Many older homes feature built-in window seats that provide storage as well as a place to enjoy the view. To recapture this architectural spirit in a modern home, we designed a window bench that doesn’t require additional interior walls. It can be treated as a piece of furniture or be attached to the floor as a permanent structure.
At its core is a simple case or chest with two drawers. We embellished this chest with arms and a base to create a bench-style seat. The look can be adapted to its surroundings with simple modifications to the arm or base styling to suit your taste.
Our 55-1/2-in.-wide window bench is made out of a combination of solid cherry and cherry-veneer plywood.
All of the visible parts for the case can be cut from one sheet of hardwood veneer plywood — I chose cherry. To avoid purchasing another full sheet for the remaining interior parts, I used a 2 x 4-ft. piece of 3/4-in. birch plywood, sometimes called a “handy panel,” available at most home centers.
Before assembling the case, you’ll need to finish a few edges that will be exposed. Attach solid 1/8-in. edging or apply heat-activated veneer edge tape to the front edges of the drawer divider and bottom. Also apply edging to the bottom 5-1/4 in. of the front edges of the sides and to the top and bottom edge of the front. Trim the edges flush with a low-angle block plane and cabinet scraper.
The case parts
Assemble the case using butt joints reinforced with No. 20 biscuits (photos 1 and 2). After you’ve fastened the case panels together, install the lid support between the two sides with glue and No. 8 x 2-in. wood screws. The lid frame rests on the sides and back of the case and is made of solid cherry milled to match the thickness of the plywood, about 3/4 in. Assemble the lid frame with glue and biscuits and check that it is square.
Begin the case asssembly by gluing the drawer divider between the bottom and interior bottom. Next, glue the sides to the bottoms.
Complete the case panel assembly by attaching the front and back. To achieve even clamping pressure on the front use cauls that extend below the front panel.
The lid is made of plywood for stability and is wrapped with solid wood edging to give it durability. The edging connects to the plywood with tongue-and-groove joints and is mitered at the corners.
When making tongue-and-groove joints, I prefer to start with the groove and then cut the tongue to fit. I chose to cut the groove with a table saw and dado set, centering a 1/4-in.-wide x 1/4-in.-deep groove on all four edges of the plywood (photo 3).
Use a 1/4-in. dado setup to cut the grooves in the lid. Attach a sacrificial fence to the saw’s rip fence to help support the lid in the vertical position.
Create the tongue by cutting rabbets along the top and bottom inside edges of the edging stock. I again used the dado set to cut these rabbets. To ensure that the edge pieces align properly around the lid, you’ll need to cut the tongue in the entire length of edge stock before cutting each piece to length.
Adjust the dado set to a 3/8-in. thickness and attach a sacrificial fence to your saw’s rip fence. Lower the blade below the table and then slide the fence in so that 1/8 in. of the blade is under the fence. Start the saw and gradually raise the blade to just under 1/4 in. The blade will cut into the sacrificial fence as you raise it.
Use a scrap to test the setup. Run the piece through twice, flipping it so that the edge features mirrored rabbets. Test the fit of the tongue in the plywood groove. If the tongue is too wide, raise the blade slightly, repeat the cuts and check the fit again. If it is too narrow, lower the blade and make new test cuts. Once you get a snug fit, use that setup to cut the actual edge stock (photo 4).
Raise the 3/8-in. dado blade up into the sacrificial fence approximately 1/8 in. Run test pieces through to get the proper tongue size; then cut the actual edging.
Cut the edge pieces to length, mitering the ends of each piece 45 degrees. Cut each piece slightly long, check the fit and trim as needed. Glue and clamp the edge pieces to the lid (photo 5).
Glue and clamp the edging to the lid using cauls to distribute the pressure.
It is easier to cut the hinge mortises before attaching the lid frame to the case. Position the hinges so that only the top half of the hinge barrel is exposed above the surface of the lid. I used a router to cut the hinge mortises. Mount the hinges and check the lid operation.
You can remove the lid and hinges from the case until after you’ve applied the finish. Now apply glue to the top of the case sides and back as well as to the top of the lid support. Clamp the lid frame in position and secure with 1-1/4-in. finish nails (photo 6).
