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It seats up to 8, but no one has to straddle a leg.
Editor’s note: this article originally appeared in American Woodworker #154.
Every summer, my uncle Bob tends the grill at our family gatherings and is the last one to the picnic table. He always gets stuck with a middle seat. We’d cheer him on as he groaned and struggled to get into it—a lot of fun, but not a pretty sight.
Last fall, at our Labor Day feast, I resolved to build a new picnic table with seats that every person could slip right into. I call it the Crisscross, after the shape of its base. This one’s for you, Bob.
Crisscross Picnic Table Cut List
- 1 Box 4″ deck screws
- 1 Box 2″ deck screws
- 8 5/16″ x 3-1/2″ lag screws
- 16 1/4″ x 3″ carriage bolts,
- with nuts and washers
- 4 1/4″ x 4″ carriage bolts, with nuts and washers
I started designing the table for standard 2×6 lumber, but one day a buddy suggested that I use a new material: thermally modified wood. It’s Southern yellow pine that’s been heated to a very high temperature, making it rot-resistant. The process also gives the wood a beautiful chocolate color, inside and out, which nicely complements our home’s cedar shakes and the artificial stone below it. The boards are amazingly flat and stable. I had to try it!
My friend builds decks for a living. He had a bunch of thermally modified wood left over from a job—enough to build this table. I gladly offered to buy it and had a great time working with it, although I did have to alter my plans a bit. The wood I used is thinner and narrower than standard material. (It’s 1-1/4″ thick and 5″ wide; standard boards are usually 1-3/8″ thick and 5-1/4″ wide.)
You’ll need about 24 pieces of 8′ long 2x6s to build this table. The cutting list will work fine if you’re using standard lumber, but your top will be nine boards wide, rather than ten. Let’s get going!
Build the cross stretchers
Begin by making the crisscross stretchers (A). Saw them to length, cutting angles on their ends (Photo 1). Cut dadoes in the middle of each piece using a router or a tablesaw (Fig. B).
Make the pieces that go between the stretchers: the end spacers (B) and middle spacers (C). Using an exterior yellow glue, glue and screw these pieces to two of the stretchers. Sand all the mating surfaces first, so the glue will adhere better. (Note that the middle spacers are aligned with the sides of the dadoes you just cut.) Glue and screw a second stretcher on top of the spacers (Photo 2). You should now have two identical stretcher assemblies.
These assemblies will nest together with large half-lap joints. Draw these joints in the center of each assembly. When you lay out the joints, be sure that one notch will be on the top of the assembly and the other notch on the bottom. The angled ends are your guide as to which side is top and which is bottom. Cut the notches on the tablesaw (Photo 3). You can use a standard blade or a dado blade. (If you use a dado blade, don’t take off too much in one bite.)
Make the legs (D, Fig. C). Notch the top of each leg as shown. Round over the bottom ends of the legs with a router. To help assemble the legs, make a pair of spacing pieces that are the same width and length as the portion of the leg that extends below the cross stretchers. You can use offcuts from the legs or pieces of plywood to make these pieces. Clamp the spacers to the bottom of the legs and insert the legs through the stretcher assembly (Photo 4).
Fine-tune the position of the legs by lining up their ends with a long level or straightedge. Once the legs are aligned, clamp them in place. Run two lag screws through the stretchers and the legs (Fig. A).
Finish the base
Join the two stretcher assemblies together (Photo 5). For maximum strength, use glue and screws. If you intend to take the table apart for moving or storage (or just to get it out of the shop!), skip the glue and screws.
Make the long braces (E) and short braces (F). Cut dadoes in the center of the long braces (Fig. A). These dadoes are oversized so you don’t have to be extremely fussy when positioning the braces. Glue and screw all four braces to the legs (Photo 6).
Add the top
Cut the top boards (G, H and J) to length. Assemble them in a symmetrical pattern (Fig. D), using 8d nails or 1/8″ spacers between the pieces.
Note: If you’re using standard-width lumber to build this table, make the top from nine pieces, not ten pieces as shown.
Clamp the top pieces together (Photo 7). Make the top cleats (K) and glue and screw them to the top boards. Remove the clamps and place the base on the top. Fasten the base to the top (Photo 8). Get some help and turn the table over onto the floor.
You can use a jigsaw to cut the top into a circle, but a plunge router equipped with a long 1/2″ dia. straight bit will create a smoother surface. To guide the router, make a plywood trammel (Fig. E). Mark the center of the top and nail the loose square piece to the table. Remove the subbase from your router and fasten the router to the trammel. Place the trammel on the square piece nailed to the table.
Set the router to make a plunge cut all the way through the top. To prevent the edges of the boards from splintering as you rout around the circle, make a series of plunge cuts on both sides of each board (Photo 9).
Then reset the router to cut one-third of the way through the top and rout a full circle. Reset the router to make deeper cuts and keep routing until you’ve cut all the way through. Use a 1/8″ dia.roundover bit to ease the top’s edge.
Add the seats
Make the seat boards (L and M) and seat cleats (N). Glue and screw the cleats to the boards (Fig. F). Make sure the cleats are parallel to each other—a plywood spacer would help here.
Make a 1/4″ plywood template for shaping the seats. Nail the template to a seat assembly (Photo 10). Use a plunge router equipped with a 5/8″ o.d. guide bushing and a 1/2″ straight bit to rout around the template. Round over the seats’ edges.
Fasten the seats to the base (Photo 11). Make the seat legs (P) and fasten them to the cleats. Make the leg stretchers (Q) and fasten them between the legs (Photo 12).
Drill or rout a hole in the tabletop for the umbrella pole (Photo 13). If you use a router, make a template with a 2-1/8″ dia. hole and nail it to the top. Use the same guide bushing and bit as you used for the seat.
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