build a picnic table

how to make picnic tables

No cottage or cabin should be without one or more picnic tables and few homes in cities should be without one either. Not only for eating your meals outside, but a picnic table can be used for a zillion other things as well; I often use mine as a sawhorse. The last one I made cost me about C$60 in materials plus a few hours.

Detailed plans for making a picnic table

NOTE: the proper address for this page now is:

To make this simple but sturdy picnic table, you will need:

bolts for picnic table - 8 Carriage bolts: 3 1/2" x 3/8" with washers, lock-washers and nuts (and a wrench to fit)
- nails: 16 of 2.5" length (one on each side of each of the 8 bolts)
- nails: 8 of 3.5" length for the 2 braces under the picnic table top
- nails: 54 of the 3.5" length, UNLESS you are going to use screws for the picnic table top; not a bad idea
- screws: 24 with length of 3" for the seats (that's known as an #8 x 3" screw) (54 more if you are not using nails)
- 2 x 4 lumber: pressure treated: 4 pieces 40" long
- 2 x 4 lumber: if you buy 10 pieces 12' long, you will waste very little
- 2 "C' clamps
- sandpaper and/or a sanding block
- stain or paint
- carpenter's square, measuring tape, saw, hammer, pencil, drill with 3/8" and 1/8" bits, scraps of lumber
- 2 long pieces scrap lumber; approximately 6 feet long
- some way to measure angles, e.g. a protractor. If you don't have anything, go to the very bottom of this page for the 2 angles you will need.

Cutting the pieces of 2 x 4 to proper lengths:

(the following diagrams are not to scale, nor are the angles necessarily correct.)

A. Seats: 6 pieces, 6' long (pick the best pieces, to avoid slivers in your backside) square ends.

B. Picnic Table Top: 9 pieces, 6' long (pick "nice" pieces) square ends.

picnic table C. Supports for the picnic table top: 3 pieces @ 32.5" long. Cut these 3 from one of the 12-footers, angle the ends; the angles here are not important; don't make them "too sharp."

picnictable D. Braces under the picnic table top: 2 pieces @ 30 3/4" long. Cut these 2 pieces out of the left-over 6-foot piece; angle the ends like this; the pointed ends are 65 degrees.

picnic table E. Seat supports: 2 pieces 56" long: (Out of one 12-foot piece, cut one of these and 2 of the legs). Here too, the angles are not important.

picnictable F. Legs: 4 pieces, PRESSURE-TREATED 2 x 4, 40" long. The sharp points here are 54 degrees.

Putting your Picnic Table together:

make your own picnic 

Before you start, sand the ends of every piece; it is impossible to do properly after construction. Also sand any other rough spots. Here are your pieces at this point.

make your own picnic 

1. Lay down the 3 "table-top-supports" and lay one of the 6-foot table-top pieces in the exact middle, make sure everything is square and nail the 6-footer in place onto the 3 supports. The table-top should hang over the end supports by 7.5". Note that I laid a piece of scrap plastic on the concrete driveway, to protect the lumber from serious scratches gouges. At this point, it should look like this. The 2 pieces laying alongside are simply there to help square things up.

make your own picnic table

This done, add the 8 remaining 6-footers to your table-top. Use spacers between them; anything about 1/8" thick will be fine. Make sure the ends of the table are even. Make sure you use nice pieces on the sides of the table; the edge against which your beer-belly will rub! ALSO, note the the ends of the 3 table top supports are prone to split if you are using nails. To avoid this, it might be wise to drill holes for the nails nearest the ends of these supports. It will also help if you stagger the nails like this.

make your own picnic table

There should be very little (prox 1/4") of overhang, where the outside 6-footers sit on the ends of the 3 supports, like this:

make your own picnic table

2. Turn the table-top upside-down. Lay 2 of the legs on a flat surface and nail a long piece of scrap lumber across the bottoms of the legs such that these leg-bottoms are 58" apart at the widest part, that is, the OUTside measurement, or from toe to toe. Repeat with the other two legs.

