Park and Recreation Structures
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AN AVERAGE of the dimensional limits of the human frame and uniformity of a sort in the distribution of the hinges thereof have long since determined certain basic dimensions for the picnic table. In general, the seat surface is 16 to 18 inches and the table surface 28 to 30 inches off the ground or floor, and the front edge of the seat is from one to three inches removed from the edge of the table. These dimensions have been held to in practically all successful picnic tables, and probably in the majority of the unsuccessful ones. The measure of success is determined by numerous and varied other factors, not so easily reducible to rule.

Tables in wide variety are illustrated herein. It is appreciated that differing climates, resources, and habits of use prevailing through the length and breadth of the land call for diversity of materials and details in this necessary item of park equipment. Desirable as are the qualities of sturdiness, nativeness, woodcraft, and handcraft in these minor objects in some locations, in others, it must be recognized that a too much forced effort to achieve them is ill-advised.

Picnic tables may be built entirely of wood or stone, or they may be cleverly contrived combinations of both materials. It is quite possible that tables built wholly or in part of rock blend into some landscapes more readily than do those of logs or sized lumber. They may have aesthetic advantages, and they are durable in the extreme, but their immobility offsets these benefits. The picnic ground is usually an area of intensive use, and its equipment is subject to hard wear. It may seem farsighted to create picnic units of stone because these will "stand the gaff" over a long period. They do meet abundantly this requirement, but their potential life is hardly begun before the site, especially the average picnic site, has lost most of its value as a natural area due to concentrated use, and must be evacuated and left to the healing processes of Nature. The most cumbersome wood table could be moved under these conditions, but the stone picnic table, through no frailty of its own, becomes nonproductive, so to say, and the capital investment therein omits the dividend for the duration of the recuperative period of the site.

There are other less formidable factors militating against the use of masonry for tables. They are executed with great difficulty because, due to the freehand lines desired, workmen find it hard to construct them from a blueprint with a nice balance of freedom and accuracy. The units must be located in almost permanent shade, else they become thoroughly heated and radiate heat for a long period. Furthermore, only the smoothest stone slabs serve satisfactorily as table tops, and these are not always readily obtainable. Cement slab tops in substitution seldom give a satisfactory appearance. Because only a broad base looks reasonable for supporting a table top of stone, there is danger of leg-room interference. With a growing understanding of the many disadvantages of the stone table, the picnic unit entirely of wood has met with increasing favor.

THE VERY FIRST DECISION to be made by the creator of a wooden picnic table is one around which much controversial argument centers. To him it may be only a matter of whim whether the picnic unit in a rustic setting will be built of commercial lumber or of native-cut material, but he should be warned from the first that, whichever his choice, he will be heartily condemned by approximately 50 percent of the arbiters of such matters.

On whichever side he may innocently and squarely range himself, it seems only fair that he be fortified with, and forewarned against, all invokable arguments.

If he elects to use commercial lumber:

(Pro) He has made commendable and honest use of the production facilities of our times to meet all functional requirements of strength, comfort, and economy in a utility, or

(Con) He has with unpardonable insolence desecrated a natural beauty spot by the introduction of utter incongruities, makeshift, uncompromising in line, ugly.

If he elects to use native-cut timber:

(Pro) He has with artistry graced a natural setting with an harmonious facility, not alone of practical usefulness, but of sturdy, handcrafted beauty, or

(Con) He has ruthlessly felled trees which were the park's very reason for being, despoiling a glory of Nature to produce in an outworn craftsmanship trivial accessories that were better produced by today's machines.

If, fully apprised of the pitfalls all around him, the artisan now dares to make a choice, the picnic table may be undertaken. For his encouragement be it said that after this choice is made the further going is comparatively smooth.

If he is not himself definitely of the left or of the right in this issue, he can take a middle course, daring moderate scorn to win moderate approval from the extremists of both views. He can gesture in one direction by deciding that the machine-made product is in truth rigidly uncompromising in line, and in the other, by avoiding cutting any trees within the confines of the park to obtain material needed for the more rugged and freehand table. If the required native material can be had from some source near at hand without sacrifice of the timber resources of the park itself, the table maker can run for a touchdown with cheering from all sections of the stands. Another compromise approach which produces very sightly picnic tables is a combination of dimension lumber for table and seat tops and rustic timbers for the understructure.

