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Rock-Solid Outdoor Picnic Table and Benches

Updated: Aug. 19, 2020

A picnic table big enough for a crowd!

rock-solid outdoor picnic tableFamily Handyman
This picnic table is big enough and strong enough to hold the soccer team and handsome enough to show the garden club. It’s made from long-lasting and tough pressure-treated pine lumber from your home center or lumberyard and held together with heavy-duty galvanized lag screws (not deck screws like most store-bought tables).

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Rock-Solid Table

As you can imagine, a massive picnic table like this will cost a bit more than your average picnic table, but it’s worth it. The fasteners are 3/8-in. galvanized lag screws,and the extra steel straps and angle irons add a double measure of rigidity to the project. The seats are a full 6 in. wider than most, and the wide base makes them stick to the ground like they were set in concrete. Figure on spending about $350 for all the hardware and lumber. Want to create a similar project for about half the price? Check out this built-to-last viking table. As well as the matching benches.

The only special tools you’ll need are a 1-in. Forstner bit (with step 13) and a special adapter for your drill (with step 14), which will let you drive the lag screws most of the way in, and then you can finish them with your ratchet wrench.You can easily cut all the parts with your circular saw and jigsaw, but if you have a table saw and a miter saw, the job will go a bit faster.

Figure on spending about two weekends to complete the table and both benches. Also, be sure to check out our top 10 woodworking projects once you are done building this picnic table of course!

Note: Don’t worry about the bad press you may have read about treated lumber in the past.All treated lumber now sold for residential use has a new formula that is safe for such things as tables and benches. And a stain/ sealer like the one we applied adds yet another layer of protection.

Project Directions:

If you’ve ever bought pressure-treated lumber before, you know that it can be saturated and heavy even if it’s stored inside at the home center (check out our lumber yard guide). If the wood is particularly heavy and damp (it’ll feel cool),bring it home and stack it on sawhorses (in the shade) out of the weather for about a week. In fact, keep the wood out of direct sun until you’ve applied your oil-based stain/sealer (about two weeks after completion). As you stack the wood, place 3/4-in. thick spacers between each layer so it dries evenly on all sides. Buy a few extra boards because some of them may warp or twist a bit as they dry. If the wood you buy is fairly dry, you can start building with it right away.

picnic table legsFamily Handyman

1. Measure and Cut the Picnic Table and Bench Legs

Cut your parts as shown in the Cutting List (in Project PDFs below). Start by cutting the tapers on the picnic table and bench legs (Photo above) with your circular saw.

picnic table template Family Handyman

2. Mark the Key-Hole Openings

Once you’ve cut the legs, make a set of round templates with a compass out of scrap 1/4-in. plywood or Masonite. You’ll need a 9-1/2 in., a 6-1/4 in. and a 4-in. diameter template to complete the project. Set each pair of legs onto your work surface and space them 1-1/2 in. apart with a scrap of wood. Make sure the bottoms of the legs are even with one another and place a mark 6-1/2 in. from the edge of each leg. Align the large template with the marks, then draw the “keyhole” shape onto the legs and cut it out with your jigsaw. Use a long, stiff blade to get a nice even curve. File the edges smooth.

picnic table cut the feetFamily Handyman

3. Cut the Feet to Length

Once you’ve cut the curves on each leg, align them again and glue and screw the feet onto the legs. Next, measure from the bottom of the feet toward the top of the keyhole cutout and place a mark at 9 in. parallel to the bottom of the feet. Center the stretcher cleat (Labeled “C” in Figure A, in Project PDFs below) onto the legs and screw it across the legs with two 2-1/2 in.deck screws. Do this for both pairs of legs.

picnic table steel strapFamily Handyman

4. Cut the Steel Strap

Now cut the steel strap and angle iron pieces to length with a hacksaw. Use a punch to “set” each bolt hole location. Clamp them securely to a scrap board on your workbench and mark the hole locations for the lag screws.

picnic table iron pilot holeFamily Handyman

5. Drill a Pilot Hole

Drill a 3/16-in. pilot hole at the punch location first. The punch center mark will guide your bit. Use motor oil to lubricate the bit as you drill.

picnic table clearance holeFamily Handyman

6. Drill a Clearance Hole

Drill a 3/8-in. clearance hole using the pilot hole as a guide. File the burred edges with a fine-tooth file. Wipe each piece o metal with a rag dampened with mineral spirits to remove any grime or oil. Spray-paint each piece of metal with two coats of paint (black Rust-Oleum) and set them aside to dry.

picnic table attach steelFamily Handyman

7. Attach the Steel Strap

Now flip the leg assemblies over and align the bottom of the feet with a straightedge. Center the steel strap between the outer edges of the legs. Place scraps between the  legs at the top to maintain the spacing, then clamp the leg assembly. Drill through the strap and legs into the cleat (C) behind with a 9/32-in. drill bit. Drill the hole 2-1/4 in. deep. Drive in the lag screws with your drill outfitted with a socket, one at a time. Depending on the torque your drill will provide, you may need to snug the lags with your wrench.

