Introduction: Baby Bus Bench

About: I am an expat Environmental, Health and Safety manager (aka the Safety Guy) that has somehow spiraled into a specialty of setting up programs systems on very odd projects, or fixing strange/ unusual/ challengi…

As everyone who has ever read one of my carpentry Instructables knows, I have a toddler son, and his toddler cousin, basically rampaging through the estate.

I made them a picnic table (which they love to use as a fort and jungle gym), blackboard, and Christmas tree. Next would be a little kid sized bench I could park their narrow behinds on to watch videos. If they sit on the floor they tend to "creep" closer and closer to my spare laptop until the temptation to paw the keys overpowers one of them.

Then I have to reset the computer. Then chase the two of them down to get them sitting in front of the computer for the restart. The idea behind kids video is for them to sit idle, RIGHT THERE, while I do something that doesn't entail watching them at all times.

Else I wouldn't have invested up to THREE DOLLARS for each video movie (well, I suspect some of them might be pirated. I DID buy them in stores though....).

I basically assumed Arturo and Zyra could sit comfortably on a 1 foot high bench for at least the next couple years. By then I am praying we are in the USA and I will build something custom for whatever child needs it on site.

The pics show the before (2 toddlers playing in a cardboard box) and 1 1/2 years later (them on the bench)...

Step 1: Thinkin', Plannin' and Calculatin'

I hated Trig ("pre-calculus") and that was a harbinger of how poorly I'd do in college calculus.  I blame a REALLY, REALLY, bad high school teacher.  I got all A's in math before her class.  So this part hurt my brain.

I visualized the bench as a seat 1 foot off the ground, 1 foot "deep," with a 1 foot high backrest.  Then I read some Instructables and Ana White and it seemed a general consensus was that the back had to have some slope to be comfortable.  Around 10 degrees is the number I got from a number of different places.

So I fired up Wikipedia Trigonometry (if it's on a Wiki, it must be true).   I visualized the seat back as a right triangle with apexes A, B, & C.  ACB is the right angle and CAB is the 10 degree angled slope of interest.  The seat back is BA.  The "offset" I want to calculate is  side BC.

The wiki says sin(10)*BA = BC  0.17 feet  or 2 1/16 inches.  I'm going to round that to a 2 inch offset and let the toddlers live with a seat back that is 2% out of the true 10 degrees I think is the goal...  And while I am at it, I am going to slope the seat bottom 5% downward, from front to back.  By just offsetting it 1 inch over a 1 foot run.Just because it seems like that would be more comfortable.

I made a sketch of my initial design.  The pic was taken AFTER I had identified several "improvements" and noted same...

Step 2: Tools and Supplies

I have a fairly large pile  of random 1/2" plywood  scraps and some scrap 3/4" plywood as well.

Plus a couple handfuls of random screws & nails. I probably will have to go buy a quarter kg of 1 1/4" flat head wood screws.

My tools include
Jigsaw with several varied blades
Drill with several varied bits
Hammer and screwdriver
Painting stuff (brushes, rollers, etc)
Square, Chalkbox, Pencil and tape measure
Two clamps that can only clamp material up to 1 1/4'

I store ALL of them in the crib/ playpen I bought Arturo when I was on leave from Afghanistan (he was 3 months old when I first saw him). Around 10 months later he could climb out of it as fast as April could toss him inside, so I  re-purposed it when I returned (by then Arturo was 15 months old).

Step 3: Symmetry Is Nice

The two scraps of half inch ply I picked out for the  sides were NOT identical on several of their faces.  But I could "see" the side pieces inside of  them just waiting for me to  cut all that extra wood away.  I clamped them together with BOTH of my clamps and "trued them" to each other.

I just laid out each cut with my square & chalkbox before cutting them.  I didn't do a "master layout" with all the cuts indicated because I KNEW I would  be messing with this  as I went along.

Since they were clamped together I can rest easy knowing they are at least sorta close to each other in their shape.

FIRST I am going to make the "sides" of the bench; then I will make the back, seat brace, and seat to fit.

After I took all these pics and cleaned up my stuff for the day, (it's HAIRCUT day, so I had to wrestle Arturo as he madly fought the barber) I took some time to measure the destructive toddler cousin Zyra.  She was my scale model child because she will stand still for 10 seconds if you ask her nicely.  It looks like 10 inches would be a better height for the bench.  So I am going to hack on the sides some more tomorrow.  Luckily I wasn't too enraptured by my scrawled drawn plans...

