DIY diva

Weekend DIY Picnic Table Project

July 25, 2009 | 107 Comments | DIY How To, Outdoors
DIY diva

See this picnic table? I love eating at this thing almost as much as I loved building it. Detached benches, no visible screws on the top, and a whole lot of AWESOME. The plan took some thought, but not an unreasonable degree of skill, and the result? Well, see for yourself.


My favorite parts?

  • No exposed screws on the top of the table and benches (have I mentioned this yet)
  • Lap joints on the legs of the table and benches
  • The benches aren’t connected to the table, so it’s completely flexible

You can download the Popular Mechanics plan I used here. (At some point that link broke, but I hunted down the plan here on page 86 and 88.) It’s not a step-by-step plan, which is perfect for DIYers that like to, well, DIY a little bit of it. I made a couple of modifications, making the table and benches a few inches longer, and using a whole lot more powertools than they suggest.

Here’s my step-by-step look at the project.


  • 5 – 2x6x66″ boards for the top of the table
  • 4 – 2x4x40ish” boards for the table legs
  • 2 – 2x4x29ish” boards for the table cleats
  • 2 – 2x4x29ish” boards for table braces
  • 6 – 2x4x66″ boards for the top of the benches
  • 4- 2x4x12ish” boards for the bench cleats
  • 4- 2x4x12ish” boards for the bench braces
  • 8- 2x4x20ish” boards for the bench legs
  • 1 box 3-1/2″ deck screws (plus a couple of 2″ screws for the ends of the table cleats.
  • 12 – 3/8″ lag bolts with washers and nuts (stainless steel if you can get them, but I can tell you you can’t get them at Lowes. I used hot-dipped.)
  • 6 – 3/8″ Lag screws with washers. (Again with the stainless, again Lowe’s doesn’t carry them.)


  • Miter or circular saw (or both)
  • Drill & bits
  • Sockets and wrench for the lags
  • Chisel & hammer for the laps
  • Level and square
  • Clamps

Step 1: Cuttin’

The table and bench tops are the easiest. 5 2×6’s and 6 2×4’s cut to 66″ in length. Then it gets a little bit trickier. One of the things I loved about the PS plan, was the suggestion to build a template.


Even though I used the miter saw and had the angles all set out for me on the saw, the template was still well worth it to help with visualization. Essentially it meant drawing (or getting an engineer to draw) a 27×28-1/2″ square on some plywood and then drawing in the legs. Made cutting the lap joints in the legs exceptionally accurate.

The table legs were cut with the saw set at 38-degrees.

The bench legs were cut with the saw set at 24-degrees.

The cleats were cut at the same angle so they would be flush with the angle of the legs, and the braces were all cut at 45-degrees.

All of the table pieces: 4 leg pieces, 2 cleats, 2 braces, and 5 boards for the top.


Same for the benches: 4 leg pieces, 2 cleats, 2 braces, and 3 boards for the top each.


Step 2: Lap it up

The lap joints were extra fun and definitely worth it when it came to the final product. I did them two ways.

First, I broke in MysteryMan’s hand saw. I actually don’t own one of these, probably because it doesn’t have a power cord. But still, it was fairly quick, and very easy. I used the template to lay out the joint, and then cut notches 3/4″ deep.



Then I popped them out with the chisel. This one worked because it was what I had, but a wider one would have been ideal.


The other option is to set the depth of a circular saw to 3/4″ and cut the notches that way, which is faster to some degree, but you have to take enough time to be really accurate with the machinery… so really I think its whatever you’re most comfortable with.

Step 3: Assembly
Once all of the pieces are cut, assembly is pretty much a piece of cake. The boards should go right-side-down, and shim them out 1/4″ for the table. 1/2″ for the benches.


Then, lay out the holes to countersink the screws and attach the cleat to the top. Screws should be countersunk 1-1/4″ deep with a 3/8″bit. Use 3-1/2″ deck screws and don’t power drive them in! You’ll bust right through the top. Not that I would know from experience or anything. Hem.


The legs are only a tiny bit trickier. Make sure the lap joints fit before you start assembling. Then attach them on the outside of the cleat by drilling a 3/8″ hole all the way through both leg and cleat (make sure you’re aware of where those deck screws are.)
Use a 3/8″ lag bolt, washer, and nut to attach them. Check for square 11 or 12 times. Then attach the brace with a lag screw through both legs and the brace, and a deck screw from brace to top of table.


Then it’s lather, rinse, and repeat for the benches, as you can see here (if you haven’t already):

DIYdiva: Building a Picnic Table Bench from kitliz on Vimeo.

