Teak patio table
Teak – known for its ability to stand up to the elements – coupled with this classic design will create a set of tables you can enjoy for decades to come.
When designing these tables I started off by determining the size I needed for our patio. Width, depth and especially height are all specific to your needs and can be adjusted. I wanted each table to be just a bit lower than the arm of our Muskoka chairs.
I put together a full-sized drawing of the table’s front view, made a few tweaks, then set to work on a full-sized maquette. My 11-year-old son and I used 2×4 material to build the table as it was drawn. After looking at it from all angles, and testing it out in the yard, we made a number of changes. I decreased the height by 1-1/2″, made the legs narrower, reduced the width of the top frame, added gentle round overs to the legs and lower stretchers, and thinned out all the parts for a more refined look. I updated my full-sized drawing so I could refer to it during the build. With all the angles and tapers to this table design, the drawing increased my accuracy and ensured minimal waste. When dealing with a valuable wood like teak the last thing I want to do is waste wood or end up with an ugly piece of furniture.
I ordered my teak through Mys-Teak.com. They provide sustainably grown plantation teak from Costa Rica and oversee the entire process from planting and nurturing the trees to sawing and shipping. All of their teak is FSC certified. It was shipped by CWP Architectural Lumber in Mississauga, Ontario, one of their Canadian distributors, so it arrived quickly and without high shipping costs.
Removeable Tray Top
Stops with screws in them make it easy to adjust the angle of the workpiece to hone in on the correct angle. This same process is repeated to cut the angle on the other ends of each leg.
Make a Mock-Up
Brown started by making a full-sized model of the table so he could get a better idea of proportions and dimensions. Although the model was close to what he wanted, he made a number of small adjustments to it before cutting into the teak. This ensured valuable material wouldn’t be wasted.
Taper the Legs
After working directly from the full-sized drawing, and marking the taper on one of the legs, Brown fixed some stops to his crosscut sled and machined the tapers.
Use the Drawing
The full-sized drawing will allow you to more easily work with the angles that make up the base of this table. Here, Brown marks the location of the mortises in the legs and upper / lower rails.
Time for Joints
Brown used his Festool Domino XL to machine the mortises in the legs and upper / lower rails, but there are many other ways to machine this joint.
After sketching a rough curve onto the lower rails, Brown uses a French curve template to refine the curve before cutting it on the bandsaw and sanding it smooth.
Notch the Top Rails
Notches in the upper surface of the top rails will accept the stringers.
Bring the legs and upper / lower rails together with glue and clamps.
Mortises for the Slats
A Festool Domino makes quick work of the mortises, though a router can also be used. Even dowels would properly secure the slats to the mitred frame. Brown carefully marked each mortise with pencil.
By using a stop block with a screw that will reference off the ends of each slat, Brown was able to set up the position of that screwhead stop once and machine all the shoulders and cheeks. The only adjustment needed was to raise or lower the blade depending on whether he was machining the upper face, lower face or sides of the slats. Machine these tenons so the upper face of the slats finishes flush with the upper face of the mitred frame.
Cut the Tenons to Width
Although the mortises have round ends, the tenons can finish with square ends. Machine the tenons to width so they fit in the mortises nicely.
Test the fit of all the slats in the frame members and mark the slats accordingly. Very light hammer taps should be enough to seat the slats in their mortises.
Rout a groove into the underside of each end of the tray. This will make the tray easy to grasp and carry.
To ensure the dowels are in the correct position, Brown made a plywood template to assist with boring all the holes in the two tables he made. It might be just as easy to drill them without the template and mark the tray and base so you know how the tray should sit on the base.
Add Some Notches
If you make more than one of these tables, do yourself a favour and carve some notches into the underside next to the handle and add matching notches on the top of the base. This will allow you to tell what tray goes where while carrying drinks and snacks to the patio.
Working with teak
Teak is extremely weather, water and pest resistant, making it great for outdoor projects. Teak’s high oil content helps it stand up to the elements over time.
In terms of its workability in a workshop setting, the teak I used was an absolute joy to deal with. Carbide tooling had absolutely no trouble with this tropical hardwood, though I’ve heard teak can wreak havoc on high-speed steel tooling. The specific gravity of teak is 0.55 g/cc. For comparison’s sake, teak is slightly harder than black cherry but much less dense than hard maple.
I planned this stage much more thoroughly than I usually do. Not only is teak not cheap, but it’s such a beautiful and valuable wood I wanted to make sure I ended up with as little waste as possible.
I used chalk to mark and label the parts before breaking them out and dressing them to dimension.
The legs are tapered, so I broke out one blank for each pair of legs, then marked an angled line on the blank and cut the two legs to rough size on the bandsaw. Next, I cut the legs to a consistent length that was about 3/4″ longer than the finished leg. You need to do this because when cutting the tapered side of each leg, as well the angles on both leg ends, it’s much easier if the leg blanks are all the same length. I used my crosscut sled, equipped with a few stops and hold downs, to taper the legs.
