How to Build an Outdoor Picnic Table - Introduction

A picnic table in a grassy yard.

Everyone enjoys the look and utility of good outdoor furniture. Due to the high cost of buying, many do it yourselfers are making their own custom pieces. These pages will show you the correct way to build an outdoor table in your own workshop. You will be guided step by step, from initial planning to the finished product.


Go through the tools and materials checklist carefully. Know the safety standards for the project. Plan to gather the items that you will be using, and place them where you will be building. The outdoor table is very large, so plan accordingly. If you don't have enough space inside to build it, then assemble it on a driveway or other flat area.

Plan to buy the necessary materials in a size that will produce the number of pieces you will need with the least amount of waste. Add up the total number of board feet, being careful to make sure you group short pieces in a board with long pieces to minimize waste.

Due to corrosion, special care should be taken when selecting materials. Look for hot dipped galvanized fasteners when assembling outdoor furniture. Also for any gluing, look on the label to see if the glue is waterproof. This will keep the furniture sturdy for years.

The design for outdoor furniture is different from in door designs. There is less intricate detail but a higher degree of sturdiness. The cuts are made once, so measure twice and cut carefully leaving no extra length on the ends.

Safety Tips

  • Safety glasses or goggles should be worn whenever power tools are in use and when chiseling, sanding, scraping, or hammering overhead. This is very important if you wear contact lenses.
  • Wear ear protectors when using power tools. Some operate at noise levels that damage hearing.
  • Be careful of loose hair and clothing so that it does not get caught in tools.
  • The proper respirator or face mask should be worn when sanding or sawing or using substances with toxic fumes.
  • Keep blades sharp. A dull blade requires excessive force and can slip which causes accidents.
  • Always use the right tool for the job.
  • Repair or discard tools with cracks in the wooden handles or chips in the metal parts.
  • Don't drill, shape or saw anything that isn't firmly secured.
  • Oily rags are spontaneously combustible. Take care when you store and discard them.
  • Don't abuse your tools.
  • Keep a First Aid Kit on hand.
  • Do not work with tools when you are tired. That's when most accidents occur.
  • Read the owner's manual for all tools and know the proper use of each.
  • Keep tools out of reach of small children.
  • Unplug all power tools when changing settings or parts.

Know Where Your Hands Are At All Times!

Most Common Mistakes

The single most common mistake in any do it yourself project is the failure to read and follow the manufacturer's instructions for any tool or material being used. Other common mistakes include taking the safety measures that are laid out for a project for granted, and poor project planning. Here is a list of hints to successfully complete a project and to do it safely.

  • Follow the "Golden Rule" of measuring: "Measure twice, cut once."
  • Provide yourself plenty of time for each step.
  • Know your plan
  • When finishing the wood, keep dust and dirt away from the cabinet.
  • Follow the instructions on your choice of finish carefully.
  • Drill holes in table legs after you are sure everything is aligned.
  • Always use rustproof fasteners, such as hot dipped galvanized metal.
  • Use a siding nail on top of the table. Their heads are smaller than common nails and will not be as visible. Brass ring shanked boat nails are excellent if available.
  • Be sure to use waterproof glue on the planter box.
  • Be sure to drill pilot holes before driving nails near the end of boards.
  • Be sure your cuts are the specified dimension and cut at the proper angle.
  • Use a jig or a stop block on a table saw to be sure to get several boards cut identically.


To make the table larger, add four inches to the length of the long spokes, add two inches to the length of the short spokes, plus two inches to the length of the planks. Move the legs two inches farther away from the center and the result is an increase of seating by four inches in diameter. Also you will need to increase the number of top planks.

If you increase the length, you will also have to figure out how long each course (or circle) of planks will be. If you are using 3 1/2" wide boards (2 x 4's) the individual planks in each row will be 4 1/4" shorter than the row to the outside, assuming a 1/4" space between rows for drainage.


These are some terms that you need to be familiar with:

  • Miter Cut - Angle cut across the width or thickness of the board.
  • Cleats (or supports) - Small boards that support the seat ends.
  • Gussets - Round pieces of wood that strengthen the center of the spokes.
  • Kerf - Width of the blade.
  • Dowel - Wooden pin used to provide strength and alignment.

Wood Selection

Outdoor furniture needs to be durable and resist rot, decay, and water stain. Three natural heartwoods are preferred for this are redwood, cedar and cypress. These woods contain natural oils that tolerate the weather and both have warm, rich colors. A heartwood is the wood from the center of the tree. The area around the center carries the sap in the tree and is called sap wood.

Another material that is widely used in constructing outdoor furniture is pressure treated wood. This is a less expensive choice than natural rot resistant woods and more readily available. When you make the cuts on this type of wood, a water repellent will need to be applied to the end grain because the pressure treatment only penetrates 1/4" to 1/2" into the wood.

Now that you've read the introduction, you're ready to build! Having your own custom picnic table will be perfect for your next barbecue.

Looking for a picnic table? Compare brands, types and prices with this Tables Buyer's Guide.