Stumped
How to Make a Tree Stump Table

Before I sold everything I owned and painted my whole house white I couldn’t buy a decorating magazine.   Why you ask?  I couldn’t put any of those nice things in my house.  It’d look stupid.  I’d look stupid.  My house would look stupid.  No matter how you looked at it, everything led to stupid.

I found most of the stuff in my house at garage sales or at the side of the road so the latest doo-dad from Fancy Store just wasn’t going to fit in.   A lace doily and a bowl of Scotch Mints?  They would fit in.  See here for proof.

So anything featured in a decorating magazine dated anything later than September of 1840 wasn’t exactly going to blend.

When I finally painted and redecorated my house, I bought some magazines.  And I started filling my house up again on a minimal (non-existent) budget.  When I saw a tree stump table teetering on stainless steel legs in Canada’s House and Home magazine, I thought “I’m gonna make me one of those”.  For free.  Yay for free furniture!

Crap.  That’s what got me into trouble with my house in the first place.  Decorating it with things I had found at the side of the road.   However, this free thing didn’t require that I scrape dried up earthworms off it, so it was bound to work out better.

I got me a stump and I made me a table.  And you can too.

stump-table-with-cleo

 

 

Materials:

*  Tree stump

*  Sandpaper (medium and fine grit)

*  Polyurethane (high gloss, semi-gloss, satin … whichever you want)  I used satin which has just a nice sheen

*  Paint brush

*  1 package of 4 Capita legs from Ikea (I used 6”)  $19.99

Drill and appropriate bits

Since I already have a tree stump table, (the one I made when I redid my house) for this post I had to make another.  So when I went to order my fireplace wood I told the old guy who runs the business I needed a stump to make a table out of.  He dragged me to the back of the woodpile and pointed to a huge walnut log.  He said that’s your table.

He got out his chainsaw and eyeballed a perfectly level cut.  The stump table had begun.

He threw it in my trunk and I took it home.

I don’t care how you get your stump … just get one.

That is step number 1.  Get a stump.

Your legs will be 6 inches high, so figure out how tall your stump needs to be for where you want to put it.

My stump is 15″ across by 18″ high to bring it to the just below the arm of my couch.

Allow your stump to dry out for at least a month.  It’ll lose several pounds and the bark will loosen, making step 2 easier!

Coincidentally if you allow yourself to dry out for a month you’ll lose several pounds too.

You can dry the stump outside for a couple of months, then bring it inside for a couple of weeks.

If your stump was already cut and dried from wherever you got it, you can just bring it inside for a couple of weeks.

Now the work begins.  You have to remove the bark.  Sometimes this is easy, sometimes it isn’t.

The first stump table I made was from Oak. The bark just pulled off with my hands.

The second stump table I made was from Walnut.  The bark was a nightmare to remove.  I needed an array of tools, a swear jar and my boyfriend.

To remove the stump’s bark, you’ll need these tools to do it:

A Hammer

A Prybar

After your stump has dried inside for a couple of weeks insert the prybar between the bark and the stump.

Hammer it enough to loosen the wood.

Then either keep hammering or pull the bark loose with your fingers.

Keep doing this all the way around the stump until all the bark is off.

And yes, you do need to remove the bark.  If you don’t, over time it’ll loosen and fall off on it’s own leaving you with a cruddy looking piece of crud as a table.

If the bark is particularly stubborn, like this stupid thing was … do the same thing but with wood chisels.

They’re sharper and will cut through the fibres between the bark and the stump better than a prybar.

Be careful  not to hack into the wood with the chisel though.

Now your stump is cleaned of its bark.

plain-stump

When it’s dried out the stump might split a bit like this.

That’s O.K.  It adds character.

The stump now needs to be sanded to get all the little hairs and slivers off it.

You need a smooth stump.

Use a variety of sandpaper grits.

Get rid of all the hairs.

Sand until you can run your hand over the stump and it feels smooth.

Once your stump is smooth wipe over it with a damp, lint free cloth or a tack cloth.

A lot of wood dust will come off.

Now flip your stump over and get ready for the fun part.

carrying-stump

Get your pre-purchased legs.

Mine are the Capital legs from Ikea.

Each leg comes with a bracket that you screw into the base of your table.

Place your legs on the underside of your stump.

You can use all 4 legs or just 3.  I’m partial to 3, but 4 is definitely more stable.

Use a measuring tape to make sure they’re an equal distance apart.

Once you have the legs positioned, mark the holes in the plates with either a pencil or a marker.

