Build a Cafe Table in about 30 mins.

How to build a Cafe Table in about 30 mins.

This story starts about 1991 or 1992. At the time I was a set designer and master carpenter for a small black box theater downtown. I’m working on the set one day when the direct comes to me and says “Hey, we have this scene that I want to set in an Outdoor Cafe. We will need the scene twice, once in the first act and then again later in the second act. There will be about 15- 20 folks on stage. Oh, and it has to be a real quick scene change.” “Oh, oookk” I said and stumbled back to the workshop to create an out door cafe. An Outdoor Cafe that 20 people could rush on to the stage in the dark, carry on and setup before the lights fade back in. After about an hour the Master Electrician wonders in and ask how’s it going. I explain that I was trying to build a Cafe that can be loaded and struck quickly and that will hold 20 people. He said well nothing says “Outdoor Cafe” better than a “Cafe Table”. So, in about the next 20 mins. the Easy Build, Store Flat (because there is no space back stage) two part Cafe Table was born. Ok, that name is a little long. They later became know as the “Scissors Tables” for reasons that will become obvious as we go along.

The idea is simple and I’m sure we were not the first to have it, so I make no such claim. We built about 10 -12 of these tables and the actors carried them on and off with chairs. Poof, instant Cafe with background chatter for the scene. Yes, really, the actors carried them on and set them up! I was just as amazed to see it as you must be stunned to read it. The tables are a simple four part design. A base support is made of two parts that only go together one way. Even the actors figured this out. A top that sets atop of the base with groves and a round table cloth. That’s it. Poof, one cafe, 10 tables.  It was quick and simple. They were so well liked that the night of strike they ALL disappeared. Every one of them. Not a trace to be found. 

Store version Our original tables were cut from 3/4″ ply and painted black. The table cloths where a great checker board pattern and under the lights the bases were practically invisible.  I had all but forgotten about this idea until just recently when I was setting a breakfast area up on a sun-porch and decided I needed a table. I dusted off two pieces of particle board shelving I had taken down from somewhere else and in about 20-30 minutes later, one table. A $9.99 table cloth from the Target and poof, a cafe breakfast nook with some old black dining room chairs.


  • You need two (2) scraps of 3/4″ ply or 5/8″ particle board 14-16″ wide and 29-32″ long.The ones used in these pictures were 16″ x 30″ white Formica particle board shelves.
  • 1- 1/2″ or 3/4″ ply or 5/8″particle board 18-24″ across in both directions. The pictured board is 24″
  • A steady hand with a jig saw. 


  1. Decide how tall you want your table.  If you have chairs you plan to use this helps.  The average table is about 30″, so if that’s your target height remember to subtract the thickness of the table top. Lay out the two base patterns. Make sure to make only one of each. One with the slot on top. One with the slot on the bottom. The slots need to be a straight, close fit and the width is the thickness of the base boards you are using. The shape is like a giant chess piece (a rook) or an hour glass. As long as the top and bottom sides are straight there a lot of options.
  2. Cut out the two base parts with the gig saw. Check fit and slide together like two parts of a 3d jigsaw puzzle.
  3. Next is to cut the top. A tack, piece of string and a pencil will help draw a circle of the size you want. Again with a jig saw cut out the top. Using the scrap from cutting out the top make four triangle corners. Place the top on the flour, bottom side up. place the base on the top, top side down over the center mark. Using a little wood glue, glue the four triangles to the bottom of the top in the corners of the base. Let dry.
  4. Flip over and if you wish, give a light sand with some 100 or 120 grit sand paper. This is a good idea for the top to keep the edges from snagging the table cloth.

 A month or so later, I saw these two tables at the local ACE hardware (see images) with same basic design so I took these snap shots to give you other variation ideas. Note: I made my table out of some left over shelves. Even if you have to buy the shelves they would run about $9 each with the table cloth ($9.99) you would have about $40 in it.  These at the hardware store were $149 but did include a cool swank paint job. I have seen a shorter version used as bed side night stands.

Total time to do this job was about 30-45 mins. and the table cloth was $9.99 from you local massive retail store. I would rate the difficulty as Low to Medium.