How to Build a Picnic Table with a Built-In Cooler
Time Required: Over 1 day
Here’s how to build a 6-foot long picnic table with a built-in tabletop cooler bin and replaceable cover. 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.
Tools & Materials
Make most of your lumber cuts first. If you don’t have the right saw, ask your local Home Depot associate 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.
- Cut 4 legs at 65 degrees with length of 32 inches.
- Cut the 12-foot boards in half to get 10 6-foot boards. Set eight of these aside to be used for top and seat boards.
- Cut one of the remaining 6-footers in half again for the two cooler sides (see blue parts of diagram).
- Cut the last 6-foot board as shown in the diagram for the center top pieces: (2) 14 ½-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.
- Each 10-foot 2 x 6 will yield (1) 27-inch top support (see red parts of diagram). (1) 27-inch top brace (green), and (1) 58-inch seat support (red). You will need two sets of these.
- 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.
- 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.
- Using a hack saw, cut the angle iron in half to yield a pair of 2-feet brackets.
- Lay out the top boards, bottom up, without the cooler cover.
- Shim roughly a 3/8-inch gap between them as you clamp them together.
- Measure out and draw lines 17 ½-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 2 ½-inch deck screws (two per top board) to secure them.
Tip: 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.
- Using 1 ¼-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.
- Seal all interior edges with the caulk.
- Screw each angle iron to the edges of the (blue) cooler sides with the 1 ¼-inch deck screws.
- Lightly glue the side edges and screw the brackets to the underside of the tabletop, centered above the open center space.
Tip: Adding a little weight to the boards will also help the glue bond against the underside of the tabletop.
- Mark, apply construction adhesive and place the top leg supports 8-inches in from the edge.
- Using two 2 1/2-inch 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 tabletop over.
- Using a pair of 2 ½-inch 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.
- 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 3/8-inch holes in the legs through the supports as shown in the diagram. Remove the clamps, apply glue where the legs meet the supports, set the legs in place and reattach them with the carriage bolts.
- Measure 10 inches from the leg bottoms and draw parallel lines across the legs. This marks the lower edge of the seat supports.
- Carefully center and securely clamp each seat support to the legs and drill two 3/8-inch holes in the legs through the supports as shown in the video.
- Remove the clamps, apply glue where the legs meet the supports, and reattach them with the carriage bolts.
- 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 2 ½-inch screws in each support.
- Set the inner seat boards with the same 3/8-inch 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.
- Measure and cut the leg-to-top braces. These should be cut on 45-degree angles, attached to the center of the leg supports and also to the bottom of the cooler using glue and 1 ¼-inch screws.
- On each corner of the seat boards, measure in 2 ¾ 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.
- Sand all edges of your new table and apply the finish of your choice to make it weatherproof.
- 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!