Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Decoupage Table top

I thought I would share the instructions on making the table top that was so popular at CHA.  I used an old student desk I found a few years ago for the foundation but you could really adapt the top to any size desk or table (I think this technique would look great as a coffee table).
I wanted to have a pretty thick lip edge on the table top but that meant losing the ability to use the drawer in the desk.  I was okay with that, but just be advised.  The top is made with really inexpensive material, which was fine with me since the entire top was being covered with paper.
Constructing the tabletop (written by my husband)
1.  Determine size, measure top and add a minimum of 1 1/2 inches (3/4 inch on each of 4 sides) to allow for frame. It can be larger. Our original table top was 18"x30".  The minimum size, and a tight fit would have been 19 1/2" x 31 1/2".  We needed it to be 36" wide so we made it 20"x36" which allows for about a 1/4 inch front and back to slip it onto the table.   
2.  Cut a piece of 1/8 inch particle board to desired measurement of the top.  You can use thicker particle board if you want but it is not necessary because it will not be supporting any weight on its own.  The table underneath is doing the work. 
This is the size it was pre-cut at my local store

3.  Making the frame: Using pine 1 x 2 lumber, cut frame pieces to length,  2 pieces 36" long for the width of the top, and 2 pieces 18 1/2" long for the sides.  Note: I'm not sure why it is this way, maybe a big lumber conspiracy or something, but lumber is nearly always at least 1/4" smaller than the stated width and thickness.  So our 1"x2" pine really only 3/4" x 1 3/4".  That's why the side pieces ended up being 18 1/2" instead of 18".  It's best not to try and figure it out, your sanity depends on it.
4.  Apply wood glue to to the frame pieces and glue them to the underside of the particleboard top.  I used 3/4" brads to tack nail the top in place and I clamped it for a couple of hours until the glue dried.
Once the glue was dry, I took over to do the decoupage finish.
I cut a section from an Etiquette book (published in 1956) I found at a thrift store in Payson, AZ for 25 cents (it was half price day on books!).  I used the section on letter writing since the table was going in the booth in the new stationery section.  The chapter on stationery had pictures of handwritten cards that I cut out individually and used over the pages in the final steps of decoupaging the table top. This one is my favorite.  You might ask if I inked the edges of the pages...no, I was lucky the book just came that way and the Mod Podge enhanced the color.  Funny, I almost passed up the book because I thought the pages were too dark. 
I started by measuring the lip edge of the table top and adding 1/2" or so, so the paper would wrap onto the table top.  I cut pages from the book with an X-acto knife, then cut them to the exact measurement with my roller cutter (I like that I can cut them all at one time using this tool).  
You can see all the pieces of paper on the table top that I have precut for this first part.  I used a disposable foam brush and Mod Podge (matte finish) to glue the paper to the wood (see second photo).  I am only gluing the papers down in these first steps.  I will add the Mod Podge to the top at the very end once all the papers are in place.

Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles...when you are working with a liqud medium and paper (no matter if its vintage or not) you will have some bubbles.  I do my best to not have bubbles in the first place by:
1.  Applying the liquid medium, in this case Mod Podge in a thin even coat.
2.  Use a brayer or bone folder to adhere the paper well and "push" out any bubbles.
3.  Leave it alone!  I have found 9 times out of 10 the bubbles disappear once the paper is dry. You don't think they will, but they do.
Okay, so now the sides are done and we are moving onto the table top.  Again, have enough pieces cut to cover the top.  You don't want to be cutting paper with goopy hands!  Layer paper so that some are vertical and some horizontal.  I found it is best to lay out a section to see how the papers will work before I actually glue them down.  Once I was pleased with the section, it only took me a few minutes to glue it down before laying out the next one.  Again, I still am not putting any liquid medium over the papers, just under.
Once all the papers are in place and I have gone back and added in the pieces that I have saved out for overlays (the pictures of handwritten cards mentioned above) I am now ready to do the top layer of liquid medium.  I am using Modge Podge because it dry's fast and is easy to clean up.  
I covered the entire surface with a thin coat, waited for it to dry and then added another coat.  I have a Heat Dish from Costco that I place about 6ft from the table top so it dried pretty quickly.  I just stood the table top on it's side and turned it a couple times between coats.  If you don't have a Heat Dish then just wait a hour or two between coats.  Note: if this table top was going to be used as say a hard working desk or countertop you might think about using some kind of shellac finish.
Here's the table, now in my living room.  I may eventually paint the table underneath, but for now it's fine.
part of my collection of metal historical buildings and paperweights that picture a historical building
Hope you like the tutorial and that you will try it.  I would love to see what you do! -paula


  1. Great idea! Thanks for the tutorial.

  2. Crazy fabulous idea! Love it...a lot!

  3. What a great tutorial. I love the look! How do you keep the bubbles from forming behind the Paper? Or does it just shrink up when it dries?
    I usually have that issue with mod podge.

  4. I did this to a big, old desk in my art room about 4 years ago, and I still LOVE it! It truly is a great way to update an older, seen-better-days piece.

  5. I often find cool furniture with ugly formica tops, this would be a GREAT technique in that case.

    Thanks a bunch!

  6. Dear Rustique Gallery,
    Just follow the three steps I outlined in the post and you should be fine. Once I lay the paper on the thin coat of Mod Podge I lightly smooth with my hand (be careful not to get glue on the top or it will stick to the brayer)and then use the brayer to even out the glue underneath. When the glue dries, the paper will shrink up like magic.

  7. Hey that table looks familiar! Did you get that in Atascadero a few years ago? That was such a fun day. Love that idea. I have a table that we use on the patio by the bar b que. How about an old cookbook with potato salad recipes and such?

  8. Paula:

    As usual, this is awesome!!! I would LOVE to do my entire kitchen table. You are a true genius. BTW, check out my blog to see what I posted about your fabulous donation to our Scrap for Survival! We are so excited! It's beautiful!!! (I may just write a check myself and keep it!) Thanks so much for the handwritten note. You're the best!


  9. HUGE thanks for a chance to try decoupage again...something i am not good at. great directions! great to see the table too. ♥r

  10. Beautiful...I say, "Friends may let you down, your hometeam may let you down, but decoupage never disappoints!"
    and what a great way to use those loved but forgotten thrift store books! Hooray for your creative eye :)

  11. this is a fabulous idea & i have just the perfect table for some old texts!

  12. This is a really beautiful and artistic project! Professional looking! Since I cannot learn to paint flowers or much of anything, decoupage is my decorating medium of choice. Right now I am rehabbing an old dresser for my grown daughter and covering the inside of the drawers with sheet music...then I will place pin-up girl pics here and there strategically as you did the "envelope" on your table. Very impressive project, I plan to keep your pictures for future inspiration...thank you!

  13. I found your website and thought maybe I could ask a few questions that you might know the answers to. I am in need of a new kitchen table as mine doesnt suit my family any more. So after months of looking and not finding anything, I decided to make one! I found some old doors that were from my house which was built in 1920. I want to make one into a table. I have decided to put items in the door panels that went with a farm since my house is an old farm house. I have some buckles that went to an old halter of mine, some barbed wire, some pieces to a door lock that I have dated to between the dates of 1885 and 1930, an old picture of my house, a horse shoe, some old nails and door pieces. What I want to do is put these items onto the table top and cover them up so you cant touch them any more but still can see them clearly. What would be a good medium to do this with? I have read some about shellac, laquer, and poly. What would you recommend I do so I can safely do this for a kitchen table that we eat at regularly?