2x4basics Picnic Table
Assembly Tips and Suggestions
The 2x4basics picnic table
kit is an excellent product consisting of a set of plastic frames
for assembling a picnic table and two benches. Just add
2x4's. By choosing whatever length 2x4's you prefer, you can
make the table whatever length you wish up to 8 feet long.
The benches end up separate pieces from the table, which is
unusual for a picnic table; whether this is a pro or a con is a
matter of personal preference. The bench tops are about 15"
wide, considerably wider than most picnic table benches; they feel
luxurious by comparison to narrower benches.
Nobody in my area stocked this kit, but I found that Lowe's
would order it for me -- and for a reasonable price, too.
Plus, by picking it up at their store, I didn't have to pay any
shipping charges. Picking the kit up is easy; the box isn't
very big or heavy and will easily fit in the trunk of a mid-size
sedan. Picking up the lumber needed is a bigger job.
The graphic instructions are printed on the box:
Pressure-Treated Wood: Many picnic tables
and kits dance around the issue of whether the wood used should be
pressure-treated. If the table is to be left outdoors,
pressure-treated wood will be essential for durability. On
the other hand, you're presumably going to be eating off the
tabletop, and having toxic chemicals in that tabletop wouldn't
seem to be the best idea. Some kits even suggest using
pressure-treated wood for the structure but non-treated wood for
the top surface.
My decision: Pressure-treated wood throughout, and I'll use
a tablecloth when eating off it. If left outside the
tabletop will be adorned with bird droppings anyway; you wouldn't
want to eat directly off the wood.
Note: Picnic tables and kits invariably use 2" boards.
Even when pressure-treated, 2" boards should never be left in
contact with the ground; they will rot. The little tags on
the end of the boards make this clear. For ground contact,
you need to use pressure-treated boards at least 4" thick -- but
nobody makes a picnic table kit that utilizes 4" thick
lumber. Many tables or kits use steel tubing frames that
keep the wood off the ground; this is good for the wood, but
obviously you need to be concerned about the steel rusting.
Galvanized steel is good, but even that will eventually
rust. The 2x4basics kit is arguably the optimum solution;
the only thing touching the ground is plastic, which will never
rot or rust.
Cutting Lumber: The instructions provide
lumber sizes for a 4', 6', or 8' table. It is an accurate
claim, though, that you can build it any size up to 8'. If
you choose to make your table and benches 8' long, you can just
buy 8' boards. 6' boards are a bit harder to find, and 4',
5', and 7' boards don't exist. To make your table 4', 5', 6'
or 7' long, buy 8', 10', 12' or 14' boards and cut them in
half. Many building supply stores such as Lowe's or Home
Depot will cut boards in half for you for free. They'll balk
at cutting each board into a dozen little pieces, but they'll
happily cut each 12' board into two 6' pieces just to make it
easier to load into your truck. This means you can build
this table without a saw! Note that most lumber comes a hair
longer than the specified length; a 12' board will often be
12'-1/2" long, for example. Make sure to tell the guy doing
the cutting that you want each board actually cut in half, so
they'll end up 6'-1/4" each.
Tools: The instructions on the box
indicate you'll need a cordless drill or electric
screwdriver. There are 96 screws involved, so trying to
assemble it with a regular Phillips screwdriver would be tiring.
You will want to have either a very long Phillips bit for that
cordless drill or an extension, one of those 6" hex shafts with a
magnetic bit holder on the end. Most of the screws involved
are tucked under a shelf so you can't really get the nose of a
cordless drill in close enough to drive the screws straight.
Using an extension allows you to install the screws closer to
perpendicular into the wood.
Planing: If you own a plane, by all means
use it! In a perfect world
pressure-treated lumber would be perfectly flat and smooth, but in
this world your finished table will have some high spots.
Fortunately, a plane works like magic on soft pine; you'll be
zipping long ribbons of wood off with ease. In a matter of
minutes, your table can at least be flat enough that drinks don't
fall over when you set them down!
You should also use a wood file or some sandpaper to smooth all
the edges and corners so people don't get splinters.
The following are some ideas for
assembling the picnic table and benches differently
than the instructions describe.
2x4basics kit comes with plated steel screws for assembly.
If the table is left outdoors, eventually these screws will rust
-- especially if screwed into pressure-treated wood which is
notorious for causing fasteners to corrode. To do a better
job here, I suggest doing an online search for "#10 x 1" stainless
steel truss head screws". I ordered a pack of 100 such
screws for $6.06 with free shipping in 2014. The 2x4basics
table and two benches require a total of 96 screws, so you should
end up with 4 left over.
This photo shows one of the plated screws that comes with the kit
on the left, and a stainless steel screw on the right. You
can go with 1-1/4" or even 1-1/2" screws if you prefer, but
there's really no need for the additional length. When the
pressure-treated wood rots (about 20 years from now!) you can just
unscrew the SS screws and reassemble the table with new boards and
reuse the old stainless steel screws. They will still look
just like the one in the picture.
Assembly of the Bench Frames: The frames
of the benches are assembled with a single 2x4 inserted into the
end supports to tie them together. The 2x4 is fastened to
each end support with two screws in the bottom and one in each
side. The screws in the sides tend to cock the assembly a
bit cattywompus when tightened. My recommendation: Use
a 3/16" drill bit to drill one hole in the plastic so that you can
put both of the side screws into the same side of
Install the two side screws first, then the two in the
bottom. Don't put any screws into the other side of the 2x4;
that would only stress the plastic unnecessarily.
