Renovated Outdoor Table




About: So many things to learn and make, so little time! I like things that are cool, useful, efficient, well crafted.
Four years ago we bought a cheap garden table. The wooden table top did not stand the weather. It was not much fun lunching on it.

The metal frame and legs however were all that remained in an acceptable state. Instead of buying an expensive high-quality new table, I decided to make a new wooden top. It turned out to cut the price by more than two --well, not counting the two week-ends spent on the construction ;-).

With only basic power tools and limited joinery skills, I still wanted to build a stylish object.

  1. Inauguration lunch on the finished product
  2. Finished product
  3. Old table top strained by the weather
  4. Old table top detail

Step 1: Making Sketches, and Getting the Wood

A good preparation was important for the success. It took some time but saved a big lot later.

First, I visited a nearby sawmill, and inquired about several things:
  • Available varieties of weather-resistant woods they sell, and in which sizes (width, thickness, maximum length, price).
  • They had "ipé" wood, a very heavy, resistant and durable neotropical wood. I hope that "durable" is more "green" than "tropical"... Time will tell.
  • They also advised me to oil it with an ad-hoc oil used for wooden decks. Not cheap, but a really good product.
  • They could rectify the surface with a jointer (aka surface planer), producing a much smoother surface, at the cost of a slight reduction of the thickness, and a small extra fee.
  • They could also cut the boards to desired length for no extra fee.
All this seemed to be well worth, and turned out to save me a lot of time in the end. Having this information, I came back home and started to think about the design:
  • I wanted a lattice design, with some spaces to drain the rainwater, so the rectified width of the boards matters.
  • I made several designs (with OpenOffice Draw which is largely enough for this purpose). After a painless vote, one was chosen. I added more details, such as making sure that overall top size would fit to the salvaged metal frame and legs.
Then it was about having the wood cut to wanted size. It took time and two more visits to the sawmill, but this was worth the effort because I obtained exactly what I expected:
  • I went back to the sawmill, not forgetting to take a copy of my sketch (thinking it is always better to be able to explain the purpose of what you ask for). It turned out to be a good idea, because the rectified width they told me before was slightly wrong, so I had to quickly revise the measurements on the sketch.
  • They needed "some time" to prepare the wood, because they usually work for much bigger contracts, hundreds of square meters, so my 2 square meters had a lower priority. I fully understand that.
  • After that "time" I came back again to the sawmill where a kind and helpful employee, who had already rectified the thickness and width, made the final cuts in front of me, and, finally, sold me the proper oil.

  1. The various designs
  2. The chosen design
  3. At the sawmill

Step 2: Materials and Tools

  1. The wood, on two fold-down trestles, which will be very useful for the construction (you can use a table instead).
  2. The salvaged steel frame and feet.
  3. The oil.
  4. 4x steel plates and associated screws (shameful solution when you have no joinery basic skills), and 4 latches (to attach the top to the frame).
  5. Brass rings, used as spacers. Inner diameter must allow the dowels to cross them.
  6. Power tools: sander, saw (for rounded corners), drill.
  7. Misc:
    • Protection glasses and gloves (esp. during sanding)
    • measuring tools
    • dowel kit: dowel center and brad point drill bit
    • sand paper (and sand block)
    • hammer (at best, plastic hammer) or mallet
    • dowels

Step 3: Sanding the Wood

Done now, because the lattice design makes it harder later, and also to remove splinters which would be annoying during the work.

Step 4: Checking the Sizes

If the sketch and the cut were correct, everything should fit. Time to check that.

Step 5: Making a Helpful Tool to Mark the Boards

We will use a lot of dowels, so let's build a tool to mark the holes.

The tool is made of scrap wood, two dowels, and two dowel centers (the middle one was not needed).
  • The space between the two dowels must be exactly equal to the width of the boards.
  • The distance between the dowel and the next dowel center must be exactly the same, on both ends (D1).
  • The distance between the dowel center pin and the base board must be exactly the half of the boards thickness (D2).
The precision of this tool is very important.

Now the tool is used to mark:
  • the ends of each middle board (3rd photo)
  • the ends of the two short side boards (3rd photo)
  • the sides of the two long side boards (4th photo); for this, remove one of the dowels of the tool

Step 6: Drilling the Boards, Adding Dowels and Metal Plates

  1. Drill all holes where marked. Watch for good alignment.
  2. Insert dowels into short side boards.
  3. Assemble long with short side boards, and screw the metal plates. Then leave tightened to the short side boards only.

Step 7: Assembling the Table Top

  1. Insert all dowels into short side board, add brass rings as spacers.
  2. Connect short side to middle boards.
  3. Carefully push using a plastic hammer. Finally tighten the long sides to the short sides, and tighten the screws to the metal plates.

