Intro: Potting Table - Sturdy and Simple
I live in a condo, and as a result I do a lot of container gardening. Having sturdy and durable potting tables is essential, not only for potting the plants to begin with, but also to set containers on around the edges of my deck. I came by this table design at some point years ago, and adapted it to create tables that can stand up to all four seasons in Ohio, including the bitter cold winters without needing to be brought inside or repaired frequently.
One of the other side effects of living where I do (in a series of hills around a tree preserve), is that there is very little level ground upon which to build. In this Instructable I will share some techniques to ensure your table is level and plumb, even if the surface you are working on isn't. I've also included a simple measured drawing with a materials list. Expect to be able to finish this project in less than a day, particularly if you have an assistant.
- 4 - 30" 4x4 Outdoor Grade Redwood* (you will need two 12' 4x4s)
- 3 – 70" 1x4 APG Select Pine Severe Weather Max (you will need six 12' 1x4s)
- 21 - 24" 1x4 APG Select Pine Severe Weather Max (see above)
- 2 – 23 1/8th 1x4 APG Select Pine Severe Weather Max (see above)
- 16 - 2.5" T25 bugle head exterior screws
- ~104 - #10 1.5" zinc coated Phillips head screws
- Table Saw (or any other saw you prefer, so long as you can make very precise 90 degree cuts
- Two cordless drills (to cut down on swapping between bits and drivers)
- Two 18-inch Irwin Quick-Grip Clamps
- Measuring Tape
- Pencil or Sharpie
- Combination Square
- Wood Drill Bit (3/32")
- Driver Bits (Phillips and T25 Star)
- Cordless Dremel Multi-tool with Coarse Drum Sanding Bands
- Eye Protection
*If you would like your table to be wheelchair accessible, simply add 4" to this measurement. All other dimensions meet ADA recommendations
Step 1: Cut 4x4s
Using the table saw with a wood blade installed, cut four 30" 4x4 pieces. Be sure the blade is set to 90 degrees and has been properly calibrated. Double check with a combination square. The one in the photos was my Grandfather's. It is about 75 years old and still square. Once your four pieces are cut, stand them up together and make sure they are all the same height. Adjust as needed with saw. Tolerances for this project are around 1/8" to still be level and plumb enough for outdoor use.
NOTE: Please follow all safe operating procedures for your equipment and wear eye protection. Safety first! You can't see it in the photos, but we use a Gripper push block for almost every cut.
Step 2: Cut 1x4s
Using the table saw again, cut three 70" 1x4, two 23 1/8th" 1x4, and 21 24" 1x4 pieces. Be sure the blade is set to 90 degrees and has been properly calibrated. Double check with a combination square. Once you cut pieces of the same size, stand them up together and make sure they are all the same height. Adjust as needed with saw. Tolerances for this project are around 1/8" to still be level and plumb enough for outdoor use.
Step 3: Long Corners
As I mentioned before, we build these tables on an uneven surface, but we still want our tables to be level and plumb. The key is the precision of our cuts. If our cuts are 90 degrees, then as long as we keep our corners flush and square, our table will be level and plumb. Using a combination square, line up one of the 70" boards with the top of one of the 4x4s. It helps if you have the 4x4s stacked up in twos with a slight overlap on the end to make room for the clamp head. Consult the photos for more details.
Once you have the edges flush against each other and the two pieces square, clamp them together tightly. Again using the combination square, drill two 3/32" pilot holes through the 1x4 into the 4x4 along a diagonal line as shown in the photos. Secure the two pieces using 2.5" exterior screws.* Repeat the process at the other end of the 70" board.
*This is where having two cordless drills comes in handy so you don't have to keep swapping between the 3/32" drill bit and a Phillips head driver bit.
Step 4: Long Corners Part 2
Repeat the previous step for the other 70" board and the last two 4x4s.
Step 5: Short Corners
Using the same technique as before*, attach one of the 24" 1x4s against the top of one of the 4x4s with 2.5" exterior screws, lapping the end of the 70" board. By lapping the side pieces this way, we ensure our table is exactly 24" deep. When you are done with this step, you should have four sides around the top and your table frame should be level, plumb, and most importantly, freestanding.
*Make flush, make square, clamp, drill pilot holes, drill screws
Step 6: Bottom Framing
Measuring up about 14" from the bottom of the 4x4s, attached the last 70" board and the two 23 1/8th" sides using the previous technique. This leaves one long side open on the bottom so a chair can slide under it, or to make it easy to access supplies stored underneath the table.
Step 7: Topping Pt 1
Using one of the 24" 1x4 boards, make it flush and square flat across the top of the table frame. Clamp in place and drill pilot holes, then attach with 1.5" screws.
Step 8: Topping Pt 2
Take one of the 1.5" screws and tap it in into the table frame to space the next board. Do this on both ends of the board and then move on to the next board, tapping screws in to evenly space the boards. Because these are #10 screws, this spacing ensures that nineteen boards are exactly 70" wide. Once you have the boards spaced, simply work from one end of the table to the other, clamping the boards flush, drilling pilot holes, then drilling the 24" boards in with 1.5" screws. Again, having two cordless drills makes this a much faster process, one drill for the pilot holes, one drill for the screws.
Step 9: Rough It Up
Before we call our table finished, we want to remove any sharp edges that might prove perilous while potting. We do this by using a rotary tool with a sanding band installed. No need to be neat, we are looking for a somewhat uneven result so that as the table ages due to exposure to the elements, it will take on a more rustic charm.
Step 10: Finished!
Pictured is our final result, along with a photo of one we built over 5 years ago. It has been through Dereche winds, snowstorms, ice storms, blistering summer heat, you name it. It is still as sturdy, stable, and tight as the day we built it. We put 500 lbs of people on this table at the beginning of the Spring, just to see if it would hold up...not even a squeak.