Building your own outdoor wooden table can be a fun and rewarding DIY project. With the right planning and materials, you can create a beautiful, long-lasting table perfect for dining, entertaining, or just relaxing outside. The first step is choosing which type of wood to use. For outdoor furniture, you’ll want wood that is naturally resistant to rot, insects, and moisture. Popular choices include cedar, redwood, cypress, and teak. These woods can withstand exposure to sun, rain, and snow without too much maintenance.
Once you’ve selected your lumber, it’s time to decide on the size and design for your table. Consider how much space you have available and how many people you’d like to seat. Simple rectangular picnic tables are beginner-friendly and provide plenty of room. You can find free plans online or come up with your own custom creation. Be sure to cut the wood to size with a power saw, using proper safety precautions. Sand down any rough edges before assembly. Use exterior wood glue and screws to join the pieces together securely.
The final step is applying a protective finish to shield the wood from outdoor elements. Clear polyurethane is a popular choice as it prevents moisture damage but shows off the wood’s natural grain. Multiple coats are recommended for best results. For a more weathered look, you could use an outdoor stain. With the right preparation and care, your handmade table can be enjoyed for many years in your backyard oasis.
Choosing the Right Wood
When selecting wood for an outdoor project, you need to consider durability, weather resistance, hardness, texture, color, and cost. The type of wood you choose will directly impact how your table holds up against the elements year after year. Let’s take a in-depth look at some of the best options:
Teak is one of the most popular and attractive woods used for outdoor furniture. Native to Southeast Asia, teak contains high amounts of natural oils that make it water, rot, and insect resistant. This durable hardwood has a stunning golden brown color and beautiful straight grain patterns when cut or sanded smooth. The natural oils in teak also give it a slightly oily or waxy feel.
Teak is an excellent wood for beginners because it’s relatively easy to work with using basic tools. It doesn’t warp or crack when properly dried and cured. You can shape teak using hand tools, power tools, and it also takes screws and nails well. Over time when exposed to sun and rain, untreated teak will develop a silvery-grey patina. Many homeowners actually prefer this aged look.
Thanks to its unrivaled durability, teak is on the pricier side. But it’s a worthwhile investment if you want a handsome table that will last upwards of 50 years with proper care. Teak is perfect if you live in a humid, rainy climate. It can endure all types of weather patterns year-round.
For a more affordable option, cedar is another great choice. This aromatic softwood has a reddish-brown hue and a mildly coarse, splintery texture. Graining patterns vary from straight to wavy knots. The natural oils in cedar make it naturally resistant to decay and insects. But it is not as hard or durable as teak when used outdoors.
Cedar is lightweight, relatively soft, and easy to work with using hand or power tools. You can saw it, sand it, rout it, and stain it with great results. Compared to other woods, cedar needs to be re-stained more often to maintain its protection and color. Every 1-2 years is recommended. The main downside is that cedar is not as long-lasting outside as harder wood varieties.
On the plus side, purchasing cedar boards is very affordable compared to exotic hardwoods. Cedar has a pleasant natural scent that helps repel moths and other pests. Overall, cedar makes a great choice for DIYers on a budget looking for wood that’s resistant to rot and easier to work with.
Redwood has a distinctive reddish, pinkish, or deep orange color. This softwood has a straight grain pattern with varying densities of growth rings. Redwood’s natural oils make it resistant to insects, dry rot, and moisture damage. Redwood is also less likely to warp, split, or cup from exposure to water and sun.
Compared to cedar, redwood typically lasts slightly longer outdoors. Properly cared for redwood tables can endure for 20-30 years or longer in the elements. Redwood contains tannins and phenols that help naturally protect the wood from pests, fungi, and bacteria. This is an ideal wood for outdoor projects in wet climates. Redwood is also moderately priced and readily available at most hardware stores.
Keep in mind that redwood has a moderately coarse texture and classified as a softwood. It is not quite as hard or scratch-resistant as teak or other tropical woods. Redwood also lacks the distinctive grain patterns present in many hardwoods. But it stains and finishes well with gorgeous results.
Cypress is another good budget-friendly option for outdoor projects. This softwood has a yellowish tan hue with darker brown streaks and knots mixed throughout. The contrasting colors add visual interest. Cypress holds up moderately well against weather, insects, and rot due to its high moisture resistance. The wood has some texture but sands to a smooth finish.
