How to Build an Outdoor Dining Table

This table's built-in planter box allows you to create interesting centerpieces for any occasion. You can install a 36-in.-long planter insert or fill the box with buckets of cold beverages, a selection of your favorite condiments or a decorative row of candles. When you need more tabletop space, install the optional insert to cover the opening.

As far as I'm concerned, every meal is better when it's enjoyed alfresco. This large outdoor dining table's unique built-in planter box lets you turn even an ordinary dinner into a special event. It's designed to house a standard 36-in. plastic planter insert, but you could also fill it with a variety of decorative objects or meal accompaniments.

The table is made from standard dimensional lumber and requires only a few hand tools and basic portable power tools to build. It comfortably seats six people, but it could easily accommodate eight. If you prefer to forgo the planter opening, you can simply replace the short narrow top boards with full-length boards — or keep your options open and build an insert to cover the box when you want to have more tabletop space.

Make templates
I prefer to make a template for any part that features a special shape or profile. Templates are obviously useful for creating multiple matching parts, but I often make them for single parts as well because laying out the profile on a template allows me the freedom to make modifications (or a mistake) without worrying about wrecking an actual part. I typically use inexpensive plywood for templates; in this case I used some leftover 1x pine. I always label and save my templates in case I decide to build the same project again in the future.

To create the templates for this project, lay out the profiles for the ends of the cross-supports, feet and trestle (see photo 1). Cut out the profiles and sand the edges smooth.

Make templates for the cross-support ends, feet and trestle. Flex a thin piece of scrap wood to lay out the arc profiles on the top and bottom of the trestle.

Make the base parts
Once the templates are complete, trace their profiles on the actual workpieces. Use a jigsaw or band saw to cut out each part (photo 2).

Trace the templates on the actual stock and then cut the parts with a jigsaw. Use a file and sandpaper to remove the saw marks and ease the edges.

The table cross-supports and rails fit together with cross-halved joints. A cross-halved joint is created by cutting interlocking notches in each mating part. The width of the notch equals the width of the mating part. The depth of the notch equals half the depth of the mating parts. In this case the notches are 1-3/4 in. deep (half of the 3-1/2-in. depth of the 2x4s). The trestle fits inside a pair of 4-in.-wide x 1/4-in.-deep notches cut in the inside faces of the legs.

Mark the location of the notches on the legs, cross-supports and rails. It's easiest to clamp together the parts that have the same notch dimensions and cut them at the same time — a technique called gang cutting (photo 3). Make several crosscuts, spaced about 1/8 in. apart, to remove half of the wood. Then break out the remaining wood and smooth the bottom of the notch with a chisel (photo 4).

Set your circular saw blade depth to 1-3/4 in. and then make a series of cuts between the notch layout lines. Space the cuts roughly 1/8 in. apart.

Use a screwdriver to break off the wood that is left between the crosscuts. Then use a chisel to smooth the bottom of each notch.

Assemble the base
Assemble the table base upside down on a large, flat work surface or on the floor. First attach the crosssupports, side rails and planter-box sides with 2-1/2-in. deck screws (photo 5). Drill a 1/8-in.-dia. pilot hole for each screw.

Assemble the parts upside down on a large work surface or the floor. Attach the side rails to the cross-supports with 2-1/2-in. deck screws. Drill a 1/8-in.-dia. pilot hole for each screw.

Next, attach one leg to each end of the table frame. The inside edge of each leg should be located 1/2 in. from the center of the cross-supports. The legs must be attached perpendicular to the crosssupports. Attach the legs with a couple of 2-1/2-in. deck screws.

Secure each leg with a 3/8-in.-dia. x 4-1/2-in. hex bolt. Each end of the bolt is recessed in the cross-supports. Use a spade bit or Forstner bit to bore a 1/4-in.-deep x 1-1/8-in.-dia. counterbore in the cross-support. Then use a spade bit or an auger bit to bore a 3/8-in.-dia. hole through both cross-supports and the leg. Stop boring when the bit begins to break out through the other cross-support. Then bore another 1/4-in.-deep x 1-1/8-in.-dia. counterbore centered over the bit's exit hole.

Attach the trestle to the first set of legs (photo 6). Then attach a second leg to each side of the table and trestle.

Attach one leg to each end of the table, making sure the leg is perpendicular to the cross-supports. Attach the trestle to the leg; then attach the second leg to each end of the table.

Measure the distance between the planter box's sides and cut the planter-box ends to fit. Attach the planter-box ends to the sides with 2-1/2-in. deck screws. Then attach the planter-box bottom to the ends with 2-in. deck screws.

Finally, attach the feet to the legs (photo 7). Make sure the feet are perpendicular to the legs. Install two bolts through each leg.

Bore a 3/8-in.-dia. pilot hole with 1-1/8-in.-dia. x 1/4-in.-deep counterbore holes in each end. Attach the feet to the legs with 3/8 x 4-1/2-in. hex bolts.

Attach the top boards
I made the tabletop from 5/4x6 (1 x 5-1/2-in. actual size) cedar deck boards. You could also use 1x4 and 1x6 boards, or for a beefier, more rustic look, you could choose 2x4s and 2x6s.

To minimize waste, purchase 10-ft.-long boards. If you choose to use deck boards, you'll have to rip them down to 3-1/2 in. to make the narrow top boards. Use a fi le, rasp, plane or router to round over the cut edges to match the deck boards' factory edges.

Cut the top boards to length; then flip over the table base and attach the boards with 2-in. deck screws. At the same time, if you choose to build the insert, attach the insert boards to the insert cleats. Bore pilot holes and countersinks for each screw to prevent splitting the boards.

Using a pencil and string, create a compass (photo 8) to draw a 56-in. radius on each end of the tabletop; then cut the radius with a jigsaw. Use a rasp, file and power sander to smooth the surfaces, ends and edges. Finally, apply an exterior-rated finish to all surfaces. You can extend the life of the finish and the wood by covering the table with a tarp or storing it in a protected area such as a shed or garage during the winter.

Use a string as a compass to draw a 56-in. radius across the ends of the top boards. Drive a screw temporarily into the top of one planter-box end (between the narrow top boards) and attach the string to the screw and to a pencil. Roll the string around the pencil until it is 56 in. long. Move the screw to the other end and repeat.

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