Upgrade a Table Top

This project originally appeared as a guest post on Pretty Handy Girl a couple weeks ago. (So if you have a vague feeling you’ve seen this before, you just may have.)

Update Table Top with Steel and Mod Podge®


I had an old Ikea table top (that was basically like a hollow core door) that we used for a work surface in our office. It sat on top of an old table I found at a garage sale. It was all looking pretty shabby, and there was nothing chic about it.


Old table top and table base (+kitty), before.

First I painted the table base a dark charcoal gray, then together with my girlfriends, Mary Jean and Monica, we grabbed my grandmother’s old dictionary, a jar of Mod Podge®, flat bar steel, galvanized bolts and washers, and went to work on the table top.


  • Table top (I used an old Ikea table top)
  • Mod Podge® (for each coat that is applied, one pint/16 oz (473 ml) covers approximately 32 sq ft, one quart (.95 L) covers approximately 64 sq ft). There are several types of Mod Podge® – the main 2 being gloss and matte. We used matte. Mod Podge® is available your local arts/crafts store or onllne.
  • Decorative papers (we used my grandmother’s old dictionary)
  • Brayer (rubber roller used in printmaking, available at craft stores, or online.)
  • Polyurethane (we used satin water-based Verathane®)
  • Flat bar steel (1/8″ thick x the depth of your table top – it is available in widths of 1″, 1 1/4″, 1 1/2″, 2″, available at your local hardware store or online.)
  • Cobalt drill bit for metal (we used 5/16″)
  • Galvanized lag bolts and washers (we used 1/4″ x 1 1/4″)
  • Wood drill bit slightly smaller than lag bolts
  • Hack saw with blade for cutting steel
  • File for metal

Step 1 – Prep: Wash the surface with soap and water, let dry.

Step 2 – Design: Decide the design. We used my grandmother’s dictionary to cover the table, but you could anything that interests you – old wallpaper, your kids’ drawings, maps, wrapping paper, etc… Lay out the materials until you are satisfied with the design. Our idea was that the pages were going to overlap the edges and each other so we were not too worried about precision (and that made us happy). It also seemed to us since this was our first project like this, smaller sizes of paper would be easiest to work with.

Step 3 – Application of Mod Podge®:

Start in a corner and wrap the pages around the edge about 1″. In 12″x12″ sections (or so), using a foam brush, generously apply the Mod Podge® to the table surface and to the back of the paper. Lay the paper on the table surface and apply more Mod Podge® on top as well. As you go, use a brayer, working your way from the center to the edges of each page, to flatten, and push/squeeze out the excess Mod Podge® from beneath the paper. You can use this excess Mod Podge® to spread out for your next section. Work your way across the surface, blending the Mod Podge® across the surface as you go. It is really helpful to have 2 or 3 people working together – one to spread Mod Podge® on the table, one to spread it on the paper and one to use the brayer to make it lie flat. The Mod Podge® is milky white when it is applied, but it will dry clear. If you get air bubbles trapped under the paper, prick with a pin and use brayer again.

Apply Mod Podge® to table, page back and front, use brayer to squeeze out extra Mod Podge® and bubbles.

Wrap pages around the edges of the table, prick air bubbles with pin.

Step 4 – Wait for it to Dry: Let dry for 24 hours.

Step 5 – Application of Verathane®/Polyurethane Finish: If left alone, the Mod Podge® surface will be slightly soft and tacky even when it dries, so it is best to apply a few coats of a polyurethane finish. We used water-based Verathane® and applied 3 coats, letting it dry 4-6 hours between coats.


Step 6 – Cutting & Drilling the Steel Edge Pieces: Measure the 4 sides (carefully) and cut (carefully) the steel bar to size with a hacksaw with a blade for metal. Label the back corresponding to the correct table edge. Wear eye protection. It takes a little patience to work your way through the steel. Brace both ends of the steel so it doesn’t bow. File the edges so they aren’t sharp.

Cutting steel with hacksaw, filing the sharp edges.

Drilling steel bar with cobalt drill bit.

Measure and mark your bolt placement. We used 5 on the long sides and 3 on the short. Start in about 2″ from the corners so your bolts don’t hit each other (learn from our mistakes). Wearing eye protection, drill holes with a good drill (we used a plug-in drill, it has more power), using a metal carbide bit. Clamp your steel bar to a work surface and brace the end of the steel so it doesn’t bow. The drill bit tends to walk a little across the surface, start slowly to establish your hole and then start to press harder and harder. This also takes patience – you may want to practice on a scrap piece.

Step 7 – Attaching the Steel Edge Pieces: Almost done! Turn the table top on its side and position the steel on the edge. With a pencil, transfer your holes of the steel to your table edge. Set steel aside. Pre-drill the table edges with the wood drill bit. Make sure you use the correct drill bit size, not too big (again, learn from our mistakes). Place the steel edge piece on the table edge, using lag bolts and washers to attach. Use a socket wrench to tighten the bolts. Don’t over-tighten. Repeat for each side, using a rolled up rug or cloth on the floor so you don’t damage the floor or your bolts.

Marking hole position with pencil, drilling hole, tightening lag bolt.

All Done! It is a fun project, with plenty of leeway. If you mess up, you can just glue another page right over the top of your mistake. It feels a little like being a third-grader again. Now we are looking around our houses for other things to cover with Mod Podge®. Monica wants to Mod Podge® her chicken coop, but we said no.




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We painted the trim a white that contrasted with the "bright porcelain" white of the tile and fixtures. Better to be obviously different than a bad match!

19 thoughts on “Upgrade a Table Top

    • Thanks Jill! It’s a good way to transform an ugly thing. Right now I’m making a display table for a farmer’s market booth using the same idea. (My friend is a blueberry farmer.) So the top is a hollow core door covered with cut up kraft mailing envelopes and I’ve copied the farm logo (big and cropped off) onto the kraft paper. The edges are metal and it’ll sit on 4 vintage metal sawhorses. I should get off the computer and finish it today. If I can get my act together, I will post about it and you can see it. I’ve found that patience is a virtue when mod podging the pages down because they tend to wrinkle. Patience is not one of my virtues.


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  2. Brilliant job girls! I really appreaciate your idea of utilizing old dictionary pages to cover the table-top, thus giving it an aesthetically pleasing look 🙂 Keep up the good work!


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  4. What a cool table! My wife found your project and ask me to make something like this in a country house. So we bookmarked this page in our summer-to-do-list it and now collecting interesting and aged looking books and papers. I’m thinking to hide my old watchmaking books to keep them safe. 🙂

    p.s. Ladies, what do you think about spreading your ideas worldwide? May I ask your permission for translating this post to Russian and share it with non-english speaking readers on my blog?


    • Hi Andrew, Thank you for your nice comments! We’d love it if you shared it, we would just ask you to give us credit and to provide a link to our blog. Thanks for your support, and yes, it sounds like you should hide your watchmaking books (or send them to us, they sound cool!). Take care!


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