One downside to cypress is that it contains resin cells that can cause staining when finished. Making sure to properly sand and prepare the wood is key to preventing discoloration from resin bleeding through stains or paint. Cypress costs less than cedar or redwood but also won’t last quite as many years outside. With proper care, you can expect around 15-20 years of life from a cypress table.
For a hardwood option, oak is a classic choice for both indoor and outdoor projects. The benefits of using oak for an outdoor table include its density, hardness, and natural water resistance. Oak is also affordable and widely available at home improvement stores.
Red oak, white oak, and live oak are some of the most popular species to use. Oak has a distinctive grain pattern and varies in color from white to reddish-brown to dark brown. It resists rotting, warping, and scratches better than softwoods. The main downsides are that oak is very heavy and can be more difficult to cut and work with.
Unfinished oak left outdoors will naturally weather to a silvery hue. Many homeowners appreciate this rustic, aged look. If you desire to maintain oak’s original reddish tone, it needs occasional re-staining and sealing. Overall, oak makes a long-lasting outdoor table option if the extra weight won’t be an issue.
Acacia wood has been growing in popularity for outdoor furniture and fixtures. Acacia is an exotic hardwood imported primarily from Africa, Asia, and Australia. It shares many similarities with true teak but comes at a lower price point. Acacia has an attractive light brown color with dark contrasting streaks in the grain.
Just like teak, acacia wood is naturally weather resistant and durable outdoors thanks to its density and oil content. It is also easy to work with using standard woodworking tools. One downside is that acacia lacks the rich, warm color tones of real teak. But if you desire the look of teak for less money, acacia is an excellent alternative.
Outdoor tables made from acacia can easily last 15-25 years or more. Maintenance involves re-oiling or staining periodically as needed. Look for sustainably harvested acacia wood to ensure responsible sourcing. It remains a fairly eco-friendly choice compared to chemically treated woods.
Ipe is an extremely dense tropical hardwood that makes a wonderful material for outdoor tables and benches. This Brazilian walnut wood has a rich brown color, natural water resistance, and unmatched durability. Ipe naturally repels insects, resists fungi and rot, and does not warp or crack over time.
The downsides of ipe are mainly the high cost, weight, and difficulty working with such an incredibly hard wood. Professional grade power tools are highly recommended. Pre-drilling is mandatory to avoid splitting. Ipe’s density also dulls blades faster than other woods. But for the ultimate in weather resistance, ipe is one of the best options.
Tables constructed from ipe can easily last 40 years or longer with minimal upkeep required. Its strength exceeds that of pressure-treated pine. Ipe has the highest fire rating of any wood and will not burn easily. For an investment in longevity, ipe is worth consideration despite the extra effort required to build with it.
Comparison of Common Woods Used for Outdoor Table Projects
|Wood Type||Durability||Weather Resistance||Hardness||Appearance||Cost|
|Teak||Excellent||Excellent||Very hard||Attractive grain, golden brown color||Expensive|
|Cedar||Good||Good||Soft||Reddish brown, coarse grain||Budget-friendly|
|Redwood||Very good||Very good||Soft||Pinkish red color, straight grain||Moderate|
|Cypress||Moderate||Good||Soft||Yellowish tan, brown streaks||Budget-friendly|
|Oak||Excellent||Very good||Very hard||Distinct grain, white to brown colors||Moderate|
|Acacia||Very good||Very good||Hard||Linear grain, light tan with dark streaks||Moderate|
|Ipe||Outstanding||Outstanding||Extremely hard||Rich brown, tight grain||Very expensive|
What is the Best Wood for an Outdoor Table?
Now that we’ve covered the most popular outdoor table wood options and their unique characteristics, what is the best choice? Here are a few quick recommendations based on your project goals:
- Best Overall: Teak offers the ideal blend of durability, water resistance, beauty, and ease of use. A worthy investment for a lifetime table.
- Most Affordable: Cedar and redwood provide the best bang for your buck. Less expensive than teak but still weather resistant.
- Easiest to Work With For Beginners: Cedar, redwood, and cypress are fairly soft, lightweight, and easy to cut and sand.
