Make either a single tub sensory table for under $50, or upgrade to a double tub for just over $50. The most expensive component is the pipe cutters, so if you are making multiple tables, they will easily come in at much less.
Sensory tables (or sand & water tables) are an essential component of any early childhood classroom. They are considered mandatory to achieve top ratings on all classroom rating scales, and they make wonderful additions to family child care centers and home school collections as well. You can fill them with any material you like, they are very portable, and you just snap the lid on when you are done. Purchasing one from a catalog or teacher supply store can easily cost you hundreds of dollars...cue the DIY spirit of Instructables!
Step 1: Take Your Family on a Trip to Your Local Home Improvement Store
1. PVC pipe
2. PVC pipe connectors
3. PVC pipe cutter
4. Christy's glue
5. Storage Tub
Step 2: Buy PVC Pipes
Most stores sell 2 types: schedule 40 (the white kind) and schedule 80 (they grey kind). The price is nearly identical, but the grey stuff is designed to withstand solar degradation. It's your choice.
I recommend buying the 1" size, which refers to the diameter of the pipe. Any skinnier and your table may be a bit wiggly. Wider sizes just make the table more bulky and the pipe is more difficult to cut.
You will need 2 of the 10ft. lengths, regardless of the style of table you are building. If you really cannot get a 10ft. pole into your vehicle, you can cut the pipes in half at the store with their hand saw. It takes a lot of effort, but it's better than buying the 5ft. pipes because they charge you quite a bit more for those.
Step 3: Buy PVC Pipe Connectors
You will need 8 "Side Outlet Elbow" connectors. In my town, they are only sold at Lowe's, not Home Depot. If you are building a double tub table, you will also need two "Tee" connectors. Be sure to purchase the 1" size pieces to match your 1" size pipe.
Step 4: Buy PVC Pipe Cutters
Invest in a set of the ratcheting-style cutters as opposed to the tiny gizmo that scores a circle around the pipe. The ratcheting cutters are very easy to use, and give you a clean cut every time. Here's a clip of me using them to show you how easy it is:
Step 5: Buy PVC Glue
Christy's "Red Hot Blue Glue" is the cheapest & works well. Buy the smallest bottle they have, and OPEN IT BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE STORE!! These bottles are notoriously difficult to open, and nothing is worse than starting a project and having to go back to the store because your glue bottle has glued itself shut!
Step 6: Buy a Storage Tub
The perfect tub:
-Is a rectangle, not something with curvy edges. It has to fit nicely in the rectangular space we're building.
-Has the closing latches on the lid, not the tub itself. When the lid is removed, you want as few places as possible for silly putty to hide.
-Is strong. At some point, some child will undoubtedly lean their whole 32lb. self onto the bottom of the tub. You don't want that child to go all the way through.
-Is clear. Being able to see through the bottom adds an extra dimension to play.
Obviously, if you are making a double tub table, buy two tubs. ;-)
Step 7: Gather Other Needed Materials
In addition to what you just purchased, you will need:
6. Note paper
7. Measuring tape
8. Permanent marker
9. Recommended: Paper Towels
Step 8: Measure Your Pipe
Hole a pipe on each side of your lidless tub & measure from the center of one pipe to the center of the other. Now write that number down! Note in the photo how I've got the ends of the pipes in my lap so I can measure from the spot I want the pipes to rest against the tub, not just sitting on the floor next to the tub.
Step 9: Measure Some More
Turn the tub a quarter turn and measure again. Notice how I'm holding the pipe under the lip of the tub which is where I want it to eventually rest. Don't forget to write down this number!
Step 10: Mark Your Pipes
Use your Sharpie to make the mark for your first cut. I like to make a line going partially around the pipe to help me ensure I'm cutting straight. Just mark one cut at a time because you never know when something will get wonky and you'll need to cut a new piece. You will have extra pipe at the end of this project, so if you need a re-do, no worries.
Step 11: Make Your First Cut
I like to rest the cutter on the floor, then prop up the heavy end of the pipe I'm cutting on another bit of pipe. This keeps the pipe being cut straight and level.
Step 12: Make 3 More Cuts
When you are finished, you will have two pipes each for the two measurements you wrote down. These pipes WILL be too long. That's alright.
If you are making a double tub, You will want to have 4 shorts and three longs.
Step 13: Assemble Your 4 Pipes
This is called a "dry fit" because there is no glue involved yet. Get the pieces nice and tight because this will ensure a good fit when we get to the glueing step. Notice the order in which I assembles the pieces.
Step 14: Not Like This
If you assemble your pieces in this order, it will cause some unnecessary stress to the joints.
Step 15: Your Pipes Are Too Long!
Now we measure how much pipe to trim off.
Step 16: Measure & Cut
Measure from the interior edge of the pipe to the edge of the tub. This is how much you need to trim off of your pipes. Be sure to write it down!
When you trim off the excess pipe, be sure to save the remnants for you child(ren). They make excellent "loose parts." (If you don't know the educational theory of loose parts, Google it when you're done with this project).
Step 17: Another Dry Fit
This time, your bin should be nice and snug within the pipes.
Step 18: Cut 4 More Pipes
Disassemble your dry fit, then use those pipes to measure & cut another set of 4 pipes: 2 long & 2 short.
If you are making a double tub, make that 2 long & 2 extra-long (the length of two short pieces connected by a tee).
When you are done, you will have a total of 8 pipe pieces cut, or 11 for a double tub.
Step 19: The Final Dry Fit
Assemble two rectangles with your freshly cut pieces. When you set them on top of each other, they should align pretty closely. If they do not, you may need to do some more trimming.
Step 20: Measure & Cut 4 Legs
I have a young 1-year-old, so I cut 4 16" pieces, but if you are working with older children, your legs will be longer. You do not need to glue the legs in place if you will want to upgrade to longer legs when your child gets older. If you are building this for a particular child, measure from the floor to your child's armpit, the subtract an few inches. This is how long you should cut your pipes.
Step 21: Use the Safety Lock
When you are done cutting, always re-engage the safety lock on your cutters.
Step 22: Time to Glue!
This is when you get out your paper towels. The glue has an applicator (a foamy little ball) attached to the inside of the lid. Use this to coat both the end of the pipe and the inside of the connector. Keep the lid on the bottle when not in use because this stuff dries quickly. Push the pipe into the connector quickly because, like I said before, this stuff dries quickly. Don't worry about getting a perfect application because you won't be filling these pipes with 75 PSI of sewage, you just need them to stay together when children are leaning on them.
Step 23: Wipe Off the Excess
Immediately after you have fitted the pipe snugly into the connector, wipe off any excess glue from the joint. (See the excess in the photo?)
Step 24: Recommended Order of Assembly
Following the listed order of assembly means you can assemble continuously without having to wait for drying times.
1. Short pipe to connector A
2. Long pipe to connector B
3. A different long pipe to connector C
4. That same short pipe to connector D
Step 25: A Note on That Short Pipe:
Immediately after glueing on the second connector, while the glue is still wet, press the connectors into a flat surface to even them out. Rotate and press the other sides of the connectors flat. Now everything is aligned nicely.
Step 26: Continue Assembling
1. Add a short pipe to connector C
2. Glue that same short pipe to connector B
3. Complete the rectangle
Immediately after assembling the rectangle, before the glue can set, press it hard onto a flat surface to align the new connection with those that have already set.
Step 27: Repeat & Complete
Repeat the entire rectangle-building process to create a second rectangle.
If you want this table to grow with your child, you are done glueing. If the table will be the same height for it's entire useful life, then glue the legs into place. Set the tub in the top, fill it with something fun (pictured here is shredded paper), and your table is complete!