Hey everyone, thanks for taking a look at this, my first instructable. The idea for a pallet-sourced kids picnic table came about because I needed a low-cost, easy-to-build solution for something that my son (and eventually our newborn) could sit at and enjoy coloring, painting, and snacking the warmer months away. I searched around online and really couldn’t find anything terribly helpful as far as DIY instructions went. There are a number of blogs that show the end results, but are pretty thin on the step-by-step. Where I work, we get all our equipment shipped in on somewhat newer pallets, so when I found out I was free to take one whenever I pleased, I knew it was time to set my plan in motion! My only disclaimer is that I did not take all the photos I wish I had while I was building, so if I’ve left any gaps in my steps please let me know and I will make edits!
There are two defining variables in making a children’s picnic table from a shipping pallet: the size of the pallet, and the size of the child. The finished size of your table will be loosely defined by the size of your pallet, and the height of the table/benches will be defined by your child’s measurements. For the purposes of this instructable, I will refer to the measurements I made from a pallet that started out 45” x 70”. For some great info on how to appropriately size the height of a chair based on the size of your child, I referred to this PDF: http://goo.gl/2s028n Keep in mind, you may want to move it up a few sizes so your kid(s) doesn’t grow out of it before next summer. I chose to make the seat height 12", and the table height 21".
One shipping pallet (mine was 45” x 70”)
Five 4’ length 2x4’s (my local store only sells 8’ lengths so I bought 3 and had them cut down to 6 4’ lengths so I could get them home)
2 ½” screws (you’ll only need about 20)
1 ½” nails
Sandpaper (or orbital/belt sander)
One pint exterior paint (or finish treatment of your choice)
Tools needed: Drill
Step 1: Dismantling the Pallet
Remove all planks from the back side of the pallet. Remove all planks from the front side EXCEPT the two planks at either end. Leave these on so that the table top remains square. Once you have all the planks removed, remove all the existing nails from the planks. Once this was done, I had:
9- 1x3.5 planks
4- 1x5.5 planks
6- 2x4 planks
3- 70” cross beams
*This is probably a good time to sand down each piece, which is something I did not think of until I had finished assembling the whole table. If you do decide to sand the pieces now, you can ignore what I am about to say about the “good” and “bad” side of the pallet planks.
Step 2: The Tabletop
If you look at the pallet planks, you will likely notice that one side is smoother than the other. For our purposes, I believe using the smoother side as the top makes more sense. Once you have determined which side of the planks you wish to use as “up”, choose the 7 planks that are in the best condition and lay them side-by-side in the center of the pallet cross beams that are still being kept square by those end-rails (see photo). Use a tape measure to ensure that the center-most plank is aligned with the center of both cross beams, then use two nails at each end and two nails in the middle to secure it to the cross beams. Repeat this for each one of the planks, ensuring they are butted up against each other as tightly as possible.
Once all of your planks are secured, you can remove the planks that are out on the ends. With those planks gone, mark a line on each cross beam where you will make a 30-45-degree cut to remove the excess material. The angle is a matter of personal preference, you just don’t want to cut it at a 90-degree angle because of the increased likelihood that your kid will bash their knee when they go to sit down or stand up. I cut mine at 45 degrees. You will most likely need to use a handheld saw for this. Once all the crossbeams have been cut, your tabletop is finished!
Step 3: Attaching the Legs
Again I want to remind you that this measurement may vary based on the intended finished size/height of your table. I designed my table to have a 12” seat height and 21” tabletop height. To that end, I took two of my 48” long 2x4s, cut off the ends at a 30-degree angle with a mitre saw, then found the middle of each plank and cut it at 30 degrees again. This gave me four table legs 25” in length, or 20” tall when tipped at a 30-degree angle from the ground.
Take two of these legs and set them about 5” apart on the underside of the tabletop, against the inside of the outer crossbeam. Secure them with clamps to ensure they don’t shift on your when you screw them to the beams. I attached mine with three 2.5” screws per leg. You could use carriage bolts, as seen in many full-size picnic tables, but I didn’t go that route.
Step 4: Building the Bench
Take your two remaining 2x4’s and cut them to 45” lengths each. These will form the cross beams that the bench will sit on. Take two pieces of the original pallet crossbeams and cut them at a 45-degree angle, to a length of 9”. For the bench, I chose to use one each of a 1x3” and a 1x5.5” that I had left from the pallet deconstruction. Lay them on top of the 2x4’s and use two 1.5” screws to secure the 1x3 and three screws for the 1x5.5, at each end. Once secured, attach the two 9” planks on the underside as supports in the middle of each bench. I did not add these until afterwards, when I found that the tow seat planks were flexing individually, creating a huge risk for pinched thighs. (Sorry for lack of photos, I wasn't necessarily planning on making a guide when I built this)
Step 5: Final Assembly
On the table legs, make a mark on each leg parallel to the ground that you will use as guides for attaching the bench to the legs. Following this, lower the bench down over the table under the bench is resting on the legs (this will probably have it sitting below your marks), then tip the table upwards on one end. Looking at the end facing up, align the bench rail with your marks and use clamps to secure it. Fix it in place with more of the 2.5” screws. Again I used three per mounting point, but carriage bolts may be used here instead if preferred. Flip the table over and repeat to secure the other end of the bench to the table. Take one of your remaining 2x4’s and cut it to 42” (again, dependent on the dimensions of your table - you just want it to match the inside distance between the bench beams). Make a mark in the middle of each bench rail at center, and secure with two 2.5” screws per end. I’m not sure that this is actually a structural member, but it seems to make the overall table more secure and my kid likes to put his feet up on it.
Step 6: Final Sanding/Finishing
As I mentioned, I did not sand until I finished building the table, which I don’t really recommend. Pallet wood isn’t really the highest-quality stuff out there, and can be complicated to try to sand when it’s wedged against other boards. Again, I recommend sanding everything before assembly, then just doing some touch-up sanding when you’re finished. Next up, use the finishing treatment you’ve selected. I went with some exterior latex paint, and my son picked lime green. I (we) applied generously in order to seal up the wood as best as I could. All the knots and deep cracks in the pallet wood couldn’t really be sanded anyways, so we filled everything we could with paint.
Step 7: Conclusion
There you have it! My son uses his table constantly (shown on the porch where it’s not nearly as cold). It’s been holding up great, this one was finished about 6 months ago. In retrospect, the only thing I think I might have done differently would be to double-up the seat planks. The 1” thick planks give a little more than I’d like. That said, my son and his friends haven’t exactly been gentle with it and it hasn’t broken yet!
If you decide to give it a go, please post your results or comments! Like I said this is my first instructable and I’d love the feedback! Thanks for reading!