Build a Picnic Table from Five Easy Pieces

This basic picnic table design calls for five cutting patterns only, making it low-cost and easy to build.

| July/August 1983

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    The five patterns: deck plank (cut 9), leg (4), top support (2), brace (2), and bench support (2).
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    This picnic table is low-cost and easy to build, requiring only 5 cutting patterns.

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We realize that not everyone has the time or the facilities to construct the "polygonal picnicker" described in Build a Hexagon Picnic Table. Some folks may just want to build a picnic table that is low-cost and easy to make. Ironically, we were faced with a similar situation ourselves last summer when we needed to build a veritable fleet of utilitarian dining structures for use by the folks who camp out at the Eco-Village. Since we were building so many tables, no one managed to keep close track of the number, but it looks to have been over 40! Because the tables had to stand up to use by thousands of visitors, we were looking for durability, simple design, and low cost. After kicking around a few ideas, the crew out at the Eco-Village came up with an "economy model" winner that was easy to put together and required only five different cutting patterns. Judging by their appearance halfway through the second season of use, we can safely say our platoon of $18 specials has filled the endurance bill quite well. 

If you're interested in trying your hand at this nifty little table, you'll need to gather these few materials before getting started: four pressure treated 2×4×8' boards, three 1×6×12' boards, four 3/8"×3-1/4" carriage bolts with washers and nuts, and approximately one pound of 8d galvanized nails (get some varnish, too, if you want to coat the tabletop). The treated 2×4's will cost a little more than untreated ones do, but because they form the crucial structural supports, that money will be well spent. The 1×6's that form the bench and tabletop, though, should be conventional lumber, since food may come into direct contact with those surface boards, and the chemicals used to pressure-treat lumber are toxic. 

To begin, saw the 1×6 planks into nine 48" lengths. Next, following the cutting diagrams, saw out one bench support and one leg from each of two 2×4's. Cut out a leg, a top support, and a brace from each of the remaining two 2×4's. 

Start the actual construction by assembling the two end frames. Make each four-piece unit by positioning a tabletop support and a bench support beneath two legs, as shown in the accompanying illustration, and nail the components together. As you work, take care not to nail through the centers of the leg/bench support junctions, as your next step will be to drill holes at these spots, attaching the 3/8" carriage bolts and nuts. Do this, placing the washers and nuts on the undersides of the joints (for the sake of appearance). 

Stand up the two frame ends, separated by a distance of 33 inches, and connect their top supports by nailing a 1×6 across their centers. Next, nail another plank along the outer edge of each bench support. These decking boards should protrude about 6 inches beyond their bracers. Now, attach two planks flush with the ends of the top supports, and then finish the eating surface by centering a board in each of the two remaining spaces. Nail the last two 1×6's next to the existing bench boards (leaving a gap of about 1/4 inch between adjacent bench planks). Then carefully turn the unit upside down and attach the two 45° braces as shown. 

There it is: Your picnic table is complete! It can be used as is, or be covered with a durable, water-resistant coating such as polyurethane (or any of the various marine varnishes) to give you years of pleasurable outdoor use. 

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