary materials 
  4. Precut and measure all pieces 
  5. Assemble base and legs 
  6. Secure shelving 
  7. Fasten tabletop 

To see Coffee Tables with Sliding Tops, click here.

We will detail each step so you can successfully build a well-constructed coffee table with a sliding top. We will offer the best suggestions on material choices and give you options for creating a table that caters to your personal taste. Building a coffee table for under $80 can be easily done if you take advantage of some saving tips, all without compromising quality. 

Building a Coffee Table with Sliding Top: Step-By-Step 

Our step-by-step guide starts from the planning phase to full completion, so you know all the options and considerations that should be made to build the most efficient and desirable coffee table. The cost associated with building the table accounts only for the material costs and does not include the price of power and hand tools that are needed if you don’t already have them. 

1. Plan Construction and Layout

Before you make any purchases, you will want to have a detailed plan of attack so that you can efficiently make use of the materials you buy and make sure that you successfully construct the table. There are table templates you can work from to get an idea of how to construct a table, but the design for sliding tops are generally the same with ball bearing runners on slats. 

Coffee tables will vary in sizing, depending on both your preferences and the space that the room allows for. Most standard coffee tables range from 10”-18” in height and vary much more widely in length. A general rule of thumb is to keep the length of the coffee table at two-thirds of the length of the sofa or seating arrangements. 

To create the best plan for your coffee table construction, we recommend doing the following things: 

  • Measure the dimensions of the room and furniture: You will want to make sure the coffee table is usable and compatible with the room it will be placed in. Coffee tables are also known as ‘accent tables,’ meaning they are meant to serve as an additional piece of furniture that compliments the large items in the room (typically sofas). 
  • Desired use: Because the coffee table also serves as a storage container with the sliding top, you will want to also base the size on what you plan to put inside. If you have a lot of items, you may want to consider a larger coffee table to allow for more usable space. 
  • Design: There are many different design elements that can be incorporated into a coffee table, including material type and shape. You will need to ensure that the material you use is sturdy and compatible with sliding elements. If you hope to combine metal and wood, the sliding runners typically need to be fastened into the wood for efficiency and stability. 

Planning out everything you need ahead of time will also help you to manage costs more efficiently. If you know your dimensions, you can purchase the correct amount of wood without the need to waste or need to buy more because you didn’t stick to a clear idea or set of instructions. 

2. Acquire Cutting and Building Equipment

The easiest way to build a coffee table is with some power tools! They are not necessary to get the job done, but they will help to enhance the security of screws and your sliding components. If you already have the tools at home or can borrow them from a friend or neighbor, this will cut down on costs and make your life a little easier. 

There are not many power tools required to build your coffee table, but these will make the job much easier if you have access to them: 

  • Power drill or driver: This is used to secure your screws and joints. It is the fastest and easiest tool for construction. If you do not have a power drill, you can create a pilot hole with a nail and then use a manual screwdriver to insert the screws. This will require much more work and doesn’t always guarantee a secure fit. You risk splitting the wood more often in these cases. 
  • Miter saw: This tool is necessary if the wood pieces need to be cut further to fit the dimensions of your table. You can adjust the saw to meet specified angles, and it will ensure a uniform cut for each piece. You can use a traditional handsaw as an alternative, but this may not result in as clean of a cut. 
  • Pocket hole jig: This tool allows you to create pocket holes easily with a power tool. If you do not have access to this tool, you can do it manually as well with a hand tool. 
  • Nail gun: For extra reinforcements, a nail gun can be used for inserting nails along with the cleats (supportive pieces that will hold shelving). You can also use a gun to add trim and other decorative pieces that may not necessarily need the support of screws. You can also consider hammers to insert nails but be careful not to damage the wood. 

We recommend using power tools to get the best results for your project. If you don’t have these tools or cannot easily get access to them, your local hardware store may be able to rent them to you. If this is one of the few projects you will work on, this may be the best option. For more consistent projects in woodworking, these tools are quite versatile for a home workshop. 

Some additional tools you should have to complete the project are: 

  • Sand Paper: Used to make the table smooth and give a finished look after completion. 
  • Clamps: These will hold pieces in place as you secure with screws or nails. 
  • Pencils: A must-have tool for cuts and screw placement, with the ability to erase and make changes if needed. 
  • Tape measure: Not only to make cuts, but to ensure that all mirroring pieces are of the same dimensions. 

3. Purchase Necessary Materials

You’ll need to find the wood and materials needed to build the coffee table with a sliding top. The type of wood you use will impact the price as well as the quality. The dimensions you choose will also impact the costs as larger tables will require more material. 

For a coffee table with a sliding top, you will need: 

  • 4 legs: All four cuts should be identical in length, accounting for 2 opposing angles if legs are not designed to be straight. The typical length of legs on a coffee table is 16’’-18’’.
  • 1 base: This will be the bottom of your coffee table that holds the items within the sliding top. 
  • 1 top: Depending on the design, this can be one large piece of wood or smaller slats. Multiple pieces (such as 2x4s) will give the table a different look but also require more work to adhere them. Plywood is typically the best option for a tabletop. 
  • 2 rails: These will be the wood pieces on the storage that will connect the runners to your tabletop. They need to be wide enough to fit the runners evenly and secure the table. 
  • 2 front/back aprons: Aprons serve as the skeleton of the coffee table. You can add more depending on preference, but these are designed to secure and hold the base of the coffee table (bottom layer for storage). 
  • 2 side aprons: Serving a similar purpose, these are shorter and secure the other two sides of the base. 
  • Wood glue: This will be the adhesive to put the wood pieces in their proper place before you secure with screws. Average $4 per bottle.  
  • Screws and nails: Screws should be thick enough to penetrate the wood and hold securely. For most boards, you should be using around 1-inch nails, or longer if the pieces are thicker. To fasten the tabletop to the runners, use half-inch screws. Your pocket hole screws can also range, but 1 ¼ inch works for most applications. Your finishing nails can be about the same length to reinforce pocket hole screws. Average $5 per box. 
  • Ball-bearing runners: This is the mechanism that will allow for the sliding top to function. You will want to make sure it is attached to close fully and be long enough to slide for access to store items inside. Average $10-15 for a set. 

