Today we’re building a table you can bring with to a campsite, park, or beach—or even use in your own backyard. You can add this table to your DIY outdoor camping set (ours includes citronella candles and a wooden camp stool).
Step 1: Cut lumber for DIY camping table
Using a power saw or handsaw, cut moulding slats to length and sand the cuts smooth ("How to Use a Handsaw".) If you’re using a handsaw, a miter box will help keep your cuts straight. We used double bull-nosed stop moulding. The eased edges of the slats will give the table a great look.
Cut the double bull-nosed stop into 17 pieces that are each 20 3/4” long and two pieces that are each 17 3/4” long. Our hemlock moulding from Metrie is quite smooth, but sanding the freshly cut ends and any rough spots will give you a nicer result.
For the one-by-two lumber, we cut two pieces 28 1/4” long for the table rails and four pieces 11” long for the table legs. You’ll be cutting and/or drilling these leg pieces, so hold off on sanding them until the other cuts have been made.
Step 2: Prepare folding camping table rails and legs
Rails: Cutting a bevel on the table rails is an easy way to elevate the look of the table—but it’s completely optional. You’ll end up with a bevel cut on the bottom of both rail ends.
To do this, measure up the side of both ends of both rails halfway (3/4”) and mark the spot. Using a miter square, mark a line at a 45-degree angle to show a small triangle, and cut it off using a handsaw and the 45-degree slot of a miter box, if you have one.
Legs: Prepare all four legs in the same way by cutting off both corners of one end and drilling holes near the other end. (Refer to the diagram to see what this looks like.)
The top end of the legs that attach to the table rails will need to be “dog-eared” to allow them to swing freely. Cut the corners off as described below: Mark the ends of the legs at 1/2” and 1”. Using a miter square, mark triangles at a 45-degree angle and then cut them off.
The other (bottom) end of each leg should be drilled out for a dowel cross-brace and magnets, which will keep the legs in their folded position when the table is stored or carried.
Find the center of the leg, measure upward, and mark at 1 1/2” for the dowel cross-brace and at 2 1/2” for the magnets.
Drill a 5/8” hole all the way through for the cross-brace. (To minimize the chance of splitting, drill partway through one side until the tip of the drill bit pokes through, then flip the board over and finish the hole from the other side.)
Drill out a shallow hole partway into the leg. We drilled a 5/16” diameter hole about 3/16” deep where our magnets would be glued into place. The magnets will be flush with the side of the leg once glued in place later on [Step 7].
Step 3: Pre-drill folding camping table slats (recommended)
While hemlock moulding is not prone to splitting—especially when screws or nails are not placed close to an edge—we decided to play it safe and pre-drill holes in each slat.
Template: Because there are 19 slats to drill and 15 of them are identical, we fashioned a template to mark the spot to drill. For the 15 identical top slats, we cut a piece of one-by-two 1 7/8” long and marked the center of the end to use as a guide.
Mark and drill one hole in the center of 15 of the longer slats at a spot 1 7/8” in from each end. For the two remaining longer slats, mark and drill two holes, evenly spaced at the same distance in from each end (1 7/8”.) Similarly, for the two shorter slats, drill two holes 3/8” in from each end.
Step 4: Attach folding camping table slats to rails
After a lot of prep-work, you’re ready to start putting things together.
Start by attaching the slats to both ends of the table rails—these are the two long slats with four holes drilled in them. Lay the table rails out and fasten the slats flush with each rail end. (We used 1 1/4” screws.) The slats should overhang the side of the rails by 1 1/2”. Tip: We made a jig out of straight scrap lumber that allowed us to have a consistent, straight overhang for each slat.
Now that the end slats are in place, you can fasten the rest of the slats. We used 5/32” spacers to achieve a consistent gap between slats and screwed the slats into place.
You’ll have two shorter slats remaining: Flip the table over and screw these two slats into place at the far ends of the rails using four screws per slat. When you're done, this is a good spot in the process to stop and lightly sand any cut ends, edges, or holes that need it.
Step 5: Attach legs to folding camping table
In this step, you’ll drill a hole through the rail and leg. A bolt through that hole will be what the folding leg hinges upon. To position the legs, place them on the inside of the rail with the partial hole up against the rail. Place the bottoms of the legs (the square ends) at the mid-point of the table leaving a 3/4” gap. Now measure inward from the end of the table toward the top of the leg 3 1/2” and mark a hole in the rail (centered up and down). Clamp the leg to the rail and drill a 1/4” diameter hole through both the rail and the leg behind. Test the leg’s swing by inserting a bolt through the hole and opening the leg from its folded position. If it binds, trim the top of the leg at the point of binding. When the leg opens freely, fasten it with the bolt, washers, and nut.
Tip: We used a carriage bolt for a cleaner look on the outside of the rail, but a hex-head bolt will work fine. We also used a washer both at the nut and between the rail and leg. We chose a stop nut, which will hold its position and not work its way loose.
Repeat this for the other three legs.
Step 6: Install dowel cross-brace for folding camping table
Cut a length of dowel for each pair of legs. Double-check the distance between the outside of the legs, but it’s likely to be 16 1/4”. Sand the ends of the dowels and insert them into the large holes in the legs, which you drilled in step two. To secure the dowel, you can use a bit of glue, and we recommend a screw as well. Pre-drill a 3/32” hole through the edge of the leg, and partway into the dowel, and fasten with a 3/4” screw. Repeat for the other three legs.
Step 7: Glue magnets to camping table for storage
We used Rare Earth disc magnets to keep the folded legs of the table in place during storage or carrying, and we glued them in place using DAP RapidFuse glue. This glue sets in just 30 seconds, and cures in 30 minutes.
For the legs: With a small amount of glue in the shallow hole you drilled in each leg back in step two, place a magnet in the hole. Press into place, then repeat for all four legs.
For the rails: Starting with the legs in their folded position, find a spot along the inside of the rail for another magnet to mount. Mark and drill another shallow, 5/16” hole in the rail like you did with the legs in step two. Glue another magnet into this hole. Repeat for the other legs and let the glue set.
Step 8: Add a carry handle for camping table
We added a simple handle to the outside of one rail. Center the handle lengthwise on the rail, mark the holes, and fasten with screws while avoiding the magnets on the other side of the one-by-two.
Step 9: Add a top coat or finish to camping table
You can leave this hemlock table as bare wood or add a stain or finish. Virtually any exterior stain or finish will work. We chose to use teak oil. Teak oil is easy to apply and gives a nice, oiled look that can be refreshed over time by adding another coat. Follow the instructions on the can:
(1) Apply teak oil with brush, rag, or applicator ("How to Safely Dispose of Oil-Soaked Rags")
(2) While wet, sand lightly with 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper
(3) Wipe excess oil away with a lint-free rag
(4) Repeat one or more times for two or more coats
Put your new folding camping table to use! This lightweight table is great for a campground, park, or beach. We love that it’s large enough to hold snacks, drinks—whatever you need.