Small Bench | Popular Woodworking Magazine

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Easy seat. This simple (but good-looking) bench can be built in just a few hours of work.

This simple seat is ideal for a hallway or porch.

This project is inspired by a vintage choir bench in my mother’s dining room, but I modernized the Gothic revival design of the original with sweeping curves on the arms (instead of the canopy arms) and left out moldings and cutouts.

Gluing Panel

This bench is meant for a front porch, so to protect it from the elements, it’s painted – a good thing, because the side panels are glued from two distinctly different pine species (a challenge for buying dimensional lumber from the center of the house) – and I used some sticks taken out of the basket for the cleat material (if you don’t have suitable scraps, take 1 material in the center of the house).

The two side rails are solid panels; I’ve glued each from a 29-inch long piece of 1 × 10 and a 29-inch long piece of 1 × 8 (while you can buy panels wide enough for the sides, I think they’re insanely expensive).

So the first step is to set a 29 “stop block to the left of the miter saw blade, then cut two pieces from a 1 × 10 and two from a 1 × 8. Then, glue your two 16-1 / 2” wide panels together. and set them aside to allow the glue to dry overnight.

Cut the remaining pieces

Usually, it’s best to wait to cut the pieces until you need them, because often your actual build won’t exactly match the cutlist. But for this bench, except for the cleats, all the remaining pieces must be the same length, so set the miter saw once and make all the cuts except the cleats. Move the stop block 34 ″ to the left of the blade, then cut the four boards for seat and back from the 1 × 8 stock, cut the stretcher from the 1 × 4 stock and the shelf (which doubles as a lower stretcher) from Stock 1 × 6.

Now you can set the stop block to cut the two 13 “long cleats for the seat, then the two 5-1 / 2” long cleats for the shelf.

Curve appeal

Mark a curve. A nail acts as a third hand as I mark the concave curve at the top of a side piece.

I played around with a number of different curves for the arms, including no curve (which felt too boxed) and a convex curve on the top corners to match the bottom cutouts (it still looked bulky) before deciding on a wide concave curve. You should play with it a bit and see what feels right to you.

To mark the curve I used, sink a nail 3 1/2 “from the rear edge, deep enough to stay in place, then mark the front edge 20-3 / 4″ from below (or 8-1 / 4 ” bottom from top). I used a thin, flexible cutout from the basket, but you can use a flexible ruler or anything that bends neatly, and put one end against the nail, hold the other in place at your mark, then draw the curve with a pencil .

Airplane to fit. If your backboards are slightly proud of the sides, take a few steps with a block plane at either end to curve the back pieces to meet the sides. If the sides are proud and need planing, wet the final grain with rubbing alcohol to soften it, then plane them to meet the backboards.

Now mark 3-1 / 4 “in from the bottom sides, then draw a curve for the bottom cutout using the same method – or, if you have a large enough compass, this works too. (The radius on the curve as shown is 5” .) Make sure you leave enough flesh at the ends to support the weight of a body and don’t go beyond 6-1 / 2 “with the apex of your curve; the top edge of the shelf cleat is 7” from the bottom.

Use a jigsaw to remove debris in both locations. If you cut close to your lines, go ahead and use the first side to mark the curves on the second side. If you are far from the lines, you may want to shape the arm and base arch with a rasp and sandpaper before using it as a template.
Once both sides are cut, pin them together to shape and smooth the curves at the same time to match.

Start screwing

Mark the locations of the cleats from the floor, drill through holes and countersinks, then put a line of glue on each and screw the four cleats into place.

Ask someone to help you hold one side in place as you drop the seat boards and shelf onto their respective cleats, then pin it in just enough width to hold things together. Now you can fire your helper.

Adjust the front seat plank to be 1/2 “back from the front edge of the sides, tighten the clamp to hold it firmly, then drill, countersink and screw through the outside into the end fiber of the seat plank using # screws 8, at least 11⁄2 “long (and make sure you drill straight – you only have a 3/4” thick piece you’re drilling into; you don’t want the tips of the screws to penetrate the seated bottoms).

The shelf can be screwed or nailed to the cleats.

Now loosen the clamp, put the second seat plank against the first and repeat.

The stretcher abuts against the front end of the seat cleats. Secure it in place and again, drill, countersink and screw through the outside of the side pieces.

It is easier to attach the lower backboard first, because you can flip the bench over to the front to position the lower backboard against the rear seat (7-1 / 4 ″ down from the top edge of the sides). Drill, countersink and screw into place, both through the sides and into the rear seat. Then flip the bench back onto its feet and secure the top backboard by screwing through the sides.

If your top board ends up being proud of the sides (or the sides end up being proud of the boards), a few hits with a block plan will solve the problem.

A brilliant finish

Fill the screw holes (if desired) with wood putty, let it dry, then sand flush as you sand the rest of the piece down to 150 grit.

This piece is going on a front porch, so I chose bright red paint for a cheery welcome.

Extra: View the SketchUp model


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