Introduction: Reclaimed Wood Flat-Pack Picnic Table With Planter/Ice Trough

About: Read my book! Hand-Built Outdoor Furniture: 20 Step-By-Step Projects Anyone Can Build

Here's our Reclaimed Wood Flat Pack Picnic Table With Planter (I know.  It's a mouthful).  There is a gutter running down the center below the tabletop surface that can be filled with ice to put your beers in on a hot day, or for planting herbs (reach across the table to get the freshest seasoning for your food) or decorative plants.  

Making this table flat-pack was an easy decision: neither of us has a truck.  The table was made in pieces: two ends that provide the structure for the table, two center pieces with the tabletop slats, the trough, and the removable legs that simply screw in place.   Disassembly and reassembly take minutes, and everything can be fit in the back of a compact car.

All the wood in this project is reclaimed except for the table legs, which were purchased from Discount Builder's Supply in San Francisco.  As always, the design was influenced by the materials: we would have made the slats go lengthwise, but most of the beautiful pieces of reclaimed redwood we had were short, so they're widthwise instead.  

At the time we made this table, we didn't have access to a jointer or planer, so we sanded our reclaimed wood with palm sanders.  The whole project took us about a week, but it would take far less time with a jointer and planer.

This was made at TechShop San Francisco, TechShop Menlo Park, and in the backyard.  It was inspired in part by Far Out Flora's Succulent Table and Ana White's Outdoor Dining Table.

Note: this Instructable is for the table only.  Another Instructable, for the two matching benches, is coming soon!

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Step 1: Materials and Cutlist

The tabletop is 60 inches by 41 inches.  Our trough is 5 inches wide.

Reclaimed Wood:  

Tabletop: Wood of varying widths, enough to cover a tabletop that is 60"x41", accounting for small gaps between each slat.  These pieces will all be cut in half, and end up being 1"x any width x 17".

     There are also two tabletop end-pieces that are longer.  These are listed below, under "Outer Aprons".

Table Structure:
     2 Inner Aprons:
          (4) 1x4x64 1/2"  (long apron pieces)
          (4) 1x4x10"        (short inner endpieces of the apron)
          (4) 2x4x10"        (table leg supports)

     2 Outer Aprons
          (2) 1x4x25"         (outer end pieces of the apron)
          (2) 1x any width x41" (Long tabletop slats)

[Note: 1x and 2x mean wood that is "one inch" thick and "two inches" thick.  However, that is their nominal size.  A 1x board is usually around 3/4" thick when measured.  1x boards all used to be one inch, but in order to make them flat, a sawmill had to remove some of the thickness.  Generally, when naming the size of a board, the thickness comes first, then the width, then the length, as in 1"x3"x11".  The x-es stand for "by", so you would say, "One by three by eleven".]

Salvaged length of gutter or trough: 6 feet.  You can also use any old bendy sheet metal if you have it.

Table legs and leg attachment hardware: Throughout our project, we looked for some beautiful old table legs, but weren't able to find any.  We bought ours from a hardware store.  They were screw-in legs with metal top plates that attached to the table top.  They were easy to install, but not as sturdy as we'd like.  If we were to go it again, we would come up with an alternative way to attach the legs to keep them removable, but still sturdy.

Screws: a box of 1 1/4" and a box of 2".  Make sure your screws are outdoor friendly: I used decking screws.

I used a nail gun with 1 1/2" nails and wood glue to attach the top slats to the tabletop supports.  If you don't have that, I recommend using screws and a screw gun.

(8) 3/8" bolts, with one nut and two washers for each.

Step 2: Reclaim Some Wood

This part is an adventure.  We met many really lovely and interesting characters on our search.  We like to find free stuff on Craigslist and Freecycle, and also really enjoyed going to salvage yards.   In the Bay Area, we recommend The Re-Use People, Heritage Salvage, Whole House Building Supply, and OhMega Salvage.  

For the look of this project, we used all different kinds of wood.  

Step 3: Lay Out the Tabletop

Before cutting anything for the final time, lay out the order of the wood you'd like to use for the tabletop.  If you're looking to use a random pattern, like we did, try a lot of different orders before settling on one.  It's quite difficult for humans to create random patterns, so don't stress too much about exactly which pieces are next to what.  You're the only one who will ever notice.  Label the boards in the order you want them to go on the tabletop.

