This has been the summer of upgrading my outdoor living space. Being stuck at home has made me appreciate my backyard so much more, and has motivated me to make the most of it. So we bought patio chairs, string lights, a fire pit, and a citronella tabletop tiki torch. The one missing item was a side table. I always seem to run into the same problem when I’m looking for tables—whether they be coffee tables or side tables. I don’t like the aesthetic of the ones in my price range, and the ones I do like are much more than I care to spend on such a small piece of furniture. On top of all of that, there's the issue of height. As we learned from Keith in How to Maximize Your Small Living Space, a side table should be within two inches of the height of your chair arm. Every side table that I found that both fit my aesthetic and my budget was far too short to work with the patio chairs I had already purchased. At the end of the day, no option that I found was a good option—and that’s always when I turn to DIY.
Creating a table that works with your furniture and fits your budget is a matter of design and creativity. And after six years of Dunn DIY, that comes a lot easier to me than searching online for hours trying to find a table that checks all of the boxes. One of my goals for this table was to make it inexpensive, so I came up with a design that used two-by-two lumber to create a box frame for the base and a spruce one-by-twelve to create a tabletop made up of two panels. I decided to paint the two-by-twos to match the patio chairs I had, and because it’s an easy way to make less expensive wood look pricier. I was in the process of color matching a stain for the tabletop to the faux wood on my patio chairs when I suddenly realized that I had some ipe laying around. Ipe (pronounced ee-pay) is an exotic hardwood that is naturally resistant to rot and decay and is extremely dense and hard. It’s not the easiest wood to work with, but it sure is beautiful. You may remember the privacy screen planter from years ago. It has been living on my balcony since I built it, but I didn’t have easy access to the balcony and I’m just terrible at keeping plants alive. Long after they all died, I decided it was time to move on. I took the project apart, but I was unable to part with the ipe. So for quite some time now it’s been sitting in a pile behind my house. I didn’t really expect to come up with some way to use it, but all this time later, here was an opportunity. The color of the ipe with the Penofin hardwood stain that had originally been applied was the perfect shade to match my patio chairs, and I’m so glad it did. Using ipe was the perfect way to upgrade this project and take it to the next level. Not to mention, there’s always a satisfaction I feel when I’m able to use something I’ve been holding on to for so long.
This is a great project to introduce yourself to ipe because it’s simple and fairly small. You’ll get to know what working with ipe is like as you cut, pre-drill, and drive screws into it. But it’s a small enough project that you’ll be able to see the finish line before you have a chance to get overwhelmed. So have fun broadening your DIY horizons and working with something you haven’t yet.
If you're looking for the most cost-effective option for your patio side table, opting for what you already have on hand, of course, is always the best way to go. If you don't have anything at home to utilize (whether it be ipe or something else), I would recommend you pursue my original idea of using spruce as the tabletop. Even if you go for the ipe, the materials for this table will only cost you roughly $50. Let’s get to it!
Step 1: Cut wood
Measure out each length one at a time, then use a handsaw and a miter box (or a power saw, if you prefer) to cut your wood to length.
First cut your two-by-twos into four 22” lengths, four 17” lengths and four 12” lengths. These pieces will make up the box-like base of the table.
No matter how you distribute these cuts between the two-by-two boards, you’re going to end up with most of the last board left over. You can solve this by purchasing one eight-foot board and one ten-foot board, or by purchasing two eight-foot boards and using some scrap two-by-two from your shop. I usually stick to eight-foot boards in my tutorials, because ten feet is a lot to fit in your car.
Next, measure and cut your one-by-four ipe board into four 20” lengths for the tabletop. Ipe is also referred to as ironwood, and you’ll see why here. It’s extremely hard and dense, and it’s going to take some more time (and probably some more sweat) to saw through this by hand. Take your time and break it up if you need to. Luckily there’s only four cuts to make!
Step 2: Pre-drill holes with a Kreg jig
For those of you who don’t know, a Kreg jig is a guide that allows you to pre-drill angled holes (called pocket holes) for your screws. I love using this tool when building furniture because it’s really simple to use and with some creative placement can hide all of your screws in your final product. It’s amazing what a difference this has in making your DIY furniture look polished and professional.
Set the depth of your Kreg jig on the guide and on the drill bit to 1 ½” and pre-drill one hole on either end of all of the 12” and 17” pieces. Because the two-by-two is fairly narrow, you’ll only want to pre-drill through one of the holes on the guide. Just make sure that both of the little gray arms are snuggly holding on to the end of the two-by-two. This will make your holes off-center, but don’t worry. Take advantage of this and offset the screws on one side for the 12” lengths and on the other side for the 17” lengths, this will keep the screws from running into each other when all the pieces are secured together later.
