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Last week I focused on How To Build An Inexpensive Studio For Your Food Photography, and this week I will show you several ways to build a tabletop unit for your food photography studio.  This is for our New Series ~ Food Photography, Equipment & Props!  I will be posting regularly to this new series, so come back and visit often to learn new great tips to improve your food photography.

So as I have stated, today I am going to show you how to build your own tabletop unit to shoot your pictures on.  I did not want to purchase a whole table to shoot my pictures on because one it is expensive and two I want variety.  So once again I knew that I needed to build something of my own to create what I was looking for.

I have two tabletop units to show you. One is a two sided tabletop unit from Love & Olive Oil and the other is a portable distressed tabletop.  Both are really easy to make and can be made for a very reasonable price!  I am going to show you the distressed tabletop today and share a link to the instructions of a double sided unit.

So lets tackle this portable distressed tabletop unit.  This is so easy to make and it will help you create a rustic and warm feeling for your pictures.  One of my favorite ways to warm up a photo is by using distressed wood.  Have you seen the prices on distressed wood lately?  Oh my are they high!  I even searched Craig’s List for old barn wood and I was shocked how expensive it was.  So my goal for this project was to take new wood and distress it to make a warm tabletop unit to shoot my photos on.  So here is a step by step tutorial showing you how to make your very own distressed tabletop.

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Project Details & Distressing The Wood


Here is what you will need for this project:
  • (1) 8′ pine board (1 inch thick) cut into (4) 2′ pieces. 
  • (2) steel wool pads (grade # 0000)
  • (5) tea bags
  • apple cider vinegar
  • wood chisel
  • paint brush
  • 2′ x 2′ ply board (optional, I actually prefer not to use ply wood), & wood glue if you are using the ply wood
  • sandpaper 
  • wood cutting board/block mineral oil
  • hammer, screw driver, nuts and bolts, chain to distress the wood


The first thing you want to do is head to your local hardware store and pick out a piece of pine wood and all the other items needed for this project.  For this project, I picked a one inch thick board that was 8 foot long.  I then had the home improvement center cut it into (4) 2′ boards.  


Now we are going to make this new wood look old.  The goal is to bang up the wood.  Do not over think this.  Just start putting dings and dents all over the wood.  Here are several techniques that I used to make new wood look old.  Bang a chain on the board.  This will give dings all over the wood.  Take a hammer and use both sides to put deeper dents into the wood.  


Fill a plastic bag with nuts, screws and anything metal you can find.  Bang the bag all over the board to distress it.  Have an extra plastic bag handy in case the metal pieces start to come through.  Another technique is to use a very small phillips screw driver to make small clusters of holes in the wood.  This makes it look like bugs or worms have been eating through the wood.



Finally, use a wood chisel to take away some of the wood on the edges.  This really helps with making the wood truly old so do not skip this step.  The next picture is how your wood should look when it is all distressed.  Run your sandpaper lightly over the wood to smooth it out a bit.  You will really start to see all the distress marks once we put the stain on.



Safety & Stain Details 


Safety Precautions For Making The Stain

Ok now here comes the fun part.  We are going to make a natural stain to finish this project up.  This takes no time to throw together, but you do need to let it sit for 24 hours.  I do need to mention a few things here.  We are combining ingredients to make a stain and there are a few safety precautions that you should follow.

  • Do this in a well ventilated area.  I suggest doing this outside.
  • Place in a glass jar with the lid loosely on.  Bubbles will begin to form as it sits.  If you put the lid on tight, it could overflow and stain an area that you weren’t looking to have stained, so be sure that the lid is loosely on, or better yet cover with cheese cloth or loosely fitted plastic wrap.
  • As with any chemicals, do not ingest and keep away from children and animals.
  • Never inhale the fumes
  • And finally, use your common sense, that is a given…we are working with chemicals here people! :)


24 hours before you are ready to stain your distressed pieces of wood, put  2 steel wool pads into a glass jar.  I used a pint size jar.  Completely cover the steel wool with apple cider vinegar.  Loosely cover and store outside for 24-48 hours.  The longer you let it sit, the darker the wood.  Look at the chemical reaction (all the bubbles) taking place in my mixture after about 1 hour of sitting.


When your stain is ready and you are ready to stain your wood, boil up 2 cups of water and add 5 tea bags (any black tea will work) to the water.  Allow to steep for 5 minutes.  Now apply the tea to the wood with a paint brush.  Allow to dry completely before going to the next step (20-30 minutes).


Once dry, you are ready to brush on the stain.  You do not have to take the steel wool out, but if you would like you can.  Now simply brush on the vinegar stain.  Your wood boards will look like this as soon as you brush the stain on.  


This is where the magic starts to happen.  The wood will continue to get darker the longer it sits.  I would suggest putting one coat of stain on and then wait for 24 hours to see how dark your stain gets.  If you want it darker after 24 hours, apply another coat.  This is what my boards looked like after 1 hour of applying the first coat.


Here is what my tabletop looks like after 24 hours…wow, big difference right?  I will not put on another coat, I like it just like this!  I did however add a little more stain along some of the edges to give it a more weathered look.  I was looking to add some water stains to my tabletop to give it that oh so old feeling!


