Everyone loves picnic tables and the camaraderie that they bring as friends and family gather around them outdoors. We tend to think of a picnic table as a rough version of a dining room table. However, there is much more to a picnic table than meets the eye.
Cedar, Oak and Redwood are some of the top choices when it comes to making a picnic table. The biggest priority for choosing a good type of wood for picnic tables is how well it will stand up to the weather since it will be outside and exposed to moisture and UV damage.
The wood you use needs to be rot-resistant and sturdy enough to hold a decent amount of weight. While you may be tempted to choose more affordable wood like Pine or even plywood, these are poor options as they will not last in the elements.
You can get picnic tables for different materials. While wood is one of the most popular preferences, you can get them made of other materials like metal, high-density polyurethane (HDPE), and even concrete.
In this post, we highlight the various types of wood that you can use to make picnic tables.
Best Types of Wood for Picnic Tables
Although you may like to make or buy a wooden picnic table, all wood does not make good picnic tables. For instance, pinewood is a poor choice for a picnic table as it lacks durability and will not hold up to the UV and exposure to the elements that an outdoor table needs to withstand.
Therefore, taking pinewood as an example, most softwoods do not make suitable picnic tables. Hence, hardwood becomes the preferred choice. Let’s take a good look at some of the popular hardwoods that we use for making picnic tables:
Cedar is one of the top choices for outdoor projects that will be exposed to the elements. Apart from picnic tables, Cedar is a good wood for raised beds or Adirondack chairs for example. It is durable without being treated with chemicals and stands up well to the elements. As far as workability, it’s user-friendly for beginning woodworkers although the cost can be a factor to consider since it will increase the cost over other types of wood like pine.
Features of Cedar
- Appearance: Color may range from reddish-brown to a pale off-white
- Durability: Highly durable even without being treated
- Hardness: 580-1,006 lbf. (Janka hardness)
- Density: 380 (103 Kg/M3)
- Workability: Easy to cut and drill
- Cost: Moderately expensive
This variety of wood has a natural resistance to rot, insect attack, and moisture. However, with a suitable finish, white oak will give you many good years of use. You have the option to either paint or varnish this wood for additional protection and good looks. It tends to split when being nailed; hence you need to select the nail sizes appropriately.
Characteristics Of White Oak
- Appearance: Medium to light brown
- Durability: Durable wood
- Hardness: 1,360 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 770(103 Kg/M3)
- Workability: Shows a beautiful finish with a bit of machining
- Cost: Moderately-priced to expensive
Redwood had some bad publicity due to over-logging, but today, the situation is better, and the wood is back. This type of wood is pursued thanks to its color and durability. It scratches and dents easily, so you need to apply for a suitable finish. Also, if not sealed properly, the wood tends to exude a red pigment. It can stain those who sit on redwood furniture. Because it is exceptionally resistant to weather, redwood serves as an excellent material for making picnic tables.
Characteristics Of Redwood
- Appearance: Reddish-brown
- Durability: Highly durable
- Hardness: 402 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 450-850 (103 Kg/M3)
- Workability: Easy to cut, drill and machine
- Cost: Fairly expensive to highly-expensive
This hard and durable softwood makes good picnic tables. Douglas fir comes from the west coast and Eastern Asia. Because it takes paint well, you can either paint it or apply a finish, if you want to retain the natural look of the wood. This wood comes cheap, so you end up with a durable but affordable variety of wood.
Characteristics Of Douglas Fir
- Appearance: Light brown to reddish or yellowish-brown
- Durability: Rot-resistant to some extent but prone to insect attack
- Hardness: 660 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 0.3 (103 Kg/M3)
- Workability: Cuts and drills easily but tends to make blades blunt
- Cost: Moderately expensive to reasonably-priced
As teak is as durable as it is attractive, it enjoys wide popularity in making furniture. Hence, it is no wonder that it serves well for picnic tables. However, there are some grades of teak that cost a lot. Hence, you would have to give it some thought to use it for making a picnic table. However, teak has a reasonable level of natural weather resistance, as well as resistance to rod and decay. It even produces natural oil that repels insects.
Characteristics Of Teak
- Appearance: Dark brown or golden brown
- Durability: Highly durable
- Hardness: 2,330 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 0.65-0.98 (103 Kg/M3)
- Workability: Quite easy to work with
- Cost: One of the costliest kinds of wood
The name of this wood can be misleading because it neither comes from Spain nor is it cedar. We could consider Spanish Cedar more of a type of Mahogany and it comes from Ghana, Africa.
It is versatile, very light, and well-suited wood for outdoor furniture. This wood has a straight, fine grain, takes nails readily, and glues together well. It weathers well, and you can enhance its durability with a suitable finish.
Characteristics Of Spanish Cedar
- Appearance: Pinkish to reddish-brown
- Durability: Fairly durable
- Hardness: 600 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 26 (lbs/Sq. Ft.)
- Workability: Soft, easy to cut, and drive nails into. Glues well.
- Cost: Low to moderate price range
Should I Use Treated Wood for a Picnic Table?
This is a common and logical question we hear. While there used to be quite a bit of concern over treated wood, the treated wood currently sold on the N. American market is safer than decades ago. The wood used to be treated with Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA) which is considered more toxic. Most treated lumber sold today that are treated with Alkaline Copper Quatemary (ACQ) which is considered by the EPA to be usable for benches, picnic tables, and other outdoor wood projects.
While it may be considered “safe”, I personally would rather not use treated wood for a picnic table. First of all, is just the aesthetic look of it – that chemical green if I’m putting in fence posts but it doesn’t give a picnic table much character nor look very inviting to sit on and eat a meal. The other issue is that it doesn’t really take stain. Although you can stain older slightly weathered treated wood, a freshly made table with new boards will need to sit and weather a bit. Many people think treated wood doesn’t weather – but it does, it will lose that fresh green look over a couple of years – depending on how much it is exposed to the elements.
In my opinion, a picnic table looks a lot nicer made out of Cedar or even Pine with a nice finish with wood stain or timber oil – since you can choose the tone you like.
Considerations To Make For A Good Picnic Table
Here are a few considerations that you would do well to make while planning to build or buy a picnic table:
If you are going to spend money on a good picnic table, you want it to be worth it.
Should Be Durable
If left to the elements, the table should not deteriorate.
Your picnic table should look good even after being left out for a few years.
You should feel comfortable when you sit at the table.
You will need to do some basic maintenance. Hence, consider the work involved to keep your picnic table in prime condition.
The surfaces of a picnic table should be flat enough to support glasses, plates, and all other accessories.
Should Not Be Too Heavy
A good picnic table is one that has most or all of the above attributes and is easy to move around. For instance, when the area has to be cleared for mowing the lawn.
Any of the types of wood we have featured above have the potential of making good picnic tables. Not that these are the only varieties – there are several more. However, you can take any of the above types of wood and create some nice projects on picnic tables.
Once you know what you need to include while making a picnic table and the kind of wood you require, half your job is done. Then, if you aren’t able to get the specific types of wood mentioned here, you can surely select a local variety that is available. You just need to ensure that the wood that you choose meets the requirements that we have discussed here.
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