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North woods bench: an inexpensive, easy-to-build classic.

While visiting a cabin in the woods of northern Wisconsin, I saw the cute red stool shown below. Made by an anonymous carpenter, it was simplicity itself: pine boards, nailed together. And it had an interesting and ingenious design detail: a cloverleaf, clearly made with three overlapping drill holes. It was just the kind of little bench I needed for the backyard, so I went into the shop and made this modern version. A little longer and a little stronger than the original, but the same folk art detail. And since it's made from lumberyard pine, the price can't be beat. Here's how to make one.

This bench is simple enough to build with a few hand tools, but to speed things up, we chose to take advantage of the power tools in our shop. We used a miter saw to cut the stretchers to length and to cut the 10-degree angles on the ends of the center stretcher, and a circular saw for all the other cuts. If you don't own a miter saw, you can use a circular saw or jigsaw for all the cuts.

To make the holes for the clover shapes, you'll need a 1-in. hole saw mounted in a corded drill, or a powerful cordless drill.

We used No. 2 knotty pine to build this bench. You'll need one 6-ft. 1x12 and one 10-ft. 1x4. Select boards that are straight and flat, with solid, not loose, knots. We assembled the bench with countersunk 2-in. trim screws and then filled the holes with wood filler. If the bench is going outdoors, be sure to use corrosion-resistant screws.

Cut out the parts

Using the Cutting List on p. 63 as a guide, cut the two legs and the top from the 1x12 (Photo 1). The legs require a 10-degree bevel on the top and bottom. Be careful to keep both bevels angled the same direction. Then cut the stretcher and aprons to length. The stretcher has a 10-degree angle on each end.

Next, mark the legs and aprons for drilling and cutting, using the dimensions in Figures B and C as a guide. Draw the grid layout as shown in Photo 2 to locate the holes. Use a nail or a punch to make starting holes for the hole saw at the correct intersections.

Drill the 1-in. holes halfway through the boards (Photo 2). Make sure the pilot bit on the hole saw goes through the board so you can use the hole to guide the hole saw from the opposite side. Then flip the boards over to complete the holes.

Make the remaining cuts on the legs and aprons with a circular saw (Photo 3). Finish up by sanding the parts. We wrapped 80-grit sandpaper around a 1-in. dowel to sand the inside of the holes. Sand off the saw marks and round all the sharp edges slightly with sandpaper. If you plan to paint the bench, you can save time by painting the parts before assembly.

Build the bench

Start by marking the location of the stretcher on the legs. Arrange the legs so the bevels are oriented correctly, and screw through them into the stretcher. Next screw the two aprons to the legs (Photo 4).

The only thing left is to screw the top to the aprons. It'll be easier to place the screws accurately if you first mark the apron locations on the underside of the --top and drill pilot holes for the screws (Photo 5). Stand the bench upright and align the top by looking underneath and lining up the apron marks. Then attach the top with six trim screws.

We finished this bench with old-fashioned milk paint. You can find milk paint online and at some paint stores. If the bench is going outdoors, rub some exterior glue on the bottom ends of the legs. That will prevent the end grain from soaking up moisture and rotting.


Set the saw to cut a 10-degree bevel. Mark the 1x12 and align the saw with the mark. Then use a large square to help guide the cut.


Mark out a grid with lines spaced 1/2 in. apart. The centers of the holes are on four of the intersections, Drill all four holes halfway through the board. Then flip the board over and drill from the other side to complete the holes.


Mark the "V" in the center and the two outside angles on the legs. Then cut along the lines with a circular saw. Accurate cutting is easier if you clamp the leg to the workbench.


Drive trim screws through the legs into the stretcher. Then attach the outside aprons with trim screws.


Here's a goof-proof way to position the screws that fasten the seat to the bench frame. Center the frame on the seat and trace around the aprons. Then drill pilot holes through the seat to mark screw locations. Drive screws through the seat and into the aprons.


TIME: Halfday

COST: $12 to $20 (depending on the finish)

SKILL LEVEL: Beginner to intermediate

TOOLS: Tape measure, square, circular saw

or jigsaw, drill, 1-in. hole saw

by Jeff Gorton

Cutting List


A      2      3/4" x 11-1/4" x 16" pine (legs)
B      1      3/4" x 11-1/4" x 38" pine (tap)
C      1   3/4" x 3-1/2" x 29-3/4" pine (stretcher)
D 2   3/4" x 3-1/2" x 36" pine (aprons)
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Article Details
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Author:Gorton, Jeff
Publication:The Family Handyman
Article Type:Instructions
Date:May 1, 2014
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