Introduction: Reclaimed Pallet Wood Herringbone Outdoor Bench
This is a great project that can be accomplished in a weekend and will be a great addition to your yard or patio.
Adding a herringbone pattern to the top is easy and adds a lot of style to the piece.
This bench is also ready to be put anywhere outside, covered or uncovered.
Step 1: Get and Deconstruct Pallets
Getting your hands on pallets is the easy part. Taking them apart is another matter entirely. I had been collecting pallets, taking a couple apart at a time, so I had a nice wood pile to choose from. There are many ways to get the wood apart. Personally, I like using a pallet ripper and a trusty nail puller. In general getting the nails out of the wood makes things safer when you have to cut the wood, but for this project, you can leave the stubborn ones in the 2x4s since they get well hidden.
Step 2: Assemble Tools
For this build I used:
- Circular saw
- Miter saw (can be substituted for a circular saw)
- Table saw (can be substituted for a circular saw)
- Nail punch
- 2 1/2 in exterior screws
- Speed square
- Power Sander
- Teak Oil
Step 3: Cut Miters on Trim for Long Side
The longest piece you'll need is the trim for the long side of the bench. Since pallet wood is often worn, chipped, or otherwise inconsistent, cutting this piece first gives something to reference from.
Using a speed square, mark a 45 degree angle to cut on the miter saw. If the cut doesn't give a clean, sharp corner, nibble off bits until it does.
Once one side is cut to size, use it to mark and cut the other side to match.
Step 4: Cut Frame Pieces
The long part of the top frame is going to be the distance from the inside of one miter cut on your trim board to the other. On a 2x4 from the pallet, line up the inside of the miter cut with one end of the piece. Then mark the other end where the opposite miter cut finishes.
The average depth of a bench is 18 inches. To make the math easy, ignore the trim pieces, and pretend the 2x4s from the pallets are nominally sized at 1.5 inches. That makes the short frame pieces 15 inches. Mark and cut 2 of those pieces, and use them to find the length of the middle piece of the frame.
The middle frame piece should be the length of the long pieces, minus the depth of both short sides. Set up the piece beside the long pieces, then move it down to allow both short pieces room to be flush with the end of the long piece. Mark the length and make the cut.
To make sure all the pieces are cut correctly, lay out the frame, but don't attach anything yet.
Stand the trim board against the frame. If the trim board is not taller enough to allow extra space for the plank top, take some off the frame pieces. It doesn't need to be exact, just shorter than the trim. I took an inch off the bottom of all my pieces.
Step 5: Make Legs
The average height of a bench is between 17 and 19 inches. By making the legs 18 inches, the top can be whatever height it is, and still have a reasonable sitting height.
Cut 8 pieces from 2x4s at 18 inches. Pair them up to make the legs for your bench. I had a mix of solid 2x4s and ones with the notch taken out. The solid ones gave me a clean outside, while the notched ones gave me a makeshift dado. If you only have the notched kind, flip the way the notch faces to give some surface inside the leg to attach the stretcher to.
Glue and screw the pairs together. The notches will most likely not be centered, so make sure to create mirror images.
Once created, screw the short side of the frame to two legs, making the side of the leg flush with the end of the frame piece.
Flip the piece over and mark the length of the stretcher that will fit between the makeshift dados. Once the piece is cut, screw it to the leg assembly.
Repeat for the other side, but stop before attaching the stretcher. Stand both assemblies upside down, facing inward. This will give a reference to place the second stringer at the same height as the first.
Step 6: Attach Frame and Strecher
Place the leg assemblies upside down on your work surface. Screw the long pieces of the frame into the leg assemblies.
Find the middle of the frame and attach the middle part with screws.
Once assembled, find the length of the last stretcher that will run the length between the leg stretcher. Mark, cut, and attach with screws.
Step 7: Treat Base With Oil
Since this is to be an outdoor piece, there will be gaps in the top to prevent water from pooling. This means it is necessary to oil the parts that water will fall on. Before the top goes on, all those parts are easier to access, so take the opportunity and give the frame the treatment of your choice.
Before applying the oil, run over the assembly quickly with a sander. I wanted most of the history of the wood to show up, but I didn't want everyone coming away with splinters - especially the brush putting on the oil. I used 80 grit, just to get out the really rough spots.
I went with Teak Oil because this bench will be out in the weather and I wanted something that penetrated well.
Step 8: Lay Pallet Planks
After the oil has had a chance to dry, begin the herringbone top.
Find the center of the bench and mark a visible line that runs a couple inches down the middle piece.
Mark the center of the first plank piece on the end. Set up your speed square on the end of the bench to give the angle for the first plank. Lay the first plank against the speed square, lining up the center mark of the plank with the center mark of the frame. A good collection of quick clamps will help keep things in place to get the perfect placement. Nail this plank into the frame.
Move the speed square to the other side, laying it along the top and the attached plank. Put two nails where the boards meet to space the planks ~1/16 inch apart. Box nails work great for this since their head allows them to hang on the boards without being driven into anything. Nail the plank to the frame and remove the spacing nails.
The rest of the boards will push up against what's in place. Use 4 nails for spacing, two on the end, two on the side.
Step 9: Cut Plank Overhang and Finish Top
Half way down the bench, cut off what's hanging over the edge of the frame. Run the circular saw down the edge to make the planks flush with the frame.
These off cuts can then be flipped around to fill in the rest of the bench. If you're lucky like me, you'll end up with an impossibly small gap at the end of the bench. But that board will split when cutting off the overhang, leaving a perfectly shaped hole for another off cut.
Keep using the scraps to fill in the corners and cut the overhang flush with the frame. The smallest pieces don't need nails, and can just be glued in place.
Step 10: Add Trim
Now get the trim pieces that were cut at the beginning and attach them to the sides of the top.
Take another piece of plank that matches the side pieces and lay it on top of the trim already attached. This will give the marks to cut a piece that fits the short sides. Repeat for the other side and attach the last of the trim.
Step 11: Oil Top
The last step is to add the oil to the top. Be sure to let the brush get down into the gaps of the planks. It's hard to over apply Teak Oil, so lay down some cardboard under the bench and go nuts, Wherever it drips down is where water will drip down. Getting the oil there first will only extend the life of the bench.