Putting It All Together!


Once your boards are dry, I like to condition the wood with a good butcher block mineral oil.  This is quality mineral oil that is safe for food and is used for wood cutting boards and butcher blocks.  You are almost done!  Now take the boards and place them into your food photography studio that I showed you last week.  You can also glue them onto a piece of plywood if you would like to.


The Final Results & Camera Details


And that is it!  Simple right?  Check out this warm picture I shot on it last night.  Do you get that warm feeling that I was talking about earlier in this post.  Distressed wood has such a warm feel to it, exactly what I was wanting for this picture!     

I shot this picture at 7 PM once again and used my lighting unit to create the right light.  I did not use a flash. There are a few areas of this picture that could have been improved, specifically the cheese in the front, it seems a bit blurred.  I did not use a tripod for this picture and it probably would have benefited this picture to use one. Unfortunately  I dropped my lighting unit and broke both of my lightbulbs  😥 so the photo shoot ended prematurely.  I would have liked to change my aperture and shutter speed to correct the cheese issue, but I guess that will have to wait until daylight arrives or my new photography light bulbs arrive!  

This picture was shot on manual mode.  My ISO was 800, aperture was f/3.2 and my shutter speed was 1/50. Hope to see you back again next week!  Until then… 


More Great Photography Post ~ Photography, Equipment, Props & More 


Click here to view more great photography post and our Entire Series of Food Photography, Equipment, Props & More! 



What do you use to shoot your food pictures on?  
Do you have any helpful inexpensive tips for photography props that you would like to share?


This post was featured on Melt in Your Mouth MondayMonday ManiaHomestead Barn Hop

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16 thoughts on “How To Build A Distressed Tabletop Unit For Your Food Photography Pictures For ONLY $10!”

  1. TessaDomesticDi says:

    I have been wanting to do this Hallie, maybe you will kick me in the butt and push me over the edge to get it done!

    1. hallecottis says:

      @TessaDomesticDi It really was a super easy project to do Tessa :)  The longest part is letting the stain sit for 24 hours but the actual project took me only 1/2 hour to do (maybe even less).

  2. EdeaKrammer says:

    Well, I must say that I have the spirit to get this stuff done right and I’ll take it from you “hallecottis”. I know for a reason this is totally useful one it’s done right but what matters for me is getting the experience of fulfillment and achieving something that I’m not used to. And that what I called “getting out from your comfort zone… 😀 XOXO!!! Thanks for striking my inspiration glands!!! :D:D:D

  3. TessaDomesticDi says:

    I finally made mine!  decided to do my two sided  (so I glued the slats back back, perpendicular to one another) so I can play with a turquiose on the other side…I have a post going up for whole new mom shortly…you’ll see it there!  Thanks for giving me a push!

    1. hallecottis says:

      @TessaDomesticDi Yeah!!!  I can’t wait to see it…I will head over to Whole New Mom to check it out…can’t wait :)

      1. TessaDomesticDi says:

        @hallecottis  @TessaDomesticDi not yet!  this week sometime…I’ll post a teaser on my blog about it!

  4. TessaDomesticDi says:

    I just posted a picture on my FB page of the aqua tabletop!!  check it out!  I made a white one today, but now my wood is gone…so no more colors…immediately that is!

  5. Adrienne Whole New Mom says:

    Halle – I am thinking about doing this this week w/ my son.  Any suggestions for doing alternative colors / finishes? Thanks!

    1. hallecottis says:

      Adrienne Whole New Mom are you looking to do this with a tea stain or a regular stain thinned out?

      1. Adrienne Whole New Mom says:

        hallecottis Adrienne Whole New Mom I don’t know :).  I found another tutorial that had other colors as options.  What do you recommend?

        1. hallecottis says:

          Adrienne Whole New Momhallecottisdepends what you like.  I did one grey wash and one that is in this post.  I tend to use the one pictured in this post a lot more.  I also did a white stain wash and I use that the most.  EVERYTHING pops on white :)  I would do  a 2 sided table and do a different stain for each.  Check out Tessa the Domestic Diva site, she did several and they look amazing on her website TessaDomesticDi

        2. Adrienne Whole New Mom says:

          hallecottis Adrienne Whole New Mom TessaDomesticDi Thanks!  So each one is a stain then, right?  I do think Tessa had one that was blue paint.  Just want to make sure I buy the right stuff :).

        3. hallecottis says:

          Adrienne Whole New Mom hallecottis TessaDomesticDi I have used both.  If you use paint, thin it out with water and wipe off after a few minutes.  Both work great!

        4. I used one that was the natural stain only. and then I did two with a latex wall paint…I purchased samples in white and turquoise and lightly brushed it on post staining.

  6. janina says:

    Hi, loved your tutorial. The boards look great. Did you stain the backdrop cloth as well – really like the look of it. Do you have any tips for staining backdrops – Irving
    Penn style mottled greys etc.?

    1. Halle Cottis says:

      Backdrop cloth is just fleece that I purchased at the fabric store.

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