Introduction: Monks Bench With Shoe Storage
I was asked by a friend if I could make a bench with additional storage for a space underneath his stair case. At the time there was a drawer set and a lot of dead space which he wanted to utilise. He also wanted somewhere he and his family could sit while removing their shoes with somewhere to put them after.
After a coming up with a few ideas and iterations we settled on a bench with a high back with an adjacent similar looking bench with no back which could be used to place storage baskets in and lamps etc. on the top.
The flooring was a solid character oak boards so wanted the bench to match somewhat to the floor.
After measuring up I started by drawing a 3D model so he and his wife could easily visualise the final piece.
Saws - bandsaw, table saw, track saw
Router - hand held and table mounted
Chisels as required
Planes as required
Oak - 5cu.ft of Qf4 oak
Step 1: 3D Model
I started by making a 3D model......I normally, and perhaps somewhat unusually, start with a 2D model in a CAD program as I find it easier to draw and change these models quickly. Once I have a any complicated shapes drawn I then save them as a dfx and import in to the 3D model program. For this project I used NanoCAD for the 2D model and SketchUp for the 3D model.
I have attached the 3D model file and some screenshots of the final model.
Adding the stairs and light switch added some context and made sure that the final pieces of furniture was going to fit.
Step 2: Make a Template
As the sides were a a bit complicated I decided to make a template out of MDF which I could use later with a router and template bit to make both sides exactly the same. It can also help to have a full size version of some thing before committing so you can tweak things if they don't look quite right.
I used the 2D CAD drawing to determine the dimensions I'd need to draw the final shape of the sides on to some paper which I could reference in the workshop.
As I was making two items one with a back and one without (where the bottom parts were of the same profile) I made the template in two sections, the lower section which would be similar for both pieces and an upper section which would only be for the bench. I used pocket hole screws to fix the two sections together so it was easily detachable. The main template would be for the Monks Bench and once I had used that I could then detach the top section, add the radius to the rear and then use that for the storage bench. This would ensure that both the benches matched.
Once I had drawn out the Monks Bench end profile on the MDF I cut it roughly to size on a bandsaw and sanded it to it's final shape.
Step 3: Prepare the Wood - Part 1
For both of the benches I needed to joint several pieces of oak together to make wide boards for the end panels and the top and bottom horizontal parts.
I started by putting all the oak through a thicknesser so all the boards were a constant width. This took a couple of hours as there were a lot of boards to process. I then took the pieces to the table saw to cut the parts to the widths I required. As there was a taper to the front of the benches the top and bottom horizontal parts were different widths.
Once they were all sized up they needed to be joined together.
Step 4: Biscuit Jointing and A&E
I decided to add biscuits along the length of the joins which would help with alignment when gluing up and clamping.
I started by setting the depth of the biscuit cut by getting an offcut and seeing where the groove would be.
Unfortunately this is where this project went a bit wrong. As I was plunging the biscuit jointer in to the wood something caught, flung the wood to the right with my hand in tow and took a fairly sizable chunk out of my finger.
After a visit to the Accident and Emergency room, picking up an infection, getting it re-dressed, then being referred to a plastic trauma clinic, having an operation on my finger and a couple of weeks my finger was slightly back to normal and I was ready to continue!
After arriving back home I did look at the offcut I used and it had a step in the end I cut in to which is why it got caught on the blade.....observation is everything.
Step 5: Preparing the Wood - Part 2
Once I had come up with some additional bench clamping so the boards didn't move at all I proceeded to make the grooves with the biscuit jointer at around 300mm (24") centres.
I then started to glue and clamp all the boards I needed - I did this over a few days as I was limited by the amount of large clamps I have. I generally leave the clamps for a couple of hours before de-clamping and this seems to do the trick.
The Monks Bench panel only required one long board and a couple of shorter boards for the final shape.
Step 6: Bench Back Panel
In between gluing and clamping the boards together I started on the bench back panel. I decided to make this with horizontal rails, top and bottom, with tenons on the ends, vertical stiles each end and one in the middle and floating panels either side. I thought that as people would be sitting on the bench and resting on the back that a middle vertical stile would give the whole panel some additional strength.
I started by making the panels. These were made up from several thin (12mm or 1/2") pieces of oak with bevels either side which were glued together to make a panel. I started by re-sawing some oak boards in half and then passed them through a thicknesser to get them all the same thickness.
After re-sawing some stresses within the wood were released and most of the final pieces ended up with a curve in them. To flatten them I got some wet kitchen roll, placed them between two bits of curved wood on the concave side and clamped them together. The moisture make the fibres of the wood expand on that face causing the pieces to flatten out. After leaving them for 24 hours they were flat enough for me to use. I could then cut them to length, add bevels to the edges and glue together.
I cut the rails and stiles to size and cut grooves, the same width as the panel, to the inside edge faces. I then cut tenons to the rails which would be used to attach the back to the bench sides. To fix the rail and sties together I used a floating tenon I cut the mortices' with a jig and handheld router and make my own 'tenons' from an offcut.
