Build a Simple Outdoor Bench

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Somebody's gonna say it.  Somebody's gonna whisper, she's forgotten where she's from.  She thinks she lives in Hollywood now.  And they are so right.  Despite plans for ice fishing this weekend, I'm designing plans for eating grilled fish on in the California sun.  I am so loving outdoor furniture right now, I could very possibly have forgotten I live in Alaska.

You've got the table, and now it's time for the matching bench.  Like the table, I found much inspiration from West Elm's Wood Slat Long Bench, loving the modern simplicity of this style.  I especially love simple clean lines outdoors because you are contrasting against the natural organic shapes of the outdoors.

If you are intimidated by the size of the table, starting with the bench is a good idea.  Not only will you have an opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, the investment (time and moneywise) is considerably less.  Also, the bench could serve a variety of other purposes besides as a dining area seating surface.  Think holding planters, elevating plants for sunshine, or just a simple reading spot.

Shopping List

4 – 1×3 Boards
4 – 1×4 Boards
2″ Screws
1 1/4″ Screws
Wood Glue
Wood Filler or Paintable Silicone Sealant

Tools

Measuring Tape
Square
Drill
Sander
Saw

Common Materials: 
wood glue
wood filler
120 grit sandpaper
primer
wood conditioner
paint
paint brush
Tools: 
measuring tape
square
pencil
hammer
safety glasses
hearing protection
Cut List: 

Cut List

2 – 1×3 @ 49 1/4″ (Seat Supports)
2 – 1×3 @ 13″ (End Aprons)
2 – 1×3 @ 50 3/4″ (Side Aprons)
14 – 1×4 @ 11″ (Seat Slats)
2 – 1×4 @ 52 1/4″ (Seat Sides)
4 – 1×4 @ 17 1/4″ (Legs)

Skill Level: 
Estimated Cost: 
Style: 
General Instructions: 

General Instructions. It is a good idea to sand and finish your boards (paint or stain) before constructing to seal all edges. Work on a clean levels surface. Mark out your joints before fastening joints. Predrill and countersink your screws before attaching. Use glue unless otherwise specified. Check for square after each step. And please work safe and smart, using proper safety equipment.

Step 1

Build the Frame. Begin by fastening the blue supports to the yellow ends using 2″ screws and glue. Then fasten the green aprons to the yellow aprons as shown above, using 2″ screws and glue. Square up your frame by taking a diagonal measurement, and adjusting the square until both measurements are equal.

Step 2

Bench Slats. Mark the slat boards 1″ from the ends on both ends. Also mark two of the boards 3/4″ in on the outer edge. These are your outer boards. Line these boards up on the ends, overhang of 3/4″ as shown above and screw to side aprons and supports. Fasten the remaining slats to the top, as shown above, leaving a 1/4″ gap between the boards. Use the 1″ marks to line up with the outer edge of the support underneath. It may help you to use the board from step 3 as a guide when lining up your slats.

Summary: 

A touch of contemporary to your outdoor space. This easy to build bench features a slatted top. Use indoors and out, as dining seating or just a bench to rest on outdoors.

Step 3

Sides of Bench Top. Mark the bench top boards as shown above, 1 3/4″ in from the sides, 3/4″ from the ends. Use 2″ screws to fasten to the side and end aprons.

Step 4

Legs. Use the 1 1/4″ screws to fasten the legs to the aprons, as shown above. Then fasten from the seat sides top into the tops of the legs with 2″ screws and glue.

Step 5

Finishing. It is recommended that outdoor pieces be finished before putting together. You can go back and fill holes with paintable silicone (Momentive Performance GE7000 XST Silicone II Paintable Sealant) and add a touchup coat of paint.

Comments

Ana,
I am new to your blog but not new to wood working. I have fallen in love with your site and just spent the better part of two hours going through the reader to mark my favorites!! Thanks so much for sharing. I'm looking forward to putting your 'well laid plans' to good use!

We just had the concrete patio poured at our house and I was looking for some type of patio furniture that would be study and not cost a fortune. Thanks for the plans, I am going to build this tomorrow!

you give GREAT step by step information that doesn’t need any questions asked,

THANK YOU!
-Debbie

Hey Ana! I am about 70% done ... I just wanted to say 1 - you are a genius for creating this simple modern design knock off and 2 - I laugh that I am such a novice- seriously - I never used a saw or a drill until today... but I kept making mistakes on the drilling - especially on the ends. I would start to countersink where it looks like the drills should go and then realize my drill is not moving because there were already screws from my last fasten ... I probably made that mistake 5 times before I finally paid more attention. Both end slats have like 10 holes because I kept hitting screws and or I kept missing the wood that it was to attach to. I feel like a dummy...and my husband laughed when he saw the warped wood that I brought home the first time from lowes... anyhow, I should be finished tomorrow and I am super excited to post the pics. I just wanted to mention those comments for the super green novices like myself... thanks again for your big brain and the easy laid out plans!!

