What can make a DIY picnic table even more delightful? A built-in tabletop cooler bin with a replaceable cover. The plans here are for a 6-foot-long table. At the bottom of this tutorial you’ll find a link to a downloadable and printable version of the instructions.
Just follow these step-by-step instructions to build your own picnic table with a built-in cooler.
DIY Picnic Table Instructions
Duration: One day, not including drying time
The type of wood you choose is up to you, but we used pressure-treated lumber for the legs, and common kiln-dried lumber for the rest of the table. You’ll need to apply a finish when you’ve completed your project, which will add beauty as well as durability.
- (2) 2-in. x 6-in. x 8-ft. pressure-treated lumber for table legs
- (5) 2-in. x 6-in. x 12-ft. #2 or better lumber for the top, seats and cooler sides
- (2) 2-in. x 6-in. x 10-ft. #2 or better lumber for the table supports and top braces
- (1) 2-in. x 4-in. x 8-ft. #2 or better lumber for the seat braces and the angled table-to-leg braces
- (1) 1-in. x 10-in. x 8-ft. common pine for the cooler bottom and end pieces
- (1) 1½-in. x 4-ft. slotted angle iron for the cooler-to-tabletop brackets
- (16) ⅜-in. x 3½-in. galvanized carriage bolts with 16 nuts and washers
- (1) Box of 2½-in. deck screws
- (1) Box of 1¼-in. deck screws
- (1) Tube of construction adhesive
- (1) ¾-in. x ½-in. plastic 90-degree double-barbed elbow
- (1) Tube of all-purpose exterior caulk
- ½-in. inside-diameter plastic tubing
- (1) Quart of spar urethane or finish of your choice
- Tape measure
- Circular saw or miter saw
- Pipe clamps
- Drill with ¾-in. and ⅜-in. bits
- ⅜-in. adjustable wrench
- Speed square
Step 1: Cut list
Make most of your lumber cuts first. If you don’t have the right saw, ask an associate at your local Home Depot store to make the cuts for you.
Save the two table-to-leg angled braces for the end as you can then measure for plumb vertical legs and adjust accordingly.
1. Cut per the diagram: 4 legs at 65 degrees with a length of 32 inches. Next, cut the 12-footers in half to give you 10 6-foot boards. Set eight of these aside to be used for top and seat boards.
2. Cut one of the remaining 6-footers in half again for the two cooler sides (see blue parts of diagram below).
3. Cut the last 6-foot board as shown in the diagram for the center top pieces: (2) 14½-inch ends and the removable cover at 42 inches. On this piece, drill a ¾-inch hole about 5 inches in from one end for a finger pull.
4. Each 10-foot 2 x 6 will yield (1) 27-inch top support (see red parts of diagram below). (1) 27-inch top brace (green), and (1) 58-inch seat support (red). You will need two sets of these.
5. From the 2 x 4, cut a pair of 9-inch center seat braces, leaving the rest for later when you will cut the two table-to-leg angled braces.
6. Cut the 4-foot 1 x 10 down to 3 feet to form the bottom of the cooler. Divide the remaining 12-inch piece into two 6 x 12-inch end pieces.
7. Using a hack saw, cut the angle iron in half to yield a pair of 2-feet brackets.
Step 2: Build the top
Lay out the top boards, bottom up, without the cooler cover. Shim roughly a ⅜-inch gap between them as you clamp them together. Measure out and draw lines 17½-inches from each end. These will serve as markers for the inside of the top braces.
Set the two (green) top braces in place and mark the end and outside lines with a pencil. Apply construction adhesive within the lines of the top, but not near the gaps. Replace the braces and use 2½-inch deck screws (two per top board) to secure them.
Note that the center top boards don’t extend all the way across the brace, so the glue and screws need to be closer to the edge.
Step 3: Create the cooler
Using 1¼-inch deck screws, glue and attach the 1 x 10 bottom to the cooler side boards, and the two 6 x 10-inch pieces to the ends, aligning them with the sides and bottom of the box, leaving the gap along the top. Drill a ¾-inch hole in the bottom of the trough, and force-fit the ¾ x ½-inch plastic elbow into the hole. Then seal all interior edges with the caulk.
Step 4: Secure the cooler
Screw each angle iron to the edges of the (blue) cooler sides with the 1¼-inch deck screws. Lightly glue the side edges and screw the brackets to the underside of the tabletop, centered above the open center space. Adding a little weight to the boards will also help the glue bond against the underside of the tabletop.
Step 5: Build the brace for the legs
Next, mark, apply construction adhesive and place the top leg supports 8-inches in from the edge. Using two 1¼-in. screws, drive one at each end of the board at an angle into the tabletop to temporarily hold the brace in place, and then flip the table top over. Using a pair of 2½-in. deck screws per top board, screw the leg support from above to draw the pieces securely up to the underside of the tabletop. When the glue has set, this will provide a strong brace for the legs.
Step 6: Attach the legs
Now it’s time to attach the leg pieces. Flip the top over again and securely clamp each leg to the top support so that they line up with the second and fourth top boards and are flush to the underside of the top boards.
Drill two ⅜-inch holes in the legs through the supports as shown. Remove the clamps, apply glue where the legs meet the supports, and reattach them with the carriage bolts.
Step 7: Attach the seats
To attach the seats, center the outer boards on their seat supports with a 1-inch overhang off the back edge. Mark, glue and screw these boards down using a pair of 2½-in. screws in each support. Next, set the inner seat boards in with the same ⅜-in. gap you used for the top board spacing. Flip the table over and install the seat braces from below using glue and screws. Do not let these screws protrude from the seat top.
Step 8: Create leg-to-top braces
Measure and cut the leg-to-top braces. These should be cut on 45 degrees, attached to the center of the leg supports and also to the bottom of the cooler using 1 ¼-inch screws.
On each corner of the seat boards, measure in 2 ¾-inch inches and place a mark. Using a speed square, draw a 45 degree diagonal line on all eight outside corners of both bench seats. Using the jigsaw, cut off the corners.
Step 9: Sand and finish the DIY picnic table
Finally, sand all edges of your new table and apply the finish of your choice to make it weatherproof.
Then attach the ½-inch tubing to the plastic elbow under the cooler and run it to a bucket, or along a table leg and out to the grass.
If you decide to block off the ends of the cooler to add a drain, you could also consider using the cooler trough as a planter. Just fill it with potting soil and add plants!
And there you have your DIY picnic table with the built-in cooler.
Click here for a downloadable and printable version of this DIY picnic table how-to.