I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get this DIY card catalog side table photographed, the pictures edited and the post written since teasing you with it more than a month ago in a Three Things post and on Instagram! To be completely honest, these tutorial-type projects take FOREVER to write up, so I maybe, teensy-weeny, put it off for a bit. Maybe.
But I love, love, love how it turned out and I want to provide as much how-to info as I can so that if you run across anything – not just a card catalog – that you could add a base and a top to, you’ll be able to make a custom side table too. And while there were tools involved, it was all very basic measuring, straight cuts, some nails, glue and paint. Thats all you need to upcycle a lucky card catalog find like mine or anything else you may see, like a cool old box, small set of drawers or wood file cabinet.
Let’s start at the beginning:
I bought this 1960s-era card catalog at our local school rummage sale for $10 probably 8 years ago. It came on spindly legs set at an angle (so weird – which is why it was still at the sale when I got there), which I unscrewed as soon as we got in the car. As you can see it lived in my studio holding sewing and craft supplies, but I always had visions of fixing the orange finish and the mismatched handles.
Obviously years go by, a-hem, and I start looking for side tables for our living room, which we’ve never had (I’ve always used whatever I could find, stools, benches, vintage tables that always seemed to be rickety) and I come across this table at World Market. I loved the look of it, but not the color, and not the shelf on the bottom (just a dust-catcher to me) – and though it was a great price, I thought of my card catalog sitting at home, our piles of wood scraps including some old barn wood, and an idea was born.
My partner in all things DIY, though, had to be convinced. I described what I wanted and Brian and I conferred, cut, jiggered, added, and redid until we came up with something we were both happy with and could share with you!
How to Make a Table From A Card Catalog (or other boxy found item)
1. Make a Base and Attach.
(note: affiliate links to Amazon are provided as examples)
- Measure the bottom sides of your box, card catalog or whatever you’ve found.
- From 1×2’s (or 1×3’s, 1×4’s if you want a thicker look), cut the front and back pieces to those measurements and then cut the sides to fit inside the front and back pieces you just cut, making a frame for the box to sit on.
- Use thin finishing nails to nail the front pieces to the sides, being careful to keep square.
- Cut legs* from 2×2’s (or larger) in your desired height (ours was measured to reach just above our couch’s arm), set them in the corners and nail them to the frame from the outside – 2 nails on the front and 2 on the sides (see photos above).
- The base looked a little stubby to me then, so we added another frame of thin lattice (can be found in the molding section) under the main frame, though this is optional.
- Attach the box to the frame with small L Brackets, screwing each side of the bracket to the bottom and base that they touch – one on each end (that’s 2 total, which holds tightly, but you can always use 4, one for each side).
*You can also just purchase legs and screw them into the bottom, but all the styles were too curvy and they just looked like legs screwed onto a box and not like the furniture look we were going for.
2. Fill and Paint.
- Fill all nail holes and any lines that are too big with wood putty, let dry and sand. I didn’t fill the spaces between the catalog and the main base, since I thought the line would look okay – I didn’t want it to look like one piece.
- Using enamel, paint the box and drawer fronts with 2-3 coats using a foam roller – it makes it go fast and gives a consistent finish. If you have any cool features like the plaque on mine, paint around them with a small brush.
- If you have handles to update, spray paint them a uniform color (I used oil-rubbed bronze). I also had the screws to paint, and I simply used some brown acrylic craft paint, dabbing it on lightly just to take the shine away from the screws.
3. Cut, Finish & Attach Top.
- Measure your top and cut boards to run side-to-side one inch wider than the top all the way around. We used a reclaimed barn wood, and you can see we just added a smaller piece to the back to fit to our measurements – it’s imperfect and beautiful, right?
- Stain the boards as you’d like. Here’s how I created a gray-washed, worn wood look: after sanding (thinking about dusting, I wanted a smooth surface), the wood was lighter and uneven, so I rubbed on a coat of Minwax Special Walnut stain, wiping extra as instructed. When dry, we sanded again to get a nice worn look (see the stained, sanded boards in the top left picture above – the top two), but they were too brown for me. I wanted to coordinate more with our chalkboard and butterfly specimen frames, so I made a wash of gray acrylic craft paint and water, brushed it on and then rubbed it off with a rag right away. You’ll just want to work in small areas at a time to get a look you like.
- Attach wood boards to box top. You can use nails, but I didn’t want any to show in our top, so we chose to use wood glue. Apply it all over the top and let it get a bit tacky, then set the stained boards in place and use clamps and/or a weighted item on top to hold them in place while they dry.
- Finish the top with 4 coats of a water-based polyurethane in a satin finish.
I Instagrammed our sophisticated set-up of using a thick piece of wood and a full can of paint to weight our top boards, and it’s the only picture I have of this step (forgive the quality, sorry!). I wished we had used clamps, though, since the boards moved a bit and there are bigger gaps than I would have chosen between them. Live and learn…still – it never ends, does it?
4. Attach Optional Casters.
I always envisioned casters on the bottom of the legs, both to help it look more substantial, but also because the casters give it a cool industrial vibe. But guess what I discovered? ALL casters are made with rectangle plates to attach the caster to the wood. Not square like our 2×2’s, oh no, only rectangle. Sigh. Here’s how Brian worked around that (and while they look a little odd, it’s another imperfect quirk that I like!):
- Cut a 1-inch piece of 1×2, then cut at the 1/4-inch mark at an angle. If that doesn’t make sense (and I don’t blame you…), hopefully the picture above does a better job.
- Glue and nail it to the inside legs and let dry. Fill gaps as needed (I didn’t bother – who’s down on their knees looking at that anyway?), and paint.
- Now you’ll be able to attach the casters to the bottoms of the legs.
And oh my gosh, did I mention how much I love this “new” side table?
The top boards are just the look I wanted and I really like how the white paint contrasts with the top, handles and casters. I printed out some numbers for the labels on parchment paper, which added the perfect vintagey finishing touch I think!
I’ve already had a couple of friends want to buy it from me, but this thing is with me for the long haul now. And you wanna know something fun? The only thing we had to buy for this project were the casters, at $10 for a package of four! I like our DIY projects that turn out great, but I LOVE the ones that use up what we have – they’re always the projects that get me excited to look for something else to make!
So tell me, is there something you have (or could look for) that you could create a small table with? If you do, I hope you’ll remember to share it with us!
Here’s an image you can pin to help you remember and spread the love (thank you!):
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links and by clicking on them you help support AOC at no extra cost to you – thanks so much! (Oh, and you can always read our entire disclosure page here.)