Prior to this time a year ago, I had never purchased lumber in my life.

But then I walked into one of those big box home improvement stores to purchase some outdoor furniture for the deck and the pool, and I was blown away by how poorly all of that stuff was made. And they wanted thousands of dollars for this junk… stuff that was probably going to break in just a season or two.

So… I set out to make my own. “How hard could it be?”

Working with Wood

Picnic Table

First things first, we needed a convenient way to eat outdoors. With lots of year-round sunshine it seemed like the thing to do.

I wanted a picnic table with attached benches, but setup in a way that it was easy for the kids to get in and out without a lot of climbing.

After a bunch of time with Pinterest and Google Images, this is what I ended up with.

Our picnic table

The plans I found on Instructables. It is made of 24 8 ft 2x4s and 16 carriage bolts. At the time I paid about $7.50 for each 2×4 ($180 total.) The carriage bolts were ~$5 each ($80.) I also used 2 boxes of 3″ deck screws (~$10 each.) Total cost of materials, ~$280.

I would have liked to have used cedar or redwood, but prices were insane at the time so I used kiln dried douglas fir. I then stained it with a cedar colored waterproof sealant. (~$30, but I have 80% of it for future use.)

I had a cordless drill but not much else in the way of tools, but I figured I could allow myself one tool purchase per project. For this go around I got a 10″ miter saw for around $250 (with a free stand.)

I built the 2 benches, top, and 2 leg structures in my garage and driveway, and then carried them to the back yard for final assembly.

Cutting wood

Big helper

Final assembly of our picnic table (cameo shot of my sweet tool box.) – table also makes a good jumping off point for the tree swing

There were a lot of tools I should have used – clamps, specifically, but I had no idea what I was doing and I had already purchased my “1 tool per project.” Instead I just cobbled together some frames and jigs from the end pieces of the 2x4s. I also built a jig and blocks to level and support the individual pieces for assembly. (Although I now own these beauties.)

Overall I learned a lot and had a good time, and we ended up with a nice piece of outdoor furniture for much less than the cost of a lesser quality item at retail. I know many things that I would now do differently, which goes to show that I really did learn a great deal.

Future project – a dumb waiter to get food and dishes from our kitchen to the poolside picnic table without having to go up and down stairs 100 times.

Outdoor sofa, chairs, and coffee table

Now that we had a place to eat, we needed a place to lounge. All over the internet I found pictures of these simple block 2×4 sofas. They looked super simple but also aesthetically pleasing.

This is the final setup.

Outdoor lounge

For extra comfort, I also installed a ceiling fan on our patio roof structure.

Ceiling fan install in progress

The plans for all of the furniture pieces come from Ana White. They are as simple as you can possibly make something, basically just connecting some sticks at right angles, so they go together fast and easy. I didn’t even need to buy a new tool to do these (although I think I got a rotary sander, and I now “need” an impact driver.)

One nice feature of these pieces is that they are crazy heavy. There is no way our toddler can move a chair next to our deck railing for a potential 15 foot drop.

By now I was able to get 2x4s for ~$5 each, and a chair can be built with just 10 of them (I modified the design slightly for lower armrest height and shorter legs to be more kid friendly.) I had figured out I could buy a 10 lb box of deck screws for less than the cost of 3 lbs purchased in 1 lb boxes, and I was able to get a gallon of dark stain on clearance for $5.

The big expense comes in the form of cushions. These things are insanely overpriced, but what can you do? Even DIY requires buying the foam, and it was going for more than the price of a finished cushion. I got the 3 blue cushion sets from Lowe’s for ~$45 each. When I looked recently, they were selling for $70. The 2 red cushion sets I got at Home Depot recently for half off ($32 each.)

All together, 2 chairs, a sofa, and a coffee table cost about $250. The cushions add another $200.

Raised Garden Beds

We had a prosperous garden this year – I ate almost nothing but zucchini for 2 months and we gave as much away as we possibly could.

But we are getting a bit up there in years, and bending over to tend a garden is not as easy as it once was. Thus… for our fall planting we will be raising the beds.

I built four 8 ft x 3.5 foot beds out of redwood 2x6s. Each board was about $15 and each bed used 6 for a total cost of ~$75. (For some reason, on my last visit to home depot a redwood 2×4 was also $15…) From what I heard, redwood should last 20+ years so that is nice.

I’ll finish the install and drip irrigation system this coming week. Next week we will get some compost and rocks for the walkways delivered.

We have room for another 2 boxes (slightly smaller) but haven’t decided if we want to maintain such a large garden just yet (but I’ll probably build them anyway.)

The design for these is something I did myself, nothing fancy. I cut the end pieces and the 11″ support block (mid point of the 8 ft sides) from one 2×6.

Hot tub step

My most recent project I just finished yesterday, a new set of steps for our hot tub. The old steps had seen better days and I was worried they might break and injure someone.

I more or less copied this design from our old set of steps but snazzed it up a bit. It is built out of 4 8 foot redwood 2x4s ($10 each) and a 2 ft section of a 2×6. The 2×6 I got from home depot – I found the nastiest ugliest 2x6x8 that they had and asked if it would end up on the cull pile…. so I got it for 70% off.

I did buy a new tool for this little project, a handheld router. I also got a cheap set of router bits for $35 that I can use to experiment with different router options. For this project, I put a nice 1/4 round edge on all of the steps.

Future projects

Dumbwaiter for outdoor dining
Night stands for master bedroom
Round table for kitchen breakfast area
French cleat wall for garage storage
Many, many, more….

Future tools

Too many to list

Some woodworking resources I enjoy

Bourbon Moth
Rogue Engineer
Stumpy Nubs


I’ve been bitten by the woodworking bug. It is loads of fun and the results are super useful.  I’ve been spending a large part of my free time these days either watching woodworking videos, planning new projects, or tinkering with new tools.

If I can avoid the (probably inevitable) tool creep, this new hobby of mine may actually save us money in the long run (it has so far!)

And the results have been great – we used our picnic table often these past few months, and the new lounge area is now seeing regular use. The hot tub step is also seeing a lot of use, but none of the younger members of the household have seemed to notice the fine craftsmanship.

The school season starts up again in a couple days, and it is likely that I’ll be spending more time in the garage working through my ever expanding list of projects.

I like working with wood. Who woulda thunk.

Have you worked with wood? Share a story or pic in the comments!