DIY: How to Make a Tree Stump Stool for $50 or Less

Side tables: marriage-savers. 
Let me explain. As Edison grew more and more mobile, we quickly realized that we could no longer use the coffee table as a table, since now he could reach almost anything on it. Yes, I know, we shouldn’t eat on the couch in front of the TV, but this is real life, and sometimes after we’ve both had long days at work, the best thing ever is to order a bunch of wings and fries, and settle in on the couch to watch the next episode of Last Man Standing, together, or now that it’s fall, the next Harry Potter movie. Or we might just have leftovers and popcorn for dinner. Don’t judge. 
Not being able to use the coffee table for food meant that we were down to one side table at one end of the couch: my end. That lead to some encroaching, and much annoyance on my part.
So to save our marriage, we needed a second side table. I’d wanted a tree stump side table forever, but they’re not cheap. This one from West Elm is $249
So we made our own, for the total cost of about $50.

You’ll need: 

  • A tree stump that’s 6″ shorter than your sofa arm. Look on Craig’s List for free tree stumps! We found tons of options to choose from. I recommend pine; the bark comes very easily, and on some types of wood, like walnut, it can be really hard to remove. 
  • Wood stain (optional). I used Miniwax stain in “Natural.”
  • Clear polyurethane gloss
  • An assortment of tools for removing the bark. 
  • A sander, or sandpaper blocks. 
  • Foam brushes. 
  • 6″ Hairpin metal legs. I bought these ones from Amazon for $30, and they were the perfect height and look I wanted.
  • Wood shims, unless your log comes leveled already.  
  • A level, in case it doesn’t.
  • Long screws. The screws that come with the legs may not be long enough.
  • An impact driver.
Step 1: After you’ve picked up your free tree stump from someone’s woodpile, the next step is removing the bark. I’d assembled a variety of tools for the purpose, but the bark fell off so easily, I only ended up using the screw driver! It only took a couple minutes to scrape it clean.

Step 2: Sand the top and sides of the stump. Edison was a great helper during this step. Just kidding. He wasn’t allowed near the sander while it was turned on. I, however, did do the sanding, and this is the closest I’ve ever been to using power tools. It was exhilarating!
You don’t need to go crazy with sanding, but just make sure the surface feels smooth. Run a tack cloth over the surface to remove any dust before the next step.

Step 3: Stain the stump. This step is optional – if you like the wood’s natural color, you can skip this. I wanted just a tad richer and more even color, so I used Miniwax stain in “Natural.” Use a foam brush to apply it in a thin layer, and let it dry according to the instructions on the can, which is about 8 hours. Don’t sand it after applying the stain; that will essentially undo everything you’ve just done. 

Step 5: The next day, apply an even coat of polyurethane in the same way. This has to dry overnight between coats. Now, if you find rough areas on the wood – sand these down between coats of polyurethane. You don’t need to sand between coats like you would if you were using paint, the sanding is just to keep it smooth. 
I applied about three coats before I was satisfied with the finish on this stump.

Step 6: Attach the legs. This is the only moderately tricky part. Turn your stump upside down, and arrange the legs on the bottom. I used this set of four from Amazon, but fitting all four was going to be tricky. I was concerned that three might not be stable, but Brian explained that you only need three points to establish an infinite plane, or something to that effect (that’s what happens when you ask an engineer). 

The tricky part about this is making them level. Because we got an already cut stump, and we didn’t want to try to cut it again, because that would make it too short, we used wood shims to level out the bottom.

Hold the level from the end of each leg to the others to check the height, and add shims underneath as needed.

After each point is level, put in at least one screw to hold in the legs. You may need to use larger screws than the ones that come with the legs. Then turn the table over, and check to see if you succeeded.

Perfect!
But what about those unsightly pieces of wood sticking out? To clean it up, you’ll have to flip it back over and trim them off, as Brian is demonstrating with the saw.

Then secure the legs with the rest of the screws.

Step 7: Carry it inside, and enjoy having a place to put your wings out of the reach of your toddler, and having your own spot on the couch back!

We did leave that long branch sticking out, as you can see above, for the only reason that it really helps make it easier to move. This thing is heavy! But at least we don’t need to worry about Edison tipping it over.

I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out! Now, I’m tempted to switch favorite spots on the couch with Brian … if he’s willing to trade.