Rustic Outdoor Table (1 of 2)

Video - September 27, 2013

Recently, Nicole requested an outdoor dining table. To be honest, she doesn’t ask for much so when she makes a request I like to act quickly. Not to mention, the “outdoor season” in Arizona is just beginning so the timing is perfect. For everyone outside of Arizona, you might find this project helpful next Spring. Ha! I gave it some thought and came up with a simple design for table and two benches. The set has a bit of stylistic flair that isn’t overpowering, but I do have trouble calling this a truly “rustic” project, hence the title of the video. Keep in mind that details like the curves and the breadboard ends are completely optional and you can leave those out if you prefer something more vanilla.

The Wood

western-red-cedarI chose Western Red Cedar for this project. I intentionally purchased the knottiest boards I could find. I want the table to look rustic but I’m not about to begin distressing the wood. I take out my frustrations on imaginary people in video games, not on my projects. So the knots will give the wood that naturally rustic look I’m going for, without the chains, spikes, and other medieval torture implements.

Western Red Cedar also has a very high decay resistance and should hold up well in most environmental conditions. It’s very soft (when compared to the exotic and domestic hardwoods I typically work with) but it machines easily.

If you don’t want to foot the bill for expensive outdoor friendly wood, you certainly can build this project from construction-grade lumber. Your boards won’t be quite as thick as listed in the plan, but it should still turn out nice.

The Joinery

domino-xlI wanted to knock this project out in a hurry but I didn’t want to sacrifice quality. I recently received a Festool Domino XL for testing and I thought it would be the perfect application for the tool. Like the original Domino DF500, the Domino XL is capable of cutting loose tenon joinery with the speed of a biscuit joiner. It’s a real “point and shoot” type of machine. The great thing about the XL, as the name implies, is the fact that it does much larger scale joinery perfect for large tables, beds, doors, and anything else you can imagine.

Like any Festool product, the Domino XL has a hefty price tag but I don’t know anyone who’s regretted the purchase. That said, I feel it’s important to mention a couple of alternatives that you might consider because I want everyone to be able to build this project.

Traditional Mortise and Tenons – You can’t argue with the classic mortise and tenon joint. If I weren’t in such a rush, this is the joinery I’d use. I would cut the mortises with my router and the tenons at the tablesaw. If you go this route, be sure to add about 4″ to the length of your rails to account for the tenon stock.

Dowels – A simple doweling jig will serve as a reasonable substitute. I’d recommend at least three 1/2″ dowels per joint.

Pocket Screws – While not my favorite option for larger-scale projects like this, you can certainly use pocket screws to assemble this table. In terms of speed, the pocket screw is tough to beat!


This is one of those projects where long clamps are a life-saver. If you don’t have clamps that are long enough, consider hooking two shorter clamps head to head to span the required distances.

rustic-table-assemblyWith parts of this size, I always try to strategize the glueup by creating smaller sub-assemblies. In the case of the table, I assemble the long rails and legs first. I then clamp the notched stretchers to the lower side rails so the entire unit can move as one. I then connect the stretchers and rails to the long rail/leg assembly all at once. This worked quite well as you’ll see in the video. For the benches, the assembly is much easier. The legs and short side rails comprise the initial sub-assembly which are later connected to one another via the long rails. My glue of choice for this project is Titebond III, specifically formulated for outdoor use.

The Plans

rustic-table-sketchThanks to the assistance of my good friend Aaron Marshall, we have both a SketchUp File and a PDF plan that you can download. Please note that the board widths for the table top and bench tops are dependent upon your stock. What you see in the plans represents the ideal situation so don’t go out of your way to find boards of those exact widths. Just worry about getting enough boards to span the entire panel width.

Stuff I Used:


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