Building a simple, outdoor work table
April 28, 2014 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I want to build something like this or this with the idea that it's going to live outside (get rained on, etc.), get used for things like working on other woodworking projects, and should be cheap.


- Is there a type of plywood that would be well suited for the table surface (strength + outdoors)?
- Opinions on wood for the the frame-- treated vs untreated? Cedar? Cheap pine but paint/stain?
- Are 4x4 legs overkill?
posted by gwint to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Cedar or redwood are good, outdoor woods, easily obtainable. Decking is made to weather the outdoors.

I'd use a water-resistant sealer just to be on the safe side.

Harbor freight has a kit, if that's of any interest to you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:55 AM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you can get a wood pallet for free, you could reuse the wood. There are a lot of projects on the web, here is a potting bench for example.
posted by travelwithcats at 8:07 AM on April 28, 2014

Keeping a cover on it when not in use (tarp and bungee cords) will go a long way toward extending its life out in the weather.
posted by MelissaSimon at 8:11 AM on April 28, 2014

If it's gonna be an actual workbench then no, 4x4s for the legs are definitely not overkill. I'd use redwood rather than pine, and finish it or not based mostly on aesthetics (paint or varnish might help it last slightly longer, but the look of raw weathered redwood is really nice and if you're pounding on it all the time that will probably kill it before the weather does. Well, that would be true here in Southern California, at least. Where are you located?)

I'd go for 2x12 redwood slats as the top rather than plywood, and make sure use deck screws or stainless bolts to put it together rather than rust-prone drywall screws or something.
posted by contraption at 8:17 AM on April 28, 2014

Unless this needs to be a work of art or is for really *serious* woodworking, I'd just use the "hammerzone" design with pressure treated lumber for everything and good quality 3" deck screws. 4x4's for the legs would work but I think are overkill. Most hardware stores sell exterior grade plywood, but that usually means the glue they use to hold the layers of wood together is water resistant. The wood itself will still rot unless you paint it or cover the bench with a (breathable) tarp when you are not using it. For a bench this cheap, it might not even matter. It'll take years for it to become rotten and then you can build a new one.
posted by Poldo at 8:53 AM on April 28, 2014

Cedar or redwood would be pretty, but pressure-treated pine lumber from the hardware store will be your cheapest, longest-lasting solution. Even good exterior-grade plywood will start to peel and separate after a while. I'd use (and have used, and am using) 4x4s for the legs. My outdoor table uses pressure-treated 2x4s for the top, since I was afraid that wider pieces of lumber would warp over time.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:28 AM on April 28, 2014

Instead of using plywood you could just use 2x4s or 2x6s for the table top, they would last longer, especially if they're pressure-treated.
posted by mareli at 9:40 AM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't waste your time with plywood - it simply won't hold up. I'd probably use Pressure Treated lumber for the legs & apron, and the cheapest decking I could find for the top. PT is really only needed if it's in contact with the dirt, and then only for the legs.
posted by mr vino at 9:48 AM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

The top could have a sacrificial layer that you remove and replace every few years: that's usually done for work-related damage, but in this case it would make up for weathering, too.

Where the wood touches dirt it will rot. Is that OK, or will you put something under the "feet"?

One possibility is to make it a drop-down design, sort of like a Murphy bed. Hang its frame from an exterior garage wall. Then you could put a little roof overhang above it, and side/paint it to look like the house. It's be cute and invisible and also probably more weatherproof.

Anyway, I like the idea of a good outdoor workspace!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:14 PM on April 28, 2014

You can get pressure treated plywood from any of the big box hardware stores. I'd still paint/stain it to reduce the effects of weathering, but otherwise it will work fine.

4x4s are probably overkill, but it shouldn't be a huge price difference, so if you'd prefer it, go ahead.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 12:45 PM on April 28, 2014

I use a big heavy set of sawhorses made of 2x6s. they are big enough that they work as a individual tables, but often have boards across them. They can be moved to work as low scaffolding, I can put a piece of plywood and a table cloth on them for parties etc.
posted by mearls at 6:42 PM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

The big advantage to "overbuilding" your workbench (using 4x4s for legs, multiple layers of plywood for the work surface) is that you get a much heavier structure that isn't going to move around when you really have to wail on something. Alternately you can throw a couple sandbags on a lower shelf to add weight and keep the center of gravity low.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 7:03 AM on April 29, 2014

In case anyone stumbles upon this old thread, here's what I eventually built: "Sherman" (because it ended up basically like a tank)

I went with a 3/4" birch plywood top, which is pricey but it looks great. 1/2" fir ply for the shelf. Pressure treated 2x4s for the legs, doubled up at the bottoms to support the shelf. Total cost was about $100, more than half of that was the birch ply. The table is 6'x3', so there's plenty of extra ply for other projects. I cover it with a thick tarp when not in use.
posted by gwint at 9:47 AM on June 19, 2014

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