Build a Storage Bench

This handsome storage bench gives you a place to sit and a place to store your shoes.

We have a rule at our home: no wearing street shoes in the house. After many years of doing the one-leg shoe-off/shoe-on dance by the door, I finally built this bench so I can sit while removing my footwear and stow it neatly.

This small bench can hold eight pairs of shoes and two pairs of boots. The slat design provides ventilation, though it is not intended for wet, snowy or dirty shoes. (Leave those in the garage where they belong.) The bench’s front is curved, which adds character, but it also complicates construction. I could have simplified the design by making a square box, but I’m a woodworker and I like to show off my woodworking skills. (I hope you do too.)

This project requires moderate woodworking skills and the tools and abilities to cut wood and fit biscuit joints precisely. Plan to spend about 20 hours to build and finish the bench and about $200 for materials (see SOURCES in PDF, below). Though building the bench is not hard, keeping track of the parts and the locations and sizes of the biscuit joints can be challenging. I carefully chose the birch boards for a near-equal mix of light (sapwood) and dark (heartwood); then I matched the pieces and joined them together to create a striking yet balanced look. If you work slowly and think about every piece you cut and every joint you fit, the bench will turn out fine.

Construction Notes
To build this bench you will need a planer, a jointer, a table saw, a biscuit joiner, a stationary belt or disc sander, a band saw or jigsaw, an orbital sander, a router with a bottom-bearing flush-trim bit (1/2-in.-dia. with a 1-1/2-in.-long cutter; see SOURCES), and a 1/4-in.-radius roundover bit. You’ll also need a block plane, six 24-in.-long bar clamps, five 48-in.-long pipe or bar clamps, various shorter bar clamps and a sideways screwdriver (or a short screwdriver tip combined with a 1/4-in. box wrench) to attach the seat.

To ensure that the bench will fit together properly, the length of the long slats (38 in.) must equal the combined length of the center slat (16-1/2 in.) and the two end slats (2 x 10 in. = 20 in.) plus the thicknesses of the dividers (2 x 3/4 in. = 1-1/2 in.). Double-check your cumulative dimensions before assembly.

Another potential trouble spot is the storage-section assembly (photos 7, 8 and 9, below). A lot of biscuit joints must be glued, aligned and assembled simultaneously. Be sure to test-assemble everything with clamps but without glue so you can resolve any problems.

Make and use spacers to help position parts, and recruit an assistant to help apply the glue, align the parts and set the clamps. Don’t forget to clearly label parts with an ID and orientation (top, front, inside, etc.). I labeled the ends of the slats in pencil.

Finally, apply the finish before assembling the parts. The time spent masking off the joints is minor compared with the difficulty of applying the finish after assembly.

Make and Shape the Parts
Use 1/2-in.-thick medium-density fiberboard (MDF) to make the seat and foot templates (see illustration in PDF, below and photo 1). Cut and edge-glue birch pieces together to make the seat (A), ends (B) and dividers (C). Cut the parts to size, but leave the dividers a bit wide for now (see note in cutting list, in PDF below).

Make the seat template. Use a 1/4 x 3/4 x 43-in. piece of straight-grain hardwood as a flexible batten to draw the seat curve. Drive nails to bow the batten.

Trace the seat shape from the template onto the seat blank. Rough-cut the seat shape using a band saw or jigsaw; then rout the final shape of the seat (photo 2). Rout the 1/4-in.-radius roundover edge on the seat top. Following the same steps, shape the feet on the bottoms of the ends (B). Mark the finished widths on the ends of the curved front slats (D, F and H; see illustration). Align the curved front of the seat template with the end marks of the curved front slats and trace the curve. Cut the shape and sand smooth using a stationary belt or disc sander.

[Photo 2]
Rout the shape of the seat by guiding a bottom-bearing flush-trim bit against the MDF template. The seat blank has been rough-cut very close to its final shape, so little remains to be removed.

Determine the actual width of the dividers by laying one of the long front slats (D) on top of the seat template and aligning it 1/2 in. back from the template’s front edge at the ends. Trace the curve onto the seat template. Then mark the two divider locations on the seat template. (They are 8-1/4 in. from the center of the template.) Now you can measure the actual width of the dividers based on the curved shape of your long front slats. Cut the dividers to their finished widths, but don’t cut the beveled edges yet.

Cut the Joints and Fit the Parts
Drill the holes in the long slats (D and E). Lay out the slat shelf heights on the ends (B) and dividers (C). Draw lines across the ends and dividers indicating the tops of the shelves relative to the top edges of the ends and dividers. Note: The distance to the top shelf is 3/4 in. less on the dividers since the long slats join on top of them rather than inside (as they do on the ends).

Make a biscuit-cutting guide (photo 3). Align it flush with the rear edges of the ends and the dividers and on the slat shelf-top lines; then cut the biscuit grooves. Now cut the biscuit grooves in the slats (photo 4).

Cut the No. 0 and No. 20 biscuit grooves in the ends (B) and dividers (C). Orient the base of the jointer relative to the tops of the shelf slats. Use a guide board to position the groove centers.

Cut the biscuit grooves in the slats’ ends. The groove centers are 1-1/2 in. from the rear edges. Set the jointer’s fence height so the slat tops align with the lines drawn on the ends and dividers.

Cut and sand the beveled front edges of the ends and dividers. Use a block plane to create the roundover shapes on the front outside corners of the end pieces (photo 5).

Round over the outside corners of the ends (B). A router won’t work because the front edges of the end pieces are beveled. Draw guidelines and use a block plane to create the round shapes.

Finish the Parts
Use an orbital sander to finish-sand all of the parts; then use sandpaper to ease the exposed sharp edges. Don’t ease the edges where the front ends of the front slats (D, F and H) intersect with the front edges of the ends (B) and dividers (C) and where the front ends of the dividers intersect with the front edges of the long front slats (D).

Use 1/2-in.-wide masking tape to mask off the biscuit grooves in the ends and dividers as well as the screw joints on the insides of the long slats. Apply finish to the parts, but don’t finish the slat ends or the outside faces of the end pieces (photo 6). I used a foam brush to apply semigloss water-base polyurethane. Applying four thin coats rather than two thick coats produces a much finer finish. Let the finish dry for three days before assembling the bench.

Finish the parts before assembly. Masking the joints may be tedious, but this approach is easier than trying to apply finish in the narrow interior spaces of the assembled bench.

Final Assembly
Assemble the middle section using biscuits, glue and clamps (photos 7 and photo 8). Glue and screw the long slats to the ends of the dividers. It’s critical that the middle section is centered on the long slats. I aligned and clamped the end slats (I) to the ends of the long slats to ensure that the slats would be centered. Then I glued and screwed the long slats in place one at a time.

Assemble the bench inside-out: First join the front center slats (F) and the two rear center slats (G) to one divider (C). Use squaring blocks and 3-3/4-in.-wide spacers to align the parts.

Add the remaining four center slats (G) and the other divider (C) to complete the middle section. Wooden blocks help to distribute the clamp pressure.

Attach end slats and an end (B) to one side of the bench assembly (photo 9); then attach the remaining parts on the other side. Touch up the finish sanding on the outsides of the end pieces and apply finish to those surfaces. Finally, screw the seat to the bench so it is centered and its rear edge is flush with the rear of the bench.

Complete the assembly by attaching the long slats (D and E) to the middle section. Add the end slats (H and I) and an end (B) to one side. Then do the other side.

This project is part of HANDY's Top 5 Collection: Furniture Projects.
Click here to check out the other four furniture articles in this collection.

Bonus Video: