Build a Hexagon Picnic Table

Build a six-sided picnic table with individual seats in this combined woodworking and metalworking project.


| July/August 1983



082-134-01

This hexagonal picnic table allows each person access to the full table, as well as an easier time of sitting down and getting up.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

One of the most welcome new attractions at the Eco-Village is a natural foods restaurant, which features homemade breads, soups, salads, and other wholesome fare. In keeping with the rustic surroundings, patrons are seated at MOTHER's own homebuilt "picnic" tables. These sit-down accommodations are, however, a little out of the ordinary. Indeed, we think you'll agree with us that the polygonal seaters represent the height of the craftsman's art. 

To suit the size of your own family or circle of friends, you can build a table similar to the one shown here, having as few as two stools or as many as you could wish for. We've built two-, three-, four-, five-, and six-position units, and each is stable when any combination of the seats is occupied. Whatever the number, every diner has a fixed perch—undisturbed by the comings and goings of other people at the table—and faces a sizable square-edged surface (for convenient eating and elbow propping). 

In addition, our quasi-circular tables take up less space in our restaurant than would conventional models and allow us to set up the floor plan for less regimented traffic patterns than are usual. In other words, we find the tables to be unique and practical, as well as attractive. 

Woodwork and Metalwork 

Though this shop project could be divided into separate metalworking and woodworking stages, you'll make the best use of your time by combining the different tasks into a well-organized series of steps. Thus, you can turn to cutting and welding steel while glue is drying, and then get back to "wood butchering" as the metal cools. In any event, we estimate that it will require about 40 hours to complete the undertaking, using the power tools we've included in the accompanying list. Now here's how to duplicate the Eco-Village designs for your own al fresco dining! 

Step 1: Cut the Tabletop Pieces

Form the six inner wood triangles by making 30° cuts across a pine 2 × 4 on a radial-arm or table saw. This may demand some practice, since even very small cutting errors will show up dramatically when you try to fit the six pieces together. 

Once you're satisfied with the fit, glue the triangles together to form a hexagon, wrap a strand of wire around the assembly, and twist the ends of the wire with a pair of pliers to clamp the six blocks together firmly. Set this aside to dry overnight. 

Step 2: Cut the Box Tubing

While that inner hexagon is curing, cut the 1-1/2" box tubing into six 81-1/2" lengths, designating the location of the six bends on each section to match the drawing. Then set your sliding T-bevel to a 67-1/2° angle (using a protractor to position its blade) and mark across the 1-1/2" tubing at each bend to form two intersecting diagonal cuts with a total included angle of 45°. 

These marks describe notches that must be removed from the steel to allow it to bend. Don't cut all the way through the metal, though. Just use a power hacksaw to cut down to the flat, opposite side, so that the other 1-1/2" face can become a hinge for the bend. Now, go ahead and curve the tubes to the shape shown. 

Step 3: Welding the Legs

Set up a roughly right-angled jig on the top of your welding table, using heavy bars held down by C-clamps. (Actually, the jig should be positioned at about a 95° angle—to include two bends—because the joints will draw together somewhat as they cool after being welded.) Set one of the bent sections in the device and weld along the three open sides of one corner. Then wait until this first joint has cooled, so that you can check the finished angle and adjust the jig accordingly for future welds. We may sound overly fussy on this point, but when you consider that a mere slip of 5° on each of six inside joints results in a total of 30° in error…well, you can see that this caution is crucial to insuring that the legs are square to the floor and to the tabletop! 

When you're certain that the jig is producing accurate 90° corners, you can go on to weld up all the remaining joints on the six legs, grinding them afterward to remove burrs. 

Step 4: Continuing the Tabletop

Returning to the wooden tabletop, cut out the second set of 2 × 4's (again, at a 30° angle), using the inner hexagon for the short-side measurement on each board. Throughout this project, you should cut pieces—whether wood or steel—to fit, rather than rigidly relying on the drawings. You'll be able to glue a total of only four new, opposite-facing ring boards at a time since they must be cinched across the top with bar clamps. One set of clamps can be positioned beneath the tabletop, with another going across the upper surface. (We tried screwing each new ring to the hexagonal center, but that didn't work very well.)  

At most, you'll be able to complete one new ring per day—because of the hour needed for the glue to cure—so it will take a total of seven days for the tabletop to attain its full width. The rest of the time you can devote to making the seats and the other metal parts. 

Step 5: Weld the Seat Gussets to the Seat Posts

Using your hacksaw, cut out twelve 4" right isosceles triangles from the 11-gauge sheet metal. Then weld these seat gussets to the insides of the seat posts in accordance with the full-table drawing. When the welds are cool, remove any burrs, and grind the top of each seat post to a 5° angle that slopes away from the center. 

Step 6: Seat Brackets

Bend each of the six 10" × 12" sheet-metal seat brackets up 10° across the center of its 12" side to form a 170° angle. (We found that a seat with this configuration provides thigh support and is far more comfortable than the conventional flatboard rest.) With that done, you can drill eight 9/32" holes 1-1/8 inches in from the edges of the bracket, in the pattern shown in the drawing. 

Now, position each seat bracket with one 10" edge 1-3/4 inches away from the inside lip of the seat post, and tack the sheet metal to the box tube, on the inner contact surface only. 





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