The assembly of the table frame doesn't have the same
problem. Because two 2x4's are used side-by-side and you
wouldn't be able to get at screws in between, the screws are
already designed to all go into the same side (the outside) of
Structural 2x4 Insertion Into Supports:
The instructions as well as the photo at the top of this page show
the 2x4's holding the supports together inserted only until flush
with the outer surface. As shown in the pictures below, I
assembled my table and benches in that manner as well. This
results in some screws being screwed into the very edge of the
sawn end of those boards, which is not really optimum for
structural integrity. To do this job a bit better, you might
opt to insert the 2x4 completely through the support until
it protrudes perhaps an inch or two out the other side. To
do this, you could cut those 2x4's a couple of inches longer -- or
not. Leaving them the same length just moves the supports
inward an inch or so from the ends of the table and benches.
Wider Boards: The 2x4 basics table and
benches are intended to be assembled with 2x4's, and as shown in
the picture above they work nicely in that configuration. I
decided, however, to use 2x8's for the tabletop and benchtops on
mine. This will typically cost slightly more, as a 2x8 costs
a bit more than twice what a 2x4 costs. But you end up with
fewer gaps in the surfaces. You will still need 2x4's to
hold the frames together underneath.
Wider boards aren't your only alternative, obviously. There
are all sorts of ways you could configure a top on your table
and/or benches. You could opt for those recycled plastic
boards. You could use oak or walnut or mahogany, if you can
find suitable wood. You could fashion a top that's a solid
deck, no slots, perhaps screwing a sheet of pressure-treated
plywood on top of the 2x4's. Or perhaps sheet
metal or plastic. Heck, you can install a marble countertop
if you so choose.
Bench Length: The instructions suggest
making the table and the benches the same length, but the 2x4's
holding the frames together should be 6" longer for the benches
than for the table. This means that the supports for the
benches will be 6" farther apart than the
supports for the table and only 3" from the ends
of the bench (Oddly, the table and benches in the official company
photo at the top of this page don't appear to have been assembled
according to these instructions). Part of the reasoning
there is that this makes it unlikely that anyone could sit on the
very end of an empty bench and have it upend on them. The
more probable reason, though, is that this arrangement allows the
benches to "nest" underneath the table when not in use. If
the supports were the same distance apart, the "toes" of the
supports would bump into one another. By spacing the
supports for the benches farther apart, the toes for the benches
sit outside the supports for the table when nesting.
I chose to make my benches a bit shorter than the table; I
assembled my table 6 feet long but my benches are 5 feet long, and
the supports remain 6" from the ends of the benches. This
enables the benches to nest with the toes of the benches inside
of the supports for the table.. This picture shows the
benches tucked under the table:
Going with shorter benches also facilitates
making the table in half-foot lengths. For example, if
you want a 6-1/2 foot table, buy 12' boards and cut a 6-1/2
foot piece from each one for use on the top. The
remaining 5-1/2 foot piece is used for the benches.
Since the same number of boards are used in the top and the
benches, there won't be any waste.
Height: There is nothing short or small
about the 2x4basics picnic table kit; the table and benches are as
high as any conventional picnic table, and higher than many.
However, my wife and I feel that all picnic tables are too short
and prefer them higher, so I customarily find a way to space them
up a bit. With the 2x4basics kit, this was easily
accomplished by inserting 2x4's between the top of the supports
and the top deck boards:
For each bench you'll need two 2x4's 14-3/4" long. For the
table you'll need two 2x4's 30" long. You will also need
four 2-1/2" flush-head deck screws (stainless steel recommended
again) for each board in the tabletop and benchtops; with
the conventional layout of eight boards in the tabletop and four
on each bench, you'll need 64 deck screws. My layout using
2x8's only required 32 deck screws.
The photo shows an older stainless steel deck screw with a square
drive head. Nowadays deck screws more typically come with
Torx drive heads. That's good because the square drive idea
really sucks, even worse than Phillips.
The assembly procedure changes somewhat as follows: Assemble
the frame, putting the supports together with the 2x4 struts in
between. Lay all the top deck boards face down on
the floor and spaced properly. Set the 2x4 spacer boards
down on the deck boards, then set the frame down on top of the
spacer boards. Move things around until positioned
correctly, centered and aligned. Lift off the frame, then
screw the spacer boards to the deck boards with the deck
screws. Then set the frame back in place and screw it down
to the spacer boards with the #10 x 1" truss head screws.
The heads of the deck screws will hence be hidden, covered up by
the frame supports.
Rounding Corners: 2x4basics offers a
template for making the ends of the table and benches
rounded. Rather than go that way, I simply used a screw-top
lid off a jar to mark all four corners of each bench and rounded
off the corners with a saber saw. This greatly reduces the
incidence of bruised shins when sitting down. I think it
looks good; you can see for yourself in the photos above. I
could have done exactly the same thing with the table top easily
enough, but my wife prefers square corners there because a
tablecloth hangs straighter.
The "Family Reunion" Option: You could
combine two of these kits to make one table up to 16 feet long --
the longest 2x4's you can normally find. Use three table
supports, one on each end and one in the center. The
structural 2x4's underneath, 15 feet long, should slide right
through the center support and get screwed in place. Of
course, you'd end up with one support left over -- which means you
could make 2 such long tables using 3 kits. Or you could opt
to put all four supports under one long table for more
strength. You could assemble extra-long benches in the same
manner, but really it'd probably be a better idea to assemble four
separate benches to use alongside your extra-long table.
If you're only going to have one family reunion, you can
assemble this 16' table with all four supports with the two
inboard supports carefully located, and then after the reunion use
a circular saw to separate it into two 8' picnic tables in about