Earth day is coming up so I was inspired to do a little upcycling with a project that has been brewing in my brain. The end result is beautiful, the process easy, and it can prevent a bunch of ‘junk’ from landing in the landfill. And if you are creative, you can spend almost no money! It’s a bench made from three chairs. It requires only basic tools and simple skills, and here’s what you’ll need to make it.
Bench base material – planks or solid wood
Tools – drill, saw, sander, file
The Three Chair Bench can be done in lots of variations, and often the chairs you have and the place you want to use your bench will dictate the design.
A mention about power tools… this project can absolutely be done without them — a hand saw to cut the bench seat, a coping saw for notches, sandpaper and a screwdriver are all that are needed. But, if you haven’t before, give power tools a try! In making this bench, I used a chop saw, a jigsaw, a sander, and drill. I know that power tools can intimidate some, and if you don’t have easy access to them, the prospect can make you want to stop before you begin. My advice: Don’t let them intimidate you!
“If you want to control someone, all you have to do is to make them feel afraid.”
― Paulo Coelho
A healthy respect, yes, but fear not the tools. They are, by definition, there to assist you. So use them, and remind them that they work for you.
First, the chairs
It’s easy to find cast-off chairs – look in your attic, you might find some gems. Ask neighbors if they have old college-era furniture they have squirreled in the back of the storage unit, or you can check out garage sales, flea markets and thrift stores. Your chairs can be all the same style, all different, or a combination of the two. I had two inexpensive, pine Ikea dining chairs and a weird metal upholstered chair. They happened to all be rather angular, so fit together nicely.
Now for the seat
Decide if your bench will be used outdoors or indoors. If outdoors (as mine is intended), decking planks are a perfect choice. Again, leftover materials were used, from the deck-building project lefovers of a friend. Deck boards are made to be durable and resistant to weather. I was lucky, in that my friend’s deck had been constructed from ipe – a Central- and South American- grown hardwood. Ipe (pronounced “ee-pay”), also called Brazilian Walnut, is the ‘rock-star’ of outdoor woods. It’s resistant to rot, bugs and water. It is very hard and very dense – 368% harder than teak and 40% heavier. It is the wood used to create the famous Atlantic City and parts of the Coney Island Boardwalks! Ipe will turn silver after several years of outdoor use, and because of its properties, doesn’t require any protective finishing.
(If you want to know a little more about ipe, look here.)
You can also create your bench seat from a solid piece of wood – a slab of hardwood, plywood, butcher block counter-top material, etc. If a solid piece of wood is used, create a template from cardboard to help visualize the finished size and shape.
Arrange chairs, paying particular attention to the spacing between them. When mine were laid out, I didn’t like the jumble of legs in the center, so decided to remove the front legs from my middle chair.
This particular chair’s construction required simply removing the back from the seat/front legs section. Since I knew I was also going to remove the seats, this made the disassembly quite easy. Depending on the design of your chair, you may cut off the front legs, remove the seat and legs from the back… or leave it all intact. You choose!
Once satisfied with the chair arrangement, measure the overall length of your bench.
Because my center chair wasn’t free-standing, I made a brace to mark its placement, to help keep the outside chairs at the proper distance.
Next, decide the overhang measurements for the side and front of bench. Cut bench seat to size.
Notching the back board
For a more finished look, notch the bench seat around the chair’s uprights. Use template to transfer markings to wood, or use a square.
Cut the notches using a jigsaw. Dry-fit the seat to make sure everything fits properly. Make adjustments. If necessary, file or sand the raw edges. Sand other edges to soften any sharp sides.
For best results, sand, prime and paint. I used 120-grit sandpaper then a second pass with 220-grit. Next, I sprayed on a coat of primer. Since my bench is intended for outdoors, I applied three coats of exterior paint. Always follow manufacturer’s directions on the paint cans for drying times and when to apply additional coats.
Once paint is completely dry, arrange seat planks, making sure all boards are set properly. From underneath, use a pencil to transfer chair placement onto deck boards.
Remove seat planks, and arrange upside down on workspace. (I highlighted my pencil marks with tape, to make them more visible) If the back board is notched, make sure that the plank hangs over the table edge far enough for chair upright to fit and not scrape workbench.
Place chairs onto the boards, aligning chair edges with pencil marks. If using hardwood, drill pilot holes for seat screws, using existing chair holes as guides. Be sure not to drill through the deck boards. To prevent over-drilling, use tape to mark drill bit depth.
Attach boards to chairs with screws. For an outdoor bench, use stainless steel hardware, it won’t rust or stain if the wood gets wet.
Because my center chair was only a back, I created this brace to keep it from pivoting on the bench seat.
Turn over your creation and enjoy!
If your bench is made for indoor use, consider making a cushion or pillows.
Hardware stores and lumber yards often will cut wood to size, sometimes for free! Additionally, they also rent power tools.
Occasionally lumber yards have scrap piles… dig around to see if you can find some good deals!
Wooden palates can be another source of cheap/free wood.