Introduction: The People's Table: Outdoor Public Ping Pong
This Instructable provides details and instructions for an outdoor ping pong table that also serves as a work of art, and can become a permanent fixture on a sidewalk, plaza or park. Our intention was to provide an example of how an outdoor ping pong table can stimulate play and community, especially if the paddles and balls are accessible and free to the public. We were inspired by the public tables that grace many plazas in Barcelona and Berlin and we wanted to demonstrate why San Francisco and other Bay Area localities should be adding ping pong tables to our streets, plazas and parks.
Another goal entailed using the table as an art canvas, which allowed local artists to design a piece that resonated with the community. As a work of art making a positive political statement, the public respected it and the paddles and balls were left for all to use.
There are plenty of ways to build an outdoor ping pong table, from concrete to wood to metal, but we chose this method for its costliness, durability and artistic beauty. Concrete tables are what most municipalities would use for their parks and they cost anywhere from 4 to 8 grand. We estimate the cost of all the materials to be about $900. Most of the photos you see here are from the table's placement on Market street, near 6th street, as part of the Market Street Prototyping Festival held in early April of 2015.
Step 1: Step 1: Materials
- 2 Plywood boards for the table top ( 5 ft x 4.5 ft) Refurbished ping pong table can be taken apart and deconstructed so that the two boards can be repainted.
- ChalkBoard Paint, paint for primer, other paints, brushes and rollers
- Wood: (2) 2' X 4' X 10'; (2) 2' X 4' X 5' This is for building the frame that attaches to the cylinders and on which the 5 x 4.5 sheets of plywood will rest.
- Plywood Sheet 10 feet x 5 feet, 1 inch
- 6 - 8 sandbags. 3- 4 for each cylinder
- 2 sheet metal cylinders and tops
- 3 gallons of Clear Pour-On, the kind used for bartops
- Local Artists
- Ping pong balls and paddles. We had four per table and attached Velcro to the handle and to the table. A better option would be a shelf ( to protect from rain too). You can also connect with a café or bar or grocery store and ask them to store paddles and balls for people to check out with an I.D.
- 5 foot long piece of sheet metal, made into a slight triangle - for the net. The solid net is a critical piece of the outdoor ping pong table, for on traditional table, nets are pretty fragile. A solid net can be made out of many things, from wood to metal to bricks. It helps to get creative. We chose a simple solid sheet metal net that was bent into a slight triangle, with a slight lip at the base so that we could screw it into the table. The angled net played well as it provided a straight bounce back. The sound of the ball hitting the metal net was also nice, and added to the unique experience.
Step 2: Step 2. Assemble the Base
The base is made of sheet metal cylinders. They are closed at the bottom so that sandbags or other weights can be placed inside before the table top is attached. The circumference of the bottom of the cylinder is 3.5 feet a the top and 4 feet at the bottom. Each cylinder has 2 pieces; a base piece and a shorter topper piece that will be attached to the table top frame. Once the topper piece is attached to the table top, it can be guided to fit snug around the base. Then, the two pieces can be machine screwed together. An important thing to remember is to line up and mark the screws and exact position of the cylinder bottoms.
These base cylinders provide a very stable foundation, which we needed due to the concern about people leaning, sitting and even standing on the table.
They also serve as another canvas. One of our artists, #tapedmetalcanvas, specializes in taping metal and turned the cylinders into an art piece.
Step 3: Step 3: Assemble the Table
This step basically involves building a frame that will support the table top. With the 2x4s, and other flat pieces, the frame is constructed. The entire piece is then primed out. And finally, the refurbished table tops are sanded, repainted with chalkboard paint and screwed onto the frame.
Step 4: Step 4: Art and Pour On
The art work will ideally be completed before the table top is added to the frame. But due to time constraints, our artists completed their work on the table top after it was attached to the frame. Local artists, who grew up in the city, completed a design that emphasized the character of the neighborhood as well as the current struggle against gentrification. "415 - Free for all" and "The People's Table" are phrases that demonstrated our desire for this table to
After the artwork is completed, we poured the POUR-ON, approximately 2 gallons, over the table, and smoothed it out to obtain a flat surface and ideal ping pong play conditions. POUR-ON is available from most hardware stores and is what is generally used on most bartops to provide protection, shine and sheen. We chose this in order to protect the table from the elements (sun and rain) but also because it provided a beautiful shine to the art piece on the table top, and provided a nice shine at night off the street lights.
Step 5: Step 5: Installation and Public Use
The installation went smoothly, and took less than an hour. We placed yoga mats under the cylinder to prevent any slippage. The major concerns was the threat of the ball going into the street, and the wind that picked up every afternoon, making play difficult. Ideally, tables like these would be set in a protected plaza where there are walls to protect against wind and runaway balls. But we learned that we could also install small seating areas and even planters that could provide a barrier as well as a place to gather and watch. Plus, the visibility from having the table directly on Market street was fantastic.
Our team’s desire to build outdoor ping pong tables stemmed from growing up in San Francisco, and enjoying free and low cost public activities. We experienced the ups and downs of Market Street first hand and donated our time and energy with the hope of contributing to a better and more inclusive Market Street. Most importantly, we wanted to do this in a way that avoided and even mitigated the gentrification and displacement that has become part of every long term San Franciscan’s reality. Instead, we would like to see projects that help the existing population not only cope with the vast changes currently taking place, but also increase community enjoyment of our neighborhoods. With that goal in mind, we came up with the idea to combine public ping pong tables and art so that the tables were not only functional, but also beautiful. And from that intention THE PEOPLE’S TABLE was born.
Our experience at the MSPF validated this vision more than we could have imagined. Throughout the festival, people played with each other, both as individuals and groups. We witnessed a grown man break down into tears after a game inspired a conversation in which he was able to talk about the death of his mother while also grieving the loss of his old neighborhood. For locals, the games inevitably led to conversation and stories of growing up in the city and playing ping pong in different places - from basements to offices to prisons. For transplants and tourists, The People’s Table provided a fun way to interact with strangers. Middle aged men in suits played against young adults in baggy urban clothes. Homeless people played against tourists. Tech workers played against community organizers. Cops played against some of the youth with whom they have had constant run-ins. And even those who did not play appreciated a beautiful piece of art that blessed their walking path. Overall, it brought together people from different walks of life who may never have spoken to each other, let alone engage in a game of ping pong.