How to Build a Comfortable Outdoor Cedar Bench
Travis Larson spent $70 and one afternoon building this comfy bench that’ll last for decades.
After searching unsuccessfully for an outdoor bench that was comfortable, sturdy and affordable, senior editor Travis Larson took matters into his own hands. He measured and doodled until he came up with this design. According to Travis, “The beauty of this cedar bench isn’t just that it’s inexpensive and easy to build—it’s that it’s so doggone comfortable. You can sit on it for hours, even without cushions.”
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A piece of furniture that everyone finds comfortable is rare indeed. To overcome this problem, Travis designed in a bolted pivot point that lets you alter the backrest and seat slope to fit your build (Photo 7). And this bench combines comfort with durability—his first bench is still rock-solid after 15 years.
Travis kept his bench affordable, too. You’ll need a mere $70 worth of wood and a handful of fasteners. Cutting and assembly takes about 3 hours, so you’ll be sitting pretty in no time.
Let’s Get Started
Eight 8-foot boards and a handful of fasteners are all it takes. A circular saw and a drill are the only power tools you need for construction (a power miter saw speeds things up, however, and gives you cleaner cuts). Fig. B shows you how to cut up the eight boards for the least amount of waste. When you’re buying lumber, choose boards that are flat, not twisted. That’s especially important for the seat and back parts.
Begin by cutting the boards to length, then screw together the leg assemblies (Photos 1-3). It’s important to use a square to keep the leg braces square to the legs. If both leg assemblies are identical, the bench won’t wobble on a hard flat surface. Space the leg brace 1/2 inch back from the front of the legs to create a more attractive shadow line. Then it’s just a matter of connecting the leg assemblies with the stretcher, screwing down the seat and backrest boards, and adjusting the slopes to fit your body (Photos 5-7).
Assemble the Parts
1. After cutting all the parts to length (using a circular saw and square), begin assembling by fastening a leg brace to each leg, 3 inches above the bottom ends. Angle the 3-inch screws slightly so the screw tips don’t protrude, and hold the brace 1/2 inch back from the front edge of the front leg. Use a square to make sure the brace and legs are at right angles.
Align the Legs
2. Align the second front leg with the first one using a square, then screw the leg to the leg brace. Slip the seat support between the two front legs, positioning it as shown in the photo and in the exploded diagram (see PDF below). Next, drive a single 3-inch screw through the front leg into the seat support.
Position the Backrest
3. Position the backrest support on the leg assembly as shown, making sure it’s at a right angle with the seat support, and mark the position on the seat support. Then drive a 3-inch screw through the middle of the backrest support into the leg brace.
Attach the Backrest
4. Clamp the backrest support, seat support and rear leg using the line as a guide. Drill a 3/8-inch hole through the center of the assembly. Drive a 3/8-inch x 5-inch bolt fitted with a washer through the hole and slightly tighten the nut against a washer on the other side.
Make Another Leg Assembly
5. Build the other leg assembly to mirror the first as shown. (The back support and rear leg switch sides.) Prop the stretcher 3 inches above your work surface, center it between the front and rear legs, and screw the leg braces into the ends with two 3-inch deck screws.
Add the Seat Boards
6. Center the first 2×4 seat board over the leg assemblies and flush with the front ends of the seat supports. Secure it with two 3-inch deck screws spaced about 1 inch from the edges. Add the 2×10 and 2×4, leaving 5/16-inch gaps, then screw them to the seat supports. Set the bottom backrest 2×4 on carpenter’s pencils, and screw it to the seat back braces. Then space and screw on the 2×10 and 2×4 boards.
Test it Out
7. Sit on the bench to test it. To make adjustments, loosen the bolts and screws that hold the seat and back supports. Four clamps will hold the bench together while you adjust it. When you’re satisfied with the fit, drive in the four original screws, add another and tighten the pivot bolts.
Create that Custom Fit
The easiest way to adjust the slant is to hold the four locking points in place with clamps and then back out the screws that hold the seat and back supports (Photo 7). To customize the slant, loosen the clamps, make the adjustments, retighten and test the fit. When you’re satisfied, drive in the four original screws and add another into each joint. If you don’t have clamps, don’t worry—the process is the same; clamps just speed things up.
If you have one, use your router and a 1/2-inch round-over bit to soften the sharp edge of the 1×3 trim. This protects shins, the backs of thighs and toddlers’ foreheads. If you don’t have a router, round over the edges by hand-sanding or with an orbital or belt sander. Keep the galvanized casing nails 1 inch away from the edge to prevent hitting the nailheads with the router bit or sandpaper.
If you want to stain your bench, apply a latex exterior stain to the parts after cutting them to length. After assembly, you won’t be able to get good penetration at the cracks and crevices. Avoid clear exterior sealers, which will irritate bare skin even after they’ve dried.
The bench will last outside for more than 20 years without any stain or special care, even if you decide to let it weather to a natural gray. To make sure the ends of the legs last as long as the rest of the bench, seal them with epoxy,, urethane or exterior woodworker’s glue when finished with assembly.
Add the Trim Pieces