I like to practice, what I call 'free building'. Free building is where you create on whim, where the shape and design of a project flows from your own instincts and experience rather than any set plans. It's a bit riskier in that fatal errors can be made, but these become more of a learning experience, than a hindrance.
Now I have far more pallet wood, in my garage, than I know what to do with so I've been frantically looking for projects to help me reclaim some space. My first thought was that I needed a nice garden set, but I knew that a simple 'screw together, cut and paint' build wouldn't cut it for me, so I came up with the frontier homestead garden set. It fit the idea perfectly, in that, when pioneers traversed the continent they didn't use plans. They built using only their own skill and intuition.
Another aspect I incorporated was something called 'arrested decay'. Arrested decay is a restoration technique used by museums where little or no attempt is made to protect a project. Sanding is kept to a minimum, and most parts are kept 'as is' to maintain the integrity and authenticity of the item. Now when building an item out of wood, you do need to get rid of burrs and splinters, but over time wood does work up a, sort of, patina that protects it from the elements. As I was using pallet wood, that patina was already in place and all I needed to do was seal it in with a very light spray of almond oil from a mist bottle. After that, nature can take its course.
The best part about this project is that you don't have to use the exact same material as I do. I'll be listing steps and design, but the process can be applied to whatever scrap wood you have lying around. In fact, the more scrap it is the better, so have fun with it. Very important thing to add, tho, pay attention to the flow of the wood. When working with imperfect wood such as scrap and raw, there's an unknown unknown to it that's difficult to account for, so fit things together regularly and expect to improvise often.
Step 1: Tools and Supplies
- saw - circular, table, hand, jigsaw, or chop saw, etc.
- drill with bits
- 5/8" spade or Forstner bit
- 7/8" spade or Forstner bit
- 1.5" hole saw
- draw knife, spoke shave, or carving knife
- wood mallet
- orbital sander or sand paper for hand sanding
- 40' of 1"x3" wood
- 4' of 2"x3" wood
- 32' of 2-3" cedar poles
- 6' Scrap worn 2"x6" or 2"x8" planks - older is better as modern planks are not actually 2"x8"
- carpenters glue
- deck screws
Step 2: Parts List
Here are all of the pieces you need to cut.
- 11 pieces of 1"x3"x40"
- 2 pieces 2"x3"x20"
- 2 pieces 2"x3"x24"
- 2 pieces 2-3" cedar pole 28"
- 2 piece 2-3" cedar pole 13"
- 2 pieces 2-3" cedar pole 36"
- 1 piece 2-3" cedar pole 16"
- 2 pieces 2-3" cedar pole 22"
- 3 pieces of 2"x6" varying between 18" -20" long
- 4 pieces 2-3" cedar poles 14"
- 2 pieces 2-3" cedar poles 15"
- 2 pieces 2-3" cedar poles 19"
- 1 piece 2"x6"x36"
- 2 pieces 2-3" cedar poles 6"
Step 3: Building the Seat and Back
Seat and Back;
For the seat, you'll need the two 2"x3"x20 pieces, and set them apart, on a flat surface 36" on center (means measuring from the center of each board). Now, I initially beveled the front edge of each board by .5" so that the seat wasn't so square, but you don't have to. It just helps prevent the end board from digging into your leg when you're sitting, however it's completely optional. Now, lay 5 of your 1"x3"x40" on top, starting from the front and going back, leaving a .25" gap between them. They should overlap the bottom boards, on the ends by 1" on either side. Use your measuring tape and measure cross corner, as I'm doing in the third pic and make sure the entire piece is square, then screw in your boards using 1.5" deck screws. Repeat the same steps for the back rest using the 2"x3"x24" boards and the remaining six 1"x3"x40" pieces. Keep in mind the back boards on the back rest need to fit between those on the seat, so your overlap on the ends will be greater by 1"+.
Step 4: Attaching the Back to the Seat
When attaching the back to the seat, it's important to consider angle, and a comfortable angle is between 90-100 degrees. I decided to set mine at 100. First, I overlapped the bottom boards 1". That left me 16" for the seat and 20" for the back. I them clamped them together, marked the center of the union and drilled straight through. I then attached them with my carriage bolt, washer and nut combo. At this point there is no support for the back so take care not to change it as you attach the rest of the parts. I recommend rechecking your angle regularly throughout the project.
** Observe how the back rest fits in between the back boards of the seat in the third pic, and the difference in the overlap of the 1"x3" boards.**
Step 5: Creating Your Spindles
Creating your spindles is a two part process. The first is drilling the appropriate holes using the 5/8" bit or the 7/8" bit and the second is tapering the ends to fit the drilled holes. You can find a list of spindles needed in the 'Parts List' section of this instructable. There won't be any exact measurements as to where you need to drill the holes, since they're pretty inconsistently shaped, only rough guidelines based on their natural curvature.
