The Initiative for Green Habitats represents a long term commitment towards providing solutions for the creation of Sustainable Built Environments. This blog attempts to provide an insight to our views, commentaries on our work, ideas that we are working on, and provoke thought where there are more questions than answers.

Friday, September 23, 2011

From used packaging wood to a picnic table

The informal court gets a face lift
A couple of months ago we were asked to design a working picnic table of sorts for Fisheye, this leading brand & creative solutions company, who incidentally has graciously lent us space to work out of (and as a consequence with whom we share an office space with).
The office space is set in a pre 70s bungalow from the older version of Cooke Town and as a result, offers a number of interesting spaces around the building to use. The folks at Fisheye have left their mark on the insides of this building as only they could and wanted to create their outdoor meeting/lunch/evening party space as an extension of themselves. Therefore, they came up with a casual model to base their seating requirement on.... a picnic table. Dave, the seed of all these projects at Fisheye, handed us a couple of downloaded images of picnic tables from the Internet as reference.

One thickness and modular sizing creating a range of parts
Herein lay a challenge- a typical picnic table is a two-sided table with benches attached to either side. The Fisheye requirement was to seat a minimum of 8 and if possible more at this table. A conventional picnic table that could seat that many would have meant something that was longer than 9 feet!. Further, a conventional picnic table was held together by a cross truss at the edges, and this prevented anyone to slide into their seats. Nearly all had to climb over the benches to park themselves down.
While Fisheye were fine with that, we wanted to work for people beyond their team (and us) to include visitors, some of whom may find the process ungraceful. Any redesign though could not topple the qualitative experience of a picnic table.

Krishna the carpenter inspecting the packaging wood
Without a doubt, the material choice had to have a sustainability angle. Our choices were to do it in some sort of reclaimed timber, so we focussed on used packaging wood. So in keeping with what have stated in earlier post on packaging wood, we went to the dealers of this often neglected resource. Design could not begin, and in retrospect the table could not have turned out the way it has, if we had not done such surveys.

Normally, one gets much smaller cut sections of this wood... mostly 5 odd feet lengths and about 4 to 5 inch widths. We had desired sections of at least 6 inches in width for two reasons... one to reduce the number of build-ups, joints and nail usage, and two to keep with the feel of an outdoor, sturdy picnic bench (not a delicate indoor cousin). There are a few places across Bangalore where one can source packaging timber, but only a few stock larger sizes.... usually used to carry heavy machinery for companies like Volvo, etc.
The process involved careful selection of the timber, hauling the wood to a nearby mill to cut it down to desired sizes, and then transporting this across town to our office space.

Assembly architecture
We also wanted to keep a relatively simple structural assembly and perhaps as powerful a system as the traditional picnic table.We used a uniform thickness for all components to keep cutting simple, and used just four basic sizes- one for the bench legs, one for the table legs, one for the table top & bench seats and one for the cross beams that held it all together. Only the table top and the bench planks had some nailing done to hold the individual plans together and the rest of the table was put together used nuts and bolts. So essentially, the table was an assembly of various parts making the table and bench tops, the legs and the cross beams. All of which could be removed and put back where needed. Because of the uniform thicknesses of all components we ended up limiting this to just two lengths of bolts.

Most packaging woods bear the scars of their past... holes where bolts were driven through, recesses that seated metal washers, air cracks and perhaps even some gouged out portions. We decided to keep most of this and as a result it has lent immense character to this picnic table. This also offers various opportunities for creative use by the folks at Fisheye.

The Table top with gaps for expansion and drainage
Not opting for a toxic surface coat, we finished the entire table and benches with a liberal rubbing of linseed oil... This takes the place of the natural oil inherent in the wood.

Packaging wood is mostly pine and comes in a range of shades, from a pale pinkish brown to a deep reddish brown. The deeper the shade red, the greater the natural wood oil content. The oil gives the wood fibre strength and makes it water resistant to a great extent. Of course, one would need to repeat the process of linseed oil application every year or so.
The process of application is laborious and one should take care not to miss any surfaces, and also gauge the absorption of oil by the wood leading to the use of appropriate quantities. The linseed oil was applied with a pinch of an ochre colour mixed in which made the grain stand out beautifully.

The remainder wood after completion of the table
In the process of design many other ideas for the directions that this table/bench could have taken sprung up.... maybe more on that will appear soon on the horizon as sub projects.
What we were most excited about at the end of this exercise was the minimal amount of wastage in the entire process. While very little waste was generated at the sawing mill due to the size of timber reapers and sections chosen, we kept the waste during the carpentry works to the barest minimum. Even these small pieces will find use somewhere soon I reckon.
While it took us about a week to complete this entire exercise from sourcing to finish, it takes only 10 minutes to dismantle the table and about 15 minutes to put it back. The table ensemble is in now in full use and seats about 12 people with great comfort. Feels like a mission that has been more than accomplished.


  1. Does anyone know from where we can source this packaging wood in Bangalore for at the best rate?

  2. where can we get used packaging wood

  3. In Bangalore, you can get used packaging wood at a number of places. The prominent locations are Bamboo bazaar near the cantonement and on Bannarghatta road (before you reach Jaydeva Hospital). There are a few more places, like near Magadi Road and so on.