Remove the legs and fit your drill with the appropriate sized drill bit.

Drill holes at the spots you marked for the screws.

Once all your holes are predrilled, place your legs and brackets back on and screw them into place.

To make my life easier, I put all my screws into a little dish.  Don’t question it.  Just do it.

Now all your legs are on!

Now it’s time to finish the table.

If there are any sections where you accidentally took too much of the wood off you can skim over it with some stain.

I have a whack of different cans of stain so I picked the one I thought would match the best.

Appropriately, it was “Walnut” stain.

Just wipe it onto the light portion of your wood with some paper towel.

It just darkens it up enough to make it blend in a little better.

There will still be a colour variation, just not quite as distinct.

The staining is a matter of choice.

On my first stump table I didn’t do it … on this one I did.

Let your stain soak in and dry.

Then get some of this  …

… and one of these.

If you’re using an oil based finish use a natural bristle brush.

Seal the whole stump.

Sides … (that’s a fast moving cat in the background by the way)

… and top

The top of the stump will get really dark, but it’ll lighten up once the finish sinks in and dries.

After your first coat dries gently sand off any burrs and bumps.

Remember … just sand lightly.

The sanding will leave the finish with a white haze.  Don’t worry about it.

It’ll go away once you apply another coat of finish.

Speaking of which … your stump will need another 2 or 3 coats around the sides.

Plus it’ll need a total of around 6 coats on the top.  Because of the open grain, the finish soaks into the top a lot more and requires more coats.

Always let your finish dry the recommended amount of time in between coats.

Once you’ve completed all coats of finish you can admire a thing of beauty.

stump-table

the-original-tree-stump-table-tutorial

The only drawback to this table?  Not a single dried earthworm on it.  Plus, everyone who sees it is going to ask you to make them one.  Now, thanks to me, you can just direct them to this website and tell them to make their own.

This one by the way … went to my niece for Christmas.  Yes, the niece who famously chucks things.  She’s the chucker.  This finished stump table weighs close to 70 pounds.  So good luck chuckin’ that little niece.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some decorating magazines to peruse.


342 Comments

  1. Ana says:

    Awesome!! I might have to make one now that I know how. Happy New Year!

  2. Laura says:

    Handily my backyard happens to be full of stumps. Gotta go drag one in now. Thanks Karen!

  3. christina says:

    & may I add to my fb post? The $199. stump in the mail order catalog does not have legs! It is just a STUMP!! (creativity is SUCH a blessing!)

  4. Nancy says:

    I have lots of big tree stumps but none of them are cut straight. I guess I just need to learn how to use my chain saw. It kinda scares me. Any good suggestions?

  5. Rosalie says:

    I knew this could be made! Now I just need a stump.

  6. mimi says:

    Fabulous work!
    And I love how you have nail varnish on in the photos, makes you a glamorous workwoman in my book!

  7. Jennifer says:

    This is brilliant! Your niece is a lucky gal. Am guessing there aren’t too many felled walnut trees in the Phoenix area, but ‘Stump Quest 2011’ is on. (LOVE your cuff and ring in the tack cloth demo photo — the sign of a true professional. If I wore jewelry while doing something like this, it would fall off into the varnish no doubt.)

  8. Craig Lawrence says:

    Karen,
    I click and read all your ads every day because I know that’s how you bloggers get paid. One of your ads isn’t working properly. Just thought you should know. Love your blog and support it by supporting your advertisers!

  9. Karen says:

    Mimi! *I* love that you call it nail varnish as opposed to nail polish! 🙂 ~ karen

  10. Karen says:

    Jennifer! You can use any wood. Some are prettier than others, that’s all. My original stump table is red Oak and it looks really nice. ~ karen!

  11. Karen says:

    LOL, Thanks Craig! The ads rotate so I’m not sure which one you mean. But thanks! I’ll look into it. And thanks for your support! ~ karen

  12. Love this! Thank you so much. Would love to try to make my own, just have to figure out where to get a stump.

    Also, wondering if you have to put on legs or if it’s more of a decorative/height thing?

    Wishing you all good things in 2011!

  13. Karen says:

    Hi Connie! Heck no, you don’t have to put legs on it. I just like the look of it, plus it brought the stump up to the height of my couch arm. If I had just used a stump it would have had to have been 24 or 25 inches high, which wouldn’t have looked right. If you have a chair with a lower arm, or even just a corner, the stump with no legs will look great. They can also be painted! Or whitewashed! The possibilities are endless. 🙂 ~ karen

  14. Kristin says:

    I am in love with the rustic-modern look of this table. I think I am going to go right out to the nearest plot of trees and find a fallen one just to make a table like yours!

