$50 DIY Wood Countertop

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap  —  March 6, 2013 — 10 Comments

This corner of my laundry room is the one spot in the house that I’ve allowed to stay junky and completely utilitarian. What’s the point, I said. Every house needs a utility area and it doesn’t always have to be pretty. But the thing is that it’s not like there’s a door I can close so I don’t have to look at it. It’s right off our kitchen. I can practically touch the litter box while standing in front of the refrigerator. And you have to walk through this room to get to the backyard, not to mention the washer and dryer (it is a laundry room, after all). I see this corner about fifty times a day, so shouldn’t it be pleasant to look at?

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I’m always looking for ways to add storage and function to this old house, and I got the idea to construct some sort of skirted table under which to conceal the litter box and various pet accoutrements. But then the more I thought about it, I decided to just make it a built-in affair, especially since I already had the walls on each side to support it. This was my inspiration image:


desire to inspire

I went to Lowe’s with the idea of buying boards I could glue together to form a wood countertop. The lumber itself would have only come out to about $20, but I’d need some large bar clamps ($15 each) as well as a power sander ($35). I’ve been coveting the power sander for a while and knew I could use it again, but the bar clamps not so much. So before I had them cut the boards for me I looked around to see if there was anything I could do to avoid spending $30 on clamps I was unlikely to ever use again. And do you know where I found myself? The door section! This hollow-core door was 30″ wide and only $30. I’ve seen tons of internet tutorials using hollow-core doors as desktops so I knew it would be strong enough to withstand basic day-to-day use (except maybe I shouldn’t climb on it to reach upper shelves like I do my kitchen counters). I wanted my counter to be a little thicker than the ~1.5″ door though, so I also picked up a piece of 1″x3″ oak for about $10. The guy at Lowe’s cut both to 64.5″ inches for me and was super helpful in helping me load it up for the ride home. (ignore the stained area on the end of the board. I was testing colors and stupidly put it on the wrong side!)

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The first step was to install supports. After I marked a level line around the entire area, Nick screwed some scrap boards we had on hand into the studs. I wanted my surface to sit at 36″, which is standard counter height, so I marked the line at 34.5.

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Then it was as easy as sliding the door onto the supports!

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Of course we still had to add the 1″x3″ board to create a chunkier look. I held it so that the top edge was flush with the surface while Nick used three screws to secure it to the door. The supports still show, which is A-ok with me because I’m going to mount a skirt to hide everything underneath, but if you are trying this at home and want to give your wood counter a floating look you can either use narrower supports or paint them to blend into the wall (like I did with my laundry room shelves)

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This little tube of stainable wood filler was $5. I used it to fill the screw holes in front and the crack between the door and the board.

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Then I used my new sander to sand everything down nice and flush.

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The board was a little warped on this end and I had to do a lot of sanding to get it flush. I accidentally dug a little too deep into one spot on the door in the process. Oops. Also, see that crack along the wall? The door wasn’t a perfect fit, which is understandable since walls are rarely even, especially in a house this old.

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I thought about filling the crack with wood filler, but that stuff’s expensive and I was running out of it. So I turned to spackle instead.

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Originally I’d thought maybe I would put a thin layer of wood filler over the spackle, but it blended so nicely into the white wall that I decided it wasn’t necessary.

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Next I gave the whole thing a thorough vacuum and wipe down to get it ready for staining. Doesn’t it look pretty so far? I was totally patting myself on the back at this point.

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While I waited for the wood to dry after I’d wiped it with a damp cloth, I went ahead and reorganized the contents underneath. On the right is the litter box, extra litter, a plastic container full of flea medicine, dog shampoo, etc., and a stepstool that’s both handy for keeping near the kitchen and convenient for sitting on while cleaning the litter box. And if you’re familiar with the realities of cat-dog cohabitation you may have already realized that this arrangement was specifically designed to keep Juliet out of the litter box. Disgusting but true. On the left, I have a plastic tub with large bags of dog and cat food inside and a large pet carrier we rarely use (I was actually going to give it away until I used it recently to evacuate both cats when I thought the house was on fire. Now I want to keep it handy for that reason).

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After Jack went to bed that evening I wiped on some wood stain in Dark Walnut with an old sponge. It’s really really dark, so I just wiped it on and then right back off without letting it sit at all.

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Look how nice this side came out!

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And here’s where my self-congratulation came to a screeching halt. The areas that had been exposed to spackle or sanded a little too deeply didn’t take the stain as well as the rest of the surface when I wiped it on. So after trying a couple of times to build it up in layers, I wiped some on those spots and left it to sit. Then I forgot about it until morning, when I found that instead of soaking in it had actually dried in a sticky mess and also seeped a little into un-contaminated areas and stained them really dark. Oy.

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Luckily (I guess?), all that sticky stuff wiped right off.

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After several attempts to gently sand off the spackle residue (without going so deep as to cause the same problem seen in the areas where I went too deep with my power sander) and gradually build up the stain to match the other areas, this was the best I could do.

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Desperate times call for desperate measures, and since at this point my only options were to somehow disguise my mistake or start all over with another $45 worth of wood and filler, I decided to give one last ditch effort of concealing the light spots with paint. I mixed together some brown paint left by the previous owners with some black acrylic, thinning it with water and leaving the colors somewhat swirled so I could get a variety of shades out of it for a more natural look.

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My technique was basically to stipple it on and then blot it off. Little by little, it started to look better. Not perfect, but better.

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The next day I cleaned up the wall and touched up the spackle with some white paint and things didn’t look so bad.

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So word to this wise: if you’re going to use anything not stainable adjacent to a surface you intend to stain, take measures to protect the wood. And don’t sand too deeply in wood that isn’t solid. I’m still calling this a win, because the imperfect finish is minor in the grand scheme of I have a wood countertop in my laundry room now!

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I’m trying to envision what it will look like once I get a pretty patterned skirt mounted underneath, a new window shade to replace the broken miniblinds, and maybe even some shelves on the walls for added storage (though I’m running out of things that are small enough to fit in baskets or pretty enough to have in the open so I may just hang some art instead).

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You could totally knock this whole project out in an afternoon if you wanted to (and if you didn’t make the mistakes that I did). As for how I get things like this done with a baby around, projects like this only happen on the weekend, when I’ve got no blog posts to write and a very helpful husband around to look after Jack. Even then, it still took me a couple days of working on and off! We built it on Saturday, I did all the finishing on Sunday, and on Monday I tried to fix the messed up areas while Jack napped. And since I haven’t even purchased fabric for the skirt yet it’ll probably be at least a week before my goal of hiding all my junk is actually realized. But I’m excited about the progress! And for $50 and some low-skilled labor I’m really happy with the result.

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap


10 responses to $50 DIY Wood Countertop

  1. Some suggestions. Stain before installing. . . And get yourself a little plane. takes edges down easier and without all that sanding. Flea markets are good places to find old tools. And sparkle might crack in a area like that. Caulking might be a better option. But the corner is gonna look cute when you’re done with it.

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap March 6, 2013 at 12:28 pm

      Thanks for the tips. You should get a blog of your own to share all your ideas!

      • Ooh, I’m so not a blogger. I’ve thought about it. But then who wants to read about my stuff? I love reading others’ though.

  2. Oh! It looks so great!

  3. That looks really good and it sounds relatively easy!

  4. Looks great- can’t wait to see it with the skirt.

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