How to Build an Outdoor Storage Bench
Stash your stuff in this easy-to-build project
You can never have enough storage space, especially on a deck or patio, where there are no closets or cabinets. Although this storage bench won’t be the answer to all your outdoor storage needs, it sure will help!
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This is a Weekend Project
This outdoor storage bench is a place to tuck a bag of charcoal, stick a pair of work shoes, hide an extension cord or watering can and hey, you can even sit and take a breather on it, too. Even if you’ve never taken on a woodworking project, you can build this bench. There is no fancy joinery holding it together, and you don’t need special tools. The sides are 1x4s with sheet metal sandwiched between. The 1x4s intersect at the legs to create a strong joint. Drop in a plywood bottom and a hinged top, and you’ve got a sturdy attractive storage bench. It only takes about a day to build.
The tools to build this storage bench are basic. You’ll need a power miter box (a circular saw with a speed square works, too), a jigsaw and a cordless drill. Clamps aren’t necessary, but they’re very helpful. They’ll hold the joints tight while you screw them together, and they provide an extra hand when you need it. If you don’t have clamps, now might be the time to invest in a pair —inexpensive sets are less than $25. The holes for the screws need to be predrilled and countersunk. A combination bit ($5) works best. Also have a nail set on hand. For more outdoor woodworking projects, check out how to build this picnic table and benches!
Materials You’ll Need
This storage bench project is made primarily of 1x4s, and you can use just about any type of wood. Cedar, cypress or pine are great choices, but you’ll need them smooth on all four sides. We used clear pine because it’s straight and easy to work with, but it will need an annual coat of exterior stain, wood preservative or paint to protect it from the elements.
Sheet metal is used for the panels. Purchase it from a sheet metal shop or home center. You will need metal shears to cut it to size. We selected 24-gauge pre-finished steel (“Uniclad”), which is commonly used for flashing on buildings and is available in an array of colors. We used a copper color. If you prefer, cut the panels with tin snips from copper or galvanized roll flashing (available at home centers). Plywood forms the bottom and top of the bench. And 2- by 4-ft. sheets fit in a Volkswagen better than full-size sheets. The grand total for materials came to $150.
1. Assemble the Panels
Assemble all four sides in the same manner. Here’s how: Cut the legs and outside front stretchers to size from the Cutting List (in Project PDFs below). Good square ends are essential, so if you’re using a circular saw, use a speed square as a guide. Lay out arcs on the legs and outside stretchers (Labeled “C” in Figure A in project PDFs below). To draw an arc on each side stretcher, hook a tape measure on a screw driven into the work surface. Draw the arcs on the legs using a compass or coffee can. Next, cut out the curved pieces with a jigsaw. If you don’t have a jigsaw or want a simpler look, cut a 60-degree angle on the legs and eliminate the arc on the stretchers.
2. Clamp Legs and Stretches Together to Make a Frame
Clamp the stretchers between the legs. Use a scrap piece of wood between the clamps and the legs to avoid denting your wood. Lay the sheet metal on the clamped boards, flush with the bottom and centered.
Cut one inside stretcher, then lay it on top of the clamped-together frame, as shown in the photo above. Center it on the frame; it will be narrower than the width of the frame. It’s important that the gap at each end equals the thickness of your wood plus the sheet metal. Adjust the length if necessary and cut the remaining inside stretchers. Screw them all in place, remembering to keep the inside stretchers on the sides 3/4 in. from the top edge (see Figure A). The lower stretcher is flush to the bottom. Use 1-1/4-in. #8 exterior screws, predrilled and countersunk with a 3/16-in. bit. Position the screws so they’re sure to catch the front 1x4s; because of the offset, it’s easy to miss. Now, screw them on to lock everything together.
3. Add on Filler Pieces
Add filler pieces (F) between stretchers, then add the 1×2 cleats (H and K) that’ll hold the bench bottom. Be sure to pre-drill and countersink all screws. Repeat this process for the other three panels.
4. Nail the Panels Together
The toughest part of nailing the panels together is holding them in place. Here’s where a clamp really helps. Clamp a side panel inside the front and back panels, flush up all the edges and gently tighten the clamp. This is a bit of a juggling act, so you may want to call for someone to help. Place a piece of wood or cardboard between the jaws and the legs to avoid denting the wood. Pre-drill 3/32-in. holes, then nail the corners with 2-in. galvanized finish nails. Drive the nail heads slightly below the surface with a nail set. For additional strength, run a bead of glue along each joint before assembling. Reposition the clamp as you nail to keep the joints tight. Repeat at the other end.
Measure the bottom and cut a piece of plywood to fit. When you drop in the bottom, it will square up the bench. Pre-drill, countersink, glue and screw the bottom to the cleats.
5. Mark Arm Support Notches
Mark the notches for the arm supports (P) directly from the bench. Cut out the notches with a jigsaw, then round off the protruding corners.
6. Add Arm Support and Filler
Clamp the arm support to the filler piece, screw them together, then add the lid support.
7. Nail Arm Support in Place
After you notch the arm supports, round off the front ends shown in the photo above (so they won’t catch a pant leg), then temporarily set them in place. Hold the lid supports (R) in place underneath the arm supports and mark. Now, place the arm assembly in position and nail it to the legs and stretcher. There will be a pocket formed at the top where the arm cleat will go (see in photo with step 8).
8. Attach Arm Cleat
Fastening a cleat to the bottom of each arm lets you hide nails on the sides of the bench when you attach them. To make the cleat, measure the width of the opening of the arm and rip (cut the long way) the cleat (T) to fit, using diagonal lines to center it. Although not the quickest, your jigsaw is the safest tool for this cut. Attach the cleats to the arms, then nail the arms to the bench.
9. Fasten the Hinges to the Bench
Installing the lid can be a bit awkward. Here are a few techniques that’ll make it go easier: Cut the plywood 1/4 in. shorter than the width of the opening, so the lid closes easily. Then glue and nail two pieces of molding (W) to cover the exposed edges of the plywood. Place the lid on the workbench and attach the hinges to the lid. We used no-mortise hinges, but any butt hinge will work.
Flip the bench on its back with its arms overhanging each side of your workbench. Put a couple of 1-in. blocks under it to raise it to the level of the lid, center it, then screw on the hinge. Give the whole bench a once over with sandpaper, and you’re ready to finish!
A Few Remaining Details
Install a pair of screw eyes and attach a chain to keep the lid from falling back. Then place a band of foam weatherstrip around the perimeter of the storage bench to help keep out the rain. Finally, bore a dozen 3/8-in. ventilation holes in the bottom.
Seal the storage bench with a coat of deck stain and preservative. If it’s used outdoors, the storage bench will need a fresh coat annually. And if you’re like most folks, you’ll have to clean it out once a year, too, because it’s sure to fill up fast.
Once you are done building this project, check out how to build this gazebo for the birds!
Click the links below to download the cutting list, shopping list as well as the construction drawings for this project.
Figure A, Cutting List and Shopping List