The Reclaimed Bench




Introduction: The Reclaimed Bench

About: I build drums, make costumes, work on house projects/repairs, dabble in Genealogy, eat tacos, and try to avoid a "real" job.

When I purchased my house, the previous owners left me some gifts ... and by gifts I mean, stuff they apparently didn't feel like moving or dealing with in any capacity.

The first thing I noticed was a few trash cans ... who doesn't need trash cans? The second find was surplus vinyl siding and a garden hose. The siding was a great find as I was able to replace some broken sections with a perfect match ... the hose however, sucked. The last outdoor find was a pile of cedar posts, which I assume were leftovers from the cedar fence installation. I had no idea what to do with them, so I stacked them neatly and out of the way ... where they remained for about two years.

During this time, I was taking on small house projects as one does (painting, crown molding installation, repairs) and acquiring some basic tools. There is no skilled carpentry here, but that wasn't my goal. I had been bitten by the woodworking/creating bug and wanted a project. I remembered this pile of wood and instantly thought about making an outdoor bench. I mean ... I had some space in the yard ... I like to sit sometimes ... I'd have a fire pit someday ... it all made sense. The caveat was that it needed to come from this existing material because it would be a challenge and the home center, nor the landscape retails had cedar posts (really?) ... also, I'm cheap. I did add a wooden dowel rod to the mix, which came from a closet renovation.

Step 1: Milling the Posts

A 10" miter saw was no match for these 8" x 8" posts, so I broke out a handsaw. It went faster than I expected and yes, I did add support under the cut before this turned into a Wile E. Coyote scene.

Once I had my lengths cut, I decided I wanted to clean these up a bit. I didn't have a planer at this time and still don't have a jointer, so I used the table saw to remove just a sliver off of each face and then addressed any tooling marks with an orbital sander.

Step 2: Design Layout

I needed to decide on a design and since I'm more of a visual person, I used cardboard to make some mock-ups. It was mostly for seat thickness and leg angle. Packing tape and some really poor sketching ability really brings it all together I think.

Step 3: Adding Seat Width

It quickly became apparent that I needed some more depth for the seat, but I didn't have another post. I did have some random cedar cuts offs, which were basically half of a post. Of course they weren't the length I needed, so I needed to use two sections.

I cleaned them up on the table saw and figured that a butt joint probably wouldn't be the best idea .. especially out in the elements. I decided on some form of locking joint to help keep the parts from separating throughout the seasons, as well as to add some visual interest. If I had to use extra scraps, the least I could do was make in interesting. If this joint has a name, I don't know it ... maybe a locking lap joint or something.

Step 4: Drilling Connection Holes

My joinery method is 3/8" threaded rod, washers, and lock nuts. The main reason for this was because that's what I wanted to do and I figured it would work. However, I didn't want the look of exposed hardware, so I used the dowel as wooden plugs, which basically gives the look of pegged joinery.

To that end, all holes on an outside face started with a 1 1/4" hole deep enough for a washer and lock nut, then drilled through with a 3/8" bit. Some of the internal members also have 1 1/4" holes for locking alignment. This will make more sense later.

Step 5: Fabricating Legs

The leg angles were cut using the bandsaw. A section of the back legs were then notched to accept the seat. I did this by making several parallel cuts with a circular saw and then removing the waste with a hammer and 5-in-1 tool, since I had no chisels at this time.

Using a scrap piece of plywood as a template, I drilled holes for the threaded rod. You can see they are 3/8" on the inside face and 1 1/4" on the outside face.

The last picture is a test fit and gives you an idea of how this goes together.

Step 6: Leg Mortises

The seat needed some big notches in order to accept the front legs, which proved to be pretty challenging. I started hogging out material with a spade bit ... it was horrible, and one side actually broke. I was able to successfully repair it with glue, but this experience is what prompted me to purchase forstner bits. If you don't know by now, I have a love affair with forstner bits. Seriously, get yourself some. I'll wait if you want to do it right now.