Now all the elements were the correct size I sanded the whole lot to 240 grit before gluing the rails and stiles together, with the panel slotted in to place with no glue. This will account for any movement on the wood and should last the test of time!
Step 7: Horizontal Seat and Lower Parts
To join the horizontal seat parts and lower parts to the bench ends I decided to use mortice and tenons as these would give me a good strong joint. Once cut to length I used a table mounted router to cut tenons to the ends of the panels. I did this incrementally as to not add stress to the router bit. To test the fit I had cut a test slot in an offcut which was the width of a 12.5mm (1/2") router bit so I could keep trying with the cut joint before cutting in to the tenon a little more. I then cut of the ends of the tenons as the finished joint would be a hidden tenon.
Once I was happy with the joints I added an angle to the front edge of all the panels and a radius to the top edge of the top panels.
Step 8: Monks Bench End Panels
I got the glued up end panels, drew around the template with a pencil and cut roughly to size on a bandsaw. It's best to get as close as possible as this will make the next step easier.
With the panel cut to size I then fixed the MDF template to the panel, secured with a few brad nails and clamped to the bench to stop it moving. I then used a handheld router with a pattern bit to cut the oak to the same profile as the template.
I now had all the parts I need for the monks bench so all I had to do was to cut all the mortices in the correct places! I determined from my 2D model where the horizontal mortices needed to be and offer up the back panel to get me the position of the top and bottom mortices. Once marked on one side I transferred these positions to the opposite panel. I then check these positions a few time before cutting the mortices with a hand held router and a clamped piece of wood to act as a fence.
Step 9: Bench End Panels
Now the monks bench end panels were cut I could unscrew the top half of the template and add a radius to the rear of the panel template. I then followed the steps per the monks bench end in the previous step!
Step 10: Shoe Storage Dividers
The final step before gluing up was to make the vertical dividers for the shoe storage. I started by marking the positions of the mortices on the bottom of the top panel and the top of the bottom panel making sure they were in the same lateral position. Once I had cut the dividers to size I used a table mounted router to cut the tenons making sure that I cut them just deep enough to give a nice tight fit between the horizontal panels. As I was thinking about the shoe storage I drilled a number of 5mm holes for some shelf dowels so additional horizontal shelves could be either moved up and down or completely removed as required.
Step 11: Finishing Touches Pre Glue Up
I just had a couple of things to complete before gluing up. I cut a small groove to the underside of the bench feet so I could add some leather pads later to stop the bench scratching the floor.
I also rounded over all edges and filled any large holes and cracks with epoxy resin dyed black.
Step 12: Glue Up
Now all the parts were complete I did a dry run of the glue up to make sure I had all the correct size clamps lined up with the openings in roughly the right position so it would be quicker and easier. It also gave me a chance to see where you might get a bit of trouble in the glue up....perhaps places that might need a bit of gentle persuasion with a mallet.
Once I was happy with everything I sanded all the parts that would be eventually fairly inaccessible up to 240 grit.
For the monks bench I thought I'd glue and clamp the horizontal parts and the vertical shoe divider panels to make things easier and to free up clamps. While clamping I used the large end panels and back panel unglued to position the glued pieces.
Once the central piece was glued I just needed to glue and clamp the end panels and back panel. I think this staged approach made things much easier.
The following day clamped the storage bench together which was a much easier process
Step 13: Horizontal Shoe Dividers
Now everything was put together I knew the required dimensions of the horizontal shoe dividers so cut some wood to size and routed in slot to each corner to house the shelf dowels. I then sanded to 240 grit with a random orbital sander
Step 14: Sanding and Finishing
Everything was now complete and the last step was to finish the two benches. I sanded the reminding faces with 80, 120, 180 and 240 grit and then applied three coats of hardwax oil everywhere. I typically left the oil overnight or a few hours in between coats and rub down with wire wool before applying the next coat. I then buffed the final coat with a sponge pad on my sander.
The finished benches looked really good and even better in place once I had delivered them. My friend and his family were very happy with the end product!!!
If you enjoyed reading this Instructable or it helped you in anyway please vote for me in the storage contest!!
Thanks for reading.
Second Prize in the
2 months ago
Absolutely lovely. I'm interested in the finish you use, I think I saw something like it at Home Depot this morning.
Reply 2 months ago
Hard wax oil is a nice hard-wearing finish I've used before. I bought this one from Amazon (UK) and I think the finish I ended up with was very nice.
2 months ago
its interesting how names change over time. a monks bench used to describe a piece of furniture that converted from a small table to a seat. ie the back went from upright to horizontal. not dissing you or your work, just pointing out how terms change.
Reply 2 months ago
Ah very interesting. I wasn't quite sure what to call or really and monks bench seemed to be the closest thing to what I made! It was either that or church pew.