Building a picnic table

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Hardware    by: ITC

Building a picnic table is a hefty project. Here are some tips that will help you to build something both you and your family can enjoy.

Prep tips:

1) Placement.

Stand in the area where you think you will be placing the picnic table and think about which size and shape will work best with your yard or patio and your family size. A family of four will need a different table than a family of six.

2) Size and shape.

Do you want the normal rectangular table or do you want an octagon shape? How much sun does the space get and do you need to design a table that can hold an umbrella for shade? Will you be using your outdoor eating area for entertaining? How do you plan on accommodating guests?

3) Find a design or create one.

There are many very intricate start-to-finish details of building a picnic table but once you know the size and shape you want, you can hit the design books. Don’t forget about the internet. There are several designs available online.

If your space and family need something more creative than what is available in design books, you can try designing your own. However, review various professionally designed tables to ensure you are incorporating all the necessary elements.

Construction tips:

1) Cedar is an excellent wood for use outdoors. It is not just for closets. The oil inside cedar helps it stand up to the elements and the wood is beautiful with a nice even grain. If you include some pieces of aromatic cedar, you will also experience built-in pest control.

2) Lumber. Some designs call for the table to be made out of 2×4 pieces of lumber. 2X4 pieces of lumber work well for the support structure but 2X6 pieces seem to work better for the top and/or seating. Do not use anything smaller than 2X4.

3) Work outside. Unless you have a very large workshop, you may want to consider working on this project outside. You will need a good amount of space for cutting the long pieces of wood and for assembly. Make sure you check your weather report before beginning.

4) Use decking screws for the top and carriage bolts for the supports. Some designs call for nails to be used on the top and seating. Screws, however, work better in the event a board should get damaged and need to be replaced.

5) Paint, stain or varnish. Even beautiful cedar needs a protective coat. Most paints and stains, even outdoor ones, will fade with sun exposure. Using a varnish that will bring out the natural beauty of the wood will work better. Make sure you pick a tough varnish that can stand up to the elements and apply it properly. Marine varnish, sometimes called spar varnish, is an excellent choice for a picnic table.

If the varnish you use contains linseed oil, make sure you properly dispose of any soaked rags to avoid potential problems. As linseed oil dries, it oxidizes. As it oxidizes, it will generate heat and may cause wadded rags and towels to spontaneously combust.

As always, use diligence when dealing with any power tools. Always follow proper safety procedures including eye protection and hearing protection. If you properly build your own picnic table, it should outlast commercially available tables by years.

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