What size of hole to drill;
I followed a very simple rule when drilling my holes. For any spindle that's structural, (such as legs, and arm rests), I drilled to 7/8" and for anything non-structural, (such as spreaders) I drilled 5/8".
Tapering your spindles;
I tapered my spindles using a shaving horse with either a spoke shave or a draw knife, but there's a variety of other ways you can do it with whatever tools you have on hand. You can carve them by hand, which can be a bit tiresome, or you can taper them with a power saw, then round them using your knife, which is somewhat quicker. Again, whatever method works best for you.
Step 6: Installing the Legs
First you need to drill a 7/8" hole in each base board, of the seat, roughly two inches from the back edge and at an 80 degree angle toward the back of the bench. This will give us our 'V' Shape to the legs. The ends, of each leg, are tapered to 7/8" to fit into the holes drilled in the base boards. In the legs themselves, you'll need drill a 5/8" hole for the back spreader. Traditionally, it would be set half way along the length of the leg, however, in my design, I have future plans on converting it to a rocker, and ended up mounting them lower to 2" from the end of the leg. The leg is then hammered into the hole with a liberal amount of glue, and the excess is wiped off. I added a deck screw as well, for additional strength.
The top of the front legs are tapered to 7/8" to fit into the arm rest, and a 5/8" is drilled to fit the spreader in the same way we did for the back legs. When mounting the front legs there are a few things to consider;
- The front legs need to be 2-4" longer from the bottom of the seat to the ground, giving it a backward angle. This is for comfort so that you don't constantly feel as if you're 'sliding off'.
- They need to be angled, toward the front 80 degrees in the same way we angled to rear legs to the back in order to create the 'V' shape
- As our seat boards overlap the ends of the base board by 1", a notch will have to be cut out so that they can be attached
To attach the leg to the seat, I used 3" deck screws, but created a flat edge where it meets the base board. This gives more surface area to make contact and prevents the front legs from twisting from stress.
There are a front, a rear, and a center spreader in the design. I tapered all of their ends to 5/8". In the front and rear spreader, I marked the middles and drilled a 5/8" hole to fit the center spreader. I then filled the holes with wood glue and hammered them into place.
Step 7: Mounting the Arm Rests
I wanted the arm rests to angle up slightly from the back to the front, so I measured 2 inches lower than the leftover length of the front leg from the seat to it's tapered end. As the base boards in the back fit inside the base boards for the seat, there is a greater overhang of the 1x3" boards, so instead of notching I drilled a hole, in each side, just large enough for the arm rest to pass through. I created flat surfaces, on the ends of the arm rests that pass through the hole so that they could be screwed flush with the base board in the back rest. To attach the front leg to the arm rest, I first marked where I wanted them to join up, then drilled a 7/8" hole in each. I then filled the hole with wood glue and hammered them into place. You can add additional strength by driving a screw through the arm rest into the leg, but it shouldn't be necessary if you tapered the end properly.
Step 8: The Finished Bench
Now you should have a finished bench, but it's incomplete. You still need a side table and a stool to rest your feet on.
Step 9: Table and Stool
Creating your table uses all of the same techniques you used when creating your bench with a few small exceptions. The first is you'll need spreaders between each leg. I highly recommend staggering where they connect in each leg by 2 inches to prevent stress points that can crack. The second is creating your table surface. I used some old pieces of vintage plywood. Vintage plywood differs from the modern stuff in that it's made of thicker, heavier slices and resembles actual boards more than it does plywood. For my design, I opted not to use dowel and instead flattened two small cedar spindles and screwed them across all three boards, with, of course, glue between them.
A bit of a suggestion on assembly is to put together your legs first, then tap them into the the holes you've drilled in your table top. Just trust me, it's easier this way.
Making the stool is even simpler as there is no need to use spreaders on the legs. Simply taper four 6"-8" cedar spindles and drill your 7/8" holes in each corner, then tap them into place with glue and you're done. I highly recommend tapering them first then cutting them to length as it makes the tapering process much easier when you're working with a long spindle.
Step 10: Finishing Up
A light sanding is all it needs. You only want to remove the splinters and burrs but want to retain the natural 'patina' from the wear and tear of aged wood. I recommend using an orbital sander with 150 grit paper, or hand sanding with a block. After you've finished sanding, fill a spray bottle with some almond oil, and give it a light spray all over. The almond oil will help age the wood a bit, over time, and will go a long way in preventing the wood from decaying further. It's a technique used in museums and at historical sites called 'arrested decay'. I don't recommend using mineral oil as it doesn't degrade, tho it is quite good at preventing rot if it's all you have on hand.
Again, I hope you enjoyed my instructable and thanks for following.
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