Material Choice for Kid's Picnic Table

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Forum topic by bbc557ci posted 05-07-2016 04:02 PM 1255 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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698 posts in 3536 days

05-07-2016 04:02 PM

Hey guys… Been thinking about making a smallish picnic type table for my grand daughters and not sure what wood to use. I don’t want to use pressure treated. The top would probably be about 30” x 48”. It would be outside and not under cover. So, it would need to be able to withstand the elements. I’m in central NY (Syracuse area) so there’s snow, and of course rain. I have a good pile of Ash, but don’t know how that would hold up outside. Maybe Cedar?’s pretty affordable and readily available, but also quite soft. Any suggestions on a species that isn’t exotic or crazy money?? Thanks in advance :o)

-- Bill, central where near the "big apple"

11 replies so far

View devann's profile


2260 posts in 4154 days

#1 posted 05-07-2016 05:42 PM

Cedar is a good choice. It’s probably your best choice considering price. I’ve made a couple for family members out of cedar.

They have lasted into the next generation and they appear like they are going to outlast me. Not much snow here where I am but the sun & rain can be brutal on tables. A table in the shade helps.

I use 2×6s for my top. I like to screw from underneath using 2 1/2” Teflon coated deck screws. They go in without splitting. Three screws per board each time the frame crosses a board. Usually three frame boards per table. That way you have boards near the ends of the top and one in the middle for lateral bracing to from the stretcher.

I’ll use 3” screws for attaching the top of the legs to frame and seats to stretchers. For attaching stretchers to legs I like 2- 2 1/2” x 5/8” lag screws per leg. The lag screws won’t penetrate the outside of the stretcher making for a scratch free connection (your legs, or grandchildren in this case) and a cleaner look.

And if you have a router a picnic table is a good project to use it on. I like all exposed edges rounded with an 1/8” radius round over bit & the outside edges of the top & seats I use a 3/4” radius bit. I’ll also jigsaw the corners of the top and seats round before routing too.

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

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698 posts in 3536 days

#2 posted 05-07-2016 07:41 PM

Thanks for the feed back, devann. Yep, Cedar seems to make sense. It’s pretty soft but hey, it’s a picnic table, right? LOL. Did you use any kind of finish or sealer to help protect the one’s you’ve made?

-- Bill, central where near the "big apple"

View BroncoBrian's profile


899 posts in 3420 days

#3 posted 05-07-2016 07:47 PM

I would use redwood, with Thomsons stain. Redwood will have less splinters and is easy to work with, also fairly light weight to move around. The Thomsons stain works very well, applies easily, and can be reapplied with a quick wipe down from a rag. You can buy this at HD or Lowes, many options available. It is the most common deck mater because it is rot resistant and easy to maintain.

-- A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer.

View devann's profile


2260 posts in 4154 days

#4 posted 05-07-2016 09:02 PM

Bill, it’s more of a personal preference. I like the color without treating the wood. I like it when the wood turns that silver/gray color. Reminds me of the driftwood at the beach on the Northwest Pacific coast. However most folks like the way cedar & redwood looks when it’s new. For that I use boiled linseed oil. Need to reapply has the wood dries out refilling the cells that once had water with oil. It also helps to minimize the exposure to direct sunlight to keeping that “new” color.

The Thompson product does have an UV inhibitor, which helps maintain the natural color, but I’m not sure what else is in there that I don’t want on a table I’m eating off of. The tables I built for the youngsters I just let nature take her coarse, I didn’t want anything on there that might effect a child. I have cleaned them with a wire brush and water on occasion.

Redwood is another good choice. It and cedar share their rot & insect resistant qualities. Both will turn a nice silver/gray color left untreated. The reason I recommend cedar is cost. I’ll build a cedar picnic table for almost half the cost of redwood. I charge the same price for labor for ether species, there is that much a difference in cost. Cost can vary by region. It’s going to be higher on the East coast than out west. The same can be said for western red cedar too. The shipping cost have a big effect on cost.

Redwood can get really expensive buying the better grades (older growth). The older the tree, the closer to the center, the darker the red color, was the more it cost. Example: The cheapest redwood for a board that cost, say $20, expect prices to nearly double and then quadruple has the board gets closer to the center of the tree. Clear (knotfree) redwood or western red cedar, expect astronomical prices.

Here’s a project link to one of a pair of redwood picnic tables I built that sold for $500 each. I priced the labor for these tables slightly higher because they were an eight board top as opposed to a simpler six board top. My goal was to build a table that the person sitting at the end wouldn’t have to sit straddling a table leg. That and I wanted to see how far I could extend the table top out past the frame/legs trying to make a wheelchair compatible picnic table.

I have built redwood picnic tables for customers that purchased their own redwood. A good portion of it was the younger wood, there will be streaks of sapwood ( it’s actually white in color). I mixed Minwax Sedona Red stain with wipe on poly to even out the color and give it a protected finish.

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

View JAAune's profile


2134 posts in 3778 days

#5 posted 05-08-2016 01:34 AM

Not so long ago, I was one of several contributors to an outdoor wood species article. The link is below and it has plenty of information on this topic.