make your own picnic table

3. Set one of the leg-assemblies onto the upside-down table-top so that the tops of the legs do not touch the center 6-footer and also miss approx 1/2 inch of the 6-footers next to it; then clamp the two legs to the table-top-support with the C clamps; it should now look like this.

make your own picnic table

Now make sure that this is square. The distance from the surface on which you are working to the bottom of the scrap lumber across the top of the leg-bottoms should be 31 1/4" like this: (table is UPSIDE-DOWN here)

make your own picnic table

When it is square, drill holes through the leg and table top support, insert the 3/8" bolts and tighten them. Leave the scrap lumber attached to the legs for now. It should now look like this.

make your own picnic table

4. Attach the two 56" seat supports on the OUTside of the legs. The distance from the flat working surface (i.e. from the top surface of the table) to the top of the seat supports is 14 1/2": (table is still upside-down here) When you have the seat supports in place, fasten them with bolts. Repeat on the other side of the table. Still leave the scrap pieces of lumber attached for now. You are getting close.........!

make your own picnic table

5. Attach the two supports from the seat supports to the middle table-top-support. Put them so that their tops touch the middle of the 6-footer in the table-top; one on each side of that 6-footer; that is, offset so that we can nail THROUGH the middle table-top-support, INTO each of these two braces.

Nail these two braces into place with two 3 1/2" nails at each end. Then remove the 2 long pieces of scrap lumber from the bottoms of the legs.

6. Now turn the table over so it is right-side up. Position the six 6-footers in place for the 2 seats. The ends of them should extend beyond the seat supports by about 7 1/2 inches. The inside one should be up against the legs and the outside one should be flush with the ends of the seat supports. Fasten them with screws, drilling for each screw. This should prevent the seat-supports from splitting.

7. You have 8 bolts holding the legs in place. Put 2 of the 2.5" nails around each of the bolts; this way if the bolts are a wee bit loose, the table-top will still be solid.

8. Lastly, add the stain or paint of your choice and enjoy the table.

Here, for those who don't have an angle-measuring device such as a protractor, are the 2 angles:



Now you will find that you want to move that table around your yard, around the lawn or the cottage and it is awkward if not impossible for one person to do that........... until now. With VERY LITTLE EFFORT you can make my Table Mover with which ONE PERSON can move that table with very little effort, using only ONE HAND. Here it is. You might want to re-design it, so that the wheels are more toward the center of the table, making it lighter to lift. If you do, I'd love to hear about it.

I hope yours turned out well, please do NOT email me any pictures; if I am away in the bush, "Stick-ing" then they tend to fill my email-box so that important mail bounces back to the sender. Thank you.

A BIT LATER: I did re-design the table-mover and made a tiny model. Right now I'm still looking for two wheels for it; I want wheels about 12 inches in diameter.

Picnic Table Mover

If you want a protractor, you can enlarge this one and print it out:


I've had quite a few "Thank you" emails from people who appreciated this site.

On July 18, 2011, Chris D. wrote:

Thanks for the great picnic table plans!
This was my first carpentry project in my life. I am the definition of a novice. Literally, I bought my first circular saw (first time I used a circular saw too) for this project and it turned out great!
This table is simple, sturdy and CHEAP! I am so satisfied with this project that I want to build another!
We recycled our kids' Step 2, plastic picnic table last week and my wife told me that we needed to buy a new picnic table. I told her I was going to build one and she didn't believe me. Once I had the legs on, my wife came outside and was amazed at how it was coming together! We sat at it yesterday evening together and we really enjoyed our company and our backyard thanks to this table!
I made slight modification in that I moved the center table-top support over to one side by about 2 inches so I could put an umbrella hole in the middle of the table. That changed the brace measurements a bit but it was fine.
Also, I used 3" construction screws for the entire project, which was easier for me too.
The seat support and seat instructions were a little unclear but they were so intuitive that you really didn't need them.
It might be interesting to try and build one with 12 footers for a super-long version!
Thanks again!
Chris D.
San Antonio, Texas

This one came from IRAQ!

