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Waterproof Plant Table with Tom

Source: Martha Stewart Living Television


You've probably come across plenty of great old iron and stone table bases at flea markets and garage sales, but passed them up because you didn't know quite what to top them with. Or you may have a table base with a beautiful patina just kicking around in your garage. Here, we explain to make an elegant and entirely waterproof tabletop that provides a beautiful surface on which to display potted plants. All you'll need is a piece of birch plywood, some burlap, and some basic paint and hardware supplies.

Tips: The burlap is stretched over the plywood, sized, primed, and coated with three coats of oil-based paint. The combination of the burlap and the primer, which contains shellac, gives the finish on the tabletop the appearance of Oriental lacquer, a two-thousand-year-old technique. Lacquer comes from the sap of the Asian sumac tree, which is then thinned with camphor or perilla oil.

When priming the table, make sure you're working in a well-ventilated space, because the alcohol-based, waterproof primer you'll be using is noxious. It acts as a sealer, allowing the texture of the burlap, but not its color, to come through. The tabletop Martha made measures twenty-eight by forty-eight inches. Birch ply board is much better to work with than ordinary construction-grade plywood and doesn't splinter as readily. The lip adds to the underside of the tabletop gives the table a solid, substantial feel. Make sure you prime the underside of the lip as well as the tabletop. Add protective cushions, such as E-Z glides, to the bottoms of the table legs to protect the floor.


  • 3/4-inch-thick birch plywood

  • Cordless drill

  • 1-by-2-inch strips of wood

  • 1 1/4-inch galvanized screws

  • Burlap

  • Staple gun

  • Utility knife

  • Putty or spackling knife

  • Methyl cellulose vinyl paste

  • Squeegee or plastic spatula

  • Paintbrush

  • Primer

  • Oil-based paint

  • 120-grade sandpaper

  • Rag


  1. To make a tabletop that's 48 by 28 inches, cut birch plywood to this dimension. For the lip, cut two 1-by-2-inch strips of wood that are 48 inches long, and two that are 26 1/2 inches long. Countersink screw holes into the strips at 6-inch intervals (this helps prevent the wood from splitting when you drill in the screws and ensures that the screws won't protrude from the surface of the wood). Using wood glue, glue the strips to the underside of the table's outside edges to form a lip. Then, using a cordless drill fitted with the screwdriver attachment, screw the 1 1/4-inch screws through the countersunk holes.


  2. Cut a piece of burlap so that its dimensions measure 8 inches longer and 8 inches wider than those of your tabletop. Martha and Tom have cut their piece of burlap so that it measures 56 inches long and 36 inches wide.

  3. Center the tabletop on the burlap. Use the factory, or selvage, edge of the burlap to line up the board so that the edge is parallel to that of the burlap. Use the natural grain of the burlap as a guide for placement. Position the edge of the board so that it is 3 1/4 inches from the selvage edge. Wrap this edge around the "lip," and begin stapling along the first of the two long sides, starting 2 inches from the corner. Staple at intervals of 1 1/2 inch. Pull the burlap so that it's just taut enough to keep the fabric straight: pulling too tight will distort the weave. Once you've completed one side, pull the burlap over the lip of the opposite side, and place a staple in the center to hold the fabric in place. Staple, working outward from the center in one direction, to within 2 inches of the corner; repeat, working in the other direction. Stop stapling 2 inches from the corner.

  4. To secure the corners, fold the fabric neatly, using the same "hospital corners" technique you use to make a bed. Staple the fabric 1/4 inch from the outside edge of the lip; pull the top piece of burlap over the lip so that it conceals the first staple.

  5. Using a utility knife, cut away all excess fabric from inside the frame edge, using a putty or spackling knife as a straightedge.

  6. Elevate the board so that you can reach the underside of the lip, by placing it on four paint cans. Apply methyl cellulose sizing with a paintbrush. Paint it on in a thick layer, working it into the burlap. The sizing will shrink the burlap, making it nice and taut, and it will fuse the fabric to the surface of the plywood. Be sure to completely cover all fabric, including bottom edges. Use a squeegee or plastic spatula to wipe off extra sizing. This step will help embed the sizing into the burlap. Let dry at least 2 hours.

  7. Paint one coat of primer on the tabletop surface, the sides, and the lip, and let dry.

  8. Apply thin coats of oil-based paint, allowing ample drying time between coats. If puddling of paint occurs, use a rag to blot. You may have to sand the surface just slightly to eliminate stray hairy burlap fibers, but take care not to over-sand. Let dry 24 to 48 hours.

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