- Best Hardwood Option: Oak is naturally durable if you prefer a dense hardwood table. Requires more skill to work with.
- Most Weatherproof: Ipe and teak have unparalleled longevity and water resistance. Ipe is extremely durable but hard to work with.
- Most Unique Look: Acacia provides an attractive exotic lumber option that resembles teak for less money. Easy to build with.
No matter which wood you select, applying a protective outdoor finish is crucial. Even dense tropical hardwoods like teak and ipe benefit from added sealants. Read on for finishing recommendations later in this guide.
Now that you know how to select the ideal lumber, it’s time to start designing your outdoor table! This next section will cover important factors to consider when planning your project.
Designing the Perfect Table
Once you’ve settled on a suitable wood type for your climate and budget, the fun design process begins! Start thinking about the size, shape, features, and aesthetics that will make your table uniquely suited to your outdoor space. Sketching out ideas on paper is highly recommended before finalizing plans. Here are some key elements to ponder:
First and foremost, how big would you like your outdoor table to be? Consider the dimensions of the area where you plan to place it. Leave at least 2-3 feet of clearance on all sides to comfortably move chairs around the table.
Measure your current outdoor furniture as a starting point. For dining tables, allow 24-30 inches per person for ample leg room and space to eat. If in doubt, go bigger for flexibility – additional leaves can allow a table to expand for gatherings down the road. Just ensure the space can accommodate it.
For coffee tables, side tables, plant stands, or bench seating, determine your ideal dimensions that work with existing furniture scales and spaces. Browse photos online for sizing inspiration.
Once you’ve decided on appropriate dimensions, what shape should your table be? Here are some common options:
- Rectangular – This is the most popular shape for outdoor dining tables. Easy to pair with benches or chairs.
- Square – Equal on all sides, square tables work well in smaller spaces.
- Round – A round patio table is great for conversation areas. No sharp corners to bump into.
- Oval – An elegant compromise between rectangular and round. Provides a smooth, organic look.
- Octagonal – Eight-sided tables offer a geometric twist on the standard rectangle.
Consider the proportions and layout of your space when selecting a shape. Curved shapes can help soften an angular deck or patio. Rectangles maximize seating capacity. Get creative sketching shape options that speak to your personal style.
Beyond the basic size and shape, think through any special features your table needs to function well:
- Umbrella holes – Add a hole to the center to accommodate patio umbrellas for shade.
- Benches – Attached benches offer built-in seating and save space.
- Shelves – Under-table shelves provide storage for outdoor dining accessories.
- Wheels – Casters allow mobility for easily moving the table around.
- Leaf extensions – Expandable leaves let tables grow bigger for occasions.
- Folding legs – Hinged legs allow for compact storage when not in use.
- Cup holders – Drilled holes or grooves help contain drinks at the table.
- Ice bucket – Built-in recessed ice buckets keep drinks chilled without taking up space.
- Electrical access – You can add flip-top ports to conveniently plug in devices outdoors.
Make your table uniquely functional by incorporating special amenities you’d enjoy using. Just be mindful of carpentry skills required to accommodate more complex features.
Beyond practical considerations, think about decorative design elements that reflect your personal style:
- Wood finish – Opt for a natural, stained, painted, or whitewashed look.
- Hardware – Ornate hardware like scrolled legs and corner brackets provide flair.
- Inlays – Creative wood or tile inlays add ornamental accents to tabletops.
- Edge profile – Decorate the edges with rounded bevels, routed profiles, or inlays.
- Base style – Turn thick legs or beams into a focal visual statement.
- Patterns – Use contrasting wood pieces to create geometric, starburst, or striped designs.
- Planter box – Incorporate planter boxes for a living tabletop.
Browse design ideas online or in magazines like DIY Network and HGTV to spark your creativity for the perfect table style.
Sourcing Outdoor Table Plans
If your woodworking skills need some practice before attempting your own custom design, start with a simple pre-made plan. Here are some great resources for finding free DIY outdoor table plans:
- Ana White – This website has tons of free woodworking plans for beginners including picnic tables, farmhouse tables, potting benches, Adirondack chairs, and more. Very detailed instructions.
- Shanty 2 Chic – This husband-wife duo shares lots of approachable plans for outdoor furniture like farm tables, coffee tables, side tables, and benches.
