How to Build Shadow Box Coffee Table

It's always nice to have a piece of furniture in the house that shows off your fashion sense.

Build Shadow Box Coffee TableBuild Shadow Box Coffee Table
One piece of furniture that can really do this is a shadow box coffee table, which displays your personal mementos under a protective layer of glass. This is a unique way to add personality to a room.

Set the fence of the table saw at 1 3/4 inch. Set the height of the blade to 1/4 inch. Make one pass with the four pieces of MDF that are 2 inches wide. Depending on the width of the blade, you may have to slide the fence over a little and make another pass. The groove should be at least 1/4 inch wide for the glass.

Place the tabletop material on the table. Mark around the perimeter of the table 3/8 inch and 1 inch from the edge and every 8 inches around the perimeter. Drill countersink holes on these marks.

Place all of the 3 1/2-inch material on the table. Drill two countersink holes on both ends of the longer pieces. Apply glue to the ends of the short pieces, place them between the longer ones and secure them with the drywall screws.

Apply glue to the inside of the line around the perimeter of the bottom of the table, set the frame on the marks and the glue and secure it to the table with the drywall screws. Be certain the countersink holes are deep enough for the screws to go into the bottom of the tabletop.

Build three sides of the frame with the pieces from Step 1 by applying glue to the ends of the short piece and placing it between the two longer pieces. Secure these together with the drywall screws. Place the frame on top of the table and secure it from underneath through the countersink holes.

Decide on a pattern you want to use and cut the 1 3/4-by-3/4 inch divider material into the desired lengths with the electric miter saw. Drill pilot holes in them and secure them to the top with glue and the 3d finish nails. Place the desired objects to be displayed in the shadow boxes, slide glass into place and secure the final piece.

Things You Will Need

  • 1 piece 18-by-44-by-3/4 inch Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) (tabletop)
  • 2 pieces 2-by-42-by-3/4 inch MDF (table edge)
  • 2 pieces 2-by-16 1/2-by-3/4 inch MDF (table edge)
  • 2 pieces 3 1/2-by-38 1/2-by-3/4 inch MDF (skirt)
  • 2 pieces 3 1/2-by-16-by-3/4 inch MDF (skirt)
  • 12 pieces 18-by-1 3/4-by-3/4 inch MDF (dividers)
  • 4 pieces 46 1/2-by-1 3/4-by-3/4 inch MDF (dividers)
  • 4 15-inch spindles
  • 1 piece 1/4-inch glass, 41 1/2 by 17 1/2 inches
  • Table saw
  • Electric miter saw
  • Wood glue
  • Hammer
  • Variable speed drill
  • Countersink bit
  • 1 1/4-inch drywall screws
  • 3d finish nails
  • 1/16-inch drill bit
  • Nail set


  • Always wear safety glasses. Be certain the countersink holes are not too deep, or the screws will come through the material. Sand the inside pieces and paint if you desire before you put the glass in.


  • Do not raise the height of the table saw blade any higher than necessary to make the cut. Wear lung protection when cutting MDF.

About the Author

Michael Straessle has written professionally about the construction industry since 1988. He authored “What a Strange Little Man,” among other books, and his work has appeared in various online publications. Straessle earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in professional/technical writing.