9 Wood Species for Outdoors

-- See my work at

View JBrow's profile


1368 posts in 2381 days

#6 posted 05-09-2016 12:50 AM


I agree with devann, at least for applying finish to the top where food contact is likely and perhaps the benches where less likely but food contact is also possible. Letting the top and perhaps the benches naturally gray is the safest approach. Other areas could be sealed. I have used Sikkens Cetol 1 RE on an outdoor oak fence. It requires periodic re-application since in my application, I am protecting a hardwood.

Barns and outbuildings sheathed with exposed hard wood planks have withstood the elements for years and years. The only problem areas in these structures is where the hardwood sheathing meets the ground, where rot often occurs. Using that free pile of ash will probably last a long time, even in the weather except where the legs contact the ground. The ash will get wet, but will also dry out and the dried out wood will resist rot. The legs at the ground will probably never dry out and therefore rot.

The wood, no matter the species used (including above-ground treated lumber), will rot where the legs make ground contact and faster than one might think. The end grain will wick water deep into the wood and remain for prolonged periods of time, allowing rot to set in. There are several approaches to preserve the legs of the table.

The picnic table could be built using the lumber of your choice except the legs. The legs could be from lumber treated for ground contact or a wood with a high natural resistance to rot.

Alternatively short ground contact treated (or wood with a high natural resistance to rot) leg extensions could be added to the picnic table legs. This option would consist of cutting half lap or scarf joints into the legs and a short section of ground contact treated lumber. The ends of the half laps could be angled to shed water. Fastening the picnic table legs to the leg extensions with lags screws using stainless steel washes as spacers would keep the table legs off the ground. The spaces between the leg extensions and the picnic table legs would help prevent the transfer of moisture to the legs of the picnic table. If the treated leg extensions ever rot, they can be replaced. If treated lumber is under the table near the ground, it should pose little if any hazards.

However the secondary wood used on the legs may not look very good next to the lumber used in building the table.

If these options are rejected, perhaps filling the end grain where the legs meet the ground with a product like water-proof epoxy could reduce the wicking affect that will lead to rot. Alternatively a ground contact pad could be attached to the legs leaving an air gap between the leg and the pad so that the long grain of the wooden pad makes contact with the ground thereby prolonging the longevity of the legs. With these last two options, ash legs would last longer but probably not very long.

View TheFridge's profile


10863 posts in 2947 days

#7 posted 05-09-2016 01:36 AM

I’ve heard of and used epoxy to seal the end grain of the legs.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View bbc557ci's profile


698 posts in 3536 days

#8 posted 05-09-2016 05:30 AM

devann – I believe Redwood is going to be tough to come by around here but I agree, would be a good choice.

JAAune – Great information and link!! It got me think’n… Doug Fir would be a good choice but it’s generally not real dry when you buy it, at least not where I’m at. However admittedly, I haven’t made the rounds or called to see if kiln dried 2x material is available. But I will check around and see about that. Dried White Oak is available and that would be nice to work with. And I know of a source where 6/4 and up is available. Might be able to locate Black Locust too, but I’ve never worked with it.

Another wood I thought of using is Larch. Speaking with “old timers” they say Larch handles the elements well. But again, I’ve never worked with it or actually seen it in person. I’ve seen pictures of Larch and it seems to have allot of knots, which probably wouldn’t go well for a kids outside table because I would think cracks and splinters would develop at/around the knots after awhile?

Thanks everyone for the input. Your getting my thought wheels turning LOL

-- Bill, central where near the "big apple"

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795 posts in 3397 days

#9 posted 05-09-2016 11:42 AM

I think first and foremost one has to ask a few questions. How long will this be honestly used? How much will it be used? Will anyone want it after it gets used? Now take those three answers and make a decision on wood choice.

For me this would be one of those projects construction lumber and Thompson’s water seal will be more than adequate to get way more years than my kids would have used it. Is it going to last no but then again it isn’t going to be a family heirloom.

View BroncoBrian's profile


899 posts in 3420 days

#10 posted 05-18-2016 10:02 PM

Thompson’s is oil based, it will soak into the wood. I don’t think there is a threat of chemicals getting into your food as it will not chip off like a latex stain/paint can.

Use a plate, don’t eat the splinters. That’s what my dad never had to say.

-- A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer.

View Kirk650's profile


746 posts in 2210 days

#11 posted 05-18-2016 11:42 PM

I used treated lumber. Let it dry some before you make the outdoor table. After it was pretty dry, the wife painted it with a redwood colored outdoor stain/paint. We recoated after about 8 years. And I noticed at that time that we did have some rot where the legs met the ground, but it wasn’t bad enough that I needed to replace any legs. I will assume that the amount of rot will vary with your annual rainfall.

I also made a few small wooden tables for around the big outdoor fire pit. Treated wood, with no paint or sealer. Looking rather ugly, but no deterioration at all. And two larger tables of treated wood that I topped with sheet aluminum. No sign of any weather related deterioration.

Today’s treated wood does not contain any arsenic compounds. Still…try not to chew on the tables.

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