- Her Tool Belt – Lauren offers a huge variety of beginner woodworking plans including modern geometric patio tables, handmade benches, and pergolas.
- Rogue Engineer – This site created by an engineer has plans for rolling outdoor beverage carts, pub height patio tables, and unique tree trunk tables.
- Rockler Woodworking – Although not free, Rockler has high-quality project plans available to purchase including patio tables, chairs, benches, and loungers.
- Family Handyman – This home improvement site shares free plans and how-to articles on building your own outdoor furniture.
Start with a simple rectangular or square shape with 2×4 or 2×6 framing lumber if following your first plan. Once you gain more carpentry experience, you can modify popular designs or create your own vision!
Necessary Tools and Materials
Now that you have wood type options and design plans in mind, let’s discuss sourcing the necessary building supplies. Constructing an outdoor table requires just a few standard tools and materials:
- Circular or miter saw – for cutting boards and legs to precise lengths and angles
- Jigsaw – useful for making curved cuts if your table isn’t rectangular
- Power drill and bits – for drilling screw pilot holes and possibly umbrella holes
- Orbital sander – for smoothing wood between coats of stain/sealant
- Pocket hole jig – allows easy joining of wood boards and legs
- Router – useful for decorative edges, inlays, and other detailing
- Handsaw or crosscut saw – allows precise cuts and angles if needed
- Combination square – ensures pieces are cut squarely
- Tape measure and pencil – scoring lumber before cutting
- Wood clamps – to hold pieces in place during assembly
- Sanding block and paper – prepares wood for finishing
- Safety gear – gloves, goggles, ear protection, etc.
Hardware and Supplies
- Exterior wood screws – Choose corrosion resistant screws in a variety of lengths
- Deck screws – For structural framing connections
- Wood glue or adhesives – Gorilla Glue and Titebond 3 are great options
- Wood filler – For covering any holes or imperfections before finishing
- Boards for the tabletop – Choose the wood species and thickness based on your plans
- Legs and beams – Dimensional 2×4 or 2×6 lumber works well for most designs
- Matching boards for benches/shelves – Optional for additional built-in seating
When purchasing lumber, carefully calculate how much you’ll need based on the exact table dimensions and your plans. Having all materials and tools on hand before starting construction will make the process far easier. Don’t forget safety essentials like gloves, goggles, dust masks, and ear protection.
Outdoor Table Building Process
You’ve selected the perfect wood, drafted plans, and gathered supplies. Now comes the fun part – bringing your design to life! With the right tools and materials at your workspace, you’re ready to start building. We’ll walk through the key construction steps:
Cut the Wood Pieces
Mark all lumber using a tape measure, combination square, and pencil based on the measurements in your plans. Cut the boards and legs to size using a power miter saw or circular saw. Take your time to make straight, accurate cuts. Jigsaws are useful for making curved cuts.
Smooth the Wood Pieces
Use a power sander to smooth any rough edges on your wood boards, legs, and bracing supports. Start with 60-80 grit paper to remove mill marks and surface imperfections, then work up to 120 and 220 grit for a super smooth finish.
Assemble the Base
Attach the legs, side rails, and cross-members that form the base support structure using exterior wood screws or deck screws along with wood glue. Check for square to ensure the leg assembly is level and aligned. Clamps can help hold pieces flush. Allow glue to fully cure as recommended before continuing.
Attach the Tabletop
Once the base is complete, place your tabletop boards side-by-side on a flat surface to test the fit. Use 1⁄4” spacers between each board. Attach the top from underneath through the apron using exterior wood screws paired with glue. Apply even clamping pressure and wipe away any squeezed out glue.
Sand Again and Remove Dust
Sand the entire table with 120 grit paper once more to ensure a smooth surface for finishing. Use a tack cloth to remove any remaining dust.
Apply Decorative Details
Now is the time to drill any umbrella holes, chamfer table edges with a router, install folding leg hardware, or add other functional components from your plans.
Seal the Wood
Apply your chosen outdoor sealant finish, whether it’s stain, paint, or clear protective topcoat. Allow proper drying time between coats. Details on recommended sealing methods upcoming in the next section.
Once fully dry, mount any additional hardware like caster wheels, handles, or tabletop fasteners according to your plans.
Enjoy Your Creation!