Step 8: Finishing the Angles

Round the angles using the saw and sander. Then:
  1. With masking tape, protect the wood around the metal plates.
  2. Paint the metal plates. Hey, we don't wan them too visible!

Step 9: Legs Attachments

  1. Center the metal frame on the upside-down top, and mark the feet positions on the wood with a pencil.
  2. Tighten the latches. I needed to raise them slightly, so I improvised a spacer with rings and masking tape.

Step 10: Oiling the Table Top

Spread the oil on every sides, following instructions on the can (here: two layers, at a 30' interval).

Step 11: Frame Spacers

I noticed a 2mm gap between the top of the frame and the top of the feet. I wanted the wood to rest also on the frame, so I needed a 2mm thick spacer.

2mm-thick L-profiled plastic bars were used to fill this gap. Contact glue was used.

Step 12: Latching Together

Then, the wooden table top could be placed on the frame, and the latches engaged into the feet.

Step 13: Enjoying the Finished Product!

Well, the table has a modern and stylish look, very much as hoped.

The oil gives a silky aspect.

Having lunch is again a pleasure.

Step 14: Special Cares

The wood must be periodically oiled, approx 2x per year. In addition, the table should be protected by a waterproof cover sheet, against snow during winter, and against rain during long rainy periods.



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    19 Discussions


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Dear laxap:

    thank you for the great instructions. The table looks fantastic! We will be attempting similar, so these instructions will come in handy. We will let you know how it goes.

    As for the ipe, we have an ipe deck built in 2010. The wood is fantastic and durable. We oil it once every two years and use Penofin Brazilian Rosewood oil. It looks like new as soon as it touches the wood. So there is no need to baby ipe at all.

    Just one question - did you use special drill bits for the dowels? My builder went through several saw blades and drill bits when he was building our deck.

    Thank you again!

    laxapAlberta Leong

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I think that the good results come from the lot of upfront time spent on the design. I am an engineer. Not rushing into making needs (for some of us) years of experience ;-)

    Thanks for the compliment!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I'm curious why you used the plates to connect your end pieces, but went through the added effort of connecting the rest of the planks with the dowels? 

    Nice table, & instructable, btw.

    5 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    The plates+screws make sure all the pieces hold together.

    The dowels+rings are here for a space between the planks.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    If you put a few spots of wood glue in each hole when you dowel them together, the dowels will hold w/o the plates. That way you wouldn't have to hide the unsightly plates.

    FWIW, typically the dowels (or nails/staples in other instances) are really only used to hold the pieces together until the glue dries.

    I think the real question is when does that table get matching chairs?


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Very interesting. How many dowels per corner would you use?
    (And, I am thinking about a bench.)


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I think 3 would do it. Just take your jig and use all 3 holes, if the widths are the same, of course.

    You could also put some glue on the face of the wood, where the 2 pieces mate.
    Just make sure you have a damp cloth so that if it starts dripping out you can wipe it off. It's A LOT easier when it's still wet; just wipes right off. If you don't get it all off, when you finish it, it will show up - real ugly.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Wood Magazine did an article a while back (Sep '09, I think) about alternative woods, and ipe was one of the suggestions for use outdoors.  The advantage was it's density and rot-resistance, similar to cedar or redwood.  The main downside was it's cost relative to some of the other options.  I'm curious how much how much this project cost?  I normally work with pressure-treated pine, since it's cheaper, but I do wonder about the better quality of some of the alternatives.

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I don't have a price for Ipe- there is a lot of variation based on where you live- but I would say-  Ipe is EXTREMELY durable but it is also heavy and very hard on cutting tools (it can make carbide cry!).  A table this size would only get moved occassionally due to it's weight, I've had much better results for outdoor tables with cedar- redwood is too expensive and soft for my liking.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Ipe is very hard (finger nails won't leave marks) but I could round the edges with the shown power saw and sander.

    The table top is heavy for its size (2 square meters, 2 cm thick) but I can move it alone. To move the whole table it is better to be two persons to lift it, to avoid tangent force on the feet.

    Bill of material, in CHF  (USD approx 90% of numbers below --many things are very expensive here):
      Wood, approx 2 m2:         220.-
      Aquadeck oil, 2.5 l:       120.- approx 1/4 was used
      Various screws and plates:  20.-
      Total (approx)             360.-

    I am not counting the frame, which I had before. A table of this size, materials, style and finish would cost at least CHF 800 here...


    8 years ago on Step 1

    Nice Instructible.  Very clear and concise.  Not sure what the instructibles policy is, but If the sawmill were as helpful as you say, they deserve a plug - not least because then other instructible members in your area will have a good supplier to use.  And good service should always be rewarded.

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction


    They are not targeting small customers (they serve hundreds of square meters!). So they were patient with me and vice-versa. People can PM me to get their address.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 1

    hmmm - I wrote instructible when I knew it should properly be spelt instructable because I see the word 'ible everywhere as shorthand.