Patio Cooler Table

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Project by HobbyJeff posted 07-19-2020 04:42 PM 891 views 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is the story of my first piece of furniture. I was a bit ambitious for my skill level and I made a lot of mistakes (some because of the available tools, some because of my skill).

First, I do have a complete set of Sketchup Plans which can be downloaded from here.

The entire table is made of Cedar. I live in the PNW and it rains a lot up here – even during the summer. It’s finished in one coat of Tung oil and six coats of Spar Urethane (which I had never worked with before – more on that later). There isn’t a single nail or screw used in the table (except to hold the legs to the top because I wanted to be able to take it apart). Everything was purchased at Home Depot – because of Covid I couldn’t have used or found more exotic wood anyway. Besides, I was a beginner and I knew screwing up would be more expensive with exotics.

The total cost of the table was around $350.00. 90% of the cost was wood, the rest was the urethane, oil and bolts.

The Top
The frame is made of 2×6 (nominal 1.5×5.5) and is built in a tongue and groove style for added rigidity. The inside of the table is also cedar and the edge pieces (the pieces that butt up against the rails also have a tongue). There is a 1/2” rabbet in the middle and the ends for the center boards to sit on. The cooler inserts also sit on 1/2” rabbets as well.

The Legs
I was overly ambitious here and made a lot of mistakes. I have a Lowes Delta contractors saw and an incra miter 1000SE. The angles are all supposed to be 45 degrees and everything is mortise and tenon as shown in one of the pictures. Way, way harder to do accurately than I thought it would be. Of all of the pieces only two were cut “perfectly”. Everything else was off a degree or one shoulder was cut deeper than the other which required a lot of chisel work to fix as best as I could (which was not great).

The base is made from 4×4 cedar posts (nominal 3.5×3.5) with 1” foot pads on each side.

The Beam
I would rather, for design aesthetics put this lower on the legs but need to hold the coolers up necessitated it being higher up. It’s okay and works fine there and as a stretcher. It’s two 2×6’s laminated together.

The mistakes and lessons learned
These came about for a variety of reasons but hope it will help someone else in the future.

1. You need the right tool for the job
  • I only have a 36” cutech benchtop jointer – even with creating extension tables (hard to do in my garage because of an old, uneven floor) I could not joint the longest boards correctly and had gaps and some of the boards were still a little bent – there is only so much sanding you can do to solve the problem
  • My delta contractor saw has a blade which tends not to stay aligned over any period of time and some cuts were not exactly at 90 or 45 degrees. I had to make a lot of manual fixes which sometimes made matters worse.
  • I do not own a chisel sharpener and had to sharpen it by hand. After this project I’m going to purchase a Tormek when I can afford it. Cedar is soft – without ultra-sharp chisels you’ll end up tearing when cutting against the grain
  • I have a dewalt hand planer which I needed to use to fix the un-eveness in the top. It is hard to use correctly and in some cases caused more problems than it fixed – spend a lot of time learning how to use it first :)
  • You can’t use wood putty on cedar – it won’t match no matter what you do.
2. I had never worked with Spar Urethane before
  • I love it, I do, but I was working in tolerances of 1/64th of an inch where possible and didn’t take into account the thickness of the urethane. Needless to say I had to shave down the cooler covers after the fact to get them to fit.
  • Read the directions on whatever version of spar you choose – I read online that you can thin spar with water. Well, no, you can if you use Minwax but the spar that I had said don’t do it. I didn’t discover that until after the bubbles formed.
  • You’re going to go through a lot of mineral spirits and you’ll have to throw your brush away at the end – but get a good quality brush – any bristles which come out are nasty and I had to pick one or two out with tweezers.
  • The tung oil plus the spar plus the natural color of cedar ended up with a very orange tinted table. I would rather have, if I had to do it over again, put a light brown stain on the table rather than leave it the natural grain and color.

Finally, after all is said and done however, I am thrilled with this table.

1. It’s a talking point and I love talking about my creations
2. The top is flat across the entire surface except for a little bit right at the edges along the length
3. While there are a lot of problems with the legs, I did something complex that actually looks great as long as you don’t look too closely

Ultimately this has inspired me to do more work and my wife now wants me to built a bench for one side which will be my next project.

7 comments so far

View OLCHIEF's profile


74 posts in 669 days

#1 posted 07-19-2020 08:59 PM

I think it looks great. Fill cooler with Olympia beer and Loganberry wine, cover with ice, and celebrate

-- OL CHIEF, Florida Panhandle

View swirt's profile


6816 posts in 4259 days

#2 posted 07-20-2020 02:45 AM

That came out great. I like the design, especially the legs. Well done.

-- Galootish log blog,

View ZachinIowa's profile


53 posts in 584 days

#3 posted 07-20-2020 04:15 PM

love it, looks great!

-- Zach

View awsum55's profile


1194 posts in 1795 days

#4 posted 07-21-2020 05:14 PM

I think it looks great. Also, for what it’s worth you’ll probably learn something on each piece you build. We all make mistakes and then learn how to fix or hide them. I think for a first piece you knocked it out of the park.

-- John D, OP, KS

View BamaCummins's profile


91 posts in 4863 days

#5 posted 07-22-2020 10:18 PM

As you build more stuff, you will always find ways to improve. But, for you first piece, maybe even your 100th, this looks great. Those that build always look and see the imperfections, but most people won’t notice at all. Seems functional too, which is what motivates most of my stuff. Pretty is nice, but I need to be able to use it in some way. Great work, buy tools as you can justify the next project (versus buying the piece), and soon you will have the major stuff and add later. Great Job!

-- "I don't know, we haven't played Alabama yet." -- Vince Lombardi after being asked what it felt like to be the greatest football team in the world just after winning the '66 championship game.

View HobbyJeff's profile


11 posts in 503 days

#6 posted 07-22-2020 10:39 PM

Thanks everyone. I appreciate the comments a lot. I hope others find this or the plans useful and I am really looking forward to posting more here. I feel like I’ve learned so much from others on this site, I’m glad I can contribute back in some small way!

View Ken90712's profile


18082 posts in 4476 days

#7 posted 07-29-2020 04:24 AM

Good looking table, Well done.

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

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