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DIY Bench, North Woods Style

An inexpensive, easy-to-build classic

FH14MAY_NWBNCH_01-2Family Handyman

Build this inexpensive, DIY-friendly wooden bench with just a few pine boards. With classic cloverleaf details, it's perfect for a garden or cabin.

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Time
One day
Complexity
Simple
Cost
Under $20

Design details

The original of this bench, made by an anonymous carpenter for a cabin in the woods of northern Wisconsin, was simplicity itself: pine boards, nailed together. And it had an interesting and ingenious design detail: a cloverleaf, clearly made with three overlapping drill holes. It’s just the kind of little bench that’s perfect for the backyard, so we went into the shop and made this modern version. A little longer and a little stronger than the original, but the same folk art detail. And since it’s made from lumberyard pine, the price can’t be beat. Here’s how to make one.

This bench is simple enough to build with a few hand tools, but to speed things up, we chose to take advantage of the power tools in our shop. We used a miter saw to cut the stretchers to length and to cut the 10-degree angles on the ends of the center stretcher, and a circular saw for all the other cuts. If you don’t own a miter saw, you can use a circular saw or jigsaw for all the cuts.

To make the holes for the clover shapes, you’ll need a 1-in. hole saw mounted in a corded drill, or a powerful cordless drill.

We used No. 2 knotty pine to build this bench. You’ll need one 6-ft. 1×12 and one 10-ft. 1×4. Select boards that are straight and flat, with solid, not loose, knots. We assembled the bench with countersunk 2-in. trim screws and then filled the holes with wood filler. If the bench is going outdoors, be sure to use corrosion-resistant screws.

Figure A: Exploded View

This DIY bench is 38-in. long and 16 1/2-in. tall. For a larger version of this drawing, see Additional Information, below.

Cut out the parts

Photo 1: Cut the leg blanks

Set the saw to cut a 10-degree bevel. Mark the 1×12 and align the saw with the mark. Then use a large square to help guide the cut.

Photo 2: Drill out the clover shape

Mark out a grid with lines spaced 1/2 in. apart. The centers of the holes are on four of the intersections. Drill all four holes halfway through the board. Then flip the board over and drill from the other side to complete the holes.

Photo 3: Cut the leg angles

Mark the “V” in the center and the two outside angles on the legs. Then cut along the lines with a circular saw. Accurate cutting is easier if you clamp the leg to the workbench.

Using the Cutting List in Additional Information (below) as a guide, cut the two legs and the top from the 1×12 (Photo 1). The legs require a 10-degree bevel on the top and bottom. Be careful to keep both bevels angled the same direction. Then cut the stretcher and aprons to length. The stretcher has a 10-degree angle on each end.

Next, mark the legs and aprons for drilling and cutting, using the dimensions in Figures B and C as a guide. Draw the grid layout as shown in Photo 2 to locate the holes. Use a nail or a punch to make starting holes for the hole saw at the correct intersections.

Drill the 1-in. holes halfway through the boards (Photo 2). Make sure the pilot bit on the hole saw goes through the board so you can use the hole to guide the hole saw from the opposite side. Then flip the boards over to complete the holes.

Make the remaining cuts on the legs and aprons with a circular saw (Photo 3). Finish up by sanding the parts. We wrapped 80-grit sandpaper around a 1-in. dowel to sand the inside of the holes. Sand off the saw marks and round all the sharp edges slightly with sandpaper. If you plan to paint the bench, you can save time by painting the parts before assembly.

Figure B: Leg Detail

Cut a 10-degree bevel on the top and bottom of the legs, then mark the legs as shown.

Build the bench

Photo 4: Screw the apron to the legs

Drive trim screws through the legs into the stretcher. Then attach the outside aprons with trim screws.

Photo 5: Position the seat screws

Here’s a goof-proof way to position the screws that fasten the seat to the bench frame. Center the frame on the seat and trace around the aprons.

Predrill the holes

Drill pilot holes through the seat to mark screw locations. Drive screws through the seat and into the aprons.

Start by marking the location of the stretcher on the legs. Arrange the legs so the bevels are oriented correctly, and screw through them into the stretcher. Next screw the two aprons to the legs (Photo 4).

The only thing left is to screw the top to the aprons. It’ll be easier to place the screws accurately if you first mark the apron locations on the underside of the top and drill pilot holes for the screws (Photo 5). Stand the bench upright and align the top by looking underneath and lining up the apron marks. Then attach the top with six trim screws.

We finished this bench with old-fashioned milk paint. You can find milk paint online and at some paint stores. If the bench is going outdoors, rub some exterior glue on the bottom ends of the legs. That will prevent the end grain from soaking up moisture and rotting.

Figure C: Stretcher Detail

Cut 10-degree angles at each end of the 1×4 stretcher.

Figure D: Apron Detail

Drill out the cloverleaf shape, then cut the angles of the apron.

Additional Information

Required Tools for this Project

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

  • Circular saw
  • Cordless drill
  • Countersink drill bit
  • Hole saw kit
  • Miter saw
  • Safety glasses
  • Speed square
  • Straightedge
  • Tape measure

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • 1x12 #2 pine
  • 1x4 #2 pine
  • 2-in. trim screws
For cutting lengths, see Additional Information