There was a time, not so long ago, when bits of lumber left over from larger projects were considered scrap intended for incineration or trash piles. But when lumber prices more than quadrupled two years ago, those so-called scrap pieces were suddenly too precious to simply be thrown away. Although sawnwood prices have fallen slightly – they have not yet reached pre-pandemic levels.
So, with that in mind, I decided to design this Shaker-inspired tiered bench made entirely from scrap wood. This is the first part of a three-part series. Stay tuned for the other two: a wall-mounted coat rack and a hardwood cutting board. (And you can check out our other scrap wood projects, like this spice rack, this bench, and this pretty industrial coffee table with a top made of recycled broadwood flooring.)
The challenge of building with scrap wood is that you have to design with the materials you have, not the ones you’ll buy. To do this, take out a design on a piece of paper or on the scrap wood itself. After completing the design work, I set up my equipment and get to work.
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Here are some tools and supplies that can help you build this. Below is the simple gameplay with which I built the bench.
stool building supplies
I made this little bench with a tabletop table saw, miter saw, cordless drill, and a Kreg pocket screw guide. Since there is no table saw, you can build this project with a circular saw if you cut it carefully enough. I would recommend a miter saw, though, for accurate crosscuts.
Cut the sides of the stool lengthwise, mark the slit in the cut, and cut the slit on the table saw. There are several important things to note about making this cut. First, you raise the blade about an inch above the workpiece and position the inner face of the workpiece against the saw table. Next, cut to the point of intersection where the two cut lines meet. When you turn the workpiece, you will find that the saw blade is slightly past the crosshair. But you won’t see this excessive crossover once the tiered bench is assembled. The piece of waste from cutting the slit should fall off. If not, finish the cut with a jig saw or hand saw.
Also note in the photo that the saw’s fence is set so that the saw blade cuts the waste side of the reference line.
Mark the cutting line as an arc on the outside (the side that will be visible when building the stool), and use a saw equipped with a handle Wood cutting blade 10 teeth per inch. I use a reverse blade for these because they leave a very clean surface on the cutting edge and on the top of the wood. This blade produces little or no eruption (fissuring).
Cut the rails lengthwise as shown in the drawing and hold two pocket screws at the ends of each rail. Also thread a pair of pocket screws through the back of the sides at each tread location. You are now ready to draw and assemble.
drawing and assembly
Put the parts on a piece of cloth or some masking paper and apply a layer of it Shellac-based primer-sealer. This primer works especially well on pine wood, which may have the occasional small pocket of pitch or a small knot that shows through the paint if it’s not sealed. Depending on the temperature and humidity, the primer dries anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour. Sand the first layer with 220 grit sandpaper and wipe off the dust with a cap cloth tack.
After wiping the parts down, cover them with two coats of spray paint (I used Bhrer Surf Spray Spray). Take care to keep the paint off the end grit of all parts, which will prevent the parts from sticking too tightly together. Next, tear off the treads and cut them to the dimensions indicated in the drawing and apply two layers of them satin polyurethane for them. Sand the first layer with 220 grit sandpaper and wipe it off, then apply the second layer.
When both the paint and polyurethane are dry, assemble the seat by sliding 1¼-inch pocket screws through the stretchers in the sides. Then flip the seat over and push the pocket screws through the sides into the steps.
There are a few things to note about the assembly process. First, check the assembly for the box as you work. Although the parts may be cut squarely, things can get out of alignment. Watch your work as you go. Second, be sure to position the steps of the ladder so that they have an equal amount of protrusion at each end. It is enough to make a simple mark on the bottom of the tread to align the base of the stool and the tread during assembly.
And with the last screw pushed into the pocket, there you have it. You made yourself a cute little chair and turned some wood waste from kindling into furniture. Not bad for a day’s work.
Joe Truini is a carpenter and former cabinet maker who writes extensively about remodeling, carpentry, and tool techniques. He is the author of eight DIY books and is a long-time contributing editor at popular mechanics.
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