FROM : SGT Osborne, Scott
I am deployed to IRAQ right now and my maintenance team and I love to grill food. We made a grill out of a 25 gal. can, some shelving and a humvee bumper. But we needed a picnic table and thanks to your instructions now we have all we need to grill and have a place where we can eat and play some spades. I really appreciate you posting the instructions on here instead of having to pay for them like all the other sites I found. THANKS

Here is one from John Kurz:

"I would like to thank you for making this available. I searched extensively for a picnic table, and came to the conclusion that nobody locally actually sells a wood picnic table. After looking at many plans from the net I realized that many were overcomplicated, and quite a few wouldn't make it to my 7 year old's next birthday.
I was a little concerned about using 2X4 instead of 2X6. I am now amazed at how sturdy it is. I ended up using all pressure treated lumber to build it, and at a total cost of $100 I now have a nicer table than I could purchase at any cost. Once I decided to do it, the whole project was finished in 4 hours using nothing more than a circular saw, cordless drill, tape measure, and framing square. I also used screws on everything. I expect that it will most likely outlast my house

One addition I made was to take 2 solar powered walkway lights, cut down the shafts, and screw them to the center of the table 18" in from each end. ($9/pair at Big Lots) I now have a nicely illuminated table that will survive my kids.

I have saved the article, and I have no doubt that I will build many more of these.

As for my comments on this design - I am a CNC machinist by trade, and a perfectionist by nature. I regularly make recommendations for changes to engineers who are responsible for multi-million dollar parts equipment. The only improvement I can see to be made on this table design is to leave the table top & seat boards 1/2" long and trim the ends* with a straightedge after assembly. Aside from that, it is perfection in many ways - simplicity, ease of assembly, and function.

A big thanks for a great addition to my back yard.
John Kuntz"

* John was good enough to expand on this comment by adding:

"After the table was fully assembled and flipped over, I clamped a straightedge down to put the circular saw roughly 1/4" in from the end and cut across both ends of the table top - This gives a nice even end cut. They can be lined up close while assembling, but there is no way to get them all exactly even unless they are cut together while attached."

I can see only one minor problem with that, John; if you do that, you can no longer use a belt sander to sand the ends of the 2x4's all the way around; top and bottom no problem but sides would be impossible."

Will Osborn was good enough to make this excellent point:

"I wouldn't advise the use of pressure-treated wood to make an eating surface that kids will use. I'm not a CNC machinist, and certainly not a perfectionist, but I am a chemist. Pressure-treating wood often involves the use of toxic chemicals that you might not want on an eating surface. To make the table top real nice, use redwood instead (about 10x more $ than pine though)."

THANK you, Will."

Personally, on one of these tables, I made the LEGS ONLY with pressure - treated lumber because they sit in the damp grass all the time. -ken

And then my friend Jim Groelke was good enough to share this with us all:

Just a comment about the safety of pressure treated wood -- at the end of 2004 they started using a new preservative with none of the carcinogenic properties of the old CCA treated lumber. The new pressure treated lumber is ACQ, or even a newer variety MCQ, and that is what is being sold to the homeowner/diyers. Just thought I'd pass that along. Good plans!

On April 15, 2007, Steve in Salem, Oregon wrote:

Just wanted to say "Thanks" for posting your picnic table instructions. Built one for my youngest son and his family yesterday, Might even get invited over for a BBQ now. This was my first picnic table and it went quite well. I used 2 x 6's instead of 2 x 4's, but that just required some minor adjustments. Great instructions, Thanks again for taking the time. Steve, Salem, Oregon

On January 1, 2006, Greg Davis in Texas wrote:

Thanks for the Picnic table instructions. Very easy to understand. Made a great project for my stepson and me to do together over the holidays. Well, everything came out fine. I can't see any bugs. Only a suggestion to clarify in the materials list, the option of 2x4's and the option of nails or screws. We successfully put it together in two evenings, with no major arguments!! I don't know if you ever worked with a teenager with attitude, but believe me, it's an accomplishment."

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