Monday, August 1, 2011

DIY Farmhouse Sand and Water Table

SWT open front view - title
This is simply the best toy that has ever come into our home.

It's a sensory delight
It allows for completely open-ended play
It fits in a narrow space
It's beautiful
It's built to last
It's inexpensive
It will absolutely enrich your life

I love it so much I want you to have your own, too!

Below the jump you’ll find the why and how of this project and a link to complete plans to build your own. Enjoy!

SWT open

The Why:

Why on earth did we build a sand and water table when there are so many commercially available?

The reason is simple: I couldn’t find what I wanted at a price I could afford.

I wanted a sand and water table for my 1 and 3 year old girls that fit these requirements:

1] must be $50 or less

2] must be off the ground and at child height

3] must fit 2+ kiddos at a time

4] must be securely covered - to keep neighborhood cats and fire ants out of the sand and kiddos away from standing water.

5] must have separate spaces for sand and water, preferably with separate covers - so you have the option to play with one side at a time. (Some days I have the wherewithal to deal with a swampy, sandy-water/watery-sand table, some days I don’t. I cover accordingly.)

6] must fit on my narrow front porch - so the girls are shaded and so I can supervise comfortably close by without hovering.

SWT on porch

7] must be beautiful - not because there’s anything inherently wrong with plastic, but because I believe children better appreciate and care for their toys when they are well made and beautiful. And because it’s going to be on my front porch - let’s be real here.

8] must be simple. The simpler a toy, the more room there is for open-ended play; for imagination. I didn’t want a sand and water table with roads, bridges, ramps and ice bergs already built-in – making them is half the fun!

The How:

When I realized that no sand and water tables in my price range met these requirements, I started looking for DIY tutorials that I could do with tools we either had or could borrow.

I loved this tutorial at Our House in the Middle of Our Street, but it required a skill saw (we don’t have access to one) and didn’t address #3, 4 or 6 on our list. So I borrowed some brilliant ideas and headed over to my all time favorite DIY site: Ana White.

If you’ve ever walked through a store like Pottery Barn and thought, “that $200 bench is four pieces of wood nailed together – I bet I could make that,” Ana White probably already has a knock-off plan for it! She is the master of figuring out how expensive furniture is put together and explaining it in plain language so an amateur can build it easily and affordably with simple tools and off-the-shelf lumber. Live well for less. I love this woman. And her site.

So I went there and gathered ideas from her Farmhouse Table and Mom’s Train Table, and I started putting a plan together.

I already had two plastic bins with lids and knew they were a good depth for playing – not so shallow all the sand and water end up on the ground, but not so deep that the kiddos can’t reach the bottom or the greater volume of sand and water become too heavy for the frame to support. I figured out the dimensions for the wooden frame based on the size of the plastic bins.

You can download a free PDF of my plans here, complete with shopping list, cutting list, and step-by-step diagrams (for visual learners like me). Also check out Ana's Getting Started Guide if you are new to DIY.

SWT little squat

We’ve had the sand and water table for a month now, and the girls have been outside playing with it almost every day. It is a joy to sit and watch my toddler splash, laugh, explore different textures, problem solve, develop gross and fine motor skills and practice sharing.

SWT little hands

My preschooler is engrossed in her pretend play – building cities, race tracks, ocean scenes, and gourmet dinners, playing “Jonah” over and over again, practicing pouring, and learning about the properties of soil and water.

I love watching them play together.

SWT two play

I love that we are spending more time outside.

SWT side view

I love building sand castles when no one is looking

I love that clean up is simple – I pick up the water bin out of the frame to dump on the flowers every couple of days, the sand and water toys go in a basket, the lids go on the bins, we sweep the sand and we’re done.

SWT all done

I love this simple, perfect toy. And I hope you and yours enjoy it, too.

The Lettered Cottage


  1. I just saw this on Pinterest. Super cute! Thanks for sharing - guess I know what we are doing this weekend :)

    1. Thanks Erin! One year later and our table gets used almost every single day. I know you'll enjoy it!

    2. The pdf of your plans, on this site, does not open. I would love the measurements of the sand table and the bins. What wood did you use and what did you paint it with?

  2. What is the link for your project on Ana white? I couldn't find it on the website.....

    1. Hi Anonymous! You caught it - I was never able to get my project uploaded at Ana White. But the link to the plans I made does work, and they include all the information that would have been on Ana White. Good luck and enjoy!

