Basic Bench Woodworking Plans

A woodworking classic, the traditional five-board bench is a simple yet adaptable piece.

You can build it from scrap lumber or exotic wood and vary the height, length and width to make it function as entryway seating, a bonfire bench, a coffee table, a workshop piece or a child's stepstool. You can also change its personality with different finishes and details.

For this project, we altered the design by making the seat top from three narrower boards (rather than one wide plank) to create a paneled look and to alleviate potential warping. One of the benches has angular lines (like the original style) and another features curves. The plan makes efficient use of materials: From five 8-ft. boards (a 1x12 and four 1x4s), I made two benches: one to keep and one to give away (maybe).

Simple bench project supplies
This is a great skill-building project that can be made using just two power tools: a jigsaw and a drill. I built the pair of painted benches out of poplar and then made a pine version, which I finished with three coats of polyurethane. (For outdoor use, redwood, cedar or pressure-treated pine are suitable species.) Each bench calls for 38 wood screws. We provide a drawing (see pdf link below) as a starting point, but you can use your creativity to adapt the design to whatever size and style you like.

Cutting and shaping the bench parts
Begin by squaring one end of each board. Starting at the "true" end of the 1x12, cut two 30-in. sections (one for each pair of legs). From the remaining piece (approximately 36 in. long), rip two 4-3/4-in.-wide boards to create the center seat slats (A) for both benches. Cut four edge seat slats (B) to that same length, using two of the 1x4s. From the remaining 1x4s, cut four side rails (C) 2-1/2 in. shorter than the seat slats. Use the waste material to cut the cleats (E, F). Now you have all the parts for two benches. (Instructions from here on will describe how to build a single bench.)

Use a jigsaw and a straightedge guide to rip a 30-in. leg section (D) to 10-3/4 in. wide; then crosscut it in half to create two 15-in. leg panels. Use a block plane, a sanding block or a router with a 1/8-in. roundover bit to ease the long edges of the seat slats and the legs.

To begin shaping the legs, first drill a 1/8-in. pilot hole in each leg panel, 4 in. from the bottom and centered horizontally; then enlarge the holes using a 2-in.-dia. hole saw. Mark two cutting lines, starting at 3-3/4 in. from the leg edges and extending to the sides of the leg hole. Cut along these lines to form the legs.

Measure and mark the 3/4-in. x 3-1/2-in. notches in the tops of legs. Make the short (cross-grain) cuts first; then cut the lengthwise lines. This sequence makes it less likely that you'll overcut the notches. Mark and cut the curves on the ends of the two side rails (C); then sand the cuts and ease the edges.

Assembling and finishing the bench
To prepare to attach the side rails (C) to the legs, mark lines 3 in. from the ends of the side rails and bore two pilot holes on each line. Using a combination square, draw another set of lines 3-3/8 in. from the ends to use as guidelines. Set the side rails and legs upside down on a flat work surface, aligning the insides of the legs along the guidelines; then glue, clamp and fasten the legs to the side rails (photo below) using eight 1-1/2-in. wood screws. Bore three 1/8-in. pilot holes in each leg cleat (F). Glue and fasten the cleats to the tops of the legs using 1-1/4-in. screws.

Lay the three seat slats (A, B) top-down on the work surface, aligning the ends. Set the leg/rail assembly on top of the slats and bore six pilot holes in each cleat. Drive 1-1/4-in. screws through the leg cleats into the seat slats.

Attach the two seat cleats (E) about 10 in. from either side of center. Drive two 1-1/4-in. screws through the cleats and into each of the seat slats.

To mark an 18-in.-radius curve at each end of the seat, drive a screw partway into the center of the seat and use a thin piece of scrap wood as a trammel. Cut the curve with a jigsaw; then sand the cuts and ease the edges.

Next, create the cutout in the seat. Mark and bore two 1/8-in. pilot holes 4 in. apart in the center of the seat top. Use a hole saw to cut two 1-1/2-in.-dia. holes. Connect the holes with straight lines and cut the opening with the jigsaw. Sand the cuts and ease the edges.

Once construction is complete, you can finish the benches with paint, stain or clear finish. Then choose which one you'll keep and which one you'll give away.

This pine bench will look right at home inside a cabin or on a porch. As another option, you can make the legs about 10 in. long to create a child's bench — or 6 in. long (with a 16-in. seat) to build a stepping stool or footrest.