Since the two long edges of the legs aren’t parallel you need to reference off the correct side while cutting the angled side and ends on the legs. What side you use doesn’t matter, as long as you set up the angled crosscuts properly.
With all the legs tapered, I adjusted the stops on my crosscut sled to first cut the first end of the leg to the correct angle, then readjusted the stops to cut the other end. I used my full-sized drawing to obtain all these angles, though you can refer to the illustration included in this article.
Top and bottom rails
I cut these parts to length, but left the ends square for now, as that was easier to machine joinery on. I used my Festool Domino XL to machine 12mm slots in both the legs and top / bottom rails. If you don’t have a Domino there are many other options when it comes to joinery. Hand cut or routed mortise and tenons or a few 3/8″ dowels at each joint would all work well.
With the leg-to-rail joinery cut it was time to machine two notches in the upper edges of the top rails. These notches will accept the upper stretchers once the table is assembled.
Mark and shape the ends of both the top and bottom rails. The underside of the bottom rails gets relieved in the centre of each workpiece.
I used my Domino XL to cut mortises in the faces of the legs to accept the lower stretchers after the first sub-assembly was complete. Depending on how you’re cutting these joints it might be easier to do that now. In hindsight, it would have been easier and more accurate for me to machine these joints before I completed the next step, rounding over the four edges of the legs.
With the leg joinery complete you can ease their four edges with either a 3/8″ or 1/2″ radius round over bit. Even a 1/4″ radius bit will provide a softer look and feel if that’s the only size you have.
At this point you can break the edges on these parts, sand their surfaces and prep for assembly. A quick wipe with acetone is needed. I used a thin piece of wood wrapped in a piece of cloth that was soaked in acetone to get inside each mortise. Each mortise only takes a few seconds, as it doesn’t need much scrubbing. After a dry run to ensure the parts fit nicely, cover the joints in glue, bring the parts together and use clamps to seat the joints. Set each assembly aside to dry.
Stretchers and stringers
Rip the stretchers to final width, cut them to length, machine the mortises in their ends and round over their four edges. Next, cut the upper stringers to size and ensure they fit into the notches cut into the tops of the upper rails. It’s also nice if you shape the ends of the upper stringers, rather than leave them square, for aesthetic purposes.
Dry fit the stretchers and stringers with the sub-assemblies to ensure everything fits. Wipe the joints with acetone and apply glue to the mortises and tenons before bringing the parts together with clamps and ensuring the assembly is square.
Build the tray
This is just a mitred frame with slats between two of the long frame members. Again, I used my Festool Domino XL to join the slats and the frame, though dowels or routed mortise and tenon joints are also fine options. A lot of strength between the slats and frame isn’t needed, though strong mitred joints are necessary.
Start by machining the frame members to size and mitring their ends. The length of the slats needs to considered fairly carefully. The distance between the shoulders of the slats needs to be equal to the distance of the short edge of the shorter frame members. If the slats are even 1/16″ too long the frame mitres won’t fit together accurately. It’s possible to use a couple dowels or floating tenons to join the slats to the frame, as opposed to machining tenons on the ends of the slats.
I opted for tenons on the ends of the slats that fit into the Domino mortises in the frame, which meant I had to machine the slat tenons carefully so the distance between the shoulders was equal to the shorter edge of the short frame members. I machined the slats and cut the tenons on their ends now.
I routed a large round over on the bottom two edges of the slats and a small round over on the top two edges. A dry run ensured all the slats fit into the mortises. I had to use my shoulder plane to fit some of the tenons. All the parts were sanded before the tray was assembled.
When dry, I added a 1/4″ thick key to the mitre joints for some added strength. I used a jig on my table saw to cut the kerfs, then dressed a length of teak, cut triangular pieces from it and glued them into the kerfs. Once dry, I trimmed them flush and routed the underside of the tray edge on all four sides. I also added a finger groove for grasping the tray. Once I chucked a round bottom bit into my plunge router, I used a simple straightedge to guide the router. A stop block was added to either end to limit the travel of the router. A few passes made short work of each groove.
Dowels were used to keep the tray in place. I tried to ensure they were in the perfect position so the tray could be installed in either direction, but to be honest I wasn’t close enough. (I’ll get to how I sorted that out shortly.) I marked four holes in a sheet of plywood that were square and aligned with each other. I drilled them out on the drill press, then used that plywood template to bore four holes in the upper rails. I ensured I didn’t drill too deep by using a stop that limited my travel. I made a length of 1/4″ diameter teak dowel rod and cut pieces to length, then chucked them in my drill to heavily ease one end of each shorter section. This would allow the tray to be placed more easily. I then glued them in place. I used the same plywood drilling jig to bore four holes in the underside of the top.