  3. My husband just made me two of these tables for my daycare kids and they are great! The instructions were easy to follow and they look very nice! Thank You!

    1. Thank you so much! I am so glad that they are working so well for you. I hope your daycare kids enjoy them!

  4. Is there any way to print the plans? Do you need to download through the site where you pay to download it? Thanks.

  5. I would love to print these plans as well so we can try to make it for the kids this summer. Is there any way to print them? When I tried it looked like I would have to subscribe to a monthly plan for a fee in order to print it?
    Thanks - it looks amazing!

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  7. I tried to print these plans too, but it says I have to pay for a monthly pass to do so. Where can I download them for free like it says on your blog?

    Thanks for the plans, I have a feeling my son is going to be in heaven if we ever get it built!

    1. Thanks, Stephanie! We still love this table, and I hope you and your son will too. I changed the host for the pdf to Google Docs so hopefully there should be no cost or complication with saving and printing now. Please let me know if there are any other problems. I am happy to help. Good luck and happy building!

    2. I tried accessing the PDF from google, it was an empty link.

  8. I just mentioned this Sand & Water Table post on my newest blog drop:

  9. Every child in my neighborhood loves this toy. I bought the florist water beads at Wal-Mart, and cheap tongs, funnels, measuring cups, spoons, and plastic tubing from the dollar store and Lowes. You cannot pry children away!

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  11. If you email the pdf to yourself it will send as an attachment where you print. There is a link to email it on the options.
    Love your post & can't wait to make this. :)

  12. Where did you get the plastic containers? That is what I have struggled with the most in wanting to build my own is finding containers I could use and that would have good lids.

  13. Thanks so much for posting your design and writing such clear directions. We made one for our kiddos and they LOVE it (as do all the neighborhood children). It is so nice to have it flexible too - I am planning on converting to beans and other things in the Fall when it gets too cool for water play outside. We switch between having sand and water bins in there. Thanks for a fun summer toy!

  14. I made one for our grandson's second birthday next week. It was my first ever woodshop project. My husband did the cuts, and the calculations, and taught me how to drill, screw, patch, sand and paint it. It was so satisfying! He also made lids that I painted to match, so it can be a flat table, too.

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  16. Any chance you could tell me if these tools would be sufficient for this project:
    - Kreg Jig Pocket Hole System:
    - Miter box with saw:

    Or would I need one of these Kreg systems:
    K4 Pocket-Hole System:
    Kreg Jig Master System:

    Appreciate it, I'm kind of tool stupid and want to make sure I buy the correct things.

  17. I am going to start one next week with an old coffee table that is no longer used. I like that it has a shelf on the bottom for more supplies etc... wish me luck!

  18. FLsupermom, the $40 Kreg system should work fine as long as you buy a clamp separately to hold it in place. I have the $100 system and love the built in clamp, but I realize its a big investment. The miter box is exactly what I used for years and loved.

    Anonmous - good luck, have fun and enjoy!

  19. I have love it! If you don't mind, I'm sharing (linking you of course) it on a post about sensory DIY tables (I have to translate for spaniard readers), yours is beauty and amazing :)

  20. Thank you! I made this for my son's first birthday and it turned out beautifully.

    1. I love it! The red frame and blue bin look great together. I'm so glad you're enjoying it!

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  22. Hi Jenny, I love this project! I was wondering if I can feature your sand and water table on my blog ( May I post one photo with a link back to your post?

  23. Did you put any holes in the sand portion for drainage? I'm worried about the kids pouring water into the sand & not having an easy way to drain it...?

  24. Hi Jenny, thanks so much for posting this! I had looked everywhere for a great sand and water table for my daughter's birthday and stumbled upon yours on Pinterest and knew it was exactly what I was looking for. My husband used your plans and added some extra features on to it. I hope that it is okay, I linked your blog to mine ( under our finished product to give credit where it is due! Thanks so much for the amazing idea and plans!

    1. Christina, it looks great! The extra wide ledge and storage underneath are great additions. I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as we have enjoyed ours all these years! Thanks for leaving a note. I love seeing these tables!

    2. Thank you! I love seeing all of the variations out there too, lots of creativity!


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