A small table for backpacking

Here’s a little project I did the day before a recent camping trip. Chaya was looking at a fold-up table in the REI catalog and thinking, wouldn’t that be great for hooking up morning coffee outside the tent. The REI table was $100 or something kind of crazy.

I remembered that Ballard Reuse, a great store a few blocks from the Madrona Labs shop, had some tongue and groove cedar boards in stock, and that’s what made the whole project click into being. T&G cedar is not something I have seen often—cedar is a great material but too soft for floors. I asked them about it at the store and they said it was probably from a ceiling or a sauna wall. Makes sense.

I got about 64 linear feet of the cedar, and put some lengths together to figure out how many boards wide my table would be. Then I spent a while picking out long-enough sections with no nail holes or cracks. These formed the bulk of the parts:

  • tongue + groove boards, 18″ long and enough to make 20″ width
  • 2 hardwood sticks, 1/2″ by 1″ by 18″
  • 4 hardwood dowels, 1/2″ by 12″
  • 4 steel T-nuts, 1/4″-20 tpi.
  • 4 hanger bolts, 1/4″-20 tpi. by  1 1/2″


Finding the right hardware can make a project go together very easily, when you’re just trying to make a thing that works and not doing “fine woodworking.” In this case the t-nuts and hanger bolts provide all the rigidity this small table needs, and allow for easy assembly.

The only tricky step in making this is boring out the dowels to insert the hanger bolts. Doing it with a hand drill, it would be hard to get them in anything like straight. I used my drill press to drill holes 15/64″ diam. by 3/4″ deep, then added some epoxy to the wood screw ends of the bolts before screwing them in.

Then I drilled the holes in the ends of the sticks, 17″ apart. Marked centers off the same distance on the underside of the cedar boards with an awl, and put in the T-nuts. Quickly marked the corners A, B, C, D for assembly. It should go together either way, but when you’re setting up camp it’s nice just to follow instructions.


After this is done you can screw the legs into the end boards through the stretcher sticks,


turn it over, and enjoy a cold beverage.