The desirability of preventing the public from moving tables about has already been mentioned. Dragging tables around a picnic area is highly destructive of ground cover. The fixed position—fixed insofar as the public is concerned—if a good one, is desirable. It is achieved by means of weight or by anchoring.

WORTHY OF WIDE ADOPTION in the contriving of the picnic unit are numerous practical refinements.

Regardless of the soundness of material and workmanship, the boards forming a wooden top tend to pull apart on exposure to the weather. More or less narrow cracks develop between them in which food particles are apt to lodge and are removable with difficulty. How much better that the table top be constructed with open joints about a quarter of an inch wide between the boards, from which food particles, if they do not drop through, can easily be dislodged.

Rough edges on seats and tables should be guarded against. Unfortunately, the picturesque unit of rustic wood material will take high toll in the tearing of silk stockings and light clothing. The unit built of milled materials should have all edges and roughnesses likely to come in contact with clothing, or to produce splinters, smoothed and rounded. Much can be done even to the hand crafted type to eliminate the worst among such hazards without sacrificing rustic character entirely. There is a measure of defense against the use, and consequent abuse, of table tops for uncapping bottles when a convenient device for this purpose is securely fastened within a recess at an end of the table top.

When the anchoring of tables is accomplished by extending their wood supporting members into the ground, in most instances the portions below grade should be treated with creosote, tar, or other preservative. Where the wood is western red cedar or redwood, the use of tar or creosote is considered unnecessary. In general, exposed wood above ground should also be treated against weather by oiling, shellacking, creosoting, or other tried and proved methods. In the Far West this is not encouraged; the natural wood color is preferred and the preservative treatment of the native woods is held to be unnecessary. Especially are treatments carrying color out of favor. With this we are quick to agree once we have observed the surprising number of shades of green and blue which can be bought in paint cans, and how invariably these clash with the colors of Nature.

There are sectional preferences in tables in our parks which veer away from the usual and prosaic. For example, in California round and octagonal tables seem to meet with favor in camp and picnic grounds. It is alleged that they are more useful for playing cards! They are usually fashioned from cross sections of the large redwood and fir trees available on the West coast. But the cross sections split as they weather, and are far from satisfactory for this reason. Therefore none of this type is shown in the accompanying illustrations. Table tops in which the grain of the wood is with the slab can be kept cleaner, are longer lived, and in consequence are recommended.

There are conditions and considerations, such as a great need for extra tables on holidays, to dictate that some tables be readily mobile, and collapsible or knock-down for compact storage. Knock-down units should be designed to be assembled easily, and to be as light in weight as is consistent with the structural requirements. The fewer pieces, the better. When parts can be made interchangeable, time is not wasted in sorting them. Cabin or screen door hook fastenings are to be preferred to loose fastenings wherever practicable. Seat and table tops of knock-down units should be of material heavy enough or sufficiently braced to avoid spring or sag.

Mention has already been made of a developing sense of the incongruity of heavy, primitive wooden tables massed in crowded picnic groves where scenic values, particularly woods growth, are deficient. There has been some recent experimentation purposed to evolve practical, comfortable, and lasting picnic tables of "contemporary" aspect—loosed from the fetters of tradition to acknowledge the claims of new materials and methods. Two interesting efforts in this direction have been undertaken in Texas parks, and these are detailed among the plates which follow. One makes use of stock metal tubing for a frame and slabs of reinforced concrete for a table top. The streamlined result is at once practically indestructible and indestructive. Its materials foil the jackknifer, and its weight discourages that other park pest, the table mover. The other table experiment on contemporary lines is of wood, except for the cast metal shoes which serve to keep the wood from contact with the ground. The unit is low and comfortable. This employment of commercial lumber in a functional design is frankly in the technique of the machine age, and many will applaud it as a firm first step in a logical direction.

It would seem reasonable to accentuate on occasion the informality which is the very spirit of picnicking by varying the standardized table and bench combination. There is novelty in an arrangement of naturalized stone buffet table located in shade near a fireplace and seats ranged informally round about through clever naturalizing of boulders, flat rocks, or down logs, or exposing of natural rock outcroppings.

There are park reservations wherein shade is lacking or rainfall is unusually heavy. In such locations picnic units logically include a sheltering roof. They may even require a windbreak against prevalent high winds. Any complexity or increase in size of objects which are desirably kept inconspicuous is unfortunate, but form must always follow demonstrated need.

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Last Updated: 04-May-2012