Build a Bench

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Some woodworkers turn up their noses at 2-by lumber, but it’s a great choice for beginners and for experienced woodworkers who want to enjoy a weekend in the shop. Cypress and cedar are nice, but considering that the pine version can be built for $40, I’m betting that a few woodworkers may reconsider home center stock.

Despite its simplicity, this seat is surprisingly sturdy. Mortise-and-tenon construction and exterior-grade hardware create a base that’s able to withstand almost anything Mother Nature might send its way.

One quick hit to your home center, then start building

This project is designed to make the most of two 2×10s. To maximize yield, I outfitted my tablesaw with a thin-kerf blade. When planing, I stopped a few passes sooner than I normally do and dealt with deeper mill marks with a sander and hand plane. Cutting parts to rough length helps reduce milling, but keep short pieces together so that they can be machined safely. Should your stock come in under the listed dimensions, it’s no big deal, but center the mortising jig on your stock.

The mortise-and-tenon leg assemblies are joined with Titebond 3. The table clips do more than create a cleaner-looking seat, they eliminate the screw holes that might let in moisture or cause rust stains. It might seem out of sequence, but I suggest varnishing the seat before starting the leg assemblies. This way, these boards will be a few protective coats ahead of the game when you start to finish the base.

mortising template

Make the legs, then rout and cut them to shape

The joinery goes quickly, thanks to a few shopmade jigs. I made this dedicated T-shaped jig for the mortises, and then used my router table to cut the matching tenons. I put the bit/ bushing setup into service again when routing the lift on the bottom of the leg assembly.

To cut the tapered sides, first lay out the sides on the assembled leg assemblies. Next, set the leg on a plywood sled, and set stopblocks so that the line corresponds to the edge. Finally, cut the notches for the rails.

outdoor bench

Taking the plunge. When paired with a plunge router equipped with a 1⁄2" upcut spiral bit and 1" OD bushing, this simple MDF jig makes quick work of the mortises in the feet and posts. Plan on vacuuming out the cavity a few times before completing the mortise. (A)












Slide to the stop. Cutting the 11⁄4" long tenons on the router table takes several passes, but results in super-smooth cheeks. Attach a fence and stopblock to your miter gauge as shown. (B)

tenon and mortise tune up

Tenon & Mortise Tune-Up

Rounding tenons. Rounding the ends of the tenons is faster and easier than squaring the ends of the mortises. Plane the cheeks as needed for a snug fit. (A)

Chisel a chamfer. Chamfering the top edges makes it easier to fit the tenons and catches excess glue that would otherwise ooze from the joint. (B)

leg assembly outdoor bench

Squeeze it together. Three clamps are all it takes to join the leg assemblies. Make sure that the foot extends past the outer edges of both posts by 1".


Follow the pattern. The lift for the foot can be done with a bandsaw or jigsaw, but the bit and bushing combo produces a curve that requires less cleanup. Tack a block to the foot to prevent tearout.


use sled to slice leg

Use a sled to slice the leg. This plywood sled produces perfectly symmetrical sides without picking up a protractor. After cutting one edge of each leg assembly, adjust the side stopblock and cut the opposite edge. Cut the rail notches with a handsaw or jigsaw.

bench rails

Two rails in one pass. To create matching dadoes in both long rails, simply align the notch in the jig’s crossbar with your layout line and rout. Repeat on the opposite end. A scrap board prevents chip-out.

Assemble the base and add the seat

After cutting the long rails to length, lay out the dadoes. To make perfectly matching dadoes, I again enlisted my plunge router and spiral bit (but removed the bushing guide), and clamped both rails to a T-square jig, as shown at right. To join the long rails to the leg assemblies, I used exterior-grade structural screws that sport special threads and tough epoxy finish.

This bench isn’t going to come apart at the seams, but a few extra steps can help keep it looking good. To seal and protect the wood, I disassembled and applied three coats of spar varnish to all surfaces. Lastly, I attached UHMW foot pads to protect base from standing water.

Lock in the rails. Epoxy-coated structural HeadLok screws offer the strength of a bolt, but can be installed with a drill or impact driver. The head is designed to self-sink; for a cleaner appearance, counterbore the holes with a 3⁄8" Forstner bit. (A)

Now clip in the seat. Use a biscuit joiner to cut #10 biscuit slots in the long and short rails The fasteners hold the seat to the base, but allow the wood to respond to seasonal changes in humidity. (B)
bench

DESIGNED BY ANDY RAE

BYOB (Build Your Own Bench)

The simplicity and low cost of this project should encourage you to take creative license. For example, if you plan on using this bench in a garage or three-season porch, try painting the base with milk paint and topping it with Watco Danish Oil. For outdoor use, step up to spar varnish. Although a thermo-treated poplar seat costs more than construction-grade pine, this walnut imposter is weather and insect resistant.

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