Set your completed outdoor masterpiece in place and admire the fruits of your labor! Now relax with a cold beverage at your custom hand-crafted table.
In a nutshell, those are the basic construction steps. Always refer back to your detailed plans and instructions. Take your time measuring and cutting precisely. Let glue fully cure before moving onto finishing steps. If at any point you feel unsure of the proper building techniques or get stuck, don’t hesitate to call in a carpenter friend or handy family member for guidance. Extra pairs of hands are always useful when assembling large tables.
While the building process may take a full weekend or longer, the satisfaction of creating your own furniture and enjoying it for years to come makes it all worthwhile.
How to Finish and Seal Your Outdoor Table
Once all the sawdust has settled from constructing your outdoor table masterpiece, it’s crucial to properly seal and protect the wood. Outdoor furniture takes a beating from the elements. Applying protective finishes will safeguard it from water, UV rays, dirt, and other environmental hazards to maximize longevity.
Here are some recommended options for sealing and finishing exterior wood tables:
Penetrating Wood Stain
Penetrating stains impart color while soaking into the wood grain to provide protection. They typically contain water repellants, UV inhibitors, and fungicides. Oil-based options provide longer durability than water-based. Semi-transparent stains stand up to weathering while allowing some of the natural wood to show through.
Start with thoroughly cleaning and sanding the wood. Apply an even coat with a foam brush or lint-free rag. Let dry 24 hours. Add a second coat, then topcoat with polyurethane or varnish for extra durability. Reapply the stain finish every 1-2 years.
For a bolder, more vibrant colored table, consider exterior grade acrylic latex paint. Latex paint forms a protective film on the wood’s surface and won’t crack or peel like interior paints. Purchase paint specifically formulated for outdoor use.
Lightly sand and clean the wood first to prep. Apply a minimum of 2-3 coats using a quality 2” angled sash brush. Allow each coat to fully dry 24 hours before adding the next. Durability will last 2-3 years on average before needing a fresh paint job.
Clear polyurethane is a popular wood finish option that waterproofs while allowing the natural wood grain and color to show through. It provides excellent scratch, moisture, and stain resistance. Oil-based polyurethane works best for outdoor projects. Apply 4-5 thin coats with light sanding between each.
Wipe on the finish using a soft lint-free rag or nylon brush. Let dry thoroughly. Polyurethane will need reapplication every 3-5 years to maintain optimal weather resistance and luster.
For a glossy, polished look, epoxy resin makes a protective topcoat for outdoor tables. It essentially encases the wood in a clear, plastic-like barrier that is highly durable and moisture resistant. Rougher woods like oak also see reduced grain raised with epoxy.
Applying the 2-part resin properly takes some practice. Multiple coats are needed for a thick finish. Consider using a pour-on finishing resin for large tabletops. Reapply epoxy every 4-6 years. It can scratch or yellow over time from UV exposure.
No matter which finish you select, read all manufacturer instructions thoroughly and apply the product only in ideal weather conditions to ensure proper curing. With the right preparation and application, your handcrafted wood table should be shielded from whatever your climate throws at it!
Maintaining and Caring for Your Outdoor Table
Now that you’ve built your dream table and protected it with a sealant finish, it’s important to keep up with regular maintenance to maximize its lifespan. Here are some tips for properly caring for your outdoor wooden table:
- Keep it covered – Use a waterproof cover or sun shade when not in use to fend off weathering effects
- Clean frequently – Wipe down with mild soap and water to prevent dirt, pollen, and debris buildup
- Re-seal as needed – Watch for finish wear and reapply fresh coats every 1-3 years
- Avoid harsh cleaners – Mild detergent is safer than bleach, ammonia, or abrasive scrubs
- Check for damage – Periodically inspect for any cracks, peeling, loosening, etc. and address issues quickly
- Tighten hardware – Ensure all screws, bolts, and joints are snugged up properly
- Move indoors seasonally – Storing the table in a garage or shed will minimize winter weathering
- Protect surfaces – Use placemats and coasters to prevent hot items or spills from damaging the top
Proper maintenance may take a little extra time, but you’ll be rewarded with decades of use from your hand-crafted piece. Follow the finish manufacturer’s advice for optimal warranty coverage. Your regular TLC will keep your outdoor table looking beautiful year after year.