Hello mollymadd,

It's great that you are trying! Trying and fouling it up is the only way to learn. Keep in mind that everyone is an "dummy" when doing something for the first time. Keep at it and you will get better. Meanwhile, if your husband keeps laughing at you, make him sleep on the couch. Meanwhile, always wear your safety glasses. Eyes are hard to fix, and even harder to replace!

This is my first completed project. I just made one bench to sit on my pool deck, so it is out of pressure treated lumber. It came out great!! The plans were super easy to follow - all thanks to Ana! I had the same problem as mollymadd that I put screws and the wood wasn't there. I will have to do a better job of measuring. I also think a chalk line would help to keep the screws straight. I'm using solid stain on this, so it won't matter that much for me. Thanks again Ana!!

I cannot believe I've never seen your site until now. Amazingly well done.

One question about this particular plan: what length boards are the 1x3 and 1x4's? You specify 4 of them, but not their length. Have I missed that somewhere? Thanks!

I have a question: How well does the junction between the seat slats and the side pieces hold up? Where the ends of the slats butt up against the sides, I can't see that they are actually attached to each other, just sort of floating next to each other. How does that hold up to warping, expansion/contraction, etc? Is this a potential splinter place? Should I get some small screws and pocket screw the slats to the side pieces? I expect it's pretty stiff since they meet midway between the two lower skirt pieces, but is that enough?

Just finished building this!! Great project! I love it out on my front porch--just need to sew a few pillows to go at the back of it! Thanks for a great pattern! The only trouble I had was attaching the seat slats in the right spot--the directions were a little confusing because it said to mark 1" on the main directions but on the bigger diagram it said 1 3/4"--but i could have been reading it completely wrong--I don't know!

My husband and I (mostly my husband) just finished building two of these benches. Love them. But we couldn't find treated 1x3's and we live in an area where there are estimated to be 6 swarms of termites per acre. We've found two swarms on our little bit of land in the last year (luckily not on our home! Keep your termite bonds up to date!) so we had no desire to put wood outside that wasn't pre treated (just in case we missed a spot sealing it).

All of that said...using only 1x4's we had no problems.

Great plan and easy to understand. Can't wait to build our next project.

Thank you!

Hi Ana, I have been wanting something like this for our outdoor patio for a while now, so we are going to have a go at building two of these benches.
Thanks for the plans, lots of inspiration here.

Hi All,

I am SO excited to get started on this patio set. I have a question about the legs. Some pictures show 2 pieces of wood for each leg that make a corner, but the plans show just 1 piece. Is there a reason? Is just 1 price for each leg not as sturdy? We are a fairly stocky family and I want to make sure the bench will hold up. 
Thanks!
Ashley 

After looking at outdoor furniture to replace our old set and getting sticker shock. I am so happy this site shows us how to make great looking stuff! Now to get started on this and the table....then BBQ time!

For this you probably want some variety of outdoor deck stain or paint. The number of coats will depend on how dark you want it and manufacturer recommendations.

the slats are screwed from underneath right? i'm building it right now and don't see the screws on the top of the bench
thx

Love this site! Quick question... do you feel the 1x4 legs offer enough weight support if the people sitting down are larger? I was thinking about either lengthening the frame to accommodate 2x4 legs or even a 4x4 with a square notched out for the frame to sit in. I also wonder about the 2x2 on the stackable chairs. I just don't know enough about weight loads and wouldn't want it to break on anyone.

I just got about 3/4 of the way through finishing this project, sat on it, and the legs immediately tore off ripping some of the wood to shreds after I shifted my weight on it a little (and I'm not that heavy).
I see in some of the photos people have "doubled up" on the legs, squaring them off on both sides of each corner instead of just one - looks like that's probably the way to go if you don't want this collapsing on you.
I'm hoping mine didn't get tore up so badly that it can't be salvaged, but we'll see.

There are tricks to attaching legs with screws. You need to use regular wood screws to do it, #8 at minimum, #10 or #12 would be ideal. Drywall or deck screws will fail exactly as you described.

You also need to pre-drill and countersink the holes. It is easy with the counter-sinks to be deluded into thinking that the drill bit provided is sufficient for your pre-drilling. That is definitely untrue. The hole you drill for the shaft should be as big around as the shaft of the screw, minus the depth of the threads.

The joint also needs to be extremely tight. There can't be any wiggle room or visible gaps, or it will fail.

