Intro: Simple and Sturdy Bench From 2x3s
Our local tennis group wanted some benches for our local clay courts, and this Instructable describes a simple yet sturdy bench design. Although this is an outdoor application, this prototype bench shown here will not be placed in an outside environment. The outdoor version is identical, however, and will be finished with a couple coats of water-based wood stain. Also the ground contact boards will be pressure treated wood in the outdoor version. The overall bench dimensions are 4ft wide, 18 inches tall, and about 14 inches deep.
- (8) 2” x 3” x 8’
- (1) 2” x 4” x 8’, pressure treated
- Decking screw, 2.0”, exterior use
- Construction screws, 2.5”
- Titebond III Waterproof wood glue (for outdoors)
- Sander and Sandpaper, medium & fine grits
- Wood putty
- Finishing product (your choice)
- Table saw
- Miter saw
- Drill/Driver & driver bits
- Construction square
- Tape measure
- Clamps, various
Step 1: Main Spars
Seven 4’ pieces make up the seat area. Cut four of the 8’ 2x3 boards in half and check them for flatness. If you have the equipment you should flatten and square up the pieces. Use the straightest 7 pieces, all of which must be the same length. Align one end of all pieces and then clamp all 7 together. Then clamp them to the miter gauge on the table saw to shave off the opposite ends just enough to make them all the same length. Once that is done, now would be a good time to fill any voids and knots in the spars with wood putty. Sand these spots after the putty dries.
Step 2: Spacers
Cut twelve ½” pieces of a 2x3 to be used as spacers. (Only 6 of these will be permanently installed.) I set up a stop block on the table saw to make sure they were all the same size.
Measure and mark the center of a spar and then use a construction square to mark a line across all spars. This line will help you line up the spacers. Carefully unclamp the spars and place a spacer between each of the seven 4’ spars at their centers. Remove one spacer at a time, apply glue to both sides, and place them back between the spars. Clamp the spars again at the center, along the spacers. (You will probably need a pipe clamp.) Recheck the ends of the spars to make sure they are still aligned.
Step 3: Seat End Boards
Insert the other 6 spacers near one end of the spars (do not glue these), and clamp the spars in place at the end (use another clamp like the one at the center). Place a piece of 2x3 against the ends of the spars, mark the length, and cut to the marked length. The length should be about 13.5”. This will be the seat end board.
Mark the approximate centers of each spar on the end piece. (You can probably just eyeball these.) Partially insert 7 of the 2” screws at the center locations. You don’t want any splitting when you screw the edge boards to the 4’ lengths, so I used construction screws, which don’t require pilot holes.
Apply wood glue liberally to the seven ends of the spars. Hand-hold the fit between an outermost spar and the end piece, so they are flush, and screw the end board in place in 7 places. Remove the clamp and tap out the spacers; we’ll need them on the opposite side.
Repeat this end board process on the opposite end of the bench, and this will complete the seat portion of the bench. I chose to run a router with a ¼” roundover bit around the perimeter of the seat top. If you don’t have a router you can use some coarse sandpaper.
Step 4: Build the Legs
The legs will also be made from 2x3s with two pieces doubled up to form each leg. For a bench height of 18” and given a seat thickness of 2 ½” and a bottom piece thickness of 1 ½”, the leg height should be 14”, so cut eight pieces of 2x3 to this length. Apply glue to the mating faces and screw two pieces together with the 2.5” construction screws. Repeat for the other 3 legs. This was the end of the night for me, so I clamped them and let them dry (see pic). However, as long as the leg pieces are screwed together, you can continue the build.
Cut two pieces of 2x3 the depth of the seat, which should be about 13 ½”. These will be the pieces that mate the legs to the seat.
Apply glue liberally to one end of a leg assembly and, using 2.5” screws, screw the 13 ½” length to the leg as shown. Repeat for the other side.
Turn the seat over so the bottom is facing up. Measure in 6” in from the end and, using a square, mark a line the full depth of the bench. Apply glue to the surfaces on the bottom of the seat and use 2.5” construction screws to fasten the leg support assemblies to the bottom of the seat as shown. I used 3 screws: one in the middle spar of the seat and two inserted at a slight angles into the 2nd and 6th seat spars. Repeat for the leg assembly on the other end of the seat.
The ground contact “foot” piece is a 16” section of 2x4 with a rounded over top edge. Pick a piece that is flat (or joint the bottom surface if you have a jointer). If the bench is to be outdoors, this piece should be pressure treated (PT). If you use newly bought PT it will most likely be wet, and so gluing will probably not be effective. I let my PT dry out, which can take weeks. Screw the foot pieces to the legs with 2.5" construction screws.
Step 5: Add the Braces
In its current state the bench is not stable enough side-to-side, so some reinforcement or bracing is needed. I decided to add some 45 degree braces to improve the side-to-side stability. The brace pieces are attached between the seat’s center spar and each foot. Cut the end of a 2x3 at 45 degrees and, with the bench upside-down, hold the piece against the outside edge of the bench, as shown, and scribe a line where the brace will meet the bottom of the seat. This will also be a 45 degree cut.
Apply glue and screw the brace to the bottom center spar with a 2.5" construction screw. Turn the bench right-side up and glue and screw the other end of the brace to the foot. Repeat this brace process for the other side of the bench, and the build is done!
Step 6: Finishing
Since I will be placing the bench outdoors, I decided to fill in the remaining cracks, voids and knots with wood putty. After the putty dried I sanded away the excess and applied two thin coats of a water-based exterior stain. The stain goes on easier with a foam brush, especially between the spars. Applying two coats took a fair amount of time, due to this bench design having a large surface area. I (and others) really like the look however, so the results justify the effort!