Building one of these mid-century modern slatted benches, modeled after George Nelson's famous Nelson Platform Bench, has been on my list for quite some time. I finally got around to it and documented the process. This bench can be built with simple tools and materials, as I explain in the Instructable. Let's get started!
Also, don't miss the build video above for more details!
Step 1: Gather Your Materials & Tools
I built this project out of 8/4 Hard Maple and oak, but you could also use a mix of 1x2s and 1x3s from your local home center if you don’t have the equipment to mill rough lumber.
Materials Needed for DIY Mid-Century Modern Slatted Bench Project:
- (7) x 1x2x8, preferably hardwood
- (2) x 1x3x6, preferably hardwood
- 2" screws
- 1 ¼" screws
- ⅜" dowel
- Fiebing's Leather Dye
- Spray Shellac
- Spray Polyurethane
I used quite a few power tools on this build, but they certainly aren't necessary. You can build this entire bench with a circular saw, drill, and sander.
Tools Used On DIY Mid-Century Modern Slatted Bench Project:
Step 2: Cut Slats to Length & Glue Together Center Cross-Member
The first step in this project is to cut your 1x2x8 pieces in half, giving you two 48" long pieces from each. You'll technically end up with slightly less than 48" long pieces, more like 47 15/16", but that doesn't really matter. Just make sure your slats are all the same length. You can cut them using a miter saw, circular saw, or even a hand saw if you're feeling energetic.
With all of your slats broken down into 48" pieces, take two of the slats and cut them in half again, at 24". These will make up your cross members. Take two of these 24" pieces and glue them together, making sure to keep them as well aligned as possible.
Step 3: Cut Dados in Cross-Members
This step is easiest on a table saw, but you can definitely use a circular saw if that's all you have available. First, tape all of your cross-members together, so that you can cut them all at the same time. This will help ensure that you end up with perfectly aligned slats in your bench top.
If you're using a table saw, check out the build video at the top of the Instructable for details on the quick jig I put together.
If you're using a circular saw, you're going to want to set the depth of your blade to ¾", half the depth of the slat. Mark a line every ¾" using a speed square. Then, using your speed square as a guide, start making passes with your circular saw between every other set of lines. Move the saw over, make another pass, and continue this process until you've cleared out all of the dados. Clean up any ragged areas with a chisel. See, who needs a table saw?
Step 4: Cut Notches Into Slats
Again, if you're using a table saw, check the build video for details on how I set up my fence and miter gauge to make these cuts.
If you're using a circular saw, you'll want to tape together your slats, just like the cross-members, and make all of these cuts at the same time. Leave the depth setting on the circular saw the same, as it still applies.
Mark ¾" in from each end of the slats, and make multiple passes with your circular saw to clear out this area. Again, clean up any ragged areas with a chisel.
For the center notch, mark out a 1 ½" area in the dead center of the slats. Cut out this area with your circular saw. You should end up with a ¾" x ¾" notch on each end and a 1 ½" x ¾" notch in the center. If so, time for the next step!
Step 5: Ugh, Sanding!
One of the worst parts of this build is the sheer amount of surface area you have to contend with. If you bought your 1x2s, you probably won't need to do quite as much sanding here, but I had a lot of burn marks from my table saw. I used my drum sander, which REALLY sped things up, but a random orbit sander will work just fine.
The inside faces of the slats will be next to impossible to sand one we assemble the bench, so sand them well now.
Step 6: Assemble Your Bench Top!
Assembling the bench top is a little stressful, to say the least. There are a ton of joints to deal with, and you need to get pretty creative with your clamping to avoid gaps. That said, you will most likely still end up with some gaps, so don't get too stressed.
First, I assembled the center cross-member and the slats. I added glue, but I didn't go overboard since squeeze out is really difficult to clean up. I drove the slats home with a rubber mallet and added a clamp width-wise to keep everything snug.
Next, I worked on one end of the bench. I used clamps lengthwise, widthwise, and used a hardwood caul across the top to pull all of the slats closed. Phew! I let one end dry for about an hour before assembling the other end.
Step 7: Sanding, Sanding, and More Sanding...
With the bench assembled, you'll inevitably have some spots that aren't flush, you'll have some gaps, and you'll have some glue squeeze out. Prepare to spend plenty of time sanding. A belt sander is a great choice for flushing up any areas that need it.
I also used spray adhesive to stick a piece of sandpaper to a scrap piece of ¾" plywood. This fit between the slats perfectly and gave me a good way to sand the insides of the cross-members.
Step 8: Cut the Leg Pieces to Length
With the bench top essentially complete, let's work on the legs! The legs on my bench are made from Oak, but any hardwood will do. You'll need two 1x3x6 pieces for the two legs. The legs are made up of four pieces :
- A top piece at 14" long with an 8 degree bevel on each end, with the bevels facing towards each other.
- Two side pieces, 14" long with an 8 degree bevel on each end, with the bevels in parallel
- A bottom piece, which I cut to length based on the measurements from the legs after assembling (see photo above). They have an 8 degree bevel on each end, with the bevels facing towards each other.
I cut all of these pieces on the miter saw, but you could make these cuts with a circular saw as well.
Step 9: Assemble Your Legs
I pre-drilled and countersunk two holes in each corner of the legs and added glue and 2" screws. Next, I drilled a ⅜" hole in between the two screw holes and added a ⅜" dowel to reinforce the corners. I also plugged the screw holes with the dowel. I trimmed them flush with a flush cut saw.
Finally, I planed the legs smooth with a low-angle jack plane and then sanded them thoroughly.
Step 10: Dye Legs Black & Apply Clear Coat Finish
Traditionally, the legs on the Nelson Bench are "ebonized", which essentially means stained black. I decided to try a leather dye for this process, and it turned out great. I applied two coats about an hour apart, and wiped off any excess dye left after the second coat dried for a few hours.
Step 11: Apply Finish to Bench Top
I used an aerosol pre-catalyzed lacquer for the bench top, since I figured trying to brush on any kind of finish between the slats would be a total pain. I applied three coats, sanding between coats.
Step 12: Attach Legs to Bench Top With Screws
To attach the legs to the bench top, I pre-drilled and countersunk holes through the underside of the legs and attached them with 1 ¼" screws. I used about 7 screws per leg.