How to Build a Bench

Build it in an afternoon!

The sloped seat and backrest make this easy-to-build bench comfortable to sit in and perfect for a backyard deck, patio or firepit. Detailed, clear photos show construction details.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

TIME

One day

COMPLEXITY

Moderate

COST

Bench design

The beauty of this cedar bench isn't just that it's easy to assemble and inexpensive—it's that it's so doggone comfortable. You can comfortably sit on your custom-fit bench for hours, even without cushions. In this story, we'll show you how to build the bench and how to adjust it for maximum comfort.

Sloping the back and the seat is the secret to pain-free perching on unpadded flat boards. But not all bodies are the same, and it's a rare piece of furniture that everyone agrees is seatworthy. This bench has a bolted pivot point where the back and seat meet that lets you alter the backrest and seat slopes to fit your build during one of the final assembly steps (Photo 10). The materials are inexpensive, and cutting and assembly will only take about three hours. Follow the step-by-step photo series for details on the simple construction.

Figure A: Bench Parts

All the pieces for this bench design are cut from eight 8-ft. long boards. (A larger, PDF version of Figure A is available in Additional Information, below.)

Figure A: Bench parts
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Build it from eight 8-ft. long boards

A circular saw and a screw gun are the only power tools you really need for construction, although a power miter saw will speed things up and give you cleaner cuts. Begin by cutting the boards to length. Figure A shows you how to cut up the eight boards efficiently, leaving little waste. When you're picking out the wood at the lumberyard, choose boards that above all are flat, not twisted. That's especially important for the seat and back parts. Don't worry so much about the leg assembly 2x4s because you cut them into such short pieces that warps and twists aren't much of a concern.

After cutting the pieces to length, screw together the leg assemblies (Photos 2 – 6). It's important to use a square to keep the leg braces square to the legs (Photo 2). That way both leg assemblies will be identical and the bench won't wobble if it's put on a hard, flat surface. We spaced the leg brace 1/2 in. back from the front of the legs to create a more attractive shadow line. Then it's just a matter of connecting the leg assemblies with the stretcher (Photo 7), screwing down the seat and backrest boards, and adjusting the slopes to fit your body.

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Adjust the back and round over the edges

The easiest way to adjust the slope is to hold the four locking points in place with clamps and then back out the temporary screws (Photo 10). To customize the slopes, you just loosen the clamps, make the adjustments, retighten and test the fit. When you're satisfied, run a couple of permanent screws into each joint. If you don't have clamps, don't worry—you'll just have to back out the screws, adjust the slopes, reset the screws and test the bench. Clamps just speed up the process.

We show an option of rounding over the sharp edge of the 1x3 trim,which is best done with a router and a 1/2-in. round-over bit (Photo 12). Rounding over the edges can protect shins and the backs of thighs and leave teetering toddlers with goose eggs on their melons instead of gashes. So the step is highly recommended. If you don't have a router, round over the edge either by hand-sanding or with an orbital or belt sander. In any event, keep the casing nails 1 in. away from the edge to prevent hitting the nailheads with the router bit or sandpaper (Photo 12).

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Building a longer bench

We demonstrate how to build a 4-ft. long bench, plenty of space for two. But you can use the same design and techniques for building 6- or 8-ft. long benches too.You'll just have to buy longer boards for the seat, back, stretcher and the trim boards.While you're at it, you can use the same design for matching end or coffee tables. Just match the double front leg design for the rear legs, and build flat-topped leg assemblies with an overall depth of 16-3/4 in.

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Seal the legs to make it last

If you want to stain your bench, use a latex exterior stain on the parts after cutting them to length. After assembly, you won't be able to get good penetration at the cracks and crevices. Avoid clear exterior sealers, which will irritate bare skin. But the bench will last outside for more than 20 years without any stain or special care even if you decide to let it weather to a natural gray. However, the legs won't last that long because the end grain at the bottom will wick up moisture from the ground, making the legs rot long before the bench does. To make sure the legs last as long as the bench, seal the ends with epoxy, urethane or exterior woodworker's glue when you're through with the assembly.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Adjustable wrench
  • Circular saw
  • Clamps
  • Cordless drill
  • Miter saw
  • Orbital sander
  • Router
  • Safety glasses
  • Speed square
  • Tape measure

See complete material list in Additional Information