Introduction: Outdoor Trestle Table

About: A Maker since childhood with all the classic symptoms, a robot builder, and an Internet software CTO/Tech Product Manager.

This is a trestle style table made for outdoor use. It uses dimensional lumber from your home store, so no need for table saws, planers etc. This one was designed to match a folding plastic table so we can double the table size if we have a lot of guests.

Note that this is not a fine woodworking project! This is a low tool, low experience project to get a nice looking table built quickly. If you are like Norm Abram (New Yankee Workshop), you will not be impressed. If you are a serious craftsman who thinks Norm uses his biscuit joiner too much, then don't even read further! :-) But, If you are an average person who watches Norm with envy, then this might be the one for you!

Trestle tables were originally made to break down to be shipped or moved. To make construction easier, we did not end up with one that can be broken down, but you can modify this design to make it more portable - it's not too far off from that possibility.

Step 1: Materials

We used dimensional lumber from the local home store to make the project easier, and we used pine and stained it, but you can use other woods as needed. Here is a partial list of materials we used:

(2) 2x6 inch 6 feet long - one for the legs, and one for the stretcher
(4) 1x4 inch 6 feet long - for the table top edges - we used the select grade since it is much more square
(9) 1x2 inch 8 feet long - for the table top slats
(2) 2x4 inch 6 feet long - for the base and top of the legs

(4) 5/16 inch lag screws, 4.5 inches long, and washers

(4) 3 inch drywall or deck screws
a bunch of 1.25 inch pocket or drywall screws

Step 2: The Legs

For the legs, we built the tops and bottoms the same - a 26.5 inch long 2x4 with a bevel on the ends. The bevel is 3.5 inches wide, and ends up with the board thickness of 3/4 of an inch. For the bottoms, we added 3.5 inch square pads to make it sit better on the ground. Those pads are screwed in with 1.5 inch drywall screws. Make sure they sink into the wood to keep them from touching the ground (to avoid scraping the concrete etc.).

To make the bevels, we made a quick jig (see picture) and set the circular saw at an angle by trial and error. That cut most of the way through, and we finished it with a hand saw and belt sander. You can also just cut them by hand - our hand saw was dull at the time. :-)

To bolt the tops and bottoms of the legs, we used 5/16 inch diameter, 4.5 inch long lag screws and washers. We first tacked the 2x4 on with 2 inch drywall screws to hold it down while drilling for the lag bolts. To line the legs up with the top/bottom:

1) mark the place where the board should go - just outside the board dimensions so you can see the marks when the board is there
2) drill the hole for the washer - 3/4 inch hole about 1/4 inch deep
3) use the drywall screws to hold it in place - don't put them in the 3/4 inch holes, though
3) drill the smaller hole for the threads - right into the leg
4) remove the drywall screws and drill the larger hole for the lag screw shaft
5) bolt down the top/bottom

Step 3: Stretcher

The stretcher is made from a 2x6 inch board. We used a very simple mortise (the hole) and tenon (the part that goes in the hole) - only cut the sides of the board, not across the face (see picture).

We first tried the legs out to see how far they should be from the end of the table so people can sit comfortably at the end. About one foot from the end seemed right, so the stretcher needed to be 4 feet long plus 6 inches (the table top is 6 feet long). The 6 inches allow for 1.5 inches on each side through the leg mortise plus an extra 1.5 inches sticking out. Normally, you would use an angled peg in an angled hole in that part to hold the stretcher in, but in our case, we'll just add a fake peg to make it look good.

To cut the tenons in the stretcher, we measured off 3 inches from the end, and 1 inch on the sides. We cut it with a sabre saw, but any kind of saw would work

For the mortise, we measured up fourteen inches from the top of the base, then laid the stretcher above that, and used the tenon to make the top of the mortise. It should be about 3.5 inches tall. We measured in from the sides to allow the 1.5 inches for the board to fit. To cut out the tenon, we drilled a 3/4 inch hole and used a sabre saw.

To hold the stretcher, we used a couple 3 inch drywall screws from the leg to the stretcher just above and below the mortise. We angled them slightly into the center of the stretcher.

An optional detail step is to cut a curve in the bottom of the stretcher. We used a thin wooden dowel to make the curve, then cut it out with a sabre saw.

Step 4: Table Top

We decided to do a table top with slats. You can make any kind of table top, though! An alternate approach that might be easier would be to use tongue and groove boards or plywood.

The table top is surrounded with 1x4 inch boards, with a middle piece of the same size wood. The slats are made with 1x2 inch boards.

The ends are 29 5/8 inches long to match a plastic folding table, and the boards down the sides are 65 inches long to make the total table length 6 feet after the 3.5 inch ends are added on. The middle board is 22 5/8 inches long.

We used a pocket screw jig (hey, you have to buy at least one tool for each project! :-)) to connect the pieces and some Gorilla Glue (waterproof) to hold them. The trick with pocket screws is that the pieces have to be clamped down very tight when you drive the screws. The other way to go would be biscuit joinery, but from the very quick survey we did on the web, the pocket screws seemed to be preferred. The pocket screw jig was also less expensive than the biscuit joiner.

For the inside pieces, cutting them to the exact length was hard. We ended up cutting them just slightly too long, and sanding them down as needed. Laying them out evenly is also a bit tricky. We scrounged around the garage and found some 1/4 inch nuts that were just the right width to use as spacers when we stood them on end - we actually had 4 different widths in those nuts, so we tried a few out until we got lucky with the right width. We did look at washers, and found that they are all different widths - at least the cheap ones are.

If you don't care about the precise width of the table, you could hold off on one side, lay them out with a standard spacer, then just add the final side when you are done. That would probably be much easier. You could also use tongue and groove or something to avoid the problem altogether.

We used one pocket screw per inner piece - it just didn't seem like the 1.5 inch board width allowed for two. While we screwed them in, we used a few different clamping techniques. The big "C" clamp worked well, and for the second side we clamped a board above and below to hold the ends in the center of the table. This worked OK, but not perfectly, and the belt sander leveled the table off nicely.

Note: We used 1.25 inch drywall screws for the inner board pocket screws. It's probably better to use special pocket screws since the drywall screws have an angled head and tend to split the pocket and go in a hair too deep. We didn't have them since the home store only sold the jig, not the screws, but you can order them online, or maybe shop at better store. :-) Not having the screws in the way would be another argument for using biscuit joinery.

After the glue was dry, we used a belt sander to smooth out the top.

Step 5: Finish and Details

For the ends of the stretcher tenons, a peg was traditionally used. Since we screwed ours in to save making the slanted hole and peg, we added a fake top and bottom of a peg to make it look better. You can see from the pictures how we cut it. It would probably be better to leave that 3.5" gap in the middle so diagonal lines up right, but these are small enough that people will not notice it unless they look closely. Those were cut out of some 1 x 3 inch pine, and each piece is 1.5 inches long.

To help protect our toes, we rounded off the table leg feet. We just used a jar lid for the curve pattern, and cut it out with the sabre saw.

One other traditional detail we chose not to do was chamfering the edges of the table legs, and stretcher. Since the 2x6 inch boards were already rounded, it looked fine for outside use already.

You could cut a hole in the middle of the table for an umbrella, and maybe arrange a bracket at the top center of the stretcher, or maybe add some boards on either side of the center of the stretcher to allow a hole to go through the stretcher.