Step 3: Add cold beer, good friends, and enjoy!



It really is that easy.

DIY diva


  • John

    very nice – thank you – I have a pile of lumber from a decommissioned deck that was just begging for a new life. Now off to peruse the rest of this site! JP

    • Russell Pulliam

      Great idea, but some measurements would have been helpful for the weekend warrior. Good thing my friend knows a carpenter.

      • kitliz

        Russell, did you take a look at the plan that I linked to above? It has all of the measurements and hardware sizes. I make mine a couple of inches longer, but it was easy to adjust from the plan.

  • kitliz

    John- I’d love pictures once you’ve turned that lumber into something fit for a picnic!

  • Laura

    Does anyone remember the square picnic table with 4 detached benches? This style could seat 8 people to a snug 12 if necessary. I have scoured the internet and can’t find anything. It’s like they never existed!

    • Louise

      Hi, Laura. I’ve been scouring too. Did you ever find a table like this? I am thinking of resorting to making my own, but I am NOT handy — at least not yet — and would rather buy one.

  • Qiana

    Thank you for this!!!

  • Pat

    Probably an elementary question but … well, I’m elementary at heart! How long should the leg bolts and brace screws be?

  • kitliz

    Pat – It’s a good question and I just realized the link I had up there to the plan with all of the miscellaneous sizes was broken. Check it out here (this took some hunting down) on page 86 and 88.

    • Ron

      Legs are made of 2x4s .a 2×4 is 1 1/2 “” thick and you will inset it 3/4″into the other leg . So bolt 3″ long will be good.

  • Muharrem Alkan

    teşekkür ederim çok makbule geçti sizin bu çalışmanız örnek bir çalışmadır. Keşke herkes sizin kadar duyarlı ve cesur olsa.

  • Kevin Provance

    I’m making this project for my mum’s x-mas present. Google led me to your site. It’s awesome (do you shoot as well? ). Later on, I’ll browse some more, and Liked your FB page. Thanks for the well thought out plan and easy to comprehend steps that even us computer geeks (the programmer kind, not the gaming kind) can figure out.

    Love and Light,

    – Kev

  • Matt

    I am in need of a picnic table like this. Anyone in the Dallas area that can build one for me? Also – how much does this cost for materials.

  • chimney pipe

    I love this type of table,It looks so beautiful.

  • Nick

    Great project. We did the same thing, but simplified the joint where the legs cross.

  • erica mc

    Happy to report that I mastered Lap Joints!! woohoo!!

    What I did was mark them…then used the chop (miter saw) to cut the first and last cut…then strategically put some extra little cuts in …used my sawsall to finish up the edgest (since the chop blade is round the deepest part is the center of the cut (watch for that..u will go way too far if your not careful). and then chiseled them out w/ ease. Of course I say that but it took me 3 hours to do the one bench legs! LOL…but I was learning. I can prob do the second faster. PS: I used Hubs big screwed down clamp on his bench to hold my wood while i was using the sawsall and chiseling. Helped a lot!

  • erica mc

    I am also using a pocket jig to hide all my connections under the bench and where they will be less noticable. I just found out that I am off on my supports. I probably forgot to reset the degrees on the miter saw after making the cleats. Will fix and lyk how it goes. Thanks so much for this project. I would NEVER have attempted it had you not been so detailed in giving the dimensions and angles. Appreciate it! :)

  • Yogi Dave

    My son & I are getting ready to build one of these but would really like to make it longer (8 ft?). Any idea what length might be too long for this design?


  • Raleigh Home Builder Mark

    Thanks for sharing! It’s starting to get warm outside, so I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been thinking about getting getting having a picnic.

  • Ian Anderson

    Thanks Kit, just the simple design I was looking for.

    I want to make a monster one to seat at least 12, so I’ll need to add a ‘third leg’ (oh er!) to stop any sagging business.

    I like the cross halving joints too, all the other ones I saw use two thinner timbers simply fastened together in an X and alternate packing pieces to make it uniform thickness (if you follow that).

    Like the site and your ‘voice’ Kit :-)
    Stay well

  • Sean


    Thanks for the plans! I was looking at lag bolts, and length came up. How long should the 3/8 be?


  • Leo C.

    Great job, guys.
    I know we have a picnic bench that we look forward to bringing out from the garage this year!

  • Rob

    Awesome design and great instructions! I can’t wait to get started! I was wondering, did you use pressure treated wood? Thanks for sharing this!


    • Don

      Pressure treated wood is really toxic. Don’t use it for anything your body is going to have contact with. Redwood is very rot-resistant and commonly available in the right dimensions.