Since all these boards, except the two end boards, will be cut into two pieces to make room for the trough, it's okay to use two short pieces.  Just make sure they look like they come from the same board.  Continuing grain across the trough is a slick move.

Make sure you have enough wood to go across the entire length of your tabletop plus some extra.  In our case the length of our tabletop is about 68 inches, with spaces between each board of 1/8 of an inch.  

Step 4: Cut Tabletop Slats to Size

In order to cut our tabletop slats to all the same size, we set a stop on the chop saw by clamping a piece of scrap 18 inches from the edge of the blade.  (The blade of the chop saw has a thickness, or kerf, of maybe 1/16 of an inch.  Therefore, we don't want to cut down the middle of our line we drew on our wood, because then we would lose 1/32 of an inch to the chop saw's blade.)

With a chopsaw, as with many wood cutting devices, it's a good idea to also sacrifice a piece of back-up wood behind the wood you are keeping in order to prevent tear-out.  Make sure your back-up wood has equal thickness and is pushed up all the way against the fence: if it isn't, what you cut will not be a right angle.

Step 5: Sand Tabletop Slats

You can decide how much you want to sand your reclaimed pieces and how much "character" (i.e. scratches, machine marks) you want to leave. In the first and second pictures, you can see how different the reclaimed wood looks after just a few seconds of sanding.   When you are sanding, make sure all your pieces are the same thickness.  

[If the tabletop pieces are severely different thicknesses, it's a good idea to run them through the jointer and planer if you have access to one.  This will also save you a lot of sanding time!  With reclaimed wood, be absolutely certain there are no nails or other bits of metal in your wood.  Run them through the jointer and planer before cutting to their final length.]

To sand the faces of the wood, we used a random orbital palm sander at 80 grit.  We did the edges with the belt sander and the ends with the disc sander to make things quick, but if you don't have access, you can certainly do all your sanding with a palm sander.

Step 6: Cut the Rest of the Pieces You Need for the Table: Aprons and Supports.

Use the same technique for setting a stop on the chop saw outlined in step 4.  

Here is a reprint of part of the cutlist from step 1:

Table Structure:
     2 Inner Aprons:
          (4) 1x4x64 1/2"  (long apron pieces)
          (4) 1x4x10"        (short inner endpieces of the apron)
          (4) 2x4x10"        (table leg supports)  : cut these after you've already constructed the 2 inner apron rectangles, so you know you're cutting the exact correct width

     2 Outer Aprons
          (2) 1x4x25"         (outer end pieces of the apron: these determine with width of your trough and the width of the entire tabletop surface)
          (2) 1x any width x41" (Long tabletop slats)

Step 7: Put on Your First Coat of Finish

If you are planning on putting finish on your table to protect it from the elements and give it nice depth and shine, I recommend putting coat of finish on everything now, before anything is fastened together.  That way, even if moisture gets in between hard to reach spaces and joints, there will be finish on it.  

The next two+ coats of finish will be after everything is fastened.  

We chose to use a spray-on indoor-outdoor finish that dries in ten minutes.  The can needed shaking often, and worked best vertically, so if you have somewhere to spray your boards vertically, I'd recommend it. 

We sprayed inside a decomissioned chicken coop because there was a beautiful tree dropping its flowers all over the yard and lots of wind that day.  Make sure you are in a well-ventilated area, use a mask, and take breaks often in the fresh air.

Some tips for spraying:  
First I sprayed one edge of all the boards, then after our ten minute drying tie, turned each board to spray the face, then the other edge, then the other face, and finally, each end.  Make sure you are turning every board in the same direction so you don't lose track of what surfaces you have sprayed and what you haven't. 

In order to ensure the finish is being sprayed evenly, picture the spray coming out of the can as a cone.  The cone has a top edge, a bottom edge, and a middle, which is a straight line out of the nozzle.  If you are spraying the face of a board, start by spraying the center of the cone at bottom of the board, all the way with the grain, starting and finishing an inch or two from the end of the board.  For your next stroke, direct the middle of the cone to where the top edge of the cone was on your last spray, and do that stroke.  Repeat until the board has been covered.  Make sure your nozzle is about a foot from the board at all times, which means you may have to walk along the lengths of the longer boards rather than just pivoting at your shoulder.

Step 8: Construct Table Structure: Inner Aprons and Outer Aprons

Unlike a regular table, our four-piece table has two apron structures, connected by additional end-aprons.

