Acclimatising Reclaimed Pallet Wood for a Coffee Table

The secret to any project using reclaimed wood is acclimatisation, i.e. you must get the wood you’re planning to use for the project into the same environment where the finished article is going to live (for a week at least) before making the piece.

For example, imagine if you build up your project with wood which has been stored in a cold garage and then you pop the finished piece in the lounge, in front of a roaring fire… I think you can guess what’s going to happen, yes? Yup. It’s going to shrink and open up at the joints, by a mindboggling amount sometimes.

To prevent your wood shrinking, make a good estimate of how much timber you’ll need, (allowing a few extra planks to give yourself a good selection in case of damage or mistakes) and then find a spot in your home where you can stack the timber where it’s out of the way, but similar in temperature and humidity to where the projects actually going to live.

I used pallet wood for this coffee table and so I brought a stack of it into the house and put it at the back of the study, not quite as warm as the lounge but close enough, especially since I knew it would be a good while before I got around to making this coffee table. In the end, it was several months, good job my patient wife is understanding about these things…

I got my inspiration for this design after seeing the table below on the net somewhere…

I figured the rounded edges would just be a pain collecting dust and biscuit crumbs, so I went for flat, straight cut edges instead. It’s possible to cut both pieces at once, but jigsaws can wander a bit and I worried about the effect drift would have on the fit. If you have access to a bandsaw though, cutting both pieces at once should give excellent results and fit.

I did freehand, gently curved, random, cuts with a jigsaw and then laid each piece on top of the next one and pencil marked the edge. Rinse and repeat. Use a tape measure to ‘juggle’ (official technical term) the width of the project, i.e. keep each end roughly the same by overlapping more one end than the other before marking out.

The jigsawn cuts looked like the above pic. Then I took out the glue and cut some cross pieces to glue and pin onto the back to create the table top ‘blank’. Then I sanded all hell out of the top using a half sheet 3mm orbit Makita sander, starting with 40grit, through 80, 120 and finished off with 240. I wasn’t going for perfect, just smooth with nothing to snag a duster on. I went deeper in places to get rid of marks, so the top has gentle undulations here and there. 

Because I’m a sucker for punishment I decided I didn’t want to see any end grain so I mitred in end pieces, also with a curved inner edge. Was much more difficult than I imagined and took quite a while… 

I had intended to buy or make some metal hairpin legs, but that turned out to be way too expensive/ time-consuming, so I cut some tapers out of pallet wood and glued them up to form strong right-angled legs which I put inside another piece of pallet wood mitred at the corners to form the table base.

I finished the whole table with lots of coats of some IKEA wood oil that I had left over from a paying job, (don’t you love it when other folks are paying for your stuff lol!). It soaks in like crazy the first few times which can only be good for the wood.

I hope that gives you some ideas about what you can build with rough old pallet wood if you take the time to acclimatise the wood properly. This coffee table lives not 2m, (6 foot) from our often roaring wood-fired oven and so far not a hint of it drying out and shrinking. All wood can be stable if you treat it properly and keep it in a stable environment. Happy woodworking!

Stay well


Comments 2

  1. Hello Ian, I really enjoyed reading and rereading your step by step instructions of making this creative table… Bravo.. I am not a skilled wood worker but doing things at student level… You inspired me a lot… Thank you and Blessings of Nature on you…. R L

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