You can build a sturdy and good-looking picnic table for about half the cost of ready-made -- a project well worth your time, in savings and enjoyment. Here's what you'll need.
Tools: measuring rule, pencil, carpenters' square, handsaw or power saw, C-clamps; power drill with 3/8-, 7/32-, 7/64-, and 1/4-inch bits; adjustable wrench, hammer, large screwdriver, block plane, belt sander or sanding block.
Materials: 2 × 6 and 2 × 4 redwood stock; 3/8 × 5 1/2-inch (for table) or 1/4 × 5 1/2-inch (for benches) carriage bolts, flat washers, and locknuts; scrap board, 10-penny common nails, masking tape, 5 1/2-inch #12 × 3 flathead brass wood screws, coarse-, medium-, and fine-grit sanding belts or sandpaper.
Time: about 4 to 6 hours for the table; about 2 hours per bench.
The table. Make the picnic table with redwood 2 × 6 and 2 × 4 stock, cut to a standard size. For the leg assemblies at each end of the table, measure and mark two 2 × 6's to a length of 28 1/2 inches, using a carpenters' square to make sure the ends are even. Cut the 2 × 6's as marked with a handsaw or a power saw. Measure and mark four 2 × 4's to a length of 36 inches; cut them as marked. Repeat to cut two 2 × 6's and four 2 × 4's for the other leg assembly.
To put each leg assembly together, lay two 2 × 4's flat on a flat work surface, parallel to each other and about 15 inches apart. Over these cross pieces, at right angles and placed to lie flush with the 2 × 4 ends, set two 2 × 6's for the two legs at that end of the table, forming a square-topped A shape. Set two more 2 × 4's across the 2 × 6 legs, exactly over the first pair of 2 × 4's, to sandwich the legs between two sets of braces. Using a carpenters' square, adjust and square up the assembly carefully, and clamp it firmly together with C-clamps.
At each joint, drill a diagonal pair of 3/8-inch holes through all three boards. Insert a 3/8 × 5 1/2-inch carriage bolt through each hole, place a washer and a locknut on each bolt, and tighten the bolts with an adjustable wrench. Remove the C-clamps.
Repeat the procedure to build the second leg assembly, making sure the bottom cross braces are positioned at exactly the same height as the bottom braces on the first set of legs.
Next, install a 2 × 6 stretcher between the two leg assemblies. Measure, mark, and cut a piece of 2 × 6 to a length of 68 inches. At each end of the board, mark the lengthwise centerline of the board's width. On each leg assembly, mark the center point of each outside bottom 2 × 4 cross piece.
Prop a leg assembly upright, and position one end of the 2 × 6 over the lower cross pieces, with the end of the 2 × 6 flush with the outside face of the cross piece. Align the centering marks and clamp the assembly together firmly. At each end of the stretcher, drill two 3/8-inch holes through the stretcher and through each of the two cross pieces so that there are four holes in each end of the stretcher. Insert a 3/8 × 5 1/2-inch carriage bolt through each hole to hold the stretcher to the 2 × 4; place a washer and a locknut on the end of each bolt. Tighten the bolts with an adjustable wrench and remove the clamps. Maneuver the second leg assembly into position at the opposite end of the stretcher, and attach the stretcher the same way to the bottom cross pieces.
Square up the leg assemblies and align them properly with one another; to keep them in position temporarily, nail a piece of scrap board across each side with 10-penny common nails, close to the top of the leg assemblies. Leave the nails sticking out a little so they'll be easy to remove.
To make the tabletop, cut seven pieces of 2 × 6 to a length of 72 inches. Set the 2 × 6's across the leg assemblies, overhanging the legs by 2 inches at each end of the table, with the ends of the boards exactly flush on both ends. On each end of each board, mark the points where the board lies over the centerlines of the two top cross pieces, so you'll know where to drill holes for the assembly screws. Then remove the 2 × 6's for individual attachment.
Set the first 2 × 6 across the leg assemblies, overhanging the legs at each end about 2 inches and with its long edge extending about 1/2 inch past the outside of the leg assembly. Align the board carefully, straight across the leg assemblies, and clamp it into place or hold it firmly. At each marked line where the end of the board lies above a cross piece, drill two 7/64-inch holes through the plank into the cross pieces below it, to a depth of about 2 1/2 inches; wrap a scrap of masking tape around the drill bit to mark the proper depth point. Change to a 7/32-inch bit and redrill the holes to a depth of 1 1/2 inches. Each end of the plank should have four holes in it, two through each cross piece. To secure the 2 × 6 in place, drive a 5 1/2-inch #12 × 3 flathead brass wood screw into each of the eight predrilled holes, setting the screws until the heads are just flush with the surface.
To complete the table, set the remaining six planks across the leg assemblies and adjust them for uniform spacing between planks, with the ends exactly flush and the last board overhanging the leg assembly about 1/2 inch. Drill and screw down each plank successively.
If desired, use a block plane to slightly bevel all the exposed corners and edges of the table; slightly round all exposed edges with a belt sander and coarse-, medium-, and fine-grit belts. Retighten all the bolts a bit. Sand off any rough spots with a belt sander, using first a coarse-grit belt and then medium- and fine-grit belts; or sand by hand with a block. Leave the table unfinished to weather naturally.
The benches. For each bench, measure and cut four pieces of 2 × 4 to a length of 17 1/2 inches, to make the bench legs. For the cross braces, measure and cut eight pieces of 2 × 4 to a length of 10 1/2 inches. Use a carpenters' square to make sure your cuts are even. Put the leg assemblies together the same way the picnic table is assembled; clamp the parts together, drill the holes through the legs and the braces, and bolt the braces to the legs. Use 1/4 × 5 1/2-inch carriage bolts, flat washers, and locknuts; tighten the nuts with an adjustable wrench. Then remove the clamps.
Measure and cut a piece of 2 × 4 to a 48-inch length for the bench stretcher. Mark the center of the board's width at each end, and mark the center point of the outside bottom cross piece on each leg assembly. Prop the 2 × 4 stretcher flat across the lower cross pieces of the leg assemblies, with the stretcher ends flush with the outside faces of the cross pieces, and clamp it in place. Drill two 1/4-inch holes through the stretcher and each of the two cross pieces at each end, so that each end of the stretcher has four holes in it. Bolt the stretcher into place with 1/4 × 5 1/2-inch carriage bolts, flat washers, and locknuts; tighten the bolts with an adjustable wrench and then remove the clamps.
Straighten, square, and align the leg assemblies, and nail a scrap piece of wood between them if necessary to hold them in position. Measure and cut two 2 × 6's to a 72-inch length; set them across the leg assemblies and align them, with a 1/2-inch gap between the two boards. Clamp the boards to the leg assemblies.
At each end of each 2 × 6, drill four 7/64-inch holes to a depth of about 3 inches, through the 2 × 6 and down into the upper cross pieces of the leg assemblies. Redrill the holes to a depth of 1 1/2 inches with a 7/32-inch drill. Drive a 5 1/2-inch #12 × 3 flathead brass wood screw into each predrilled hole to secure the bench-top planks; set the screws so the heads are just flush with the surface.
Finally, if desired, bevel the exposed edges of the bench slightly with a block plane, as above. Round all exposed edges slightly with a belt sander, using successively finer-grit sanding belts; or sand by hand with a block. Leave the benches unfinished.
On the next page, learn how to build a maintenance-free patio bench that can be disassembled for easy storage over the winter.