Troubleshooting Common Outdoor Table Problems
Building your own outdoor furniture provides immense satisfaction, but the learning process also comes with its share of potential issues. Here are some frequent problems DIYers encounter with outdoor wooden tables, plus troubleshooting tips:
Wood Warping or Cracking
This occurs when moisture penetrates unfinished wood. Ensure lumber was properly kiln-dried before use. Always seal outdoor projects well. Store indoors during wet seasons.
Loose, Popping Screws
Use exterior-grade, corrosion-resistant screws. Pre-drill holes to prevent splitting. Ensure joints are snug before finishing.
Finish Bubbling or Peeling
Caused by trapped moisture or improper prep and application. Only use finishes formulated for outdoor use. Follow all label directions.
Discoloration or Dark Streaks
Certain woods like cedar and redwood contain tannins that can leach through finishes. Proper sanding and priming prevent this.
Natural result of weathering over time. Sand and refinish damaged areas. Use plastic or felt pads under objects to prevent surface scratches.
Prevent by starting with properly dried lumber and allowing adequate finishing dry times. Sand down high spots; fill low spots before recoating.
Look for wood containing natural repellents. Use water-sealants. Avoid uncovered wood storage outside.
Be proactive with regular maintenance and inspection to catch any issues early before they worsen. Addressing problems promptly will keep your handcrafted furniture looking its best for many years to come! Reach out to experts if you need help diagnosing or repairing stubborn damage.
Inspiration for Your Next Outdoor Woodworking Project
We hope reading this extensive outdoor table building tutorial gives you the confidence to begin crafting your own alfresco dining centerpiece. What will you build next to furnish the rest of your backyard oasis? Here are some ideas:
- Coordinating benches
- Serving cart or beverage station
- Outdoor sofa, chairs, or loungers
- Coffee, side, or end table
- Planter boxes or plant stands
- Storage chests, cabinets, or hutches
- Pergolas, arbors, or trellises
- Privacy screens or fencing
- Fire pits or chimineas
- Playground sets or swingsets
- Adirondack chairs or rockers
- Hammock frames or stands
- Boat docks, decks, or boardwalks
Frequently Asked Questions about Building Outdoor Wooden Tables
What is the best wood to use for an outdoor table?
Teak is considered the gold standard for outdoor furniture thanks to its durability, weather resistance, and beauty. More affordable alternatives include cedar, redwood, cypress, oak, and acacia. Apply protective finishes to maximize longevity.
How long will an outdoor wood table last?
With proper construction, sealing, and maintenance, a wood table can last 15-25 years typically. More durable exotic woods like teak and ipe can last 50+ years. Lifespan depends on climate, use, and upkeep.
What is the most weather resistant wood?
Tropical hardwoods like teak, ipe, and acacia have high natural oil content that makes them very weather resistant. Cedar and redwood resist weather quite well for softwoods. Apply finishes to boost protection.
What finish should I use on outdoor wood?
Penetrating stains, exterior paint, marine varnish, and spar urethanes are good options. Use finishes made specifically for outdoor use. Reapply every 1-3 years.
How do I prevent wood from rotting outside?
Choose naturally rot-resistant species. Allow proper drying time before use. Use construction methods that allow water drainage. Apply protective sealers and finishes.
What can I use to waterproof wood outside?
Specialty waterproofing products like Thompson’s Water Seal as well as marine varnish, polyurethane, and epoxy resin provide excellent water resistance.
How do I stop wood from warping when building outdoor furniture?
Use properly kiln-dried lumber, allow wood to acclimate to environment, seal all sides evenly, and protect from moisture with finishes and covers/storage when not in use.
What is the most affordable wood for outdoor tables?
Cedar and redwood are more economical and budget-friendly softwood options. Pine is inexpensive but requires additional treatments for outdoor durability.
What hardware should be used for outdoor wood projects?
Choose hardware specifically designed for outdoor use – galvanized, stainless steel, or corrosion-resistant screws. Avoid plain steel.
Whether your goal is upgrading worn-out furniture, adding missing backyard elements, or pursuing larger landscaping projects, woodworking is a fun hobby with so much creative potential. The lessons you learn designing and constructing your first outdoor table give you foundational skills to continue building other backyard items from scratch.