Saturday Morning Workshop: How To Build A Nelson Platform Bench

This is a classic mid-century modern bench design that you can buy for about $1,200 or build in one day for $100. Your call.

Time

A full day

Complexity

Advanced

Cost

$51–100

Introduction

George Nelson designed this platform bench in 1946, and since then it has become a mid-century modern icon, featured in museums across the world. Because of its prestige, you’ll have to spend $1,200 to $2,000 to get the real deal, depending on the size and the wood species. But with $100 in lumber and a well-crafted box-joint jig, you can make one! Buy extra wood to practice making the joints, as that takes a little trial and error.

Tools Required

  • Belt sander
  • dado stack
  • Drill/driver
  • Miter gauge
  • Miter saw
  • Orbital sander
  • Table saw

Materials Required

  • 1x2x8’ Maple (7)
  • 1x3x6’ Maple (2)
  • Painter's tape
  • Wood glue

What It Takes

  • Time: 1 day
  • Cost: $100
  • Skill Level: Advanced

Cutting List

Nelson Platform Bench Cutting List

Project Plans

Nelson Platform Bench Tech Art

Project step-by-step (7)

Step 1

Cut the parts to size

nelson platform bench 1

nelson platform bench 12

Cut the slats (A) to size. Cut the rails (B) oversize, and then glue two of them together to create the middle rail. Gang up the rails with painter’s tape and flush-cut one end. Cut the leg sides (D) oversize and gang them together with painter’s tape. Cut the leg sides to finished length with parallel 8-degree bevels at each end. Cut the leg tops and bottoms to finished length. Clamp a stop to the fence for consistent sizes.

Step 2

Create the box-joint jig

nelson platform bench 10

Set up to cut a 3/4-in. x 3/4-in. dado. Fasten a plywood fence to two miter gauges, and then square it to the blade. Clamp a board to the fence and cut a 3/4-in. x 3/4-in. notch. Cut a square pin to fit the notch precisely, keeping a length of the pin stock for a spacer. Glue and screw the pin into the notch. Position the pin 3/4 in. from the dado blade, using the spacer as a guide. Clamp the jig to the fence. Plus: Check out 13 more dirt-simple woodworking jigs you need to know.

Step 3

Cut the rail notches

nelson platform bench 3

Align the ganged-up rails with the box-joint jig's notch, and then cut a notch on the rail ends. Fit the first notch over the peg and continue cutting notches until you have 11. Trim the ends to finished length.

Step 4

Cut the slat notches

nelson platform bench 4

Remove the box-joint jig. Cut notches into the ends of the slats (A). Cut double-width notches centered on the slats for the center rail. To ensure consistent notch placement, start by marking a centerline on one of the slats. Align the centerline with the left edge of the dado stack. Clamp a block to the saw's fence, slide the fence over so the block just touches the slat's end, and then lock in the fence. The block creates a gap between the fence and the end of the slat, so the slat doesn't get pinched between the dado blades and the fence. Position each slat by butting its end against the block. Cut the first notch, flip the board and cut the second notch.

Step 5

Assemble the bench top

nelson platform bench 5

Spread glue into the notches of the middle rail. Fit the slats into the notches, tapping down the slats with a rubber mallet if necessary. Clamp the slats into place across the rails and use a clamping caul to seat the slats fully into the notches. Repeat this step with the end rails. When the glue is dry, sand the top flat.

Step 6

Assemble the legs

nelson platform bench 6

Clamp the leg sides (D) to the leg top (C) with 8-degree beveled offcuts as a positioning block. Predrill at each joint using a No. 8 combination countersink drill bit. Glue and screw the joints together. Repeat for the leg bottoms (E).

Step 7

Attach the legs

nelson platform bench 11

Mark 6 in. from the ends on the underside of the bench assembly. Center the legs along the marks. Predrill with a combination countersink drill bit and fasten with 1-3/4-in. screws. Next, check out our 56 favorite woodworking tips.