A Table for Picnics

Last Saturday I blogged about taking a break from long,finely crafted projects and trying to build a picnic table (and maybe even a planter box) in a single day. Though art class and kids conspired in an attempt to keep the table unfinished, I did manage to complete the picnic table a few hours before my wife got home from BookCon.

Yup. that pile on the floor is a picnic table.

Making the picnic table was a simple process. It’s made of 2x6, 2x8 and 2x4 ACQ treated lumber. The only saw needed was a miter saw and the most complicated joints were the recesses I drilled into the legs to accommodate the nuts and washers. Simple as it was, I still made a few mistakes and learned a lot about picnic table construction (this was my first).

To begin with I used a measured drawing of a picnic table I found on Pinterest as my starting point. From that I made a material list. With the kids in tow, we headed to Lowes on Friday night to pick up the lumber so that I could get an early start.

On Saturday morning I spent my time at the miter saw and cut all of the pieces to length. In looking at the plans, I decided that 30” was too short for the legs, so I made them about 33” long. I then had to break for my Son’s art class. Once we got home in the early afternoon, proper construction began.

This is what we had ready as we headed to art class.

Because the legs had been cut to a 22˚ bevel, I began by setting the support at the top of the legs even with the miter on the top of the legs and screwing them together with two 2½” deck screws into each leg. Then I set the cross brace for the benches and secured it with two deck screws into each leg also. The deck screws held the assembly in position while I then drilled out for the 5/16” lag bolts I used for the permanent connection. I recessed the inside face of the legs so that the bolt ends and nuts won’t scratch the legs of anyone sitting at the table.

Assembling the end leg assemblies.

With the end leg assemblies finished, I laid them out on the driveway. I marked the center line on the top edge of each leg assembly and on one of the table top boards. I also marked the overhang on the table top board. Then I lined up the board with one of the leg assemblies and clamped it in place with a quick clamp.

I moved over to the opposite end and gently lifted the clamped board onto the other leg assembly. Once I lined this side up I clamped it also. I then took a big block of LVL I have and clamped it to the base of the leg assembly to keep the legs vertical. Next I went back to the first table top board / leg assembly and checked that it was still lined up properly. Once it was, I attached it with three (3) 2½” deckmate screws. Then I went to the other side and did the same.

I started with the center board.

The remaining table boards were all installed reference off of the center. I lined them up at the end and used a scrap of maple I had laying around to leave about 1/8” between them. Each board was secured with three (3) 2½” deckmate screws at each end.

The big LVL block helped keep the table upright during assembly.

With the table done, I laid out the first bench board and sat at the table. I discovered that the length I had added to the leg meant the table was now way too tall (and the bench was too short, as I find typical of most picnic benches). I set a 2x4 on the flat under each side of the bench board and tried it out. I decided it was still too low so I turned the 2x4 on edge. This resulted in a bench height I liked (and the table only a tiny bit too tall). After a trip to pick up one (1) more piece of 2x4, I added 2x4 on edge to the end of each end of the cross braces. I face fastened the 2x4 to the legs with deckmate screws and ran two (2) 6” TimberLock down through the 2x4 into the 2x6 cross braces.

Then the bench boards were installed in a similar fashion to the table top. First I installed the outside board even with the end of the cross braces. Then using the spacer I’d used for the table, I set the 2nd board on each bench off of their respective first.

The bench boards went on similarly to the table boards.

The last part was the installation of the supports. First I installed a length of 2x4 on edge under the center line of the benches and table top (running side to site). These center supports were fastened by clamping them in place and then running deckmate screws down through the bench and table into them. Unfortunately, this led to a bit of cracking in the ends of the 2x4s.

Finally I installed the diagonal braces. I found these to be the hardest pieces to install. With bevels on both ends, measuring them was tricky. I ended up clamping a level into the place the diagonal support fits. Then I was able to use my bevel gauges to measure the angles and a pencil mark on the level to determine the length. This resulted in acceptable, if somewhat sloppy joints. Luckily the gaps were on the high end under the table. I was able to fill these gaps with composite shims before fastening. The tops the diagonal supports are secured by three (3) deckmate screws through the center table board per support. At the bottom of the diagonal supports, I first installed one (1) deckmate screw though the cross brace into the end of the diagonal support to hold it in place. Then I pre-drilled and installed one (1) 6” TimberLock screw into the end of each diagonal support.


When I was done I ended up with a picnic table which I was happy with. Even more importantly, my wife was surprised and exited by the table. She even like the raised bench height.

My wife was in fact so pleased with it she shared photos of it on Facebook and picked me up a commission to build another picnic table next weekend.

When I build that next table, there are some lessons I’ve learned that will come in handy.

·        The 2x8 legs and cross braces were overkill that only added to the cost and weight of the project. Next time I’ll use all 2x6.
·        The 2x4s used at support under the center of the table top and the benches should be pre-drilled before the screws are installed to prevent splitting.
·        Arbitrarily changing the leg length while I was cutting the stock was a mistake. Though I was able to recover from it by raising the seat height, I wouldn’t recommend playing with these dimensions on the fly. As I’ve learned in the multiple chair making courses and seminars I’ve attended, there are standard dimensions for a reason. If you plan to change them, do it with a mock up, not the final piece.

With lessons learned, this was a fun project and I’m looking forward to making the next one.

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