Introduction: Build Sleeping Benches From Scrap Lumber

My hobby is woodworking and now that I'm retired there are some woodworking shows I would like to attend. The problem is they are a couple of thousand miles away. (Apparently it is less far for people in the west to travel east than for people in the east to travel west.) Since time is not a problem I will make a trip of it and stop to visit, old friends, small lumber mills, and other woodworkers. I plan to live in my utility van and I need a bed. I decided to build a couple of benches to hold a chaise cushion. Because I am doing this on the cheap a decided to use scrap lumber. A PDF is included with a cut list and assembly diagram. It can be built with 2x4s and 2x6s, with the longest piece being just 34" long. I found all the wood was in the scrap piles or dumpsters at local construction sites. The dimension are for my specific application but they can be altered to your specific needs.

Step 1: Procure Lumber

Each bench will need lumber with the following finished dimensions:

7 - 1¼" x 4¾” x 23¾”

2 - 1¼" x 3” x 33½”

2 - 1¼" x 3” x 17¾"

8 - 1¼" x 3” x 11¾"

The dimensions are such that they can be cut for 2x4s and 2x6s. I used only 2x6s because that is what I collected and I was not worried about the waste of making wide boards skinny. (Any waste is scrap to the second power or scrap2.). Cut it to rough length before final milling.

Step 2: Cut and Mill Lumber to Final Dimensions

The wood will have warp, twist, and some of the edges will not be crisp (There is a reason why it was scrap.) You will need a joiner and planer to get this wood into good shape. There will be nail holes and knot holes but you can cut around the ones you don't like and keep the ones you do! Cut all the wood to final dimensions. Here I have divided into piles for two benches. The rest of the instructions will only show the construction of a single bench.

Step 3: Assemble Frame

Glue and screw together the four frame pieces. The outside dimensions of the fame should be 33½" by 20¼".

I use the following screws and countersink them ¾" into the wood.


These screws are designed to require no drilling of pilot holes and they carry the Dave Van Ess Seal of Awesomeness.

Step 4: Radius Top Corners

For each bench take two to the top pieces and draw 1¾" radius circles on the two outer corners. Use a scroll saw, saber saw, band saw, coping saw, or rasp to round the corners to this radius.

Step 5: Attach Top Pieces to Frame

The top pieces need to be glued and screwed to the frames. They have a spacing of ⅝" between the pieces and a 1¾" overshoot on the sides. If you rely on top pieces being exactly 4¾" wide and a spacing exactly ⅝" you are going to disappointed. (If the dimensions are all off by only 1/64", the total error at the end will be near a quarter of an inch. It is best to mark the location of each top piece on the frame. The dimension are given on the cut list and assembly drawing. Mark the frames then glue and screw the seven top pieces, using the same screws as before.

Step 6: Assemble Legs

For each bench take the remaining eight pieces and use them to assemble the four legs. Glues and screw the pieces as shown.

Step 7: Attach Legs to Frame

Flip each bench to glue and screw the four legs in place. They are mounted on the inside corners of the frame.

Step 8: Sand and Break Edges

Sand, especially the top, with 120 grit sandpaper. Use a rasp to lightly break the edges on the top of the bench. Breaking edges is a woodworking term meaning to soften a edge of a piece of furniture. It is typically done to a counter or tabletop to reduce the pressure on your forearms when pressed against the edge. It also reduces the damage to the edges when bumped.

Step 9: Finish

Use finish of choice. Here I am using a Tung oil sealer. It is just enough finish to keep dirt out of the pores of the wood.

Step 10: Add Chaise Pad

Ikea makes a chaise pad that

so fits the benches you would think they were designed to fit these benches.

Chaise Pad

They tout that you can extend to life of the pad by turning it over. We use to call that a "Dutch Cleaning". I'm not sure if that is politically correct but it seem acceptable to pick on the Dutch:

Dutch Courage (alcohol)

Dutch Auction (Start high bid down)

Dutch Uncle (Gruff unfriendly)

Going Dutch (Only paying for yourself)

Maybe it is time to be more sensitive to our Dutch friends. Maybe not after all they are:




CHeese Mongers.

that will cut your door in half when you're no looking.

Step 11: Sleeping Benches Philosophy

The use of these benches is not limited to vans. The idea that an area of a house would be used for the sole purpose of sleeping is fairly new in human history. Common people didn't have enough wealth to afford that luxury. They slept in a common room with a heat source (same fire used to cook.) on mats and or sacks of hay. (This is where the term "Hitting the Hay" came from.) Later feathers were used for those who could afford them.

Benches of this design can be stacked on top of each other with the pad stuffed underneath one of the benches and two 12" x 15" x 8" boxes stuffed under the other. Four beds would take a storage space 2ft by 3ft by 8ft tall. They can be used near a heat source when cold and used on a porch when it is warm. In the spring and fall you can even sleep outside.

With the tiny house movement becoming more popular, sleeping benches are an option to be considered.

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