Five-Board Bench

After building a number of boxes of different styles and uses, I wanted to build some furniture pieces. I thought I should start pretty simple and I decided to build a five-board bench. These are classic utilitarian pieces with straight forward boarded (nail joinery) construction. The design involves, wait for it, five boards, a top, two ends, and two rails. The rails are inset into the ends for better stability. I chose to make mine 18” tall to match our dining chairs. It was 38” long and 11 1/8” wide with the width being dictated by the widest pine board at the home center, 1×12 gross dimensions. I bought the clearest, straightest 1×4 (rails) and 1×12 spruce-fir-pine (SPF) boards I could find that day at the home center. I let them acclimatize to my house for more than a month before dimensioning each piece.

Sidebar: I store all my project wood (before, during, and after construction) in the house. This helps to keep the materials at a more constant moisture content than they would stay in my shed workshop. A more constant moisture content means better stability to resist further cupping or warping. My house remains between 40-60% relative humidity while the shed fluctuates from 30% to 99% depending on the weather. I read about this storage approach in Jim Tolpin’s book The New Traditional Woodworker: From Tool Set to Skill Set to Mind Set.

This project started where all hand woodwork starts by cutting the boards to rough length (1” longer than finished) and planing them so they have at least one true face and one true edge. Probably my favourite description of this planing process is in Joesph Moxon’s book The Art of Joinery. It seems that SPF boards from the home center always need significant work to get them flat even though they have already been surface planed at the mill. In fact a considerable pile of shavings was needed for these boards and they started at 3/4” thickness and ended as flat boards as 5/8”.


Once the boards were flat I marked and cut the notches on the ends for the rails. Then I made the cuts on the ends that defined the “feet” of the bench, basically these are large v-notches. I could have ‘gang-sawed’ (pieces clamped together and joints sawed simultaneously in both pieces by sawing through both boards at same time) the notches, but as my hand dimensioned pieces were not all the exact thickness I cut them separately to insure a better fit. With the dimensioning and joinery cuts finished, assembly was done using 6d cut nails. I used 3/32” pilot holes (pilot hole depth was 2/3 nail length) for the cut nails. I affixed the piece to my bench also using my twin-screw vice and clamps to aid in the tightness of the nail joints as I nailed the piece together. Nails were set using a nailset I filed to match the pattern of the cut nail’s rectangular head.

The finished piece before painting.

five board bench, unfinished

I painted the piece using two coats of ‘Lexington Green’ milk paint followed by an application of Danish oil. My references for learning to use this type of paint were articles by Mike Dunbar and Christopher Schwarz.

five board bench milk paint cut nails


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