This country-style bench will cut the clutter by the door and serve as a resting spot to put on your shoes. The lid opens up to reveal a handy storage area. At only 11-in. wide by 44-in. long, it neatly fits in an entryway or mudroom. And it’s simple enough to be a good weekend project.
Tools and Materials
You’ll need a tablesaw, dado blade, jigsaw, router and beading bit. We used 15 lineal ft. of 1x12 Douglas fir dimensional lumber (see Sources, below). Dimensional lumber comes planed on all four surfaces and measures 3/4-in. thick by 11-1/4-in. wide. This is wide enough for the widest parts, so there is no edge gluing of boards required for this project. The Douglas fir lumber costs approximately $100.
Cut the Parts
It’s important that the lid (A) be as flat as possible. Since it’s common for wide boards to be slightly warped, it’s best to pick the flattest one for the lid before cutting out any other parts. Then rip and crosscut the lid, legs (B) and rails (C) to final dimensions (see Cutting List, page 78). The legs and lid are too wide to crosscut with a standard tablesaw miter gauge. A simple shop-made crosscut sled solves this problem (Photo 1). Cut the bottom (D) to final length, but leave it 1-in. oversize in width. It will be custom fit later on.
Shape the Legs and Rails
Start by cutting the dadoes in the two legs (Photo 2 and Figs. A and B). Then cut the notches in the upper corners of the legs. This is a three-step process. First, make two vertical cuts in each leg (Photo 3). Most tablesaws will not be able to cut the full 3-1/2-in. depth that’s required for this cut. This is not a problem and has the benefit of preventing the scrap from falling out during the final cuts.
Second, set the miter gauge 95 degrees to the left of the blade and crosscut the left-hand notches (when facing the dado) on each leg (Photo 4).
Third, set the miter gauge 95 degrees to the right and crosscut the right-hand notches (Photo 5). Break off the waste with your hand, and clean up the remaining wood with a chisel (Photo 6). Now test fit the rails into the notches. The tops of the rails and the tops of the legs should be flush. If either is proud, trim it flush. Next, cut the angle on the sides of the legs (Fig. B) with a jigsaw and smooth the cut with a hand plane or sanding block.
The arcs at the bottom of the legs come next. Start by drawing a 4-in.- radius circle on a piece of cardboard. Cut it out and use it as a template. Position it according to the dimensions in Fig. B and draw the arc. Then cut the arc out of the leg with a jigsaw. Clean up the rough edges with sandpaper.
Next, rout the bead on the bottom edge of the rails (Photo 7). A beading bit creates this classic profile (see Sources, below).
Then draw the arc at the ends of the rails using a cardboard circle template and saw out each arc (Photo 8). Clean up the rough edges as you did before.
Next, cut mortises for the hinges in the back rail. The depth of the mortise should equal the thickness of the hinge (Fig. D). Mark the locations of the hinges (Fig. A) and use the tablesaw and a dado blade to remove the waste (Photo 9). Test fit the hinges in the mortises and drill pilot holes for the screws.
Custom Fit the Bottom
The bottom needs to be exactly the same width as the length of the dado in the legs (Fig. A). Place the oversized bottom in the dado, flush-up the edge of the bottom with the dado on one side and mark the exact width on the other side (Photo 10). Now cut the bottom to final width.
Assemble the Parts
Begin by building an assembly jig to hold the legs upright during the glue-up (Photo 11). A 2x4 sheet of plywood works fine for the base and some scrap 2x2 material is all that’s needed for the supports. Rip the edge of the 2x2 lumber on the tablesaw with the blade set at a 5-degree angle. Then crosscut it so you get four 12-in.-long pieces. Orient the supports so they hold the legs angled toward each other. Double-faced tape works well to fasten the four angled scraps to the plywood. Position the supports so the bottom inside edges of the legs are 32-1/2 in. apart. The sides are now held at the right distance from each other, angled at 5 degrees, and with no hands! Dry-fit the rails in the leg notches to make sure they extend by 1/2-in. at the ends (Fig C). Adjust the 2x2 supports if needed.
Sand all the parts before gluing. Start with 150 grit and work your way up to 320 grit if you plan to use an oil finish. You can stop at 180 grit if you plan to use varnish. Also round over any sharp edges on the lid or legs that will be exposed after final assembly.
To assemble, start by gluing the bottom into the leg dadoes. You’ll notice that the dadoes are at a slight angle because the legs are angled in (Fig. C). It’s nothing to be concerned about and the bottom will still fit fine. Clamp across the top of the legs to pull the bottom securely into the dadoes. Apply glue to the rails and set them in place. Clamp along the bottom of the rails and at the ends (Photo 12). Clean up glue squeeze-out with a putty knife after the glue becomes semi-dry. Then let the bench sit until the glue has completely dried.
