Spring is among us already. The smell of fresh cut grass, the sound of birds chirping, and the warmth of the sun shining down. It’s time to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and what better way to do that than by relaxing on the new outdoor furniture you built. Here I will show you how to build a very strong and long lasting 6′ picnic table to go with your comfortable 2×4 benches and 2×4 arm chairs and side table.
Picnic Table Designs
The design I use to make my tables incorporates fasteners that you typically do not see in other picnic tables; Pocket hole screws. The beauty of using these is that everything is secured from below. This means no ugly screw heads showing up on the table surface and sitting surface. It also means no splinters from screw heads and no places for water to pool and accelerate the aging of the wood. The design also calls for a horizontal support running the length of seat. This adds a significant amount of structural strength to the design. Not only does it support the seat better but also aids in preventing lateral movement. For those who are wanting to mass produce tables and sell them this may not be your design. It is geared more towards the person who wants to build a very sturdy high quality table for their use.
This entire build is pretty simple and can be accomplished with minimal tools. You of course need a pocket hole cutter. For this I recommend the Kreg Jig. It is a pretty inexpensive tool that you will find many uses for down the road. You also need some type of saw. Every cut on this project can be completed with a circular saw. I used a miter saw and table saw as I already have the tools but remember these aren’t necessary. An edge guide can be attached to your circular saw for rip cuts (2 rip cuts in this build) and you can use a speed square to make perfect 45° and 90° cuts instead of a miter saw. You also need a drill.
Enough about the tools, lets go get some materials! At the time of this build (March 2013) the materials cost is just under $100 at my local Lowes. That is the cost of building it out of untreated wood and sealing it yourself. For added protection you can buy all pressure treated lumber and not have to seal it. This will cost a little bit more for materials but will require less maintenance down the road. I strongly suggest the treated lumber route. You can shop around and probably find the materials cheaper at a locally owned lumber yard. It’s better to support the local guy anyway. Here is a list of what we will need followed by the quantity:
- 2x10x12′ = 4
- 2x6x10′ = 1
- 2x4x10′ = 1
- 2x4x8′ = 1 (Remember a full 8′ 2×4…not a “stud”)
- 5/16″x3-1/2″ carriage bolt with matching washer, lock washer, and hex nut = 8
- 3″ coated screw = 77 (Commonly sold by the pound. Most packages show an approximate count per package)
- 2-1/2″ coated Kreg screw = 56
- Waterproof glue or construction adhesive
- Water sealer if using untreated lumber (I used Thompson’s Tinted Water Sealer: Honey Gold in the pictures at the end of the video)
How To Build A Picnic Table
With everything back at the shop we can start preparing the wood. I recommend following the cutting diagram to complete all the cuts before any assembly is started. It is sooooooo much easier to build when everything is already cut and waiting on you.
The first sub assembly I like to do is the table top. I use sawhorses in the video but you can easily build this on a concrete floor or something similar. Place three of the table/seat slats side by side with the bad side facing up. We are building the table upside down. The three table braces at 27-1/4″ long are going to be screwed down next. One on both ends and one right in the middle. Make sure when you put the braces on the ends that they are flush with the outside edges. The placement of this piece determines the length of the seat support (which should be 59″)
Glue goes down before these braces and I put 5 screws through the brace and into each table slat. With all three of the braces secured to the table we can work on the leg assemblies.
The legs can be a pain in the behind to assemble sometimes. To aid in assembly I like to use a mobile cart in my shop that is pushed up against a wall. You don’t have to do this but it makes assembly a lot less troublesome. On my wall I have two marks spaced out at 56-3/8″ with another mark in the exact center. This allows me to place the legs flat on the cart and use the wall as if it were the ground and position them so that their outside edges are the appropriate distance from each other. I build quite a few picnic tables so these reference marks are a huge time saver. You don’t have to mark up your walls though. If you choose to do this simply use some masking tape on the wall and mark on the masking tape. When you are done remove the masking tape with no damage to your wall.
With the legs in place I can secure the lower leg rail. I also put a mark on the center of both the lower and upper leg rails. This allows me to use a carpenters square referenced off the center mark on the wall to align the pieces left to right when securing them. The lower leg rail is positioned so that its top surface is 17″ away from the wall. I use a few 2″ brad nails here to hold it steady while I screw it in place with 2 screws along the short diagonals of the intersecting parallelogram (If I just lost you there I explain this better in the video). The upper leg rail is installed next referencing the top surface with the top of the legs and using the center point to line up with the center point in the lower leg rail. This time four screws are used to secure it into the legs. After that we drill the holes along the long diagonal of the intersecting parallelogram to further secure the lower leg rail to each leg (again, explained better in the video).
With both leg assemblies done we can attach them to the table top. Place the legs on top of the table top so that the pocket holes are on the inside. I clamp the legs to the outside top brace here but it’s not 100% necessary. Then secure the legs to the top with the nine pocket hole screws. If you followed the cutting diagram the screw holes should have been cut to put three screws in each 2×10 top piece.
The seat supports will go in next. When cutting the lower leg rail I recommend laying out the position of the seat support as it helps this step tremendously. The seat slat is secured in to the lower leg rail with two pocket hole screws. It may be beneficial to have a helping hand hold the other end while you secure it in place. A couple clamps will do the trick as well. That’s what I used.
Before we get too far we need to add the connecting brace between the table top and leg assembly. These two pieces are cut from a piece of 2×4 material with 45° miters cut vertically on each end. Simply secure them to the top with two screws and to the lower leg rail with two screws. Be careful not to penetrate the top of the table and outside of the leg rail.
With the table turned right side up we can add the final two pieces; The seat boards. These are centered on the seat support rail. I recommend securing the ends via the screw holes in the lower leg rail first. Working from one side to the other can allow the piece to shift slightly as you work your way across. If you are working with non treated lumber than you have to seal it somehow. I chose Thompson’s Water Sealer. It is a great product and hasn’t let me down. Sealing your table is something that should be done every year or two to make it last a lot longer.
Now the most important part. You MUST do this in order to complete the project. You have to stand back, take it all in, and pat yourself on the back. You just built a very strong picnic table for probably half of the price of a lower quality table. Congratulations!
Free Picnic Table Plans
Here is link to a zip file containing five printable diagrams as well as the SketchUp file.
I also made a video showing the assembly processes from start to finish. I hope it helps! Thanks for watching!