How do I Build a Picnic Table?

Henry Gaudet

It doesn’t take a master carpenter to build a picnic table. With a simple design, quality materials and the right tools, building a simple A-frame picnic table is a straightforward process. Quality, pre-assembled tables tend to be expensive, and flat-pack kits often use cheap, lightweight materials, leading many people to choose to build a picnic table for the best value. To build a picnic table, you will need a good design, the right tools, the proper construction materials and some ability to be handy with tools.

A picnic table can be used to eat meals outside in warm weather.
A picnic table can be used to eat meals outside in warm weather.

Before purchasing the lumber, you will need a plan to build a picnic table. The traditional A-frame picnic table with attached benches probably is the simplest. You can design your own table if you like, but a few seconds with an Internet search engine will reveal several free picnic table designs. These A-frame plans usually look quite similar, with a typical design used for different dimensions. After you select the size you want, you are ready to build a picnic table.

Most picnic tables will call for galvanized nails, which have a protective zinc coating.
Most picnic tables will call for galvanized nails, which have a protective zinc coating.

Most table designs call for 2x4 boards for picnic table construction. Lighter boards might not stand up to the elements and generally are not recommended. Pressure-treated 2x4 planks are best for sturdy, durable outdoor furniture.

Plans usually call for carriage bolts to hold the picnic table together. Carriage bolts are long, with a round head and a small, square neck. They come in different sizes, so make sure that you have the proper length bolts with matching nuts and washers. Galvanized nails probably will be needed as well. Consult your design plans for sizes and quantities needed.

Expensive, elaborate tools are not needed to build a picnic table, but some basics are required. A hammer, a saw and a drill likely will be needed for this project, but the most important tools for this job will be your tape measure, a level and a protractor. For a quality table that fits together well, sits level and holds up in the elements, precise measurements will be needed.

Planks used to make the seats and tabletop will be cut to the same length. These boards are set side by side and held together by crosspieces in the center and at either end. Crosspieces are set down first before laying the planks and hammering or screwing them in place.

The most difficult portion of the project is the legs. Both ends of the supports will have to be cut at a precise angle. Exact measurements and angles vary from one design to the next. Some legs meet in the middle of the table, and others sit farther out. Follow the plans precisely, double-checking your measurements before cutting.

Supports are fastened to the tabletop and seats by the carriage bolts. After the washers and nuts are tight, the table construction is complete. After sanding, the table can be stained, painted or finished as desired for waterproofing.

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