Patio Table

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This article is from Issue 71 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Build a super-solid, bar-height table that’s ideal for outdoor use

Most outdoor furniture falls into one of two categories: cheap junk that’s lucky to make it to the following spring; and better-built furnishings that cost as much as a summer cottage. But if you’re a woodworker, you don’t need to settle for poor quality, or pay a fortune to enjoy outdoor furniture that’s beautiful and durable.

The bar-height table I’m building here is the centerpiece of a patio set that includes chairs, as shown on the cover and on p. 51. I made the entire set from reclaimed cypress, which has good dimensional stability along with excellent resistance to rot and insect damage. Other good “outdoor” woods include cedar, white oak, teak, and ipe, which is sometimes used as outdoor decking.

Without altering the design or joinery details, you can adjust the dimensions of this table to suit available material. For example, two-by stock can substitute for the 8/4 lumber I used to make the tabletop frame and rails for the base.

Loose tenons for the top, through tenons for the base

Wooden outdoor furniture needs strong joinery. That’s why my patio set goes together with loose and through tenon joints, assembled with Titebond II. I used my Festool Domino to make all the loose tenon mortises, because it’s fast, simple, and accurate. If you’ve been thinking of buying this tool, here’s your excuse. But if you don’t own one yet, don’t worry. You can plunge-rout the mortises using the techniques explained in the Joinery Class that begins on p. 66. 

Construction Sequence

  • Make the mitered frame for the tabletop.
  • Cut the top slats, then assemble the top.
  • Shape the top to its final round form.
  • Make the upper and lower rail assemblies.
  • Make the legs and assemble the table.

Rail Details

The table’s base is made by joining upper and lower rail assemblies together with four identical legs. The mortises and center lap joints are identical in upper and lower rails. The upper rail assembly requires end laps to be cut so that these rails can nest into the tabletop frame.

Make a 6-sided outer frame for the top…

Making a perfect frame requires spot-on miters and identical segments. To fine-tune your miter gauge, test-miter three segments, and dry-assemble them against a straightedge. Adjust the gauge until the outer ends touch the straightedge with no gaps. (Don’t reset your miter gauge; you’ll use the same setting for the top slats.) After mitering the ends, groove the inside edges for the slats, then mortise the ends. Assemble the frame in two halves, as shown below.

Master the miters. After fine-tuning the angle, miter one end of each segment. Next, add a stopblock to your auxiliary fence and cut the remaining end. A mitered offcut makes a perfect stopblock.
Get in the groove. With the segment’s top face riding against the fence, cut the 1⁄4 × 1⁄2"-deep groove for the top slats.
Make your mortise. A Domino joiner makes short work of the multitude of mortises used to join the frame sections. After applying glue, tap in the tenon, assemble the joint, and move on to the next section.
Assemble half the frame. Use F-clamps to pull together the miters’ outer edges, then position a clamp across the outermost ends to draw in the inner edges. Clamping the subassembly against a straightedge prevents excessive clamping and helps ensure that this half will match its mate.

…then fill the frame with slats

With both halves of the top frame assembled, the next step is to fill each half with slats and then glue these two subassemblies together. This work can go quickly if you use your miter saw to make the angled end cuts and your tablesaw (with a dado cutter) for making the tenons that fit in the slotted frame. Install the innermost slat first, then work outward. My cut-to-fit technique ensures accuracy. I cut and tenon one slat end, then lay it in place on the frame to mark the opposite end cut. Insert 1⁄4"-thick spacers between each slat to create a gap for drainage. Then pull the two halves of the top together.

Tenon one end. After mitering an end, use the previously set miter gauge to cut a 1⁄4 × 1⁄2" tenon on your first slat.
Set and scribe. To determine the length of the first slat, register it above the frame’s inner edge, and mark the opposite end as shown. Add 1⁄2" to account for the tenon.

Line them up, then lay them out. Position spacers between the slats, set a straightedge against the cut end of the first slat, and extend the line to obtain the exact length of the next. Repeat the process with the remaining two slats.

Rip it right. If the outermost slat stands proud of the frame, measure back half the spacer thickness, and rip the slat to width for a perfect fit.

Two halves make it less hectic. After fitting the slats for the matching halves, assemble the top by gluing the tenons into the grooves. Finally, join the two top halves together by using a pair of F-clamps on the outer notches.

Routing in the round. Attach a trammel to a piece of scrap, and determine the centerpoint of the tabletop. Then attach a router to the outer edge of the trammel, and rout a 1⁄8"-deep groove around the outer edge of the tabletop.

It takes three steps to round the top

Trammel-routing is cleaner cutting and easier than wrestling this top over your bandsaw. To do the job, you’ll need a plunge router, a spiral bit, and a trammel. (You can make one from a piece of 1⁄2" plywood). Pin a pivot board to the center of the table, then draw lines connecting the top’s opposite corners to determine exact center. To ensure your trammel is perfectly centered, check its swing using a pencil before attaching the router. Ease sharp and splintering edges with a chamfer or round-over bit.

Saw in the groove. Keeping the saw in the groove established by your router, cut away the extra wood.

Rout clockwise for a cleaner cut. Climb-cutting prevents chipping and tearout, but realize that the bit wants to pull itself into the cut. To maintain control, keep both hands on the router, and take light passes until you reach full depth.

Begin the base by making two rail assemblies

To ensure that the leg mortises on the upper and lower rails match, I started with two identical pairs, cut the mortises, and then trimmed the upper rails to fit the top. Note that one rail’s rabbets are mitered to fit between the top’s frame. I used a miter gauge to cut the shoulder, then used a dado set to nibble out the waste.

Mortise the corners. For consistency, keep the stopblock clamped in place, and slide in a spacer block to reposition the rail.
Saw out the center. Sawing out the center sections is faster than boring multiple mortises. Clean up to your layout lines with a sharp chisel.
Saw out the shoulders. Rabbetting the square-end rail is simple, but the angled rabbet requires an extra step. Use your miter gauge to trim the ends, then lower the blade and make the shoulder cuts, as shown above.
Dado gets it done. You could nibble out the rabbets and half-laps with a standard blade, but a dado head saves time and produces a cleaner cut.

Make the legs and assemble the table

After milling the legs and cutting the tenons as shown below, you’re set for final assembly. As with the top, the secret to a hassle-free glue-up is working in stages. Glue up the upper and lower rail assemblies, then install the legs to join them together. Finally, install the leg levellers, and screw the base to the top. Remember to protect your project with a weather-resistant finish (I used General Finishes’ Outdoor Oil).

Tenon tamers. When cutting the leg tenons, use a stopblock and outfit your miter gauge with an auxiliary fence.

Stack, and then put the squeeze on. Insert the legs in the lower rails, and then attach the upper rails. The riser blocks provide necessary clearance for clamps.

Attach the base to the top. Position the base assembly on the top and join the two with 2"-long stainless steel screws.


If you don’t own a Festool Domino, you can rout the mortises with a plunge router, a 3⁄8" spiral bit, and a simple shop-made jig. For plans and complete instructions, go to and click on the “Articles” tab.


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