Because we didn’t give you exact dimensions due to the wide range you can choose for your coffee table, here is an example of a standard coffee table and its measurements for reference. Your pine costs for a standard coffee table should average around $40-50 depending on complexity.

Wood Choice: Choosing the type of wood for your coffee table is an important consideration. Our costs are based on a pine coffee table, which is one of the most economical options. It is a softwood that will provide a rustic look. For a medium-sized coffee table, you can expect to pay $80 for your pine. Other softwood options in similar price ranges include fir and poplar. 

If you are looking for a more sophisticated wood or greater durability, consider a hardwood. These are more difficult to work with, as they are harder to drill through, requiring power tools. These woods include oaks, maples, cherries, mahoganies, and walnut. You can expect to pay a considerable amount more for these materials. 

Repurpose: Another alternative to saving money on materials (and being more environmentally conscious) is to use recycled materials. Some popular materials for recycled wood include wood pallets, crates, old doors, and anything else you can find. You can also use recycled pieces of metal if you are interested in a more industrial design. 

4. Precut and Measure All Pieces

There are different options for getting the correct sizes for the pieces of wood you will need for the project. To ensure proper construction, getting the measurements correct is crucial. You can cut the wood yourself with a miter saw or a handsaw depending on the tools you are using. This will require careful planning and marking to make the proper cuts. 

If you want the tasks to be a bit easier, you can also work with precut pieces of wood. Most hardware stores will offer pine and other woods in varying sizes so you can easily construct the table with little cutting. If they do not have the size you are looking for; you can cut down these larger pieces or have the store cut them for you. 

Constructing a table with 2x4s can also be a unique way to construct the table and cheaper, averaging around $2 for 7 feet. 

5. Assemble Base and Legs

The support or bones of the coffee table are known as aprons. These will be the thinner pieces of wood that will create the structure. You should assemble these first by drilling two pocket holes into the ends of each apron piece (these will fit the screws). If any of the pieces are angled, make sure that it will align properly with the remaining apron and base pieces. 

  • For the legs, double-check that they are all measured correctly, and if they will be angled, these will match up on each side. 
  • You will then need to align the aprons to a leg, making sure they are centered on the inside of the leg. 
  • Fasten these with the wood glue, reinforce with a clamp for support, and then use your pocket hole screws to fasten. 

You will repeat these steps until all four legs are in place with attaching aprons. If you include cleats in your design, you can add these to the backside of the aprons at the top of the leg. You will then want to add the base of the wood that will enclose the storage space.  

Your base should be applied on top of the frame you have created, being of equal measurements. This will keep the legs secure and ensure you are lined up correctly. 

6. Secure Shelving

To fully enclose your shelving area, add your side wood pieces to make the walls for the storage. This will now look at though the table is completely intact minus the top. All of these pieces should be secured with wood glue, clamped in place, and then screwed in. You can reinforce with nails for extra security. 

7. Fasten Table Top

The final step is to put the sliding top into place. You will be fastening your ball bearing runners to the side wood rails you have created at the top of the storage space. Here you will use wood glue to attach the two runners (making sure they are equidistant on either piece of wood and facing the same direction. 

You will need to glue these into place and then let them dry before attaching the top. Make sure you use enough glue but wipe away any excess so that it does not dry on the wood and appear messy. You will then need to reinforce with screws on both the table and the top on both sides. You should make sure your runners are in the proper location to ensure fit. 

Your placement will depend on how far you wish the top to slide. You should be attaching the runners to the rails with screws but making sure it will center while completely closed first. Once you are sure of the location, you can fasten the screws and match the opposing sides of the runner together to create for the sliding mechanism. 

Check that this matches up correctly, and hopefully, you won’t need to make any adjustments! If you do, remove screws slightly and realign. You can finish the table by sanding it if necessary! Most wood you use will be unfinished, and this will help to make it look more polished as well as prevent blisters and unpleasant edges. 

Safely Constructing a Wooden Coffee Table with Sliding Top

While you are making the coffee table, you will want to make sure that you are adhering to important safety standards that would be used in any workshop. Especially while using power tools, you need to be careful around these sharp and powerful pieces of equipment. 

Here are some things to keep in mind while constructing the coffee table: 

  • Stay organized: Make sure you are working on a clean surface and are not cluttered by materials. You could trip over something or create opportunities for accidents much more easily. 
  • Take your time: This should be an enjoyable project where you can take your time and pay close attention to every step. Be overly thorough in lining wood up for accuracy as well as care in the process. 
  • Wear protective equipment: If operating a saw, you should be wearing protective eyewear or possibly ear protection if the noise is quite loud. Consider gloves if working with splintery wood. This also includes clothing that covers your skin and won’t get in the way. 
  • Watch your hands: Be aware of where your other hand is when cutting and drilling. Spatial awareness is crucial to ensure safety. 

Keeping these safety measures in mind, building a coffee table on your own can be a really enjoyable activity to do something with your hands and express your creativity. While buying one may be easier, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment by doing it yourself and all under $80.

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