A collage by definition refers to a backing covered with different items such as antique invoices, fall leaves, ribbons, fabrics or cutouts of artwork or photographs taken from magazines. Before you begin, decide on a theme: nature, art, old-time movies or whatever works for you. For example, a tabletop covered with film-processed photos of favorite family vacations can make a lively game table in a family room. You can also add a couple of game boards to your collage to make a gaming table, or you can add a collage to a bar top.
After you’ve decided on your theme, avoid adding items with straight lines; instead, cut the items along their borders to soften their appearance, and overlap them onto other cut-out pieces for a fully collaged tabletop or bar top. Set a large single piece of butcher paper cut to fit the tabletop on a worktable and arrange your chosen items atop it in the same arrangement as you want them to appear on the tabletop, paying attention to color, contrast and complementary shapes. Let it sit for a few days, making adjustments as needed until you like the way the collage looks.
Paint the backs of the individual items with white glue and stick them to an already-cleaned tabletop in the order you had them on the butcher paper. Work from the middle out, or along the border, whatever works for the layout you created. Carefully smooth them with a flat carpenter’s pencil or another soft wood item to remove any air bubbles. After covering the entire tabletop with your collage, let the glue dry. Re-glue any curling edges, as needed.
Before covering the collage with a finish coat, first test the chosen finish atop a small leftover cut-out item from your collage atop a piece of cardboard. This ensures that the chosen finish doesn’t affect the film finish of photos or make the colors run, for example. If the chosen finish doesn’t work, try a different product until you find one that works, but most water-based varnishes won’t damage photos or artwork. Cover the entire tabletop with multiple coats of the finish, letting each coat dry before applying another. Let it thoroughly dry and cure before putting the table to use, as recommended by the product’s label.