Apply glue along the top edge of the case and where the lid frame rests on the top of the lid support. Clamp the lid frame to the case and drive 1-1/4-in. finish nails through the frame and into the back and sides of the case.
The drawers are made of 1/2-in. Baltic birch plywood, which provides excellent strength and stability and an attractive, void-free nine-ply edge grain. The drawer features rabbet-and-dado joints, allowing you use a 1/4-in. dado setup for all of the cuts.
Begin by cutting all of the 1/4 x 1/4-in. dadoes in the drawer parts. Cut dadoes along the front and back edges and along the bottom of the sides. Also cut a dado along the bottom of the inside of the front.
Next, cut the corresponding 1/4 x 1/4-in. rabbets. Cut rabbets along each side of the fronts and backs. Also cut rabbets along the sides and front of the bottom.
Glue and clamp the drawer boxes together, and check that they are square (photo 7).
Glue and clamp the drawer boxes. Measure across each diagonal to check for square. If the measurements across the diagonals are the same, then the box is square.
Install the drawer slides and drawer boxes in the drawer openings. When you are satisfied with their operation, attach the drawer faces.
The solid-cherry arm assemblies feature through-tenons. Mill the stock for the armrests and arm supports to 1-in. thickness and the stock for the crosspieces to 3/4 in. Cut all arm pieces to rough size. Wait to cut the tapers in the arm supports until after you’ve made the tenons.
When creating mortise-and-tenon joints, always cut the mortise first and then cut the tenon to fit. The position of the mortises is critical. Be sure to leave at least 1/2 in. of stock for the back mortise wall to prevent it from breaking out. Clamp the crosspieces between the arm supports and hold the armrest against the supports to locate the mortises. Drill out the center of the mortises using a 1-in. Forstner bit. Then square off the mortises with a chisel.
Each tenon should be 1/8 in. longer than the thickness of the armrest so that it will extend slightly above the top of the armrest. Lay out and cut each tenon slightly thicker than its final size. I used a band saw to make these cuts, but you could use a backsaw or table saw.
Check the fit of the tenons; then shave them to size with a plane, chisel or file. The tenons should fit snugly but not too tightly. If they are too large, they could split the wood.
After cutting the tenons in each arm support, taper the outside edges of each support on the table saw using an adjustable tapering jig (photo 8). Each should taper from 3 in. at the top to 1 in. at the bottom.
Cut tapers in the arm supports using a tapering jig. You can make your own tapering jig or use a purchased jig. Use a push stick as a hold down. NOTE: The blade guard and splitter were removed for photo clarity.
Assemble the crosspieces and arm supports using glue and No. 10 biscuits. With clamps in place, apply glue to the tenons and tap the armrests onto the arm supports (photo 9). Shim the case so that the bottom of the arms are 1/8-in. below the bottom of the case. Finally, fasten the arm assemblies to the case with glue and No. 8 x 1-1/4-in. screws (photo 10).
Dry-fit (no glue) the armrests to the arm supports before gluing to be sure the tenons fit well in the mortises.
Attach the arm assemblies to the case with glue and No. 8 x 1-1/4-in. screws. Drill pilot holes and drive the screws through the inside of the case.
The base The base is simply a 1x4 pine frame that will be concealed by solid wood or base molding to match the room where you’ll install the bench. Assemble the frame with glue and No. 20 biscuits. Position the frame 1 in. from the back and center it between the sides. Attach it with No. 8 x 1-1/4-in. screws (photo 11).
Attach the base frame to the bottom of the case with 1-1/4-in. screws.
Because I wanted to treat the bench as a movable piece of furniture, I wrapped the front and sides of the base with solid 3/4 cherry stock. I glued the miters and attached the base trim with 1-1/4-in. finish nails. I then finished the project with a few coats of wipe-on poly/oil-blend finish, rubbing out the finish with 0000 steel wool between coats.
If you prefer a built-in approach, wait to attach the base trim until after the installation. Position the bench and level it with shims. Toe-screw through the base frame and shims into the floor. Then finish the trim and scribe it to follow the contours of the floor.