DIY Outdoor Side Table (+ Hidden Cooler or Storage)

This clever DIY outdoor side table has a removable top that reveals a hidden area you can use for storage, as a cooler, or even hide a backyard eyesore!

DIY outdoor side table on a stone patio

Summer is the time for barbecues, pool parties, and spending time outdoors with family and friends. What better way to make your outdoor space even more functional and inviting than by adding a DIY outdoor side table?

This table is a great place to set drinks, food, or any other items you may need while enjoying your pool, deck, or patio. Plus, it has a hidden area that can be used for chilling drinks or storage. Grab your tools, and let’s get started!

Originally published May 9, 2015, updated May 16, 2022.

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Table of Contents

Inspiration for This DIY Outdoor Side Table

I used to be a realtor, and I say I used to be because I gave up my real estate license.

If anything could go wrong with a real estate transaction, it went wrong with the deal I was working on. I even had a healthy client unexpectedly die while buying a house!

But there was one family who I really connected with. They liked outdoor entertaining, they liked handmade furniture, and they liked craft beer.

I searched for something unique to build them as a housewarming gift, but I couldn’t find anything that fit their lifestyle. So, I decided to design my own project instead.

What I came up with was this outdoor side table I designed especially for them. And it’s no ordinary piece of patio furniture. It’s the ultimate outdoor decor multitasker!

First, it’s a table. But there’s more. You can remove the table top to reveal a square planter that doubles as a cooler for chilling summertime drinks. And that’s not all. The top may also be used as a serving tray!

You may also enjoy the plans for this outdoor coffee table and this outdoor plant stand.

DIY outdoor side table with two drinks

Where Can You Use the Outdoor Side Table?

  • Patio
  • Deck
  • Backyard
  • Porch
  • By the pool

What Tools Do You Need?

This small outdoor side table is a straightforward weekend project that requires only basic woodworking skills and common woodworking tools like a miter saw, pocket hole jig, drill, and jigsaw. You’ll also need a table saw to rip a few of the boards to width.

Miter Saw

I used my miter saw to cut all of the components for this project to length.

Related: How to Adjust a Miter Saw for Accurate Cuts

Pocket Hole Jig

I built this table using pocket hole joinery. At the time, I used my Kreg K3, which has since been discontinued. You may use whatever pocket hole jig you have to drill the pocket holes.

Related: Which Kreg Jig Should You Buy? (Here’s the Answer)

Drill

You will need a drill to make the pocket holes, make countersink holes and drive the screws that connect the parts together.

Related: Impact Driver vs Drill: What’s the Difference?

Jigsaw

You’ll need a jigsaw to cut notches in a few of the parts to fit around the legs.

Table Saw

I used a table saw to rip a few parts to a smaller width. Ripping wood on a table saw simply means cutting the wood along its length. Ripping is done with a rip fence attached to the table saw, which helps guide the wood as its being cut.

I understand some DIYers are uncomfortable with using a table saw. If that’s you, consider asking a friend or family member who’s comfortable using one to cut the parts for you.


What Wood Should You Use?

I used common pine to build this project. Pine isn’t the best choice for an outdoor patio side table because it rots quickly.

Cedar is a better option for outdoor furniture since it’s naturally resistant to decay. I made this DIY bird feeder out of cedar, for example.

I decided to build this project from pine rather than cedar for two reasons.

First, pine was an inexpensive option, and since this was a gift, I wanted to stay on budget. Plus, I knew the table would be well cared for and stored inside during inclement weather.

Another reason I used pine for this project is that I’m allergic to cedar. Even with wearing a face mask, the cedar sawdust finds its way into my nasal passages and makes me congested. That’s why I generally avoid building with cedar.


How Do You Keep Drinks Cold in the Outdoor Cooler Table?

This side table’s cooler isn’t exactly a cooler. It’s a square planter typically used for patio plants like flowers or herbs. However, it’s effective in keeping beverages chilled for a few hours at a cookout or party when combined with some ice.

I got my planter at a home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowe’s. But you can also find them at discount department stores or even online.

The only thing to remember is that the planter needs to have a lip around the top like this one. The lip holds the planter in position on the cleats inside the table.

DIY outdoor side table with lid removed being used as a cooler

Customize Your DIY Patio Table

There are several ways you can customize the interior of your side table. Instead of using it as a cooler, you may use it for storage or hide an eyesore.

Storage

Instead of using the planter as a cooler, you could use it to store your outdoor accessories like sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, kid’s toys, small garden tools, or even your grill accessories.

To use the table for storage, you would build it the same way as described in the tutorial below, or you may choose to build your own custom storage container.

Hide an Eyesore

The other option for using the interior of this side table is to hide an eyesore in your backyard or garden.

Matt, a reader, came up with this clever idea. He used this project as an outdoor end table next to his patio chairs.

DIY outdoor side table between two patio chairs

Instead of a cooler or storage, Matt used the table’s interior to conceal his grill or patio heater’s propane tank. What a fantastic idea!

