Outdoor High-top Table

Designed as a companion piece to our grill-cart project (April/May 2013, p. 6), this 38-in.-high table is the perfect place to pull up a barstool for dinner on the deck.

Like the grill cart, it is made from rot-resistant white oak and assembled using waterproof glue and rust-resistant screws, so it will weather the outdoor elements well. Its pedestal base is a real plus because there are no table legs to interfere with the chairs or your knees.

The four-piece radiating pedestal base is both attractive and functional. Because of it, the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts. The feet and the top supports are joined with cross-halving joints, which are decorative rather than structural and make the parts appear to magically intersect in the middle. The slatted top sheds rainwater quickly and is easy to repair if a slat gets damaged. For winter storage, simply remove eight screws to disassemble the table into two easy-to-manage pieces.

Although this is more of a woodworking project than a carpentry job, it's relatively easy to build if you have some woodworking experience and can figure out ways to use a router to make tear-out-free cuts. (I'll offer some pointers to help you with that along the way.)

You can build this table in a weekend for about $300 in materials, which should be available at a lumberyard, hardware store or home-improvement center. The nylon feet can be purchased online (see SOURCES). Finishing the wood with a penetrating exterior sealer adds protection, but it's not permanent: You’ll need to apply a coat of finish every few years to keep the table looking fresh.

Construction notes
Aside from common shop tools, building the table requires a table saw, a band saw or jigsaw, an orbital sander, a few bar clamps, four 48-in.-long pipe clamps and a router with a top-bearing pattern bit, a bottom-bearing flush-trim bit and a 1/4-in.-radius round-over bit. If you own a planer, jointer, drill press, spindle sander and stationary belt or disc sander, they’ll come in handy as well, but you can get by without them.

You could cut the shapes with a band saw and sand them smooth, but using a router and templates ensures that the parts are uniform and precise. This approach gives the finished table a more professional look, and I think it is less work in the long run. Make the templates from 1/2-in. MDF. Keep in mind that the shapes of the actual workpieces will only be as good as the templates, so take the time to make accurate ones. The shapes of the top supports (D and E) are so simple that it makes no sense to create a template for them, plus they aren't even visible.

I did the template routing in two steps using two different flush-trim router bits because the bits I own are too short to make the cuts individually, and I prefer to remove less material with each router pass. Because I'm cutting only about halfway through the thickness of the workpieces, I can make the cuts without having to hang the workpiece edges over the ends of my sawhorses or workbench — that saves a lot of setup time.

The top frame pieces (F through I) are assembled with biscuits and waterproof glue and clamped together. The rest of the table is assembled with screws only. You'll need to drill pilot holes for the No. 8 and No. 10 stainless steel screws, but pilot holes aren't necessary when driving the deck screws used to attach the top slats.

Shaping the base pieces
Cut all of the pieces to size (see cutting list in the PDF below). Cut MDF templates to size and lay out the template shapes following the drawing. Drill the screw holes in the pedestal template and countersink those holes from the side facing you in the drawing. Cut out the three template shapes (see illustration in the PDF below) and sand them smooth (tip photo). Make sure your cross-halving template fits the thickness of the stock you’ll use for the feet and top supports.

Smooth the sawn curve of the pedestal template. Make a wooden sanding block with the front edge shaped to the radius of the template curve. Use 80-grit pressure-sensitive-adhesive (PSA) sandpaper on the block.

Trace the shapes of the pedestal pieces (C) and feet (A and B) on the workpieces. Lay out the end shapes and notches on the top supports (D and E) and mark the cross-halving slots on the feet and top supports. Be careful to orient the cross-halving joints as shown in the drawing.

Rough cut the shapes of the pedestal pieces using a band saw or jigsaw. Cut as close to the lines as possible to minimize the amount of wood that needs to be removed with the router. Screw the pedestal template to each pedestal piece and rout the shapes (photos 1 and 2). You’ll face two potential problems when routing: First, the curve on the uphill side (right of center) is routed against the grain, which can cause tear-out; you’ll need to use a high-rpm setting and move the router very slowly. Second, exiting cross-grain on the foot and top-support notches can lead to blowout, so clamp a scrap board at the exit point to support the wood as it's cut.

