Introduction: Japanese Style Bench - Pallet Wood
In this instructable I make a Japanese style bench made to resemble a Torii Gate. I’ve always really liked the shape of the Torii Gate and finally came up with a humble way to emulate it. I made this using the 2 x 4s from pallets, which I would normally throw away because they aren’t very usable. They tend to have a lot of damage and tons of nails. But this time instead of throwing them out I did all I could with what I had to make something presentable or at least functional. I wish I could say that the bench is entirely made from pallet wood. But I can’t, I didn’t have enough material for the bench top so I had to use a 2 x 4 which I had from a previous project to make up the missing portion. I also used some strips of plywood as fillers, initially because I thought they would look “cool” but later realized that was a mistake as one of the legs split right at the plywood filler piece. In hindsight I should have used some pallet wood instead.
I am pleased with the end result even considering the staining. If I were to make this again I would probably just paint it one solid color. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this bench. I really don’t need another bench. Inspiration drove this project; I made this for the sole purpose of seeing if I could make it. If you want to watch me build it go to my YouTube channel
Here I made sure to pull all the nails from the 2 x 4s. The second pic shows the tools I used and the aftermath. Its important to double check all your wood and pull all the nails because they will be getting trimmed on the table saw later. You don't want to damage or wear out your saw blade by cutting a bunch of nails.
The first pic is of the plywood filler strips I made from some scrap pieces I had left over from another project. The next pic is were I am trimming the edges of the 2 x 4s. I am just taking off a little bit of the rough stuff. Ideally if you have a jointer and or a planer you would want to use it here. I don't have either so I just trimmed them slightly.
In this step I am gluing up what will be the bench top. I just used glue no biscuits or dowels and then clamped them together. I did weigh down both sides of the bench top with some sandbags to help keep them down, they wanted to curl up on me, the sand bags helped keep them down.
I made a pattern out of poster board and traced that on to the front of the bench top to give me an idea of how deep I would need to cut in order to get the shape I was trying to achieve.
I figured I could use my circular saw to make a bunch of cuts starting with very shallow cuts and increasing the depth of each cut in small increments until I reached the depth that I traced on to the front of the bench top.
Next I used a hammer to smash out all the pieces, this left a rough finish but it allowed me to remove a lot of the material in a somewhat simple manner.
Then I used a angle grinder with a 36 grit flap disc to smooth out and further define the shape of the bench top. Once I got it relatively smooth I used a 60 grit flap disc to smooth it out more. Eventually I switched to a palm sander and worked my way from 80 grit sandpaper, to 150 grit to 220 grit.
This shows how much material was removed. You can see the curve of the seat a little better here because of the straight edge.
You repeat the process for the other side of the seat. I didn't get it exactly perfect on center but I was able to adjust this later by removing some material from the sides.
Here is where I even out the sides by cutting a 25 degree angle on the bench top. I removed a little more material from one side than the other to get the center ridge line closer to center. In the first pic the top is up side down. In the pic where I am sanding you can see the angle that I cut, here the bench top is right side up. I didn't cut any material from the front or back as it had a rough bark on it. Instead I removed the bark using a palm sander and left the edge the way it was, I feel this resulted in a more interesting look for the seat top.
This is the glue up for what would become the legs. You can see the plywood filler strips I used to build up the width of the legs.
So the process for shaping the legs was the same as the bench top. First the pattern is traced on to the front, then the you make your cuts using the circular saw. Then the hammer and grinder and lastly finish sanding with a palm sander.
I used a straight edge to square off what would become the bottom of the legs. And I use the same straight edge to cut the leg top. Just repeat the process for the other leg.
I use a ruler to draw an angle on the legs, this is why I added the plywood filler strips so that I could taper the legs. After drawing the line I cut the angle using my circular saw this doesn't have to be precise because once the cut is made I had to re-shape the leg using the grinder and palm sander.
Since this is pallet wood and I didn't mill it, it was a little uneven across the bottom. I had to make a groove so that the legs could fit better on the bottom of the bench top. I used the circular saw to make the groove and then refined it with a chisel and sandpaper on a sanding block.
This is the glue up of the shelf, this was also very rough pallet wood. I edge glued the boards together and then used some strips from some other scrap pallet wood pieces to add some support. The support strips are glued and brad nailed in place.
In this pic I am pre-drilling for screws that will eventually be used to attach the legs to the bench top. I did a dry fit first to locate all the screws and then used glue and screws for final assembly. I also drilled some shallow 1/2 inch holes that would later be used to cover the screw heads with 1/2 inch dowel plugs.
I used some spacer 2 x 4s so that I could mark the position of the shelf. I then pre-drilled for all the screw holes. I also drilled the shallow 1/2 inch holes here for the dowel plugs I would later use to cover the screw heads.
This is what the bench looks like with the shelf installed. I added another 2 x 4 to the middle to complete the Torii gate look I was going after. It really completed the piece.
After everything was glued and screwed together I covered the screw heads with the 1/2 inch dowel plugs. I just added glue, hammered them in and then once dry I used a trim saw to remove the excess.
Now it was time for staining. Since this was pine I decided to use some "pre-stain" to prep the wood for the actual stain. By this point I had sanded the entire piece with 80 grit sandpaper, 150 and 220. And I have wiped off all the dust and cleaned the piece. Once all this is done then I brushed on the "pre-stain". I wait about 10-15 minutes and then with a clean cotton rag wipe off any excess "pre-stain".
Next I brush on a mixture of diluted black acrylic paint and water. Its about a 50/50 ratio of water to black paint. Once its dry I use a clean cotton rag and remove any excess solution. I also kind of buff the surface with the cotton rag. It seems to kind of even out the color. At this point the paint is dry but you will still get a little residue on the cotton rag.
To apply the actual stain I use a clean cotton rag and wipe it on to the piece, here again I kind of wipe it on and buff it out to try and even out the overall color. For this piece I stained the shelf separately because it would have been too tight of an area to try and stain if it was already installed. I used the same staining process with the shelf as the rest of the piece. I let it dry then attached it to the bench with screws only.
Here I am applying the actual stain to the top using a clean cotton rag. I used one coat of Minwax stain as it achieved the color I was after.
To protect the bench I used a spray on polyurethane. I never have any luck with wipe on polyurethane so I prefer the spray version.
And here is the finished piece. I am pleased with how the bench turned out and more pleased that for the most part I was able to use almost all pallet wood. This project would be a lot easier to make if you used store bought 2 x 4s but I really like the character that the pallet wood adds to the finished piece. I hope you enjoyed the write up and hopefully try to make your own or your own version. The shaped seat is really comfortable to set in also.