DIY outdoor side table being used to hide a propane tank

How Do You Finish the Outdoor Side Table?

When I built this DIY outdoor side table, I didn’t have a paint sprayer, so I applied two coats of Behr exterior stain “Padre Brown” with a paintbrush which took FOREVER!

Related: Best Way to Clean Paint Brushes

💡 TIP: If you’re going to use a brush to add a punch of color with paint or stain or apply an exterior sealer, I recommend doing it before assembly. The gaps between the slats are tiny, and it is nearly impossible to fit a brush between them.

If I were to build this project today, I’d assemble it and then finish it with my paint sprayer. It would be much faster and easier to use a sprayer to apply the paint in between the narrow gaps in the slats

If you’re going to leave your table natural, be sure to finish it with an exterior top coat, such as spar urethane.

Related: Spar Urethane vs Polyurethane (Differences + Which to Use)


DIY Outdoor Side Table

Printed Plan

  • Get the FREE plan here (includes detailed instructions, measurements, and bonus tips).

Supplies

Tools

Step 1. Make the Table Frame

Measure and cut four pieces of wood to length for the legs.

Related: How to Use a Tape Measure Correctly (Tips for Success)

Front/Back Panels

Cut two pieces of wood to length for the bottom rails and drill pocket holes in each end. Cut two pieces of wood to length, use a table saw to rip to width, and drill pocket holes in each end.

Related: How to Use a Pocket Hole Jig

Cut ten pieces of wood to length for the slats and drill pocket holes in each end. Apply glue to five slats and space them approximately on the top and bottom rails. Clamp and attach using 1-¼” Blue-Kote Pocket Screws. Repeat for the other side.

Side Panels

Cut four pieces of wood to length for the top and bottom rails and drill pocket holes in each end.

Cut ten pieces of wood to length for the slats and drill pocket holes in each end. Apply glue to five slats and space them approximately on the top and bottom rails. Clamp and attach using 1-¼” Blue-Kote Pocket Screws. Repeat for the other side.

Attach the Front and Back Panels

The panels set down from the top of the legs and set in from the face of the legs.

To make it easier to set the panel from the face of the legs, I placed a piece of scrap wood (plywood, MDF, etc.) on the workbench and positioned the panel on top.

Then I applied glue to the ends of the rail, clamped the legs in position, and attached with 1-¼” Blue-Kote Pocket Screws.

Sketch showing how to attach the legs on a DIY side table

Attach the Side Panels

The side panels are flush to the top of the legs and set in from the edge of the leg. Attach using glue and 1-¼” Blue-Kote Pocket Screws.

Showing how to connect the front and back on a DIY side table

Cut two pieces of wood to length and use a table saw to rip to width.

The long cleats need to be notched to fit around the legs. Use a jigsaw to cut this notch. Then drill a few countersink holes on the edges of the cleats.

Related: How to Use a Countersink Drill Bit

Set the cleats down from the top of the legs and attach them to the panels using 2″ exterior wood screws.

Showing how to attach the cleats on a DIY outdoor side table

Step 2. Make the Top

Cut seven pieces of wood to length for the slats.

Cut four pieces of wood to length for the top frame and drill pocket holes in the ends of two of them. Apply glue, clamp, and attach using 1-¼” Blue-Kote Pocket Screws. Use a jigsaw to notch the corners to fit around the legs.

Place the slats on your workbench and center the top frame on the slats. Drill countersink holes and attach top frame using 1-¼” exterior wood screws.


Step 3. Finish the Outdoor Side Table

Sand the table and apply the finish with a paint sprayer. Insert the planter and enjoy your DIY outdoor side table!



Final Thoughts

With just a few supplies and tools, you can easily create your own outdoor side table. This table is the perfect addition to any deck or patio, and it can be customized to fit your needs.

So gather your materials, grab the free plan and get started on this DIY project today!

Thank you for stopping by. If you enjoyed this tutorial, would you please take a moment and pin it to Pinterest? I’d really appreciate it!


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10 Comments

    1. Hi David – Thank you for stopping by. I used common pine for this project. Pine isn’t the best choice for outdoor projects. Cedar or another rot resistant wood would be a better option.

  1. Are these actually 1×3, 1×4, & 2×2? 1×3’s are not easy to find. I could get 1×4’s and cut them down but would it be 2 1/2 or actually 3?

  2. First of all, thank you for this idea to declutter my deck. I had fun building the table but am very unhappy. My wife loved it so much that she seized it to use as a planter.
    On the bright side, I now get to build another! Thanks again. Jay

    1. I’m glad you and your wife enjoyed it. Time to head back to the shop and make another one!

  3. For a better planter ice chiller, buy 2 planters that stack and add a layer of cardboard, newspaper or even some rigid foam insulation inside the bottom one before stacking them. Even just a bit of separation of the two layers will make them thermally protective.

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