Introduction: Reclaimed Bench
First Prize in the
Before and After Contest
After grabbing some less-than-useful chairs left on the side of the road, my wife and I created a really great bench that fits perfectly under a window.
The bench cost us less than $15 and that was for a single pint of paint. We were able to use the found chairs, miscellaneous hardware, and scrap wood that I had lying around to complete the bench. The entire project took only a couple of weekends to complete.
...Before you ask, I'm not including the price of the pillows in the final cost. Pillows ruin everything.
Also, one major note: I'm assuming that if you're reading this you know how to work a few varieties of power tools and understand basic woodworking.
Step 1: Destroy the Chairs
We found our discarded chairs lying on the side of the road in a neighborhood close by. On first inspection they looked pretty trashy, especially considering you couldn't actually sit on them due to the massive holes where your butt would go. So whether you scavenge some chairs from the roadside, find them at a flea market, or already have some - just get your hands on preferably 4 chairs.
You may be wondering why 4 chairs instead of just 2, since the bench clearly looks like we joined 2 single chairs. The spare 2 chairs give you ample parts and hardware to complete the bench, as well as a backup or 2 in case you accidentally mess something up. If you don't make mistakes and have old jelly jars of spare hardware parts lying around, please feel free to only start with 2 chairs. In our case we actually needed some parts from the 2 spare chairs to complete our bench design.
- After gathering the chairs from wherever, decide on which 2 chairs look the best. These 2 lucky chairs are about to get reincarnated into a bench.
- Disassemble the 2 chairs that you think are the ugliest. In our case, we only needed specific parts from the chairs so we didn't take everything apart - don't do more work than you need to. We needed the 2 horizontal front members from each of the chairs (picture 2). We'll use these pieces to connect our bench in the original style of the chairs.
- For the 2 pretty chairs, you need to take out your trusty circular saw and chop off the front legs.
- Draw a straight line across the legs where you think they should be chopped off. After drawing your first line, measure the distance from the top of the chair to the line. Mark a straight horizontal line on the remaining 3 legs at the same distance.
- Turn the chairs on their backs. Using a circular saw, pull the blade guard back and cut the front legs off of each chair.
- Note: You'll need to freehand this cut with the circular saw. It's very helpful to have a dark line drawn across both sides of the leg to better help judge how straight the saw blade is.
Step 2: Strip the Chairs
Before we can start joining things together, we have to strip off the old stain. This is going to require some chemicals, some scraping, and a lot of sanding. The sanding we'll take care of after the bench is put together. The stripping process really didn't take as long as I expected, but do expect to spend about a day (maybe more) to get these chairs to a paintable state.
- Though the paint stripper we used actually smells fantastic, I'd still suggest putting down a tarp on some concrete inside a covered well ventilated area. The tarp will help with clean up more than anything else.
- We used Citristrip, which isn't the most powerful stuff, but it has a pleasant odor and is relatively safe to use with only minor protection. Follow the directions on the container and brush the stripper onto both chairs. Be sure to wear rubber or latex gloves and keep the chairs out of direct sunlight.
- After about 30 minutes, grab a putty knife (preferably metal) and start scraping.
- Note: Try to scrape in long strokes, avoiding short choppy movements. This will help keep you from damaging the wood underneath.
It will probably take you at least two applications of stripper and maybe more for stubborn spots.
- Once the chairs are stripped, you'll be ankle-deep in shavings. Since you put down a tarp, just fold it up and empty into a trash can. Viola. Clean.
Step 3: Join the Chairs
We opted to join the chairs using wooden dowels. Let me say that a drill press would have made this part easier. That said, anybody with a hand held drill can still do this. This cheap little kit from Harbor Freight helps too.
- Mark the location for your dowel holes. Start by finding the center of the boards you'll be joining and then draw perpendicular lines at the location you want your holes to go. Measure carefully and draw these lines on all boards and the front of the chairs.
- Drill your holes. The dowels we used were 1.5in long, so I drilled to a depth of just over 3/4in. Wrap some tape around your drill bit to help keep track of your depth.
- For the boards connecting the two chairs, I clamped them to an upright cinder block I had lying around. This made drilling straight into those boards much easier.
- With the holes drilled, add your dowels and dry fit the bench together. Check to make sure that all of the boards will close up flush with the chairs. This may require drilling out a little more of the dowel holes.