These are all lessons learned from hard experience.

one thing I found when I first sat on it was that the slats bowed down while the sides of the bench top did not. I fixed this by screwing the inside and outside boards of the frame (the blue and green boards in the first construction picture above) together.

I did this by cutting eight spacers from 1x3 boards 2 inches wide. I spaced these out evenly, four on each side of the frame, between the two boards and placed four scres (two outside and two inside) of each spacer.

This helped make it so it didn't bow.

I'm planning on making this to go with my simple table, but I am going to adjust it so I can do the legs the same as the table. I think the 2x4 legs will be sturdier for my family... And I'm already familiar with the other plan! Thanks Ana for giving me the courage to experiment!

Nope! You screw down into the aprons, and then fill the holes with putty

I tried this with the matching table I built last fall - recessed screwed and then filled in the holes with wood putty. Didn't do the job - the wood and/or putty expanded or otherwise didn't live through the winter season and by spring it was all either falling out or sticking up over the surface of the table. Swore if I built it again I would use the pocket hole method.

Yes, after the trouble I had with the putty someone else recommended this and I re-drilled everything so I could glue a bit of 1/4" dowel in there instead. Still doesn't look *perfect*, but it's much better than it looked before. With the dowels I also had trouble with the wood expanding with the weather for a while so I found myself going back to it a couple of times to smooth things out again, and also a 1/4" spade bit (at least in my hands) doesn't cut a perfectly symmetrical 1/4" hole so many of the dowels have tiny gaps between the dowel and the outside wood, but it's not very noticeable. It's probably the best solution to fix the problem I created by countersinking from above instead of using pocket holes from underneath, but if I were starting this project new, I would *definitely* go with pocket holes (BTW Kreg isn't the only brand that makes pocket hole jigs, but does appear to be the only brand that consistently gets good reviews from owners).

A spade bit is a pretty crude instrument, and I try to avoid using them. I have found that because they're made of tool steel, they do make excellent blades for marking knives. A little work with a grinder and my whet stones and I've got a first-rate blade.

I'd recommend picking up brad-point drills, which hold position much better. You can spend a fair bit of money for good ones, or you can buy a cheap Chinese set for not much as all. I bought a cheap Chinese set because it came with a nice metal case, and in time the bits will be replaced with good North American tooling.

You might also consider buying regular countersink drill bits. I found them to be useful.

Hi! My husband built this bench for me yesterday. I love it! The instructions were so easy and well written that he didn't have a stitch of trouble. Because the space we needed it for was a little too short for the measurements you gave, we did shorten it a bit and we modified the legs slightly for stability (I knew it would get a lot of wear and tear.)

In fact, I love it so much now that I decided it needed storage as well. I considered several possibilities and settled on a kind of "drawer" to go under it. It's essentially a box with wheels and a couple simple handles on the front. I'd like to put the design on Instructables and reference your bench so that people can make that if they like to go with it. May I link to this article on your site in my set of instructions?

Thanks for taking the time to read this comment.

This is my first project and I'm trying to envision it before starting, but I have a question. I'm curious how people filled in all the holes from the screws. Many of them are drilled down from the top of the table, right? I can't see evidence of that in any of the pictures even though most are stained. I want to use stain, not paint, but in my experience the fillers don't really match when stained over (even the stainable ones). Have people used fillers that specifically match the stain or does the stain just cover that well? Thanks for any help!!

The easiest way to hide the screw holes is to come from underneath. You can do it with a pocket screw. Another easy alternative is to use a dowel pin instead of screws. A bit more labor intensive but no screws to hide. You just need to make sure you use a waterproof glue (titebond III would be a first pass).

These plans are exactly what I need but I am going to use them for a TV stand for my overly large TV. THIS IS PERFECT!!!!

Anna - at the picture at the top .. it looks like the legs are built different. It looks like a 2x4 inside the frame. Is that correct? Did you use a bolt or other hardware in the inside frame to make the bench fold-able?

Yeah, I'm in the middle of assembling this puppy, and have 5 "extra" seat slats. The slats in the pics look like 1x3, not the 1x4 in the instructions. Since I am already deep into this process (and out of 1x3, and it doesn't structurally matter) I guess I'm soldiering on...

ETA: now that I'm done and I have a coffee table and not a bench...I realize I used 1x4 and 1x5. Super fail.

I am a beginner, trying to envision using the Kreg Jig to attach the slats. Any advice on pocket hole placement? Would I put pocket holes in the seat supports and screw the slats in from the bottom? Or do I put pocket holes in each end of the slats and attach them to the bench top?
Thank you!

This might be really obvious to everyone other than me, but how long do the boards need to be?
4 – 1×3 Boards
4 – 1×4 Boards

I'm planning on making the table to match too, and those plans had the board lengths listed. Not sure!

Thanks!

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