Step 3: Sand
Now it’s time to sand all of your wood before assembly. You can use a piece of sandpaper or a sanding sponge to remove any splinters from the cut ends of the ipe, but in general I find the ipe doesn’t need a lot of sanding. The two-by-twos, on the other hand, are construction-grade lumber, and we’re going to be painting them, so we’re going to need to give them a fair amount of attention. For this, I switched to a power sander. This step took quite a bit longer than I was expecting. I guess since the boards are so narrow, they’re more prone to a tiny bit of warping and any curve on the surface of the wood makes it difficult to get full contact with the sander. I found that it took a lot of tilting the sander back and forth slightly to make sure I was getting every part of the wood. I started out sanding the two-by-twos with a 150-grit sandpaper, and then finished up with a 220-grit.
Step 4: Assemble base
Once all the pieces are sanded, it’s time to start assembling the base. The base is going to form the frame of a box that the tabletop will then sit on top of. To start, lay out a rectangular frame with two 12” lengths sandwiched between two 22” lengths. Make sure that the pocket holes from the Kreg jig are on the outside of the frame, facing up and down. Add glue to each of the seams, and then drive 2 ½” exterior Kreg jig screws through the pocket holes on the 12” lengths into the two 22” lengths. Grab a clamp to clamp the two 22” lengths together to hold them still while you secure them. If you don’t have a clamp that’s long enough, you can clamp each 22” piece down to the table separately as you drive screws into them.
Repeat this with the remaining 12” and 22” pieces so that you have two rectangular frames. The last part of assembling the base is to attach the two frames together at the top and bottom with the 17” pieces. Lay out the 17” lengths on the table with the pocket holes facing the outside of the frame, and then sandwich them between the two frame pieces on edge. Secure the 17” pieces in place with glue and more 2 ½” screws. For this part, I clamped the 17” pieces to the table while I drove the screws in. This removed one thing for me to try to hold in place while I drove the screws in and gave me that much more control over how the pieces were lining up.
Step 5: Paint base
Move to a well-ventilated place and lay out a large plastic sheet or a plastic-backed drop cloth to protect your floor. Spray paint the base black, making sure to cover each surface of each two-by-two. Follow the directions on the can, using light coats and recoating as directed.
I often think I can successfully spray paint something in two or three coats, but the more I take my time with it the more I realize that it really takes closer to 8-10 coats to really get the look I want. Thankfully the recoat time is usually just a minute or two, so be patient, and give it all the coats it needs.
I used a satin black spray paint to match the color and finish of my patio chairs.
Step 6: Stain tabletop
While the spray paint is drying, stain the ipe boards. Make sure you’re using an exterior-grade wood stain designed for hardwood to get the most life out of your wood. I’m using the Penofin hardwood penetrating oil finish because it’s what I originally stained the ipe with, and because it conveniently matches the faux wood on my patio chairs. This meant that I was just giving a quick touchup to the boards, rather than fully staining them.
Whichever stain you are using, be sure to follow the directions on the can and dispose of your stained rags properly. Allow the stain (and paint) to fully dry before moving on to the next step.
Step 8: Mark screw placement
Before assembling the tabletop, mark the placement of the screws at the ends of each one-by-four board and pre-drill the holes. You’ll want your screws to be right in the middle of the two-by-two frame, so it’s best to position them ¾” from the end of each board. I used some marks on a scrap one-by-four as a guide to quickly mark these placements (the thickness of the board is ¾”).
Pre-drill through each mark with a countersink bit. A countersink bit not only drills a hole for the shaft of the screw, it also drills a spot for the wider head of the screw to fit into. When I built the privacy screen planter, I didn’t use a countersink bit for the ipe and I found that because the wood is so dense it isn’t compressed by the head of the screw and instead tiny little splintered bits of wood turned into fringe around the head of the screw. So countersinking the holes here makes a big difference in the final appearance!
Pre-drilling through this material takes significantly more time and elbow grease then drilling through spruce or cedar. Don’t get discouraged if it’s taking longer, and feel free to remove the drill bit more and clean it off during the drilling process if you don’t have enough muscle to just force it through.
Step 9: Assemble tabletop
And now adding the tabletop. Position the ipe boards across the top of the two-by-two base. I used ¼” plastic shims to space out the boards evenly, but you can also use some thinly cut pieces of wood, or just eyeball the spacing. Secure in place by driving 1 ½” screws through the pre-drilled holes into the two-by-two base.
Step 10: Add feet
The very last step is to add rubber feet to the bottom of your side table. This will keep the wooden base from sitting in a puddle of water and will extend the life of your table. Pre-drill a hole in the bottom of the base, and then secure the rubber feet with screws. It turns out this exact product isn’t one we carry anymore, but it can be easily found (although usually in bulk) online.
And there you have it—in a matter of hours, you can build an outdoor side table that fits both your budget and your aesthetic.