picnic table stretcherFamily Handyman

8. Shape the Keyhole Design

Lay out the stretcher (D) as shown in the photo above and Figure B. First, cut the stretcher 78 in. long and mark the center of the 2×10 at each end. Place the 4-in. template on the end aligned with the center mark and trace the entire circle.Then measure in from each end 3 in. and draw a 1-1/2 in.wide slot from each edge with your framing square. Cut it with a combination of your circular saw and jigsaw to get the keyhole shape on the end of the board. Dress the notch with your file so that it’s exactly 1-1/2 in. x 1-1/2 in. as shown. File and sand the edge of the keyhole shape into a smooth curve.

picnic table stretcherFamily Handyman

9. Slip in the Stretcher

Now you can start putting the pieces together to make it resemble a picnic table. Stand the legs, space them apart, and drop the stretcher notches onto the legs.You’ll need to “persuade” the stretcher with a rubber mallet or use a scrap block so you don’t damage the wood. If the stretcher doesn’t want to slide down, you may need to file away at the notches a bit and try it again. With the  stretcher in place against the cleats (C), drill recess holes (counterbore holes) and 9/32-in. pilot holes through the stretcher and into the cleats as shown in Figure A. Use washers and drive the 2-1/2 in. lag screws to secure the stretcher.

picnic table steel angleFamily Handyman

10. Fasten the Steel Angle to the Top Brace

Next fasten the steel angle to the bottom of the top brace (F) and clamp it to the tops of the legs. Then slide the stringer (G) between the legs and flush it with the tops of the legs and the brace. Clamp it snugly into position. Now, drill the recess and pilot holes (see Figure B for locations) and drive the 2-1/2 in. lag screws through the brace into the legs and the stringer. Drill and drive a lag screw through predrilled holes  in the angle into the stringer (G) and the legs for extra strength.

Note: Use the 1-1/2 in. lags to fasten the steel angle to the legs, and then use 2-1/2 in. lags through the center hole in the steel angle into the stringer.

picnic table cleatFamily Handyman

11. Screw in the Center Top Cleats

The top boards should be the best-looking pieces of the table, so select them carefully. Often it’s enough to just flip a board over or to choose the better pieces with better edges for the outside. The center cleats, at a glance, don’t appear to add much strength but in fact they do. They’ll help align the top boards by keeping them even in the middle, and when you lag-screw them together, the boards will act as one solid unit. Screw these cleats to the center of the stringer with 3-in. screws (Figure B). 

picnic table topFamily Handyman

12. The Tops Boards

Next, center the top middle 2×10 (K) end to end and side to side as shown in the photo above. Drill the recess holes and then the 9/32-in. pilot holes through the top and into the braces and cleats.  Clamp the top board to the center cleats (H) to make sure they’ll draw tight against it.

picnic table drill for lag screwsFamily Handyman

13. Use a Forstner Bit to Drill for Lag Screws

Use a 1-in. Forstner bit to drill clean recesses for the lag screws and washers. Drill the holes just deep enough to make the top of the lag screw even with the surrounding surface.

picnic tableFamily Handyman

14. A Hex-Shank Socket

Buy a hex-shank 3/8-in. socket driver for your drill to take the tedium out of driving the lag screws. You’ll probably need to use a wrench to snug them if your drill doesn’t have the “punch” it needs.

picnic table assembly Family Handyman

15. Fasten the Top Boards

Fasten the other top boards in the same way using your carpenter’s pencil to space the gaps evenly. Use a square to align the holes for a good-looking top. As you install the two outer top boards, make sure you drill the holes 2 in. on center from the outer edge to avoid splitting the braces and cleats.

Assembling the Benches

The benches are basically a scaled-down version of the table, so use the same assembly instructions. As you can see in Figure B, the legs and stretcher are  made with 2x6s instead of 2x10s and the stringer is a 2×4 instead of the 2×6 used for the table. The keyhole cutouts in the legs are made with the 6-1/4 in. template and this template is used for the braces (f) and cleats (h) as well. The 4-in. templates are still used to shape the ends of the stretchers (d).

Use a Durable Deck Finish for Table and Benches

Now that you’ve completed the project, set it aside in the shade for a couple of weeks until the wood dries.After it’s dry to the touch, sand the rough edges with 100-grit sandpaper (wear a good-quality dust mask). Hand-sand the top of the table and benches just enough to remove any rough spots or sharp corners. Roll on an oil-based semi-transparent stain (Behr Cedar Naturaltone) and finished it with a brush and then a rag to remove the excess. Let the stain soak in for about 10 minutes before wiping. After a few years of service, the table can be cleaned with a deck cleaner and then recoated for a fresh, new look.

Want more wood working projects? Check out these 15 amazing woodworking projects to try.

rock-solid outdoor picnic tableFamily Handyman

Project PDFs

Click the links below to download the materials and cutting lists for this project, as well as Figure A and B.

Figure A

Figure B

Cutting List (Table)

Materials List (Table)

Cutting List (Benches)

Materials List (Benches)