Peg the Rails to the Legs
When the glue is dry, remove the clamps and drill the holes for the pegs (E) that help hold the rails to the legs (Figs. A and C). Drill the holes 1-3/4-in. deep. Store-bought 3/8-in. dowel rod will work fine for the pegs but making your own from the same wood as the bench adds a nice touch.
To make your own pegs, rip some scraps into 3/8-in. x 3/8-in. square strips and round them with a rasp or chisel. Next, cut the strips into 2-in. lengths. Slightly taper one end of the pegs to make them easier to drive in. Then use a small dowel or stick to smear glue inside the peg hole. Insert the peg and tap it in with a hammer (Photo 13). Trim off the remaining dowel with a handsaw and sand it flush. Be careful you don’t damage the rail when trimming the dowels. See Oops!, below for a tip on how to avoid this.
Hinge the Lid
Screw the hinges into mortises in the back rail. Then mark lines on the underside of the lid for the hinges. Position these lines so when the lid is attached to the bench it is centered from side to side and front to back. Drill holes for the hinges screws. Be careful not to drill through the lid. Now snip the tips off the screws to make them 5/8-in. long. This keeps them from poking through the top of the lid. Then screw the hinges to the lid (Photo 14). Now give the bench parts a final sanding and apply a finish. We used an oil finish, which gives Douglas fir a warm amber glow. Two to three coats is sufficient to give the bench a hand-rubbed appearance.
It happens. While on the homestretch, disaster strikes to prolong the project. In this case the teeth from my saw dug into the wood while I was cutting the dowels flush with the rails. Sanding out the scratches wasn’t a big deal, but to prevent it from happening on the other dowels I used a cut-out yogurt lid with a hole in the middle to protect the wood while sawing. A piece of cardboard or a playing card will also work. I cut the rest of the dowels worry-free and it was a breeze to sand off the small amount of dowel that remained.
(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)
Woodcraft Supply, woodcraft.com, 800-225 1153, Brass Butt Hinge, # 85I08, # 129680.
M.L. Condon Lumber, 914-946-4111 250 Ferris Ave. White Plains, NY 10603, 1x12 clear vertical-grain Douglas fir.
Fig. A: Exploded View
Fig. B: Cutting Sequence for Legs
Fig. C: Rail Detail
Fig. D: Hinge Detail
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker March 2004, issue #106.
March 2004, issue #106
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1. Cut the lid and legs using a crosscut sled because it’s difficult to safely and accurately cut such wide boards with a standard miter gauge.
2. Cut the dadoes in the legs for the bottom of the storage compartment.
3. A vertical cut is the first step in cutting the notches in the legs. Set the miter gauge at 90 degrees and the blade to its maximum height. Your saw may not be able to cut the full 3-1/2 in. that’s required for this cut, but that’s a good thing because the uncut part will keep the scrap from falling out in the next step. Use a tall fence on the miter gauge to support the leg and a stop block on one end to ensure identical cuts on both legs.
4. Crosscut the side of the left notch with the miter gauge set at 95 degrees away from the left side of the blade. Clamp the leg to the tall fence with the dado facing toward the blade and with the bottom end of the leg positioned as shown. Make this cut for the left-side notch on both legs. Do not cut the right-side notch with this setup!
5. Crosscut the right notch with the miter gauge set at 95 degrees away from the right side of the blade. Again, clamp the leg to the tall fence with the dado facing toward the blade and with the bottom end of the leg pointing as shown.
6. Clean up the remaining wood inside the corner of the notch that is left after you break off the waste piece by hand. A sharp chisel makes quick work of this task.
7 Rout a bead along the bottom of the rails. Clamp the rail to a thick board. This provides a wide surface on which to balance the router.
8. Cut the curves on the ends of the rails and sand them smooth.
9. Cut mortises in the back rail for the hinges. Use a dado blade and make multiple passes. Clamping the rail to the fence ensures accuracy and prevents the rail from slipping.
10. Custom fit the bottom. Insert the bottom in the leg dado so it’s flush on one side and overhangs on the other. Mark the overhang and saw it off. The bottom needs to be exactly as wide as the dado is long.
11. Glue the bottom and rails to the legs. A shop-made jig simplifies the glue-up process. Wood scraps cut at a 5-degree angle support the legs. It’s like having two shop assistants to help you.
12. Add clamps to hold the parts together. One clamp across the top will hold the bottom in the leg dadoes. Clamps along the lower edge of the rails and at the ends will hold the rails in place. Use little blocks of wood as clamping pads to prevent the clamps from marring the bench.
13. Glue and tap the pegs into predrilled holes in the rails and legs. Taper the ends of the peg with a chisel or rasp to make driving the pegs in easier. Cut off the waste with a handsaw and sand the pegs flush with the rail.
14. Attach the hinges to the back rail first and then to the underside of the lid. The hinges should be located so the lid sits centered on top of the bench.