Some years ago, when I started to do some DIY improvements around the house, I was struck by how boring and dull our old vinyl-top kitchen table was. At the time I was enamoured of the look of a wooden “butcher’s block” type of kitchen table, and pondered my options. Buying a tailor-made item would set me back thousands, so I started looking at my options in the DIY range… and this is what I came up with.

Ladies and gents, what you see in the pictures before you is – underneath it all – an ordinary 1960’s-70’s steel framed kitchen table with a vinyl covered chipboard wooden top!

I completed this project in stages, the counter top first, then the sides, and then the drawers.

The Counter Top:

I started with the top, by cleaning it with a damp cloth. To the side, I had a pile of wooden planks I’d bought from a wood salvage yard that strips down wooden pallets and crates etc. and sells wood according to length, width and thickness. These were “Japanese Pine” according to the lady who sold them to me, and all in all, the wood for the counter cost me around R64!

I started placing the planks on top of it, starting at one corner, and applying the planks end to end and side by side, starting each row from the opposite end of the table, which created a staggered effect; long, short; short, long; long, short, etc. I did this so that it would look more pleasing to the eye – and since I had to cut some planks to fit the spaces at the short ends of each row anyway, it didn’t make much difference to the amount of work involved.

The important thing I need to mention here is that as I placed each plank for fit, I drew around the edges on the table surface with a marker pen to mark its position. The reason for this will become apparant shortly. Once I’d test-fitted the final piece, I again removed all of them in sequence, and placed each row’s planks in a separate pile.

What I had after that, was a vinyl table surface with a map of outlines for the planks marked on it in permanent marker.

I used these as a guide to where I would need to drill holes through the table top, 2 for the short planks, and 3 for the long ones, in order to hold them firmly to the top with screws, which would be fitted from underneath the table – the last thing you want to do is spoil the appearance of the wood with screw heads!

Once this task was completed, I wiped away the dust and shavings and cleaned the top again with a moist cloth. Then I set about coating the surface of it with wood glue, which would help seal and set the wood to the surface and keep it in place in addition to the screws. I began placing the planks from the begining again, one at a time, and screwing each one down tightly using a cordless electric screwdriver, before moving on to the next one.

Once all the planks had been fitted firmly, I coated the edges of the table top with more wood glue and then added thinner planks around the edges of the top, with the top edge flush with the new surface of the table, screwing that tightly down too.

After that, I brought in the belt sander and worked over the top to level and even it all out, remove any lumps or steps. It took several treatments with the sander to achieve an even, smooth surface – and wow, is that natural wood gorgeous!

Following that, I filled all the slight gaps and spaces between the planks with window putty, pressed in with my fingers and the excess removed with a putty knife. Once that was done, it was time to varnissh and seal the top.

Since a kitchen counter is a high traffic item, you’ll want to give it the maximum protection. I gave this counter up to six coats of varnish. Why so many? Becaue with each successive coat, the smoother the surface became – and when you spill things like oil while cooking, you’ll want to be able to wipe it away completely without it penetrating to the wood beneath!

The Sides:

Sometime later, I started working on the sides of the counter. Since I wanted to wall-mount the counter on one side, I only needed to enclose 2 sides – a long side and a short side. I decided to put some of the old melamine chipboard I had in my materials pile to good use! I measured both panels according to the spacing of the legs of the table, which were hollow steel pipes, and then cut them to size. They were fitted by drilling holes through the pipes (top and bottom) so that long wood screws could be inserted from the back through to penetrate the wood panel, securing them to the legs firmly. With both chipboard panels securely fitted, It was time to decorate them. I’d chosen the melamine because it was available, and because it provided a surface to work on!

I chose to decorate these blank, white, stained panels with pieces of wooden off-cuts of all shapes and sizes, which I had plenty of, and these were cluttering my spare materials shelf! I fited them with wood glue and a few well-placed nails. After all the open spaces had been filled, I coated that with varnish too.

The Drawers:

The drawers under the table are a handy spot to keep some of our more frequently used cooking tools and accessories. The frame was made out of 2x2cm strips of pine screwed together and mounted to the table. The drawers themselves are big plastic bins that fit within the frame and slide in and out easily when needed.

As you can see, the space underneath the counter beside the drawers is used to store gas cylinders for cooking, and another water dish for the kitties!

And there were are – a beautiful, unique, centerpiece for the kitchen!

Pictures included – enjoy!

Have a DIY day!

Cheers!


If you’d like to send Christina Engela a question about anything on this site, or her life as a writer or transactivist, please send an email to christinaengela@gmail.com or use the Contact form on her author website.

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