  • john

    I will work on this

  • Don

    Great plans, with one small correction. The bench braces should be cut at 2x4x15 inches. 12″ is too short to center them with the area where the bench legs cross each other.

    Otherwise, the plans are great and saved us hours of mocking up (and probably mucking up) the table and benches. Thanks for posting them!

  • Michael Lesniak

    Just finished a 72″ version of your, PS version, table in Redwood. Love the no fastener showing design. Had some false starts but then it all made sense. Comes together so cleanly its amazing. Thanks for posting this design and linking to PS. Best piece of outdoor furniture I’ve ever built.

  • adam dye

    Wow it was so easy,the plans and lay out of materials made this a fun project,got a kick out of your comment ” i add a few inches to mine” leave it to a woman to want to add a few inches to something that works just fine. Haha! thx!

  • Amanda

    Hey there! I have a sort of personal question if you don’t mind sharing…how much did this cost approximately? I’m trying to find an reasonable outdoor seating option for my daughter’s first birthday other than hideous fold outs 😉

    • Kit

      I built this years ago, so I don’t remember the exact price, but it was comparable to the wood picnic tables you see for sale at big box stores or lumber yards. It wasn’t cheaper to DIY, but I got the detached benches that I wanted that way.

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  • John

    What type of wood do you recomend?

  • Jordan

    I’ve always wanted one of these classic picnic tables, and then I stumbled upon this! Thanks so much for sharing.

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    I am genuinely happy to rread this web site posts which consists of plejty oof helpful data,
    thanks forr providing these kinds of information.

  • dream walkn

    This is a very nice design. My only comment is that I would suggest only using Pressure Treated (PT) lumber for the cross pieces that touch the ground. The rest should really not be made with PT lumber. The treatment is pretty toxic and you really don’t want your skin touching it: Like the seats when wearing shorts, and the table top where you will probably be eating, resting your arms, liking the jam off of that leaked out of your PB&J sandwich. If you still want to go with PT then build it and let it sit in the sun and weather for several months to dry it out, not using it, then paint it with an outdoor latex paint to seal the PT stuff inside.

    Just Sayin’


    • Paul

      If using untreated, apply end grain sealer to bottom of legs. It is wax like seal to prevent moisture from seeping up the grain. Another idea is to put plastic table leg end pads on bottom of legs.

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  • mike christensen

    Where exactly do you notch out the table and bench legs for the lap joints? How far from each end do you make the cuts?

  • Jerry

    Please, tell me how I can print this page out?

  • Paul

    Am in midst of this project – looks like you placed cleats about 12″ from each end of table? I am doing 72″ so that should be about right.

    For the table legs and cleats I used the exact Popular Mechanics angle of 51.7 degrees (38.3 miter saw setting).

    For template I pocket screwed 1x2s so inside rectangle = 27″ x 28.5″.

    Will update when I get it done.

  • Jay

    Great for hot season!

  • Tim

    What kind of wood should I use??

  • Blaine gibson

    Cost me $115 dollars to build it they are 250 or better here

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  • Will S Babbit

    Anyone able to figure out the lag bolt and screw length? It’s not on either plans, just the girth.

  • evan messer

    I am interested in scaling this project down for a kids table. I know that the length of the table is easy, but for the width, is there an easy formula to use for the cuts of wood? Or suggestions on how to draw up the plans and cut the wood?

    Instead of the 5 2×6’s across the top of the able I want to use 4.

    In addition for the benches, instead of 3 2×4’s across, I want to use 2.

    Any help would be amazing, and appreciated!

    • jim

      thank you for sharing!

  • Deb

    Made this over the weekend. Absolutely love it. Coulple of issues that might be relevant to anyone else contemplating it. One already mentioned was the measurement for the braces on the benches being way off at 12 inches. The PM plan says 14 7/16 but that is slightly too short as well. We got around it by cutting notches in the cleat as didn’t have the lumber to recut.

  • Anna @ Newcastle Loft Conversion

    You have made some really great things! 8 years after and I’m only looking at your picnic table now! Well done x

  • Sally

    Fantastic picnic table.Love it!

  • Sally

    Fantastic picnic table. Love it!

  • Kyle

    Is their an angle that the lap joints are cut on

  • Shawn

    Nice table but for the 2×6 ’66 table top I rounded the edge of the two because my 2 yr old still runs wild and bumps his head but great plans easy to move and saves space loading it up in a truck

  • Jovan

    Great instructions and what a picnic table. Seems pretty easy to construct as well due to your great instructions!

  • Richard

    Great project – thank you for sharing your experiences

  • juan

    is there some way to order the parts show in the website so i can build it

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