  15. deborahinPS says:

    I look forward to reading your daily posts Karen…seriously entertaining and informative to boot. What more could I ask for?
    Love the table!
    And I have a “chucker” in the family…my daughter. Christ, I left an EXpensive down robe to be worn during the wet cold months in the Pacific NW, where the only heat in the house was by one measly fireplace. The little ingrate chucked it!
    Heck, I should have known…I’ve seen her closet with so few pieces of clothing in it one wonders how she finds a full outfit to don 🙂

  16. LOVE IT…so timely, my husband wants one…but I’m not DIY gal…you think I could do first time round? Okay…gotta get me a stump first.

  17. Karen says:

    Sundeep! ABSOLUTELY you can do t his as a first time DIYer! This is an especially great project for a first timer because it’s so easy but has such HUGE impact. As long as you follow all the steps I’ve laid out exactly (let the stump dry out! Be patient with taking your bark off etc. ) You’ll do great. When you get your stump, if you buy it from someone make sure to ask them if the stump has been cut and dried for a few months. Also ask them if they can recommend a wood that the bark will come off easily. Walnut is NOT one of those woods. LOL. Oak, probably is. It’s also nice to try to get a stump with a knot, or some bumps where branches were coming out of it. Makes it interesting! Good luck and lemme know if you go though with it. ~ karen

  18. Karen says:

    Oh dear God, Nancy. LOL. Don’t use a chainsaw! They’re for experienced lumberjacks only. *I* don’t even like to use a chainsaw. If it hits a knot it can kick back and take your face out! If you *are* experienced with a chainsaw, just mark a straight line on the log with roller paint and cut away (and cut under the paint so it doesn’t end up on the stump). ~ karen

  19. Alexandra Dare says:

    This is VERY cool, Karen. Superbly cool.

  20. Karen says:

    Why thank you Alexandra! ~ karen

  21. Lesley H says:

    Happy new year Karen. Thanks so much for this! Can’t wait to find me a stump and a boyfriend and get to work!

  22. Angela N says:

    I have been wanting to do this for awhile! Thanks for the tutorial. Now I need to find a stump.

  23. Tina from Cali says:

    Thank you! I have been eyeing these since they made there way into the design mags. I wanted to make one myself so thank you for the tutorial. Forget Wonder Woman, you are my hero.

  24. Pam'a says:

    Karen, your table is just gorgeous. And my hat is off to your wood wrestling skill and tenacity with those chisels– You’re practically supernatural!

    But I have one suggestion: DON’T use a freshly cut stump. The longer you let it dry out, the lighter and easier it’ll be to wrestle. Best of all, the bark’ll come off a lot easier. [Gees, Karen. That had to be tough on your nails!]

    My husband (the wood torturer) has stumps and chunks of wood aging all over the place. He’d tell you to get the oldest stump you can. ‘Hope that helps!

  25. Karen says:

    Hey Pam’a! Thanks! But I’m confused. Why do you think I was using a freshly cut stump, LOL? ~ karen

  26. Nancy says:

    Hey Karen,
    Thanks for the advice on the chainsaw. It is safely tucked away in the basement far from my itchy hands. When I told my daughter your advice she said, “I could have told you that!” So now I just need a lumberjack. But the stumps are drying so it’s work in progress.

  27. Cheryl says:

    Hi Karen! I love how you don’t just SAY, ‘Hmm, I could do that,’ but you go out and actually DO IT. You’re so inspirational! Your tree stump side table was one of my favourite things in the Style At Home article that featured your house. I started following your blog because of that article! Sadly, my home doesn’t look anything like yours (but I continue to read home decor magazines in vain).

  28. Karen says:

    Thanks Cheryl! My house didn’t look like *my* house until about 2 years ago either, so don’t sweat it. 🙂 ~ karen

  29. Emma says:

    Karen – I MUST have one of these. Like, Now.

    But I’m stumped (ha!) about where to find the wood. I live in the Hamilton area too, so I’m wondering if you can share where you bought yours and the approximate price.

    Thanks!

  30. Karen says:

    Hi Emma. I got my stump from Kastrau nursery. I got it for free but that’s because I buy $700 worth of wood for burning in my fireplace every year! I imagine it’d be around $20 to buy it all on it’s own. You can check and see. Otherwise just Google firewood places in Hamilton and see what comes up. ~ karen!