Step 4: A View to See If the Proportions Are Correct.

I test fitted the few pieces I had completed JUST to see if they looked "right."  Totally subjective of course.

The REAL seat bottom will be a piece of 3/4" ply that will extend out past the "sides" by about an inch (because that looks better) and and out the "front" by  an inch or so because that also looks better.

The REAL back plate will be a single piece of 3/4" ply.  So it won't be wobbly.

The hard part will be to make sure the darn bench can't "rack" diagonally.   Because toddlers wiggle constantly.

Step 5: Taking Advantage of the April Family

Aprils father, brothers, and brother in law all had a project all scheduled that required they borrow a "skil saw" from the neighbor.  So I  made sure that "since we have the saw is out anyway..." we made my 3/4" ply cuts.  I also squeezed in cutting all the big parts of the "April Armoire" at the same time.

And YES, we should be wearing safety gear.  None is available here.  Next time I'll bring some from the US.

Anyway, we ripped the seat back and seat bottom.

NOTE:  If you KNOW exactly what cuts you going to make, and how to lay them out in a useful and productive order, you can cut a heck of a lot of material in a short time.

And YES, AGAIN, that is the table we eat our meals off of standing in for a work bench.

Step 6: Taking the Parts Off to the FRONT Porch

The April Father & Brother team were using the back porch for their project once we had made all  our cuts.  So I decamped for  the front porch with my (admittedly small and easy to tote) parts.

Step 7: Fiddly Bits; Braces and the Notches They Go Into...

I got the jig saw out, plus my rasp and the usual measuring tools.

First I completed the notching out of the seat sides.

Then I made the brace that is at the very back, bottom of the seat.  It's pretty much solely to combat the tendency of rectangular things to rack into "parallelograms" and pinch the  heck out of toddlers...

Note that the REAR seat brace notch is designed for a "2 ply" brace.  Yes, it's WAY over engineered.  The front seat brace is a single  ply 3/4 brace. I  almost certainly could have just centered the 3/4" brace and dispensed with the other.

THEN, I tried test fitting each brace in turn, and rasped out the openings until the braces fit fairly snugly.

These braces are NOT going to be completely "Nomad Style" because the toddlers love to remove parts of things.  Like tenon keys.

Step 8: SEATS!

So I got all the parts sorta ready.  They still need to be rough sanded, wood puttied, and finish sanded before they get primered.

A trial fit up and test is obviously indicated.  First I put it together in private and made the comments you see below.  Note that the darn reinforcing pieces are actually pretty snug in their notches.

THEN, when April got home  I assembled mini-Me, destructive cousin and her for a test viewing/ seating.

A few results:

1) April couldn't care less if it gets painted.  I like paint.  And since I am making it I get  to choose.
2) The seat DOES stick out too far past the side panels.  Toddlers sit on the forward edge and it tips over.
3) The kids LOVE the  idea of a seat that is short enough that they don't have to "climb up" onto it.
4) It is stronger than you'd think.  I sat my 1/8th ton butt on it and it didn't even make creaking sounds...

Step 9: Hack Off the Wood As Needed

I took the parts back outside and cut the base of the side panels around 3/4" at the back sloping to the existing front corner.  This is the  SECOND time I made changes based on observations.  The first was when I shortened the sides by a couple inches.  Luckily, we still had the borrowed skil saw at the house.

Then I shortened the seat by around two inches to 10".  This is MUCH more proportional to the seat base and kids.

Using the same eyeball proportioning system I chopped off 1" from the seat back height.  So now it's 11".  Again, much more proportional.

I test fitted the parts after the hack-a-thon and it looks so much more graceful.  I then STOOD on the seat in the middle (where any statics class would tell you the structure is the weakest) and it didn't bow or creak.  The kids, COMBINED, don't weigh even half of what I do...

Step 10:

I despaired of getting the back of the seat attached.  And if I know toddlers (sigh) they will climb on it.  So I cut out two additional braces from some scrap 2x2 wood.  Probably about 97.3% because I am paranoid about something I failed to reinforce giving way and crushing the kids.  A career investigating construction and DoD project accidents will do that.

