Folding Picnic Table – “Tea for two”

This little folding picnic table has a variety of uses. It’s suitable for the garden, the countryside or the beach, and would make a good indoor play table for children too

Folding Picnic Table Photo

One of this table’s advantages is that it will fold down to a very compact size; another is that the choice of wood for its construction is almost limitless. All the parts used in its construction have the same width and thickness; nothing very wide is required so, like the table shown here, it can probably be made from offcuts. It’s also a good introduction to the use of rivets at the points where a pivoting action is required. All the other parts are simply screwed together.

Folding Picnic Table - Cutting List

Folding Picnic Table – Cutting List

Preparing the parts

I started by preparing all the components to the cross-sectional size required. I used joinery-grade hardwood, but almost any timber is suitable – even good-quality redwood. Next, I cut the slats for the top to length, along with the two bearers which support them. The bearers had their ends sawn at an angle, as can be seen in photo 1. Note that I’ve removed the saw guard here to show the cut, which would of course normally be made with the guard in position for safety.

A simple drilling jig

Each slat requires two screw holes, and to drill them accurately I made the simplest of jigsto secure to the table of my bench drill, photo 2. This was no more then a couple of scraps of wood pinned to a piece of mdf. One of the pieces controls the distance of the holes from the ends, while the other ensures that they’re centred on the slats. Jigs like this not only speed up a process; they promote accuracy as well.

The bearers needed some further preparation, requiring holes for the rivets at one end and angled notches in which the top rail on one set of legs would engage. When rivets are used in wood, it’s essential that washers are introduced under the head of the rivets. In addition, when the rivet is intended to act as a pivot and allow swivelling movement, then a washer must also be positioned between the two components being secured.

Folding Picnic Table Photo Instruction 1-6

Using rivets

The rivets needed for this table are easy to make from mild steel rod, available from B&Q or Screwfix. Here rod with a diameter of 6mm is required, along with a supply of washers of the same size. When preparing to fit the rivets, prepare the shallow holes for the washers first, preferably using a saw tooth bit, and then bore the holes for the rivets, photo 3. These holes need to provide the minimum of clearance to allow for easy pivoting. Mark the angled notches using a sliding bevel and cut them on the bandsaw, photo 4. When the waste has been removed with a chisel, the notch should provide a comfortable fit which is not too tight for the cross rail. The latter does not have corresponding notches on it.

Making up the top

Before any assembly takes place, I like to form tiny chamfers to all the slat edges. This is known as removing the arris, and was done by running the edges over my planer, while the ends were chamfered on a disc sander, photo 5. Now the slats can be added to the bearers, photo 6, spaced out to give equal gaps. It helps if the outer two are secured first. Then a temporary batten can be cramped to these slats which will ensure that the ends of all the slats are aligned with one another.

The diagonal brace to the underside of the top needs to have its ends trimmed so as to fit between the bearers, photo 7. Note that one end is set in further from the outer top slat than the other. This is to allow for better access to the rivets at that end when the leg frame is added later on. This brace is screwed in place from the underside of the top.

Folding Picnic Table Photo Instruction 7-10

Making the leg frames

The leg frames are similar but not identical, with their widths being important. Although the sizes for these frames have been given in the cutting list, they must be checked in relation to the top. The positions of the holes for the rivets must be carefully marked, and as before, the shallow holes for the washers made before the smaller holes for the rivets are bored. Finally, the top ends of all four legs are rounded over – another job for the disc sander, with a little hand sanding to follow, photo 8.

A riveting time

The steel rod needs to be cut into lengths, allowing for the thickness of the washers plus about 3mm for the doming over and a little slack. One end of the rod must first be domed over, and this is most conveniently achieved using ball-pein hammer while it’s held in an engineer’s vice, photo 9. Indeed, this is the prime purpose of the ball part of the hammer, with the blows aimed at the edges of the steel. However, there are alternatives to the above. If an engineer’s vice is not available, then an alternative is to bore 6mm diameter holes in scrap wood around 25mm thick, and to use a Warrington pattern hammer to deliver the blows at ever-varying angles to the end of the steel.

Folding Picnic Table Photo Instruction 11-12

The first leg

The leg frame which is riveted to the bearers is assembled first, photos 10 and 11, followed by the riveting. As before the already domed end of the steel must be well supported by a piece of metal (a small anvil or something similar) while the second end of the two rivets are domed, photo 12. The whole operation of forming these rivets is easier than might seem, and it’s a useful skill to acquire.

The second leg

When assembling the second leg frame, the width must be checked again to ensure it provides the correct clearance with the first frame; then this too is riveted in position. The thickness of washers can vary, so you might need to use two washers as spacers in order to gain the correct alignment. The sloping notches in the bearers to the top might need slight trimming in order to gain easy assembly of the leg frame with the top, photo 13. With assembly complete, I gave a light smoothing to the top using a belt sander, photo 14.

Folding Picnic Table Photo Instruction 13-16

Weather protection

Even though this table is not intended to remain out of doors, I decided that I would give mine a couple of coats of preservative as a precaution. Now just one job remained – to add two small bolts to the inside of the upper bearers alongside the sloping notches so they would engage with the upper cross rail on the leg assembly, photo 15. These are tucked away out of sight, and ensure the table will not fold flat unexpectedly! When it is folded up, however, it’s very neat and compact, photo 16.

Folding Picnic Table Photos

And so my table was completed, and at minimal cost. I’m happy to say it has been put to a variety of uses, and has proved to be a very worthwhile little project.

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