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How to make a picnic table for two

By October 9, 2013 building, design, diy, home, projects, video 4 Comments

Last week, my wife went to lunch with a friend and sent me a picture from the restaurant of a two person picnic table. Our friend wanted one for her backyard, and while it’s not really a unique design, I’d never actually seen a picnic table made for only two people. This project is pretty straight forward, and could really be accomplished with only a circular saw and a power drill, even though I used a router and sander to just soften the corners. Here’s what you’ll need

Supplies:

  • 9 – pressure treated 8′  2×6″
  • 1 – pressure treated 8′  2×2″
  • box of 2 1/2″ decking screws

Tools:

The Table Top

I started out by cutting down the 2×6 pieces for the top (5) and the two seats (4) to 36″. This is where you can get extra credit points for using a router to round over the  edges of these pieces, then hit them with a sander. It’s not necessary, but these are the surfaces where your arms will rest and your seat will.. well, sit.

Not necessary, but routing and sanding the edges make it MUCH nicer.

Not necessary, but routing and sanding the edges make it MUCH nicer.

Next up, cut down 2 pieces of the 2×2 to around 26″. I say around 26″, because you need to lay out the pieces for the table top and figure out how much space you want between them.  You’ll need at least a little gap, but some people might want up to a 1/2″. So, lay them out, measure the entire width and then cut your 2×2 pieces about 4″ shorter. These two pieces of 2×2 also need opposing angles cut on the ends. The angle is really personal preference, but I went with 30°.

The angle is up to you, but 30 degrees seemed nice at the time.

The angle is up to you, but 30 degrees seemed nice at the time.

Now you’re ready to lay your top pieces face down and attach the 2×2’s. After aligning the edges of the top pieces, make a mark on each piece at 3″ in from the edge. This will be your reference line to keep your 2×2 straight. Also, make a mark for the center (width) of the middle 2×6, and a mark at the center (length) of your 2×2’s. Start by using those center marks to line up the middle 2×6 and the 2×2. Get the two pieces completely perpendicular, then attach them with 2 screws.

Start in the center and use spacers (pencils are about 1/4")

Start in the center and use spacers (pencils are about 1/4″)

Once the middle is attached, you can work out on each side. I used carpenter pencils as my spacer (they’re about 1/4″). Set the pencils on each side of the 2×2, then set the next 2×6 . Line up the outside edges of the 2×6, attach with 2 screws and repeat for each piece. Flip the table top around and repeat the steps for the other 2×2.

Repeat for the other side and you'll have a very solid table top.

Repeat for the other side and you’ll have a very solid table top.

The Legs

You’re ready to cut and attach the legs. Each leg is a 2×6 with matching 30° angles cut on each end.  I cut the angle on one end, then measured down 34 5/8″ and made the matching cut at that point. Repeat for all 4 legs, and be sure not to cut one of them 2 inches short, like I did. It’s frustrating and a waste of wood :)

I decided to set the inner most point of each leg at the inner most edge of the second board from each side (what a confusing sentence). But you can move them based on how much room you want between the front of the seat and the edge of the table top. To attach them, set the base of the leg in place, along side the 2×2 rail.  Then “toe nail” (start it at an angle) a screw into the tip of the leg, and run it into the table top. This will be enough for it to stay in place while you run screws in connecting the leg and the 2×2. I would suggest at least 2 from each side.

Start with a toe nail to hold the leg in place, then attach from the sides.

Start with a toe nail to hold the leg in place, then attach from the sides.

Seat Supports

Even though the legs are attached, they’re not fully braced, so be careful not to flex them or put weight on them “sideways” yet. You can set the table on it’s side, using some of your 2×6 scrap to prop up the loose ends of the legs. Next you’ll need to cut the seat supports from 2×6. They’re  54 1/2″ in length, with opposing 30° angles on each end. Keep in mind, that they are 54 1/2″ at their WIDEST point.

Don't get ahead of yourself: Cut at OPPOSING ANGLES

Don’t get ahead of yourself: Cut at OPPOSING ANGLES

With the table on it’s side, and supported, you can lay the support across two legs so that the bottom of the support is 11 1/2″ from the bottom of the legs (ground). You’ll need to make sure that the support is centered as well. I did this by trial and error, measuring the overhang on each end, and moving the support back and forth until both overhangs were the same. If I remember correctly, it was about 9 1/2″. Once it’s centered, and leveled (equally distanced from the bottom of each leg) attach the support with at least 4 screws on each leg. Now flip the table over and repeat for the other side.

seatSupports

Use your scrap to support the “feet” while the table is on it’s side.