Then I sanded it a bit before priming it all with white latex.  This part went pretty quickly.

I then let it sit so the primer could cure.  Latex primer stops feeling "tacky" fairly quickly.  But it benefits greatly from a day curing completely so it gets hard(ish).  This lets the sanding job before the final coat go better.  And good prep is the key to good painting (according to the professionals I worked with).Scrap

Step 11: Back Braces

The two 2x2 braces/ nailing struts were cut to size and primered yesterday.

Today they were put into place by hand (Aprils brother Warren's hands to be exact) when I predrilled the scew holes and then used a bigger bit to drill out a countersink hole around 1/8" deep.

To be exact I  used a 3/32" drill bit to drill holes slightly MORE than full depth of the screws and then a 3/8" bit to do the countersink holes.

Step 12: First Coat of Color Paint

April has decided that she wanted the side/ base pieces of the bench to be red.  And her sister said she wanted the training potty (another "ible") to be red also.

So I took them out to the back porch. and using the dining table again as my bench, Warren (one of the April 5 brothers) and I put on the first coat.

Definitely will need sanding and painting before the next coat goes on.

We painted all the faces, even those that you have to flip the bench over to see, just because.  Though I  admit we used a lot less care on those spots.

Step 13: An Inlaid Design

I love Sea Turtles.  And I have the art skills of a palsied chicken.  So I went onto the internet and googled images using "sea turtle designs" as my search terms.

A zillion came up.  I chose the one I liked best from a brilliant site named Dragon Art.  I copied it to the computer clipboard and then pasted it into a "MS Word" page.  I changed the paper orientation to "landscape," then sized it to fit. Then I printed it out.

I then took the "backboard" and laid it out onto a counter-top (I can't call this the  "kitchen" because it has no running water nor actual cooking appliances.  It DOES have a counter-top of convenient height and a sink ready for the water to be connected).

I measured out the total width of the piece (36 inches) and the printout.  36-11 1/2 =24 1/2  half that is 12 1/4" which is how far I  inset my layout lines.  Snapped some chalk lines.  I probably could have just "freehanded" this, but I don't think I am much good at that.

I taped the drawing onto the board.  Then I drilled holes (with the "depth gauge" thing attached on the drill) where the artist used dark blue lines to about half the thickness of the panel.  Around every quarter to half inch along the thick lines.  I then took off the taped drawing, sanded it a bit, and re-drilled the holes so they'd be "cleaner."

NOTE:  I am fairly sure my use of this art is covered under "fair use" as I am not using it for commercial purposes.  But I DID go to the site "contact" link and ask nicely to use their drawing.

Step 14: Painting the Seat and Back.

Then came the dramatic moment where I painted the seat and back.

Except, when I opened the can of "Thalo Green" latex paint, it was MUCH DARKER than I had imagined.

So I slopped some into the pan I used to hold paint when I am using a roller and then slopped in about the same amount of white.

I mixed them up by running the roller through them about 50 times and then painted both panels with a thin coat.  Went and drank a diet Coke and then flipped them over and did the other side.

Brilliant!  I plan on putting a drop of white (or yellow) into each hole so as to make the design stand out more.

Step 15: Assembly

I got April's father to help out in this stage because he has the wrists of steel that can  drive 2" wood screws all day.

We pre-drilled the holes, drilled some counter sink holes so the flats of the screws would sit flush with the surface.

And we snapped a chalk line (naturally) to show where we should drill the holes for the screws to avoid any embarrassing mistakes.

Step 16: Completing the Art

I tried to "outline" the holes I drilled and it came out AWFUL.

So I returned to my artistic roots (and last great art success) by just connecting the dots.

Looks pretty good IMHO.  Now to just let the paint dry without a toddler smearing it all up.

Step 17: Late Update

April decided, after her Armoire was completed (an 'ible HERE) that She needed a chair, like the kids got HERE.  Unfortunately I was running out of wood and time (my plane to America was in 4 days).  So I banged one out using the leftover, mis measured, prototype desktop from her desk seen in THIS 'ible as my base material.  Some braces and then I painted it PURPLE (ie I mixed some white primer, the rest of my blue and some red in the pan).  So here it is.  I think the pics cover it well enough...     Our son promptly claimed it as his own.

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