When we were getting our yard ready for spring, we took a trip to our local landscaping center to look at their plants.
On their patio, they had an array of beautiful outdoor furniture. Eileen sat down at a picnic table she liked, looked at the price (a very high $450), and said to me, “I bet you could make this.”
I nodded, thinking about all of the creative things Eileen does in the yard with our son, like having backyard picnics, bubble-making, and painting.
Having a picnic table in the middle of the backyard would be perfect.
Plus, I’m always up for a good woodworking project.
Researching Picnic Table Builds
I did some research online for how to build a picnic table and ended up choosing the first one that came up – PopularMechanics.com.
It seemed simple to construct and the design plans were of a high caliber. The best part was that this design called for using composite decking for the tabletop and seats.
This eliminated any concerns I had about having to use pressure-treated wood in close proximity to foods, or having to spend time staining or sealing the surface.
Cleaning the composite decking would be a cinch too. It was a little more expensive than using real wood, but it was worth it.
The rest of the table (legs and supports) would be regular pressure-treated wood, so costs would still be low overall.
The specifics of the construction are outlines pretty well in the source website, so I’ll just recap my building experience.
Overall, it was quite a fun project to work on, and best of all, I accomplished it all on a Saturday (albeit a long Saturday from morning to night).
The Material Order
I printed out the materials list from the website, and then I placed order on Lowes website for in-store pickup.
I normally don’t like doing store pickup for lumber because you are at the mercy of whatever employee is selecting your wood. This usually means a random assortment of quality, with crowning knotty boards.
However, I found an awesome deal on eBay for multiple $15 off $50 Lowes coupons, and they were valid online only. Using an Excel spreadsheet, I distributed all the materials across 4 separate orders to total just over $50 each.
Then I purchased 4 of the coupons on eBay for a mere $4 (coupon codes were emailed to me immediately after purchase) and placed four Lowes store pickup orders. Just $4 on eBay saved me $60. Not bad! The Lowes guys didn’t mind when I went to pick up the order either.
Here’s my car full of wood after the lumber excursion to Lowes (ignore the concrete and the pipes – they are for an upcoming shade sail project):
I did have to get some wood cut in the store. I ordered several 12 ft pieces of composite decking and I knew that wouldn’t fit in my car.
So I had an employee cut them in half for me. Having the store cut your wood is convenient, but it’s not always worth it.
Their cuts aren’t that accurate, and sometimes you have to wait a while to get help.
Additionally, there seems to be a trend starting in stores to charge you for too many cuts.
Always thinking of how I can save money, I brought a measuring tape and a handsaw in case I decided to cut it myself in the parking lot.
As it turned out, a thunderstorm appeared out of the blue when I got to Lowes, so that forced my hand and I had to have them cut it for me. They usually charge 75 cents for the cuts, but they waived it.
How to Build a Picnic Table
When I got home, I spent an hour cutting all the wood according to the plans. This hard work resulted in the picture below.
Doesn’t it look like a kit just waiting to be put together?
Next, I put together the legs:
Here comes the tabletop support:
Next up was the pair of seat supports:
Here are the five pieces of the project that would soon come together to form the table’s skeleton:
I clamped some of the pieces together and project was now three dimensional:
With the seat supports attached, it was starting to look like a table now:
Here I used a diagonal support beam to prevent the legs from shifting inwards:
Here I had to reinforce the structure with some 3.5″ galvanized carriage bolts to support the weight of people and tabletop loads:
It wasn’t too early to take the DIY picnic table for a test drive. Here I am taking a break from the work:
Finally, the crowning moment of the project came when I attached the composite decking.
At first, I used regular deck screws, and without a countersink bit, they did not look good after the head penetrated the wood.
Unlike real wood that compresses under the screw head, the composite material made a really ugly blemish on the surface.
After trial and error, I found the countersink bit did a wonderful job carving out a notch for the screws.
I used my router and a round-over bit to smooth/bevel the edges of the deck wood:
Finally I completed the DIY picnic table. Eileen helped me move it into the back yard. It was extremely heavy, but that was just a testament to its quality.
Here’s what the table looks like in its element (notice our garden planter and rain barrel in the background).
The total cost of this professional quality DIY picnic table ran us $140, but that’s after a $60 discount via the $4 eBay coupons.
I estimate a pre-built table of this quality would have cost a few hundred dollars in the store and even more at the landscaping stores!
The table is already getting a lot of use and is sure to be a hit at our next BBQ.