Introduction: DIY Wooden Frame Water Table

About: I am a dad and husband and love sharing what I am up to. My content is family friendly and fun! (At least I think so! :) )

Surfing Pinterest my wife found a PVC water table that she thought would be perfect for our one-year-old. Although following pre-laid out instructions doesn’t make a building project much fun for me, I figured it would be a pretty quick job, so I happily agreed to build it and set off to the hardware store. After the tote, PVC pipe, connectors, PVC cement (glue), and spray paint I walked out having spent around 70$. Nope – that didn’t fly with the boss; back to the hardware store!

70$ richer again, and pleased to have a little more artistic liberty, I set out to make a super cheap wooden framed water table. I really liked the idea of using a storage tote to hold the water, so I went back to Lowes and got a 52 quart Hefty storage tote for about 15$ and that’s all I ended up buying special for this project – the rest of it I already had from previous builds. I’m pretty pleased with the result – and the extra 55$ I saved! The build process in detail below is specific for the 52 quart Hefty storage tote, but it’s a really simple design and can be easily adapted to most any tote with ‘straitish’ edges.

Step 1: Step 1, Gather Materials:

  • Storage tote
  • Lumber (see Step 3 for details on the dimensions)
  • Wood saw
  • Drill bit and drill
  • Screws and screwdriver
  • Sand paper
  • Stain (optional)
  • Water sealant (optional)

Step 2: Step 2, Measure the Tote

Determine how you will support your tote. I found the side and ends to be relatively even and at the same level – I highly recommend using a Hefty tote for this reason. Measure the tote in each dimension: length, width and height. The height is not the height of the tote, it’s the distance between the bottom of the tote and the bottom of the tote edge that will be resting on the side boards.

Step 3: Step 3, Cut the Boards

The sides are cut to be the length of the tote and the width equal to the height of the tote plus the thickness of the braces.

The ends are cut to be the width of the tote (minus two times the thickness of the board you are using on the sides) and the height of the tote The braces are cut to be the length of ends and whatever width seems reasonable. The legs are the height of the kid (armpit to floor) you are making this for and some reasonable width, I recommend at least a few inches. For the Hefty build, you’ll need boards of the following dimensions 2 Sides: 36” X 5 1/2”

2 Ends: 14 7/8” X 5 1/2"

2 Braces: 14 7/8” X 1 7/8"

8 Legs: 22” X 4 1/2”

Step 4: Step 4 Assembly

*NOTE* For my build, I assembled and then sanded the table. You may find better success sanding before assembling.

I didn’t use any glue on this project. I anticipated that I may want to take it apart to store and use next year. To account for the lack of glue, I used a copious amount of screws. On your project, do what feels safe. When joining boards like this using screws, it’s really easy to split the wood along the grain. Be sure to drill a pilot hole for each screw. I use a 1/8 drill bit to accommodate my 1/4 inch screws. (A pilot hole is a pre-drilled hole that is a little smaller in diameter than the screw you will be using to join the boards.)

When drilling the pilot hole, don’t drill all the way through both boards you are trying to join; just drill down the depth of your screw. The screw should not pass all the way through both boards, it should pass easily through the first and about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through the second.

I found it useful to attach a bit of tape on my drill bit that marked the length of my screw. Then drilling pilot holes was simply drilling until the tape hit the board.

Assemble the sides

I attempted to put my boards together with an effort to ‘hide’ the screws on the inside of the table. To make the side, put one leg on each end of a side board. The leg goes on what will be the outside of the table; the screws go on the inside. Do this for each side.

Finish the legs

Add another leg using a butt joint with each leg. You should be able to add a few screws down the edge where the legs connect and a couple more where the new leg meets the side.

Add the ends

Using screws, attach the ends on the inside of the leg.

Add the braces

Place the tote into the frame and then flip it over. With the table inverted, you can lay the braces on the tote and see at what depth they need to be attached. I found it useful to use a large clamp to hold the brace and sides in place as I attached them but they are not necessary. Don’t forget the pilot holes!

Voila! One super fun water table.

Step 5: Step 5 Finishing: Sanding, Staining, Sealing

This last step isn’t strictly necessary, but the hope is that by doing it the table will last longer. I wanted to paint this thing with a thick coating of a standard outdoor paint. However, my wife had better taste and encouraged me to stain it. She was right, it looks great that way!


If you are staining, follow the instructions on the stain you are using, or just sand to where you feel comfortable having your kid play with it. I used a Minwax 2716 Dark Walnut which suggested I sand with 220 grit before applying. Sanding before assembly might make this part easier. Staining

As mentioned, I used Minwax’s 2176 Dark Walnut for the stain. I also used the pre-stain wood conditioner because I used very dry pine boards. For application, I used a sponge. I liked the sponge because it allowed me to apply and wipe up excess stain quickly which gave a slightly lighter finish.


As of this posting I have not sealed the table. I anticipate using a spray-on water sealant that I had purchased for a previous build. Do a google search for waterproofing wood and you’ll find plenty of options. One point to consider may be whether or not your child is apt to chew on the wood and the toxicity of your choice of stain/sealer.

Step 6: Step 6 Add Water and Child(ren)!

That’s it! Put in some boats, funnels, buckets, whatever sounds fun. If your kid is like mine, he’ll just be happy to splash, splash, splash!

Thanks for reading!

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