  31. Pam'a says:

    Hmm. I guess I just inferred it from the combo of 1) the bark being hard to chip off, and 2) wanting to get it done in time for Christmas. I could have *sworn* there was a better reason than those…

  32. Karen says:

    🙂 Nope. I let the stump dry for months. It was difficult to remove because it was Walnut. And it was probably just being mean. ~ karen

  33. Well that’s just about the neatest thing.

  34. Karen says:

    Thanks Jamie! I’m mortified you’re seeing my awful photos by the way. The good news is I start a photography course tonight. Ya know, so it doesn’t take me 172 clicks to get one barely useable picture. 🙂 ~ karen

  35. Madame Meg says:

    Oh yay! I’m so glad you finally posted about this- I’ve been waiting… let’s go with patiently… since you mentioned you were going to tell us all about it way back when you first shared your house! I’ve actually been looking for an appropriate stump for about a year now, but it never even occurred to me to ask at a firewood place, I believe there’s even one of those right around the corner from my house! (I’ve been trawling the woods where I walk the dog, hoping there’d be a perfectly cut stump there!) Guess I’ll be heading around the corner soon! Thanks!
    : ) Meg

  36. Jen says:

    This kills me. We just a perfectly great stump pulled from our yard as it was a serious eyesore. Now I see this fantastic gem. Balls!!!

  37. Beverly says:

    For anyone who hasn’t used poly, the oil based is more durable – but stinks like crazy while being applied! So do it outside! I mostly use water based – hardly any odor, and does a wonderful job.

    And thanks for the tutorial, I am absolutely going to do this…

  38. Karen says:

    Beverly – You bring up an excellent point! It does stink, but not as bad as I remember for some reason. Maybe they’ve changed the formulation a bit. However …. having said that, I did do my stump inside because it’s the middle of winter here in Southern Ontario. The smell was totally bearable. Until I hid the stump in our bedroom so my visiting niece wouldn’t see it before Christmas. WOW. Definitely stink. Had to move it out into the hallway. Blech. ~ karen!

  39. Jodi says:

    I have always wanted to know how you made your own log table. They are so organic and fabulous – but so expensive!

    I cannot wait to do this. I am going to get a log this weekend!

  40. Karen says:

    Jodi – Yay! Lemme know how it goes. If I were to do one today, I’d do it with a greyish blue whitewash. Something to think about … not to confuse you, LOL. ~ karen

  41. Katie says:

    This is unbelievable good timing. Some neighbors just cut down a tree and I think I can steal a stump on my way home from work. I know you said it should dry out for months but I’m wondering how many months – two, three?

    Thanks for the great tutorial!

    Katie

  42. Karen says:

    Hi Katie! If it’s a brand new tree that’s *just* been chopped down, it’ll take at least 2 months to dry out. If you bring the stump inside it’ll dry faster, but the fast it dries the more likely it is to get cracks. I happen to like the cracks, so no problem for me! Just stick it somewhere and then forget about it. And just for fun … weigh the stump before you start drying it and then after. Oh! And finally, make sure the stump is cut very straight. Otherwise you’ll have a table with a sloped top! Good luck. ~ karen

  43. What a great step-by-step guide, thanks! Looking forward to starting the project soon!

  44. Karen says:

    Thanks Ashley! Have fun with it. ~ karen

  45. mariah says:

    Beautiful work! I was wondering what you think about doing this with a birch stump. I want to keep the beautiful bark in tact, do you think it would work? Thank you for the inspiration.

  46. Karen says:

    Hi Mariah! Thanks. I have no idea if this would work with birch! The one problem I see immediately is that birch trees don’t get large enough to make into side tables. They tend to die before they get to this size. Also, when the birch tree *does* get quite large, the bark tends to be icky. You *could* peel away the outer bark and hope for nice bark underneath. I’m also not sure how the birch bark would react to the clear coat. (it may darken/change the colour of the birch) If I were you, I’d try the poly. on a small, dry, birch branch. If that goes well … then give the birch stump a shot! If you’re successful send me a pic. I’d love to see it! Good luck. ~ karen

  47. come over today from d*s. This is an amazing tutorial. Thanks so much!! Love the table

  48. I love your stump. My husband and I made a birch stump a while back, but it’s not level :-\ and we left the bark on. I love your kitty and your abominable snow chair too!

  49. anna see says:

    What a great tutorial! I LOVE this idea.

  50. Karen says:

    Thanks Anna! ~ karen

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