Ten new picnic tables customed designed, handcrafted, and installed on campus

Campus carpenters inspired to do-it-themselves after supply issues delayed timely deliveries

Each table will have a plaque designed by the sign shop and cast from reused bronze.
The 10 tables and benches were designed, built, and installed by staff members of the campus Structural Trades and Crafts Shop.
Carpenters Zack Mitchell, left, and Randy Denham after placing one of the tables at Baskin School of Engineering.
Detail of the table base constructed from western red cedar.
One of a pair of tables set at the Digital Arts Resource Center.

It was a rush order, no question about it.

In early September, Chancellor Cynthia Larive asked Physical Plant, Development and Operations to install 10 picnic tables on the main residential campus by the opening of fall quarter so students would have more outdoor social and study space. The campus has long had outdoor tables and benches in various locations but many—made from redwood and more than 50 years old—had deteriorated from age and weather. These new tables needed to be sturdy and attractive, and the chancellor offered criteria for where they should go.  

Staff got to work. One task force formed to select suitable locations while others started searching for appropriate high-quality tables in kits that could be shipped in a reasonable time frame. But after an exhaustive search—hundreds of leads were explored— it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. Either quality tables weren’t available or the cost was prohibitive. 

So the PPDO team decided they’d DIY. The project involved buyers, financial affairs staff, and members of the Structural Trades and Crafts Shop, better known as the campus Carpentry Shop. When students, staff, and faculty return to on-campus instruction at the end of the month, they’ll find 10 solid timber-frame tables at popular gathering spots.

“It’s the most rewarding project I’ve done up here,” said carpenter Randy Denham. 

Denham and fellow carpenter Zack Mitchell created a template based on original tables built in the 1960s and added a longer end, making it accessible for wheelchair users. They also added a little more space between bench and table. 

“It took a lot of effort, a lot of conversations,'' added Dave Jessen, Structural Trades superintendent. “It’s a tribute to the experience that a lot of these folks have.” He credited administrative support for helping ensure the project came together quickly. “When we came up with this design and then the material lists, we had to order all the hardware; they turned that around so fast.” 

Chancellor Larive said she’s delighted with the outcome. “We’re lucky to have an extremely talented team in our carpentry shop. I’m also thrilled they were able to use the table design from back in our founding days. Our carpenters turned a supply-chain problem into a great opportunity that highlighted their skill and the teamwork of PPDO.”

The whole campus community benefits, she added. “We have such a beautiful campus. Tables like these help facilitate our engagement with the environment and with each other.”

Jessen said he and the carpenters originally wanted to use redwood but second- and third-growth redwood doesn’t hold up as well and it would take too long to find reclaimed old-growth timber. 

Working with a Felton lumber yard, buyers procured western red cedar from the Pacific Northwest. Necessary hardware was located, purchased, and delivered in record time. 

Painters oiled the finished tables and benches. The sign shop created inscriptions for each table. Each table will also bear a bronze plaque made from reclaimed material and cast by sculpture instructor Sean Monaghan. The plaques have been picked up and will be installed in the next few weeks.

“It was fun working with such nice material,” Mitchell said of the cedar. “It’s hard to find a bench of this “A” quality—big beefy timber that fits the decor of the campus. It’s a good job if you’re a builder and you enjoy building. It is a rewarding job.” 

“We’d like to build more,” Dehnam said. 

The tables each weigh about 500 pounds and were placed starting in mid-October as they were finished. Campus movers were booked solid for several weeks so the structural trades group borrowed a flatbed delivery truck from Shop Stores. It required four people and the truck’s liftgate to get the tables to their final locations.

The newly built tables can be found in pairs at Quarry Plaza, Science Hill, Digital Arts Resource Center, Humanities, and Classroom Units.