- After you're satisfied with the chair's dry fit, take the chair apart and grab some wood glue. I found it useful to pour some glue into a disposable plastic container and use a small paint brush to brush the glue onto the dowels, the boards, and the front of the chairs.
- With the chairs glued and joined, take a cargo strap and strap the chairs together. You want the newly joined bench to be tight, but be careful not to over tighten.
- We added a spare piece of 2x4 between the chairs as well to add some structural support to the bench. To do this, measure the distance in the middle opening and cut the 2x4 to size. Add some wood glue to the ends of the 2x4 and then attach the 2x4 to the middle of the bench with some wood screws.
Now that the chairs have transformed into the skeleton of a bench, go ahead and finishing removing the remainder of the old paint. You'll need some 150 grit sand paper and it will really help if you have an orbital sander to do the brunt of the work.
- Take the orbital sander and go to town on the bench's frame.
- You should do at least one past over the entire frame, but really focus on the areas of paint that wouldn't come off with the stripper.
- When sanding off paint, make sure to feather out your sanding. If you focus just the painted spot, you'll likely create a shallow divot in the wood.
- Sand paper by hand for any tight areas.
Step 4: Set Your Seat
We originally planned on buying a few 1x6's for the seat of our bench and cutting them to size. On a hunch I went to check out what I could find in my wood scrap and found some long skinny leftover redwood edges from building our pergola. We decided to turn them on their side so that the rounded edge of the wood would be facing up. The seat ended up having a really beautiful butcher's block type look.
- To figure out how many boards we needed, we just slipped them into their respective positions. We were fortunate in that the number of boards between the chair backs fit perfectly - meaning we didn't have to rip any boards.
- Place your boards in the opening between the chair backs. If necessary, rip a board to fit.
- Using a pencil, trace the curve of the bench's sides on the bottom side of the skinny boards. Be sure that the boards don't move when tracing each side of the bench.
- Remove the boards after tracing your line, flip them upside down, and line them back up on top of a set of saw horses. Once you've lined the boards back up to your satisfaction, clamp them together.
- Using a jigsaw, cut the boards while following the line you traced. The jigsaw won't make a perfect cut, but once the seat has been placed on the bench, some sanding will make it look great.
- With the pieces cut, dry fit them into their new home.
- Now focus on the front and back sides of the bench. I'll describe how to do the front side. Do the same process for the back.
- I used an educated guess and check method to find the angle of each of the four inside corners of the seat. Use an angle finder to find the approximate angle of the inside corner. All of ours ended up being close enough to the same, but make sure to check each of your angles just in case.
- Using scrap wood and a miter saw, dial in your angle. Once you've got the angle nailed, cut 2 seat boards to size for the inside corners on the front and back of the bench.
- For the next few boards, place them on the front edge of the bench. Trace the curve on the left and right side of the bench as you did for the middle boards of the seat.
- Cut the traced curves. I opted to use a scroll saw rather than the jigsaw because of the shallow curves.
- Once the pieces are cut, give them a light sanding.
- Grab some wood glue and coat the sections of the bench's frame that the seat boards will touch. As you start gluing the boards to the bench, also run a bead of glue along the inside edge of each board. This will basically make the seat a solid single piece of wood.
- Glue the center seat boards first. Add some weight on top of the boards once their in to ensure they glue to the bench's frame. Use clamps if necessary to squeeze the boards together.
- Once the center seat boards have set, glue the front and back edges. Use cargo straps to squeeze the boards together and add some weight on top of them.
- With all the seat boards set, lightly sand the edges of them to smooth out any of the rough edges from the jigsaw.
Step 5: Paint, Stain, Sit
Now that we have a usable bench, it's time to make it look pretty. We bought a pint sized can of matte paint from the hardware store and used some stain from past projects.
- Use some painter's tape and tape off the wooden seat of the bench.
- Paint the bench frame being careful not to drip any paint on the seat.
- Allow the paint plenty of time to dry.
- Remove the painter's tape.
- We opted for a natural color stain to let the redwood show through. I added a hint of a darker honey stain to the natural stain to give it a slightly tinted appearance.
- Stain the wood according to the can's instructions.
- Be careful as you're staining to keep the stain off the paint. Keep some paper towels handy in case you're like me and slip.
- After your stain has set, apply some wood finish to help protect the seat.
Once the paint, stain, and finish have set, add some overpriced pillows that your wife had to have, and enjoy your new bench!
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