After checking the tray in both positions, I realized it fit nicely one way, but it stuck slightly the other way. To compound this situation for me was the fact that I built two tables, and the trays fit best in only one orientation of one table. Rather than have to fight with it for the rest of my life I carved one small notch into the underside of one of the handles, then added one notch to the top of the table, on the same side as the notch in the tray. Now, while holding the tray I’ll be able to feel what side the notch is on, then see the notch on the table to position the tray the proper way. I added five notches to the other table and tray. Different numbers of notches in the two tables allow me to easily tell with my fingers what tray goes with what table.
Applying a finish
The folks at Mys-Teak gave me some tips about applying a finish. Although many finishes will work well, if I wanted to ensure the teak didn’t turn silvery grey after a few years the best approach would be to use teak oil to finish the table. Other finishes wouldn’t keep the natural colour of the teak as well as teak oil does. There’s nothing wrong with teak turning silvery grey, but I was trying to keep it more natural looking.
Another tip Mys-Teak told me about was to put the finished table in the sun for a while before applying a finish. Teak naturally comes in a variety of tones but the sun will not only even this out, but add a rich honey brown colour to the wood. Even a few hours in the sun will make a difference. Once a finish is applied (especially teak oil) the sun’s rays will have less of an effect on the colour of the wood.
The application process was fairly straightforward. I used a rag to apply the teak oil on all the surfaces of the table. I also used a small brush to get into the corners. These two techniques were used interchangeably. While working, I wiped off any excess oil after a few minutes. Timing isn’t crucial while working with a penetrating oil, which reduces my level of stress while finishing.
A couple coats were added, and then left to properly dry for a few days before I put the table out in the yard, beside our Muskoka chairs.
Since teak is oily, special care needs to be taken when gluing it. Glued properly, a teak joint will be stronger than the teak wood itself. Due to its oil content, wipe teak with acetone and allow it to dry before gluing. This takes very little time, as acetone evaporates quickly. The acetone will remove much of the oil right at the surface of the joint and allow the adhesive you use to adhere to, and often penetrate, the wood.
Adhesives need to be considered as well. Titebond III is what I used for these tables, though Gorilla Glue, Titebond II and epoxy also work well on teak. If you use teak for an exterior project like this table, make sure to use an adhesive that will stand up to water it will be exposed to.
Brown glued together a bunch of teak offcuts, let them dry overnight and did a quick test. Half of the joints were wiped with acetone before they were glued, while the other half weren’t wiped with acetone. He used Titebond III for this test. Here Brown taps them with a hammer to see how easy they are to break and where the fracture occurs.
The batch that wasn’t wiped with acetone (left) all broke directly at the glue line. The batch that was wiped with acetone didn’t fail at the glue line. In these cases it was the teak wood that failed (right). This doesn’t mean teak is weak, it means acetone helps creates a glue joint that is stronger than the wood surrounding it, as is the case with virtually all other woods.
Tips and Techniques
Machining a keyed mitre joint
Mitre joints have a clean, tidy look to them. The main downside is their strength, which is less than a standard edge joint or mortise and tenon joint. This may not always cause problems, but when more strength is needed you can add solid wood keys to the mitre joint. Essentially, a groove is cut into the mitre joint then a strip of solid wood is inserted and glued into the groove. When dry, the waste is removed. This adds face gluing and mechanical strength to the joint. It also allows you to use a contrasting wood for a unique look if that approach fits the design of the project.
To cut the groove, make a simple jig that slides along the rip fence on a table saw. The key is have the jig sit stable at 90° to the blade to allow the user to push the jig and workpiece across the blade. The fit of the jig to the fence needs to be snug, but not so tight it’s hard to move.
Although you can easily use a hand saw or bandsaw to take off the key waste, if you have enough to do it’s worth a dedicated setup. Clamp a plywood sacrificial fence to the rip fence so it sits above the table saw’s surface at slightly less than the thickness of the workpiece you’re going to machine. This tray is 1″ thick, so Brown left a 7/8″ gap between the table saw’s surface and the plywood fence. Next, adjust the rip fence so the left face of the plywood is flush with the left edge of the blade’s teeth. Adjust the height of the blade so it cuts off the keys and run the parts past the blade.
A Key Jig – A simple jig, consisting of the main plywood surface, a few pieces of material to guide the base on a table saw’s rip fence and a pair of fences fixed to the base forming a 90° angle will assist in cutting the grooves to accept the keys.
Cut the Grooves – With the workpiece sitting in the jig at a 45° angle to the surface of the table saw, the workpiece can be run across the blade to produce a groove for the solid wood key.
Trim the Keys – A sacrificial fence, clamped to the fence so it sits just above the table saw’s surface, will allow you to quickly and accurately trim multiple keys flush to the edge of the workpiece.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.