There are a thousand plans for kids’ picnic tables out there, and 999 of them have A-shaped legs, a rectangular top, and two long seats.
If you’re looking for something more unique, compact, and stable—yet easy to build—check out this one. The footprint is a mere 4 feet by 4 feet, but there’s plenty of room for friends to gather, play, and eat. You can build it in an afternoon, and when you’re done, you’ll be an expert at cutting 45-degree angles.
Tools & Materials:
- 2-by-2 board, 2 feet long (1)
- 2-by-4 board, 6 feet long (1)
- 2-by-6 board, 10 feet long (1)
- 2-by-8 boards, 8 feet long (2)
- 5/4-by-5-1/2-inch board, 12 feet long (1)
- 2-1/2-inch exterior screws (1 pound)
- 3-inch exterior screws (1 pound)
- Construction adhesive (1 tube)
- Circular saw
- Router with 1/4-inch round-over bit
Note: All lumber is treated.
From the 2-by-6:
- 4 legs (A), 29-1/2 inches long, with 45-degree angles
From the 2-by-2:
- 1 post (B), 21 inches long
From the 2-by-8:
- 4 seat braces (C), 10-1/4 inches long, with 45- and 22-1/2-degree angles (cut from the angled-end cutoffs of the seat boards)
- 4 seat boards (D), 39-1/2 inches long, with 45-degree angles
From the 2-by-4:
- 2 top supports (E), 31 inches long
From the 5/4-by-5-1/2 board:
- 1 top board (F), 3-1/2-inches wide by 3-1/2 inches long
- 4 top boards (G), 14-3/4 inches long, with 45-degree angles
- 4 top boards (H), 26-1/4 inches long, with 45-degree angles
Let’s Build It
We used treated lumber for the framework, legs, and seats because of its low cost and high strength. If you use treated wood for the table top, cover it with a tablecloth when food is served, just to play it safe. Another option is to use composite, cedar, or other exterior wood for the top boards.
1. Cut the four legs (A) from the 2-by-6 board. Take your time to accurately lay out and cut one leg, then use that as a pattern for the other three. Lay the post (B) flat on your work surface, and secure two opposing legs to the top using 3-inch screws.
2. Stand this assembly up, and install the other two legs using 3-inch screws to create a pyramid shape.
3. Cut the four seat boards (D) from the 2-by-8 boards to the dimensions on the cut list, and set them aside. Use the angled-end cutoffs from the seat boards to create the four seat braces (C). Take the cutoffs and make a 22-1/2-degree cut to the 90-degree ends of the cutoffs (see section C of illustration). Make layout marks 12-1/2 inches from the tops of the legs, then secure the braces below these marks using construction adhesive and 3-inch screws driven in from both the top and bottom.
4. Position the seat boards (D), arranging them so they create a square and the ends are centered on the seat braces. You’ll need to tweak the leg positions a little to get the ends of the seat boards to align correctly. When everything fits right, pre-drill holes in the ends of the seat boards, and screw the boards down using 3-inch screws.
5. Cut the two top supports (E) from the 2-by-4 board to length. Mark the centers of the supports, then measure 1-3/4 inches in each direction to establish a pair of lines 3-1/2 inches apart (the width of a 2-by-4). Set your saw to cut 3/4-inch deep, then make a series of cuts spaced about 1/2 inch apart. Use your chisel to snap out these “fingers.” Then use the chisel, lying flat, to smooth the bottoms of the dadoes. Slide a scrap 1-by-4 into the dadoes to test the width and depth; it should nestle right into the space.
6. Center one of the top supports, dado side up, over the legs, and screw it in place with 3-inch screws. Then secure the other one, dado side down. Your “X” should have a flat surface.
7. Cut the nine top boards (F, G, H) to the correct lengths and angles per the cut list. Set them in place to check for fit, then pre-drill holes, and screw the boards into place with 2-1/2-inch screws.
8. Trace around paint cans to establish the rounded corners of the top and seats, cut the curves using a jigsaw, then soften the edges using a router with a 1/4-inch round-over bit.
9. Finally, use a handsaw or jigsaw to cut off the lower portion of the center post (B), so it isn’t in the way.
10. Apply a coat of exterior stain or clear finish, and break out the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The Growing Problem of Big Miters (and a Fresh Solution)
The seats and top boards both have 45-degree angle cuts. As the wood dries, these angles tend to become 46-degree (or greater) angles. The angle cuts on the legs don’t pose problems because they just sit there. But noticeable gaps might appear at the top and seat joints. There are only two ways to minimize the problem: 1) Use dry lumber (tough, because most treated lumber is “wet” when you buy it), or 2) After a year, remove the boards, recut the ends, then reinstall them upside down. It does mean breaking out the stain again, but this will give you tighter joints and a fresh surface to sit and eat on.
Printed with permission from Building Unique and Useful Kids’ Furniture by Spike Carlsen, published by Linden Publishing.