To rout the template shapes, use a top-bearing pattern router bit guided against the template. It cuts only part of the edge. Go slow to avoid tear-out, especially when routing uphill against the grain.

Remove the template and flip the pedestal piece over. Use a bottom-bearing flush-trip router bit guided against the first cut edge.

Rough cut the cross-halving slots in the feet and top supports; then use your template and router to finish the slots (photo 3). Again, you'll want to protect the edges from blowout where the bit exits. Use a band saw to "square up" the corners of the pedestal end notches and the cross-halving slots where the router bit did not reach. Finish rough cutting and routing the feet shapes. Next, cut and sand the tapered ends of the top supports; then cut the end notches.

Follow the two-step template-routing method to cut the cross-halving slots in the feet (A and B) and the top supports (D and E). Note that the lengths of the cross-halving slots vary. In this case, the template’s 3/4-in. overhang results in a 2-3/8-in. slot.

Assembling the top
Following the dimensions in the illustration, cleat details, drill the holes in the side and end cleats (H and I). From the top side, bore countersink holes for the screws that will go into the top supports. From the underside, bore countersink holes for the screws that will secure the slats.

Cut the biscuit grooves for joining the top frame pieces. Cutting the No. 0 biscuit grooves in the ends of the apron end parts (G) might be tricky if your biscuit jointer has a very open fence that leaves nothing to support the jointer on the narrow end of the workpiece. One solution is to attach an auxiliary fence made of clear acrylic plastic to bridge the opening.

Apply glue, insert biscuits and clamp the side cleats (H) to the apron sides (F). Assemble the top frame (photo 4); then add the end cleats (I). Rout a 1/4-in.-radius roundover on the top frame corners. Shape the 3/4-in.-radius corners of the outside slats (J); then round over the slat edges (photo 5).

Assemble the top frame in stages: Start by gluing and clamping one apron corner (parts F and G); add the other apron side and then the other apron end. Make sure the assembly is square as you go and before the glue sets up.

To gang rout the 1/4-in.-radius roundover edges of the slats ends, align the slat ends and tops flush; then lightly clamp them together. Routing the tabletop edges this way saves so much time you'll be amazed.

Building the base
Drill pilot holes in the feet for the nylon chair nails, and bore the screw and countersink holes in the pedestals. Ease any sharp edges and finish sand all of the parts. Hammer the chair nails in place. Interlock the feet, and screw the first pedestal piece in place (photo 6). Add the next pedestal piece (photo 7) and then add the last two pedestal pieces.

Start assembling the base by attaching one pedestal piece (C) to the long foot (A). Work on a flat surface and use a framing square for perfectly square alignment.

Add the next pedestal piece to the base. Make sure the center void you create is not smaller than the thicknesses of your top-support pieces; otherwise the top supports will not slide in place.

Check the fit of the top supports (D and E) between the aprons of the top frame; shorten them if necessary. Now screw the top-support pieces to the pedestal (photo 8).

Interlock the top-support pieces (D and E) and set them in place in the pedestal; then drive the screws. Make sure the long top support (D) is in the same plane as the long foot (A).

Finishing touches
Apply two coats of clear penetrating exterior sealer to all of the wood parts. (You don’t need to disassemble the base for this.) Let the finish cure for a few days before you screw the top frame to the top support and attach the slats to the top frame (photos 9 and 10). Don't forget that you can remove the screws to break the table down into two easily movable sections to take it outside. There’s nothing quite like building a big piece in your shop and realizing that you can't get it through the door.

Screw the center and outer slats to the top frame. Make sure the spacing is exactly equal. This assembly sequence is designed to ensure that all of the slats are equally spaced.

Attaching the top slats, step 2: Fasten two more slats, centering them exactly between the center and outer slats. Then add (and evenly space) the remaining slats.