Benched

Hi everyone!  Today’s post is brought to you by a special guest: my husband, Dan! It’s a little more technical than what I have recently been posting, but I am sure that it will be entertaining for anyone interested in woodworking (or anyone who appreciates a little dry humor).  Enjoy!

Hi, this is Dan.  Krista told me she wanted a bench for our front porch, and I stupidly told her that I could build it in 3 days.  I found really easy plans that used construction lumber (2x4s and 1x3s), which was appealing to me because I don’t like spending money.  I made a few changes to the design for added comfort, like an angled back rest and curved seat, as well as jointing and planing the lumber for a more “finished” look.  About 1 week into the 3 day project Krista told me I’d be guest blogging about this.  Luckily I took some pictures.

The original plan called for a frame made of 2x4s with 1x3s used as slats for a seat and back support.  Since the changes I made called for the rear legs of the bench to be angled into the back rest, I had to use 2x6s for those.  Also, all the 1x3s at Home Depot looked like crap (“less than appealing”, according to Krista), so I decided to buy some more 2x6s and just make my own 1x3s out of them.

I think in all I ended up buying four 2″x4″x8’s and four 2″x”6×8’s.  The picture above is the full pile of lumber, just brought in from my car.  In hindsight I didn’t need that many 2x6s.  Total lumber costs were about $30, and another $5 or so for screws and nails.

The first step was to figure out which parts of the bench would be made from which boards.  I then cut the boards to rough length on the miter saw, so that they’d be short enough for my jointer.

 

Here’s most of the wood after I jointed it.  I may have also planed it at this point.  For the casual readers that aren’t into woodworking, jointing a board cuts wood off of one face to make it perfectly flat.  This is necessary since you’ll never find a board that doesn’t have some bend, twist, cup or other sort of warping.  Once you’ve made that one face of the board flat, you plane the opposite face.  Using the jointed face as a flat reference, the opposite side is made perfectly flat and parallel.  Since a board has 4 sides, and that only takes care of 2, you turn the board 90 degrees and repeat.  Doing this to a piece of construction lumber significantly improves how it looks by getting rid of the rounded corners and smoothing out the rough surfaces.

With all the boards jointed and planed, I cut them to final length on the miter saw.  Below is a picture to demonstrate.

Note that I didn’t take a picture while actually cutting the board.  I would have had to put my phone camera on a timer and then hold it against my shoulder with my cheek while making the cut.  I probably would have ended up with a blurry picture of me cutting my fingers off.  Anyway, after that I decided to take two 2×6 boards and make the angled back legs.  To start, I drew the lines onto the board.  If I had a band saw I would have used that to cut them out.  Unfortunately I don’t, so I was forced to use my old hand-me-down Craftsman jig saw.  I believe this model was actually called a saber saw at the time.  That sounds a lot cooler.  I digress.  Fake action shot below.

In practice, my left hand would not be holding my phone to take a picture.  It would be in a death grip on the top handle, lest my fingers slip and graze against the scalding hot aluminum body that has no ventilation to speak of.  My right arm would be numb because this thing vibrates so badly that once I turn it on, I instantly can’t feel anything from my fingers up to my shoulder.  The legs turned out ok.

A lot of sanding was required.  That’s the price you pay when cutting with the Cornballer of power tools.   Once I finished the legs I was glad to be done with the jig saw.  Then I realized that I needed the jig saw again to make three curved cuts for the seat support so I bought a new jig saw.  I found a new one on eBay for a pretty good price, but I had to wait a few days to get it.  I believe I played video games while waiting.

Oh man, what a huge upgrade.  Following a line with the old Craftsman jig saw was like trying to neatly write my name left handed and blindfolded.  Following a line with the Bosch jig saw was like neatly typing my name in Times New Roman.

Before I could use the jig saw I needed to trace the same curve onto three boards.  This was actually harder than I thought it would be.  I tried all kinds of tricks involving string, pencil, nails and a board to draw a perfect circle or ellipse to use as a template.  None of that worked so I borrowed a large piece of cardboard and some steel pallet strapping from work.

After tracing some curves of various radii, I held the board up to each one until I found a curve that looked right.

Next, I cut out the cardboard and used it to trace the curve onto the three pieces of wood that would make the seat support.  At this point I had all the pieces of wood for the frame complete.  Although I would have preferred to build this with mortise and tenon joints (because I’m fancy like that), this was a quick project so I decided to go with pocket holes and screws.

Here’s one of the curved seat supports in my Kreg K2 jig.  Kreg doesn’t make the all-steel K2 anymore.  I believe they’re up to the K4 now which is a plastic body with steel inserts for the drill guides.  I got mine on Craigslist for $20 (quite a steal) from a guy that had a laryngectomy and had to speak with an electrolarynx.  And that is why I wear a respirator when I’m cutting wood.

With the parts of the frame complete, I had to make the seat and back slats from the other 2x6s.  I believe I made the slats with a cross section of 1/2″ x 2-1/2″, which meant that I was able to get 4 per 2×6.  For those of you that are confused, a 2×6 is actually 1-1/2″ x 5-1/2″.  Once I got the 2×6 into 2 2-1/2″ pieces, I had to resaw them into 2 thinner slats.  To do this on my table saw I had to remove all the guards on the blade, so I ended up buying a feather board (something I should have done a long time ago), which ended up giving me a day to play video games while I waited.

Here’s the setup on my table saw before I resawed the boards in half.  I did this by keeping the blade low, doing a pass, raising it a little, another pass, and so on until I got just over halfway through the board.  Then I’d flip it over and do the same until I cut all the way through.  Below are two completed slats, so you know what I’m talking about.

Finally, all the parts were done and I could begin assembly.  Without anyone to help me, this was actually pretty challenging.  I started at around 9:00 AM and finished after 7:00 PM.  The hardest part was just getting it held together  from the start.  A ratchet strap was instrumental in this.  

 

I didn’t take any pictures of installing the slats.  I kind of got into the groove and forgot to stop for progress pictures.  I used finish nails, so there was a lot of hammering going on all day.  For the seat, the slats were nailed at three points, the ends and the middle, with two nails per section, or 6 nails per slat.  I didn’t think to test the wood to see if it would need to be pre-drilled, thinking that the nails were thin enough that they wouldn’t split the wood.  The first slat split in a few sections.  After that I pre-drilled all the holes with the smallest bit in my set, 1/16″ I think, and that did the trick.  For the slats along the back I had to clamp them into place between the legs, before drilling an angled hole from the slat into the side of the leg, from the back.

One problem that I didn’t foresee when designing this was that the back rest was too flimsy.  Even thought the slats were thin, I imagined that while sitting back, you’d be distributing your weight along all of them.  In reality, almost all my weight ended up leaning against the uppermost slat, causing it to flex more than I was comfortable with.  A week or two later after I took that last picture, I nailed an extra piece of wood along the back to stiffen the top back support.  It’s positioned in a way that it can only be seen from the back.  It seems to be helping a lot, although if I were to build a new bench, I’d do it the traditional way with a thick upper and lower horizontal support, sandwiching several thinner vertical supports.  Whatever.  Krista seems to like it.

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