I have an affection for benches. Especially old and worn benches from days gone by. And since we have some space to fill in our turn of the century farmhouse, I thought a turn of the century bench would be a good addition.
But I didn’t want to go out and buy one. I thought it would be fun to build my own. I used this one as inspiration:
Dimensions: 19″ Tall, 48″ Long, 5″ Wide
What you’ll need: Wood of choice (I used Alder, but pine or poplar would be good choices as well), wood glue, 1 3/4″ wood screws, 1 1/2″ finish nails, choice of paint, table saw (or go old school and use a handsaw), miter saw, jig saw, orbital sander and drill. Since I used rough cut Alder, I also used my jointer and planer to square my wood.
I started with three boards pulled from my lumber rack. I have a lot of Alder in the shop, which I bought from a local sawyer in Oregon before we moved. Most of it is 3/4″, but i did have a few boards that were over an inch thick. I wanted the seat and the legs of the bench to be sturdy, so I pulled two of the straightest boards from my thicker stock that I could find. The skirts on the bench didn’t need to be as thick, so for these I went to my thinner stock. Again, looking for the straightest boards eliminates the amount of material I have to remove to square up the wood and ensure tight joints.
At the jointer and planer, I milled the wood to 1″ for the seat and legs and 5/8″ for the skirts. At the table saw I ripped the seat and leg boards to 5″ wide and the skirt boards to 4″. At the miter saw, I cross-cut the legs to 18″and the seat and skirts to 48″. See below for details:
Seat: (1) 5″ x 48″ x 1″
Legs: (2) 5″ x 18″ x 1″
Skirt: (2) 4″ x 48″ x 5/8″
Alder is a softer hard wood, which makes it easy to work with. But it will burn on the table saw. I always rip boards a little wider than final width (1/16″ will usually do). This allows me to clean up saw marks or discolorations along the edge on the jointer. You can sand this out pretty easily to if you don’t have a jointer.
Once the boards were cut to final dimension, I started on the legs. The old colonial farm benches were all angles and straight lines. That’s part of their charm. And if you look back at the original inspiration picture, you’ll see these triangles cut out of the legs. This was pretty common on the old benches.
For mine, I measured 2″ from the outer edges and made my marks. Then I measured 4″ up from the bottom edge, directly in the center of the board. Using my squaring angle, I connected the points into a triangle. I used my jigsaw to cut these out on both legs.
I used a 150 grit pad on the orbital sander and thoroughly sanded the legs and seat on both sides.
On the seat, I measured 5″ in from both edges and marked a line with my square. This is where you’ll screw the seat to the legs. Using three screws on both ends, I slowly tapped them down through the wood until the ends barely broke through the other side.
I used these as my guides for setting the legs.
Apply glue on the edge of the legs and line them up (my 7-year-old helped me here; having an extra set of hands helps with this step). And then, using a right angle to keep square, tap your screws.
While the glue on the legs joints dries, you can prepare the skirts. Some of the old benches had square skirts, and some had ornate designs cut into them. There’s not really a wrong way to go here. The bench I used as inspiration had simple angles cut on the bottom of the skirt, and so that’s what I did.
3″ down from the top and 4″ in from the bottom, I made my marks and cut with the jig saw. You can see that my cut on the one in the picture wasn’t exactly true. I cleaned that up with the sander. Sanded both skirts on both sides, and they were ready to install. I simply laid the bench on its side and used a hammer and finish nails to attach the skirts. Make sure you apply glue!
With the bench assembled, it was time to prep for painting. I didn’t want to see the screws on the top of the seat, so I backed them all the way out of their holes (I did this after the glue was fully cured over 24 hours) and drilled wider holes about a 1/4″ deep so that the screw heads could sit below the wood.
Then I reset all the screws and made sure all the finish nails were tapped below the surface.
I filled all holes with putty. The putty is purple when first applied, but it’ll turn a natural color when it’s fully dried and ready to sand. Sand the entire bench again with 150 grit and wipe down with mineral spirits.
From beginning, I knew I wanted an aged look on my bench. I wanted it to look like it had been used and well-loved for many years. I also, for whatever reason, knew I wanted it to be green. When I went to Lowes to pick paint, I struggled with what to used as a base layer. Originally I had though maybe just a white primer would work. But then I saw this muted yellow color and it clicked. What better than old school Oregon Duck colors for an old school bench?
The yellow I used was Satin Yellow by Valspar. I sprayed it on, three coats, to allow a thick base coast that wouldn’t be easily sanded through during the distressing process. I also made sure the grain in the wood was fully covered so it didn’t “show through” the top layer.
The green I chose was Valspar Northern Glen. I chose satin for its muted tone. This I applied with a brush. Since I painted in the wood shop when it was 35 degrees, it took forever to dry.
I’ll admit, after the bench was painted with a couple coats of the green, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to distress it. I liked the way it looked, and it could have been just fine painted entirely green.
But I wanted to see how that yellow looked underneath it, and so my curiosity eventually gave way.
Using my orbital sander with a 220 grit pad, I gently eased the edges and anywhere normal wear would occur, peeling back the green layer of paint to reveal the cool yellow beneath. You can be conservative here and show a light wear, or go crazy and make this thing look like its been through generations of use. I found somewhere in the middle and I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out.
As soon as I brought the bench into the house, my two-year old twins claimed it as theirs. Both of them grabbed their chairs and pulled them up to the bench like it was a table. It’s the perfect height for them and they thought that was pretty cool. I think the kids will get good usage out of it, and hopefully it will last through the ages, just like the one in the inspiration picture.
Ready to build your own bench? Share with me your pictures, either here or on Facebook.
What are you waiting for?