Building a Knockdown Camping Table
Apr 29, 2014
With summer quickly approaching, I
thought it would be fun to go camping. So, I bought a new
tent, and gathered a small collection of camping gear. While
researching a few places we might go camping, I was surprised
to learn some campgrounds no longer allow campfires (fire
danger). So, I picked up a small butane stove so we could
still prepare our meals. Developed campgrounds usually have a
picnic table, but we can't always count on that luxury. So, I
thought I would build a small table I could take camping with
us. The table didn't need to be very large, I just wanted a
place to set the butane stove and maybe a plate or utensils
next to it.
I found a few commercial tables that collapsed, but they were
relatively expensive and smaller than I was hoping for. Since
we would be camping from the car, I didn't need the light
weight of the backpacking tables.
So, I started looking at options for building my own table.
The simplest would have been a box shaped table that I could
turn upside down and store things in. But, that seemed bulky
and would be awkward to store at home when it wasn't being
used. I thought about a simple plywood top with legs that
screwed to the bottom, but I was concerned about stability
and didn't want to spend the money on hardware. In the end, I
decided to build a small table that would knockdown into a
few small panels. It would be sturdy, easy to build, easy to
store and transport, and I wouldn't have to buy any
The plans are rather basic, just five plywood panels with a
few notches. There is one additional panel that attaches to
the bottom of the table top so it doesn't slide around. It
is simply sized to fit inside the assembled base and
screwed to the top.
I had a basic table size in mind, but the dimensions could
easily be adjusted for larger or smaller tables. I came up
with my final size by looking through my scrap plywood
cutoffs and adjusting the table to fit the wood I had
available. This allowed me to use up plywood panels I've
been hanging on to for years and not have to buy any new
I wanted the top to overhang slightly on all four sides, so
the assembled base is 2" shorter in each direction than the
top. I wanted to minimize storage space, so I sized the
legs so the two panels next to each other were the same
size as the table top.
Cutting the Panels
Nothing complicated here, I simply cut out six plywood
rectangles on the table saw, using the dimensions on my
plans above. I then marked out the notches and lower curve
and cut them out on my bandsaw.
I traced around a small bucket to layout the curve on the
bottom of the legs. I also traced around a small wood putty
can to knock off the bottom corners of the two
I traced around a piece of plywood to get the width of the
notches. Unfortunately, this method made the notch about
1/16" larger than it needed to be, so the table was kind of
wobbly. So, I cut new stretchers and measured out the width
of the plywood rather than rely on tracing. This gave a
much better fit with no wobbling.
To cut the notches, I used my bandsaw to cut down each side
of the notch. Then I cut over to the opposite corner to
remove the bulk, then nibbled away the rest of the
remaining waste. This leaves a slightly jagged edge at the
bottom of the notch, but they're concealed when the table
is assembled so it doesn't really matter.
Finally, I used a 1/4" roundover bit to round over the top
and bottom of all panels. I attached the centering panel to
the underside of the table top with glue and four screws.
Finishing the Panels
After some light sanding with 150 grit paper, I applied
some Varathane cherry gel stain I had leftover from another
project. I let that dry overnight then applied three coats
of Minwax water based gloss polyurethane. Again, that was
leftover from an earlier project.
The Collapsed Table
And here we have the finished parts. Unassembled, the full
stack is approximately 24" x 14" x 3". It is lightweight
and very easy to store. I am considering making a small
carrying bag for the panels, but don't know if I will ever
get around to that. Everything but the top fits inside the
container with the rest of our camping supplies.
Assembling the Base
Assembly is rather easy, just line up the notches and slide
the pieces together.
I did have to make one slight adjustment after finishing.
My notches were a tight fit, and the thickness of the
polyurethane made it hard to slide the panels together. So,
I simply used a file to clean up the inside of the notches
until everything slides together and apart easily. There is
still some slight scuffing of the finish where the panels
slide together, but this isn't fine furniture. They'll take
a beating being used outside anyway.
Add the Top
OK, here's the tricky part. Grab the top with both hands,
balance yourself carefully, and slowly lower the top onto
the base so the centering panel sits inside the base. Try
not to fall over and hurt yourself.
Finished. Ready to Go Camping
And here we have it, the finished table perfectly sized for
my little camp stove and a plate. My wife thinks it's
"cute" so that's good enough for me. It is quite sturdy and
even makes a nice bench when it isn't being used for the
stove. Best of all, it was all made with scraps and
leftover finishing materials, so it didn't cost me a thing
to build. I was finally able to use up some of those small
plywood cutoffs I've been hanging on to for the last few