The availability of picnic tables at campgrounds and parks is scarce at best. One solution is to wait until someone is finished, but everyone gets hungry and the kids get cranky. Another solution is to buy a picnic table if funds permit. Some tables are well built and withstand years of use, while others fall apart before, during or just after their first use.
A better solution is to build your own folding picnic table and folding stools. This design is inspired by an original plan by Mr. Art Harvey in Mechanix Illustrated magazine. In the August 1956 issue, Mr. Harvey shares his plans for a camping trailer he built. In the plans, he gives the design for a folding table and campstools. Ingenious design- the stools store inside the table when its folded, allowing for maximum use of space.
While this creative woodworker inspires my design, it is indeed different.
This article assumes the reader has basic woodworking skills and understands basic terminology. Find these terms, definitions, and explanations listed in books and on the internet.
In addition to the table legs, store four or more folding campstools inside the closed tabletop. Take your entire dining set with you in one trip.
You will need:
• 1 4-by-8 foot sheet of exterior grade plywood or MDF (medium density fiberboard)
• 1 box ¾- inch brass or galvanized flat head screws
• One Drill with various bits, countersink bits and screwdriver bits
• Four table legs- 26-inches long. Can be longer- table will be higher.
• Four blocks- 2-by-4-by-4
• 1 box 1 ½” galvanized screws
• Construction adhesive
• 2 boards, 1-by-4-by-8 feet long
• Sandpaper- coarse, medium and fine
• Wood sealer or primer and paint
• Two each 1-by-3 inch brass or galvanized hinges with screws
• One drawer handle
• One or two cabinet latches
• Four each 3/8′ size 18-by-2” hanger bolts
• Four tee nuts- 3/8
• Measuring tape, ruler and marker
• One each 3/8 cap nut
• Pliers or socket wrench
• Table saw or portable saw with appropriate blades
Make the tabletop
Cut two pieces from the MDF, each measuring 28 inches by 24 inches. This will be the tabletop.
Square the 1-by-4 boards and rip the boards to a width of 3 inches each. Cut four pieces each 28 inches long and two pieces 26 ½ inches long. Before cutting the shorter pieces, place the longer pieces on top of the MDF’s long side. Measure the distance in between the two boards. Cut the shorter boards appropriately.
Attach the shorter boards to the inside of the long boards using the 1 1/2 inch screws, forming a square. The 1-inch edge attaches to the MDF, forming a box that resembles a tray. Sand the boards smooth before attaching to the MDF.
Set the square’s edge on the MDF. The sides of the square should be flush. If not, adjust now. Do not change the shape of the MDF.
Using a thin bead of construction adhesive, attach the square to the MDF. Clamp and allow drying time for 24 hours. Turn the piece over and drive screws through the MDF into the square at each corner. Evenly space 4 screws along the short side and 6 screws along the long side.
Repeat for the other tabletop.
An alternative method to attaching the square is using corner braces inside the square. Since the MDF is only ¼ inches thick, the screws have to be no more than ¼ inch long. Construction adhesive then becomes the main attachment, and can fail over time.
Now for the legs
Make the corner blocks by cutting two pieces of 1-by-4, each 3-inches long. Cut eight squares total and glue two together for four total blocks. Use clamps while glue is drying.
Mark the center of each block. Place blocks on scrap wood and clamp in place. Drill a hole in the center and insert a tee nut in the space. Pound into place with hammer.
Place the table sections upside down with the hinge markings facing up. You are looking down on the inside of the table. Glue one of the blocks in each far corner and weigh down while glue is drying. Be careful not to get glue into the tee nuts.
While glue is drying, seat the hanger bolts in the table legs. A hanger bolt is a curious looking device- one end looks like a screw and the other end inserts the same as a bolt. The screw end seats into the end of the table leg, and the bolt end threads into the tee nut.
Clamp the table legs and mark the center of each leg. Drill in the center only as deep as needed for the screw end of the hanger. This should be one inch deep. Do not remove the leg from the clamp yet.
Attach the cap nut to the bolt end of the hanger bolt. Insert the screw end into the drilled hole and seat using the pliers to turn the cap nut. Do not use the pliers on the bolt threads at all- this will damage them and the bolt will be worthless.
Attach the hardware
Lay the two table halves upside down with the leg blocks at the far corners. Butt the two inside pieces against each other.
Mark six inches in from each side and center the hinges on the two touching 1-by-3’s. Draw an outline of the hinges and mark the screw placements. The barrel of the hinge will be facing up. Remove the hinges for a moment.
Pre-drill the hole for each screw. Replace the hinges, and attach with the screws. I like to hold hinges down temporarily with tape so they don’t move while I’m inserting screws.
Decide whether you want to place the latches on the long side (or sides), or on the front of the table. Close the table and check to make sure all the edges are flush. If the hinges are not seated properly, the box won’t close well. This is the time to adjust them.
I will close my table from the sides. On each side, measure ten inches in from the non-hinged end. Holding a latch in place, draw its outline on the wood, mark screw placements and attach the same as the hinges.
On the front, mark the center of the top rail and attach the handle.
Paint, stain or seal as desired.
Assemble the table:
Find a place to set up your table. Unlock the latches. Remove the table legs and stools. Open the table and screw in each table leg into the tee nuts. Turn the table over, open and set up the stools- the table is ready to go.
• Follow all safety rules for power and hand tools.
• Wear the appropriate safety equipment when working with tools, solvents, glues or paints.
• Never use a table or chairs as a footstool or ladder.
• Always set up a table or chairs on level ground or solid surface.
• Place cardboard or other protective material under tabletop while gluing and working with table upside down.
• Before glue dries solid, clean up squeeze out by scraping with putty knife.
• Never try to turn a screw or bolt by using tools to grasp the threads. The threads will bend and break; the screw or bolt will be worthless. It then becomes a repair to remove a damaged screw or bolt, and that’s a whole other story.
• Always pre-drill holes for screws. This helps to avoid splitting the wood.
• Keep the legs in place inside the closed tabletop by attaching ties, Velcro, etc. on the inside rails.
• Depending on their size, store folding campstools inside the table.
Source: Adam H. Sabatose, “Camp Trailer,” Popular Mechanix Illustrated, August 1956 issue.