Start off by constructing two rectangles.  Ours are about 64 1/2" by 10".  The short endpieces should be screwed to the inside of the long apron pieces so that their endgrain will not be visible on your finished table.

Then attach your two end aprons to your two long tabletop slats that will be on the end of the table.  Decide how much of an overhang you want from the end apron to the outside of the two outer table slats.  Even if your two tabletop end slats are different widths, all you have to do is make sure the distance from the apron to the outside edge is the same.  We countersunk screws and then filled in the holes.  If you have a Kreg Jig, you can accurately countersink toenailed screws from the bottom so there are no holes on your tabletop, but hey man, it's a picnic table.  

We then clamped all four pieces together, making sure they were all lined up in the right place, and then drilled holes for our bolts.  There are eight bolts in total, two on each end of each rectangle, about two inches in from either side.  We first drilled a smaller pilot hole to ensure accuracy in our drilling location.

The last picture is taken from underneath, and hopefully the captions will help you make sense of how the whole thing is put together.

Step 9: Add Leg Supports to Inner Aprons

We cut four pieces of scrap 2x4 the same length as our inner aprons to make the leg supports. 

The legs we purchased had machine screws coming out the top that attach to top plates.  We screwed the top plates into each 2x4 leg support, then positioned the 2x4s so that the legs would be in each corner of the table and screwed them into place.

Step 10: Attach Tabletop Slats to Inner Aprons

Now that the structure is assembled and bolted together, you can start attaching your tabletop!

First, lay out your tabletop slats.  The only two that are connected to the table thus far are the two longer end pieces.  This is your last chance to rearrange them!

Hopefully, your boards will be laid out between your two long end pieces with more than enough width of wood.  This is good.  After nailing all but one of your boards in place, you will rip (cut down the entire length of the board) your last two boards to the exact width it needs to be.  

But before ripping those last two boards, you will be nailing the rest of your slats into place.  We used a pneumatic nail gun and wood glue.

First, mark where your nails will go in each of your slats.  We decided to overhang our tabletop slats by 1/2" from each center structure piece, leaving about 4 inches between each matching board for the trough.  

To ensure even spacing, find something you can use as a spacer.  We were lucky to find some long, 1/8" thick fiberboard in the scrap container.  If you can't find anything long enough, you can simply use two of anything that is the same thickness: two quarters, for example.  

To start nailing, we would put the spacer in place, put some glue on the skeleton where it would meet the tabletop slat, place the slat so it's spaced correctly, and then use the nail gun to nail it in place.  We found it was faster to do one entire side and then the corresponding boards on the other side, rather than walking across the table after every slat.

When you get to your last two slats, measure the width they will need to be, making sure you are including the space you will need to leave for the spacers on either side of your slat.  Rip them to the width they will need to be on the tablesaw, and then double check your measurement against your table with spacers on either side.  When you are happy with your cut, do a quick sanding of the edges you have just cut, spray the end your have just cut with your spray finish (because it will be impossible to do so after it is nailed in place), and then glue and nail it into place.

Your tabletop should now be complete!

Step 11: Final Spray Finish, Attaching Trough and Legs, Touch-up

If you feel you need to sand the ends of any boards to make them look more in-line with each other, do that now.  If you feel the need to fill in your nail holes as we did (remember, it's just a picnic table), do that now.  

Spray on your last coats of finish, making sure all hardware (the machine screws in your legs, for example) are covered with tape.

Cut the gutter to size.  Attaching the gutter will be easier if the 4 tabletop parts are disassembled.  Punch holes for screws in the gutter every foot or so.  Use short screws to attach one side, and then carefully position the other tabletop half at an angle, bending the gutter's U shape apart, so you can reach your screwdriver to screw in the gutter to the other tabletop half.  Then reassemble your table.    We also put small scrap rectangles of metal on our outer aprons where it would touch the gutter so the wood would be a bit more protected from rot.

If you are planting succulents, put some holes in the gutter (making sure the sharp side faces up so your legs don't scrape on the underside of the gutter) and fill it with some soil or volcanic rock that is lightweight and good for drainage.  If you are planting beers, the holes are good too, and if you stick your feet all the way under on a hot day, the cold water will drip onto your toes.  

Screw on your legs, and enjoy a leisurely outdoor lunch.

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