Once upon a time I got the opportunity to build the most beautiful fretwork console designed by DIY rock star Jen Woodhouse. I worked to make every angle perfect, to create fretwork that would make one weep with joy. And then came the moment to top it with something worthy of the design and labor.
Really, no kidding. Walnut veneered plywood. Did you know there is such a thing? If not, sit down, breathe, and just take in the possibilities.
Near as I can figure, it would have cost me over $200 to grab some walnut boards at my local store and put them on this console top. I was in despair until I learned that Purebond, which I have used a number of times in birch and maple varieties, makes walnut plywood as well. The heavens opened, and there she is in all her fretworky and walnuty glory.
Now, how’s that for a show off piece?! Want to make one? Jen is sharing the plans for this beautiful fretwork console table on her site. You can get them, here. And here, friends, is how to build it…
How to Build a Fretwork Table w/Plywood Top
10 – 1x2x10′ boards (I used poplar because it paints well.)
1- 3/4″ sheet of hardwood plywood
3/4″ veneer edge banding
paint or finish
table saw or circular saw
1. Cut the pieces for the squares
If I did this again I would paint all of my pieces, then cut. If you are planning to paint maybe go that route.
Cut the 2″ pieces first. The piece of wood screwed into the workbench top at the right is a cheap way to make a stop block so every cut will be identical. It’s a great idea to use this method with repeat cuts like this build requires. I cut out all 42 pieces in no time flat with this method.
To set a stop for the angled pieces use another piece cut at 45 degrees going the opposite direction.
90 pieces of wood, ready for assembly!
2. Build the fretwork
Mark the middle of each piece and line them up to form the pattern.
You can use pocket holes to attach all of the pieces. My preferred method was to leave the design as clean as possible, so glue does the work here. I insured that the pieces would stay put while drying by using brad nails to attach the pieces together. Tip: have a second person assist with this so you can be sure that each section is right where you want it and while nailing. The glue makes it want to slide around a bit and it can be tricky with one person.
One completed fretwork section. Now do five more just like it.
3. Cut the side pieces
Measure the fretworks you made before cutting the long pieces. You want the fretwork to fit in tightly with no gaps. Dry fit all the pieces together before attaching any of the frame. We found it helpful to clamp two sides to the table so we could snug the rest of it in tight and clamp it as we glued until the frame was completely together.
Let that all dry , then attach the side pieces as in the instructions. Tip: Prop the section up on a couple pieces of wood so that seeping glue won’t adhere the entire thing to your work surface.
4. Prep for finish
With the side panels attached it is ready for touch up sanding and filling (make sure to get all of those nail holes), and paint or stain. I hit it up with the orbital sander where I could, then used the Ryobi Multi-Tool with the sanding attachment to get in all the nooks and crannies. Finally, I finished it off with a sanding pad. I know, I know, hand sanding. I’m sorry. But not as sorry as you’ll be if you don’t sand properly, peeps.
*NOTE: those sides have some give to them until the top is put on. In order to keep the sides where they needed to be during the painting process we screwed a long piece the length of the console to the front side top.
5. Paint (skip if staining)
I decided to go with a semi gloss paint because I’m crazy I wanted a more modern look. To get the smoothest possible result we went with an oil paint. Oils dry slower but cure faster. That means they have more time to even out and the paint hardens in a week (compared to a month for latex). We primed it with Sherwin-Williams ProBlock and painted with ProClassic in Pure White. We used our HomeRight Sprayer to get in all the nooks and crannies.
My husband is a mad genius when it comes to using the paint sprayer, and I was happy to let him show off his skills. If you decided to go this route think several thin coats and lots of dry time between.
6. Cut the plywood, fit
You are almost there! A piece this lovely deserves to be crowned with something that will really shine, so I was thrilled when Jen was as excited as I was by the idea of using a walnut top. Here’s where that PureBond plywood comes in.
There are a few tricks for cutting it. Use a circular saw to do the cross grain cut. You’ll want to tape the line before you cut. I taped both top and bottom. This will help prevent tear out of the veneer. Circular saws cut up, so cut with the top side down so that if there is any tearing it will be on the bottom. Place 2x4s under the wood to support the entire piece while cutting. Set the blade to an inch so it will only extend about 1/4″ past the plywood. Use a guide to insure a straight line cut.
To rip the long side you can use either a circular saw or table saw. We opted to cut the long side on the table saw. The difference is that you’ll need to cut with the top side up this time, as the blade cuts down. Additionally, our saw is fitted with a zero clearance insert, which is important in insuring that plywood does not tear out. Finally, we put fresh blades on both saws, both of which were thinner kerf blades suitable for cutting plywood. That all sounds like a lot, but it’s worth it. You can definitely cut with just the circular saw. The blade for that set us back only $6.
Once you have the piece cut apply the banding according to manufacturer instructions. Then attach the top with some glue and a few brad nails.
Fill the holes, let them dry, then oil it up. I used Salad Bowl Finish by General Finishes. Just look at how it pops that beautiful grain!
Put this thing in a place of honor in your home and stand back and stare at it every chance you get. Be sure to point it out whenever company comes by and bask in the glow of their admiration. You made that, you stud you. It maybe wasn’t the easiest thing you have ever done (or maybe it was, okay, cool), but you did it. You can’t get that feeling buying something from Target.
Here’s what this beauty will set you back, give or take:
Fretwork Console Estimated Costs
-lumber: I spent $69.30 for poplar boards. Pine would have run $35.40
-plywood: You can get a full 4×8′ sheet of birch or maple for $50. The good folks at Purebond graciously sent a beautiful walnut panel for this project, which you can get in a 2′ x 8′ size at Home Depot for $47.25. (Psst, this will totally give you extra wood to play with for other projects!)
-glue, filler, and finish nails: already had on hand
-paint and primer: $32
Don’t forget to pick up the plans for the Fretwork Console here and check out Jen’s other amazing build plans. Also, you can check out what I did with the rest of that walnut plywood here. (Hint: it’s kind of awesome…if I do say so myself.) If you have any questions leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.