How to Make a Log Side Table

How to Make a Log Side Table

All this recent log talk made me fall back in love with a leftover from last summer’s tree maintenance. The trimmers charged about 500 bucks for all their work. Since I had all the supplies on hand to make it, my new log side was free, which sort of helps make up for that 500 bucks. 

For a new take on this project, check out How to Make a Walnut Stump Side Table, the Easy way.


As for a list of said supplies, here goes:

  • A log, mine is 8.5” in diameter and 18” tall.
  • Planner--maybe
  • Sander--for sure
  • Sand paper, 80, 120 & 220 grit
  • Poly--gloss, brush
  • Pencil 
  • Tape measure

Getting Started:

The bark on my log was beautiful, but it was peeling off. So the first thing I did was pull it free and expose the smooth wood underneath--and an entire unique ecosystem. There were wee beasties EVERYWHERE, as evidenced the picture shown below. Busy little buggers, weren't they?

created at: 07/31/2011

Then I washed the log with a brush and garden hose. This, of course, made the log wet, so I elevated it on a couple pieces of scrap wood and set it in the sun to dry out. This took about two weeks.

Getting Down to Business:

After the log was dry I wanted to make sure it was as level as possible, so I put it on a flat surface and measured up from the floor. Since my lowest point was 18”, I used a pencil to mark all around the top of the log at 18”.

created at: 07/31/2011

Because the highest point of my log was about 18 1/2” I needed to take off material until I got down to that 18" pencil mark. At this point we decided to break out the hand planer (shown above) to speed up the leveling process. Alternately, some 80 grit and an orbital sander would do the trick too, it would just take longer.

(The top now level, but in need of sanding:)

created at: 07/31/2011

After the top was planed level, I used my orbital sander and some 80 followed up by 120 grit sandpaper to make the top silky smooth. I also used some 220 over the side of the log just because. 

Then it was just a matter of putting 2 coats of poly on everything. I didn’t bother sanding between coats on the vertical, but I did use 220 between coats on the top. And that’s it. Here’s what my log looks like now:

created at: 08/01/2011

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about having a stump in my living room, but I’m happy to say I love it. 

created at: 08/01/2011

If you've got some log lovin' brewing, here's some tips:

1. Get a log that’s already the approximate height you want. Also get one that’s already level, or at least somewhat. If that means passing over a log that you love for one that is just okay, get the level one, because GETTING one level can be a pain, especially if you don't have the right tools on hand.

2. Make sure the log is COMPLETELY dry before you seal or paint it. This might take several weeks if the log has been out in the elements. If you have a moisture meter, USE IT.

3. Some trees can be sappier than others. I'd suggest sealing or painting every bit of your log so it doesn't weep all over your carpet & etc. (My log came from a very old pine tree, so it was quite sappy.)

4. Some logs will have nubs where branches used to be. This look can be very interesting, but if you prefer a completely smooth vertical, watch out for them. (My log has nubs, but they're only prominent on one side, so I can turn them toward or away from the wall, depending upon my mood, which is kinda cool.)

5. As for as sizes of logs, I'd suggest not smaller than 8” or so inches around and not taller than 18”, however, the bigger the diameter the taller you could go.

6. Logs are HEAVY. So if you see a 2' diameter one remember it’s gonna be a back-buster to lift. Just keep this in mind.


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DIY Maven on Jan 19, 2015:

@Nannette: I didn't use any wax; just water-based polyurethane. 

Nannette on Jan 16, 2015:

Is the wax a furniture wax, a floor wax or a parafin?

Amy on Dec 31, 2014:

Nice!!! What is the ideal moisture level?

Anonymous on Oct 13, 2014:

Just a note on sealing the ends of a log with wax... we have a family woodworking business, and when we get a "green" log we apply wax to the cut ends of the log. This allows the wood to cure slowly without splitting or checking, and prevents over drying. This technique has been used by woodworkers for centuries.

Kaitlyn on Jun 18, 2012:

Great tutorial! A friend made one very similar to this for me but he had a brilliant idea and hollowed out the inside with a chain saw to make it lighter. The results are amazing! I can lift it on my own and move it around at will. we also attached little felt pads to the bottom so that air could get inside the stump and continue drying it out.

DIY Maven on Feb 16, 2012:

@Linda--I've never heard of sealing logs with wax, but here is my take on it. Wax or sealant of any kind penetrates very little, and these are big logs. If the log is going to split as it dries, it's going to split. (I have read that if you plow a vertical cut down the center of a log, it minimizes splitting, but that's not practical in this situation.) You're better off just letting it dry completely before using it. A moisture meter helps to let you know when the log is dry enough. My log had been drying for a year outside. After I removed the bark and washed it, I let it dry in direct sunlight for an additional 2 weeks, rotating it as necessary. I then checked it with my moisture meter every day or so until I had a satisfactorily low number. Only then did I begin to sand and finish it.  It's now been in my house six months now with no additional cracking. 

Linda on Feb 15, 2012:

Hi. Beautiful ! I have a few logs from a tree in my neighborhood that was cut down. Ihave been told to seal the ends of the logs with wax and to let them dry before I do anything else, or they will crack and split. What is your recommendation? Should I seal the ends with parafin wax, and let them dry on my porch? They are from what I think was a hemlock tree about 1 month ago.Thanks for posting your project ! I am really excited to do this !

diygirl35 on Sep 14, 2011:

Thanks so much for the advice and recommendation for the Poly, DIY Maven.  I went out and purchased my supplies, so I am ready to go!  I will definitely post a picture when I am finished.  Thanks again!

DIY Maven on Sep 11, 2011:

Hey diygirl, I used my go-to, absolute favorite poly, which I put on just about all our furniture projects. That is Minwax's water-based Polycrylic in clear satin. It truly is clear, so it doesn't lend a hue of any kind ot the finish. It's super easy to work with and clean up is about as minimal as it gets. I like to put on multiple coats--at least three if not four. And, of course, I always sand with 220 grit between each coat. I'd love to see your finished project!

diygirl35 on Sep 10, 2011:

It looks great!  Can you tell me what type/brand of poly you used?  I have a log just like that, which is now sanded and ready to be sealed, but I don't want it to look glossy.  I want that nice matte, natural look that you achieved.  Thanks!

textkind on Aug 02, 2011:

OMG! This is what I was looking for...I have to cut a tree and I thought it would be nice to use some logs for my living room. I will try it! Thanks. :)

betsy on Aug 01, 2011:

Love that you kept it "matte" -- beautiful!

DIY Maven on Aug 01, 2011:

Chris, it was a long needle white pine (rather rare here in the 'burbs but not so Up North, MN). It was a beautiful tree when it was alive. I'm glad to honor it this way. 

Chris Gardner on Aug 01, 2011:

Love it. What species was your tree?

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