This article will guide you in making a basic two-tier table that can be used for just about anything. Keep in mind that when building things for yourself, you can design however you wish, to whatever length, width, or height. My intention here was to have a place to set food for grilling or serving.
Note: This article assumes that you understand how to use power tools such as drills, miter saws, clamps, etc.
Tools and Materials Needed
Keep in mind wood lengths vary when purchasing. Some people like to buy the minimum such as a 6' long, while others buy 16' at a time.
So for this project, we will list the materials in the finished cut lengths. All wood shown is pressure treated. All outdoor wood should always be pressure treated. The only actual measurements shown below are the lengths. All other dimensions are nominal wood sizes.
- Drills and drill bits
- 2" and 3" outdoor rated screws (deck screws are best)
- Compound miter saw
- Jig saw
- Clamps (mostly for if building alone)
- Sandpaper or electric sander
- Measuring tape
- Pencil or equivalent
- Safety glasses
Materials and Lengths
Note: I suggest cutting materials as needed, instead of all ahead of the project. Lumber, while it should be exact, is not always and can be off sometimes by 1/8" to even a 1/4". Sometimes improvising is necessary and a part of basic carpentry.
- 24 = 1x4x18" (Table planks)
- 2 = 2x2x16" (Top tier braces)
- 4 = 2x2x16" (Lower tier braces)
- 4pc 2x2x46-1/2" (Front and back frames)
- 4pc 2x2x13-1/2" (Sides for frames)
- 4pc 1x4x16-1/2" (Side panels)
- 4pc 1x4x48" (Side panels)
- 1pc = 3/8" thick material for gaps between top and bottom planks
- 4pc = 2x2x36" (Legs)
Step 1: Build Two Frames
The overall measurements of the frames are 46-1/2" x 13-1/2". This will allow for the later adding on of the 3/4" outer face boards, which will then bring the finished result to 48"x18". When assembling the four pieces of the frame together, you will need to pilot a hole from the long piece for the 3" screw to be used. This will prevent the wood from splitting.
You will need to assemble two frames, one for the top tier and one for the lower. They must be identical, for the frames are what will square and even the entire table. If measurements are off, the table will be out of square in all directions. Take your time on the frames.
Step 2: Check the Frames
If the frame is exactly 46-1/2" x 16-1/2", then adding the front, back, and side plate will be even. The front plate is 48" and the sides are 16-1/2", as shown in the photo above. Do not attach the plates yet, this is done after attaching the legs.
Step 3: Add the Table Legs
The legs are a bit tricky and it's recommended that you use clamps to assist with making the top of the leg even with the top of the top tier. You will need to pilot holes from the front and the side of the frame to screw the frame to the leg.
While the leg needs to be tightly attached to the inside corner of the frame, do not worry about the less straight in the air leg. This will be corrected by the second frame on the lower tier shortly.
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Step 4: Mark Legs for Lower Tier
With the table standing in upward position and upper frame attached with all four legs, measure down from top of the legs, which should be flush with top of the top frame to 17-1/4". Later, when adding the table planks, this will make it 18", center of the legs.
Make these marks on all four legs so that you will be able to align the top of the lower tier frame to the lines on all four legs. Using clamps to assist is recommended. Attache the lower frame in the same manor as the upper frame.
Step 5: Add Braces to Lower Tier Legs
Now add 2x2x16" 45° cut braces to legs, oriented to the front of the table as seen below. This will prevent wobble from left to right. Later we will add 2x2x16" braces to the side of the upper tier for wobble preventions from front to back. Without these braces, the table will not be stable.
Note: Upper tier braces are added absolutely last. Do not attach prior to near completion of the table.
Step 6: Add Front and Side Panels
When attaching front and side panels to the top and bottom pier, be sure to pilot the screw points. Screws should be between 8-12" on center. You cannot have too many screws, but going overboard could result in a less than attractive look as well. Be sure to counter sink the screws. If using deck screws, they should counter sink easily. Counter sinking is suggested to 1/4" depth +/-.
If all measurements have been exact, you should square off at all ends. The sides will butt into the front and back panels. It's recommended to attach the sides first, then the front/back panels.
Step 7: Add Top Tier Planks
With the wood being 3.5" actual width, this allows for a 1" overhang on the sides with 3/8" gaps. You will need to measure 1" from the side panel to the outer edge of the first top plank. This is very critical to attach the square, because it will guide you the rest of the way across to be near even to the last plank.
One screw per plank on each end is typical of all planks except the end planks. They have three, one in the center to counter balance overhang.
Also critical is the 3/8" thick gap board. This is a created template. If you do not have a 3/8" thick material available, you will need to rip a piece down using a table saw. This guide makes butting the planks one to another very easy.
Note: The reason for the gaps is to allow water and other liquids to dry faster and drain to the ground. This will give your finished product a longer lifespan in the end, thus preventing standing water/liquids.
Step 8: Add Bottom Tier Planks and Notches
The bottom tier is not as simple as the top, as you will need to contend with the legs. This is not difficult, just time consuming, due to measuring and then using a jigsaw to cut out the notches.
Start with the inside planks. Lay the board down front to back aligned against the legs. Mark them with your pencil, then measure in 3/8" of an inch. This will be done to both ends similarly, however, do not notch the other opposite end until you get your second to the last plank laid. If there is any discrepancy in the widths of the boards, precutting could result in the last board not fitting correctly.
After you have laid your inside boards, you can come back and notch the outer plank. I did not keep the full 3/8" gap. Instead I measured the 1" difference for the overhang, then that gave me the depth to notch.
Step 9: Attach the Last Pieces
Other than sanding the edges and tops down, the almost last thing to do is attach the side braces. These braces keep the table from wobbling from front to back.
Once this is done, be sure to sand down all the edges with a sander. You can opt to paint or stain. Since this is pressure-treated lumber though, it is recommended to wait a couple of months in the summer heat to let the wetness of the lumber dry out first, then apply finish coat if desired.
Total Build Time
Overall, the time to build was about three hours, though it may take you less time since I did take photos for this tutorial along the way. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed the tutorial.
Note: I did anchor the two-tier table to the ground. Sometimes I get high winds in my area and, while it would take a lot to lift the table and send it flying, I anchored it for precaution.
Bonus Coffee Table
As an added bonus, below is a picture of a 18"x18"x18" coffee table that is constructed very similarly to the table in this tutorial. The only difference is the legs have two supports, each in the same place on two sides for stability.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Ryan Hutzel