Bracing

Are you getting excited? it’s starting to look like a table! You’re ready to brace the legs and to do this, you’ll need to a section of 2×6 to about 24″ with opposing 45° cuts on each end. Once you’ve got this piece, you’ll need to cut it in half, long ways. This is more easily done with a table saw, but it’s possible with a circular saw if that’s all you’ve got available. Flip your table over on it’s top and set both pieces in place between the table top and one leg support. Once you have them setting flush, use two screws on each connection point to attach. The legs should be rock solid now (even though they’re still going to get a few more screws)

You CAN split the 2x6 down the center with a circular saw, but a table saw makes it MUCH easier.

You CAN split the 2×6 down the center with a circular saw, but a table saw makes it MUCH easier.

Seats

One last step, adding the seats. You’ve already cut, routed and sanded these, so flip your table over (it should be getting a bit heavy by now).  Set the first 2×6 across the supports and up against the legs. Use the same trial and error approach as earlier to get the seat piece centered (around 5 7/8″ overhang on each side) and screw it into the support with two screws per side. Next, use the same spacer method that you used on the table top. Use the spacer to get the second seat piece in place.   You’ll notice that the second seat piece hangs over on three sides. After centering it, you’ll need to use the “toe nail” method on the outer screw to attach it to the support. I also had some 3″ screws and  used them here since there was plenty of wood depth to go down into.

Make sure to angle the screw inwards, for the outside seat attachment.

Make sure to angle the screw inwards, for the outside seat attachment.

Repeat these steps for the other side of the table and one last step! Flip the table over and run a couple screws through the table top, down into the top of the legs, just to make sure they’re good and strong. YOU’RE DONE! That wasn’t that tough, huh?

My two oldest stinkers enjoying the table :)

My two oldest stinkers enjoying the table :)

This project cost me under $60 and only took about 3 1/2 hours! Here are some free plans so you can get to building your own! The only real difference between this and a full size picnic table is the width, so you could easily make it seat 4 or 6 without much change. Let me know your comments and ideas in the comments, and if you end up building one, PLEASE send me a picture of it!!

Here’s a time-lapse of my build! (Had some technical issues, but, it is what it is.)

  • https://www.facebook.com/zac.parker.14 Zac Parker

    Nice job, Bob! One thing I see is what looks like some slight splitting on the 2×2 braces under the table top, but it’s kind of hard to tell if it’s actual splitting or just surface chipping. If it’s splitting, one way to avoid that is (I’m sure you already know this, but for anyone who might not) to pre-drill and / or countersink the holes for the screws. It’s a fairly easy thing to do, but it can add some time to the process, and it might not be that necessary for a project like this, but it (pre-drilling) really helps when driving screws into smaller pieces and knots, and countersinking is both aesthetically pleasing and functional, as it can prevent screw heads from sticking out and snagging clothing or skin in some areas. To pre-drill, find a drill bit that’s about the same size as the solid shaft of the screw. An easy way to see if the bit is too big is to hold the bit in front of the screw. If you can NOT see the shaft, but you CAN see the threads, then you have the right size. If you can’t see the screw, the bit is too big, if you can see the shaft behind the bit, then the bit is too small. Use the right size bit to drill a hole into the wood where the screw will go. The hole should be as deep as the screw is long, or just slightly shorter. The idea is to allow the threads to grip the wood, but to have enough space in the hole for the shaft to slide in without causing the wood to expand to the point that it shatters the wood around it. To countersink, find a bit that is just slightly larger in diameter than the head of the screw and use that bit to drill a very shallow hole where the screw will go. 1/8 to 1/4 inch depth is good, I wouldn’t go much deeper than 1/4 inch. The really nice thing about this approach is that once the countersink hole is drilled, your bit will have left a dimple right in the center of the hole for you to then perform the pre-drilling so that the screw will go in easily and you won’t risk snapping off the head or damaging the wood around the countersink. Anyway, that’s just my two cents. :D

    • Bob

      Good eye ! Yeah, there was some splitting there and pre-drilling would have been a great way to avoid that. Usually when wood is really wet (like this treated lumber was) the wood will bend around screws and not split as easily as normal, but in this case it didn’t :)

  • Brannon

    What if I want to make it a 4′ instead of 3’? What exact changes would I need to make.

    • Bob

      I don’t think you’d need to make any structural changes, just lengthen the boards. This same construction would probably be fine up to a 6′ long table. Any longer than that, and you’d want to add supports to the center somewhere.