You can see the difference between the spade bit and a forstner bit (I love them). The overall fit was finessed with a dremel and some kind of carving/removal bit, until the legs sat flush to the bottom and front faces.

Step 7: Connection

3/8" rod was cut to length using my miter saw and a cutoff wheel - not my best idea in terms of tool care. I now use an angle grinder.

The dowel was cut into pegs and plugs. Six longer sections were drilled all the way through to accept the 3/8" rod. The shorter plugs were just given a recess big enough for the lock nut. Again, this will make more sense in the next step.

Step 8: Assembly

In order to make sure everything lined up, the middle seat section was drilled first, then it was used to transfer the hole locations to the front and back sections ... same principle as a doweling jig.

The middle section is through drilled at 1 1/4", while the front and the back 1 1/4" holes are only about 1" deep .. just enough for dowel to keep things aligned.

The dowel pegs took some persuasion with a rubber mallet, but assembly was pretty smooth. All the components were put together like adult legos, then the threaded rod run through, and everything pulled tight with lock nuts and two socket wrenches.

Lastly, the excess material of the center section was cut off using a hand saw.

Step 9: Fabricating the Backrest

To accept the back rest, the tops of the back legs need to be notched. I used plywood as a spacer, which also served as a guide for the hand saw.

Once the leg notches were cut, I clamped the back in place so I could mark for the corresponding notches. These were then made using a forstner bit and cleaned up with a hammer and 5-in-1 tool.

Step 10: Assembly

Once again, 1 1/4" holes were drilled about 1" deep on the exterior faces, and then through drilled at 3/8" for the threaded rod.

Threaded rod, washers, lock nuts, and socket wrenches for assembly.

Step 11: Wooden Plugs

The plugs were installed with wood glue and a rubber mallet. The lock nut fits into the recess, allowing for the plugs to be driven in further, and thus more secure. I was mindful of grain orientation.

Step 12: Trimming the Back Rest

While waiting for the glue to dry, I trimmed the back rest to match the length of the seat using a hand saw. These cutoffs would later become bandsaw boxes.

Step 13: Sanding and Finishing

The plugs were trimmed using a flush cut pull saw. To fill any gaps (since my first holes were drilled with a spade bit and not a forstner bit) I used wood glue and sawdust. Once that glue cured, I sanded everything flush and smooth with a random orbital sander.

Finishing came courtesy of another gift from the previous homeowner, which I found in the basement ... a 5 gallon container of Thompson's water seal. I applied two very liberal coats.

Step 14: Complete

The bench sits in a corner of my yard and at this time, has been outside for 4 years. The cedar facade has faded, but it's still solid as a rock. A quick power washing and new coat of water seal brings it right back to vibrant life.

The last picture is of the bandsaw boxes made from the back rest cutoffs.

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    dragon flyer
    dragon flyer

    4 years ago

    Whoa; that thing must weigh a ton! But I can't figure out how you achieved the leg angles. At first I thought you sawed across the posts on the angle, the way Iwentlent made his angled desk (, but that didn't really make sense. So I thought you must have shaped the legs lengthwise, but I'm puzzled because they don't look any narrower than the other parts...


    Reply 4 years ago

    I carried it from the basement to the yard by myself, but that was over a decade ago at this point and I wouldn't try it now.

    Legs were cut out of the posts, so a lot of odd shaped waste. Side to side they are wider than the back to front dimension.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice bench. Next time you go to spruce it up try staining it and then sealing with spar polyurethane or the Thompson's with polyurethane in it. I've found it helps slow the natural grey that wood turns keeping all that sanding looking nicer longer.


    8 years ago on Step 14

    Absolutley wonderful instructable. Extremely good looking bench. well done you must be really happy with the results

    Gorgeous bench! And even more lovely for all the raw materials having been so-generously donated by the previous owners. :)


    8 years ago on Introduction

    That's a beautiful bench. Excellent use of materials on hand!