When I started getting active on Instagram, I was seeing everyone post about something called the Instagram Builder’s Challenge. They were all making these really cool tables and I wanted in. After some research, I learned that everyone got one plan to build from and you had three weeks to complete it in any way you wished for a chance to win some awesome prizes. I obviously could not participate because I was too late to the game but I was on the hunt for the next one! When I learned about the third season of the challenge, I was all over it. I’ll be honest, I got nervous about it. There are far more skilled builders out there who had competed before and I was also worried that I would not be able to get it completed on time. Add in that I had no idea what I was building yet and I was a mess because I couldn’t plan anything.
Finally, the day came and the plan was released. It was a bench! This one from Ana White, to be exact.
I’ve made a couple benches plus I just learned how to do the X’s (check out my You Tube for a video on how I do them) so I knew I could easily make this bench. It was crunch time for the design process so I turned to Facebook to solicit ideas. I got more than I could ever use on one bench but some were so good that I had to incorporate them.
I contemplated a few different structural changes but, with the exception of making the bench not as long and raising the seat, I kept the basic frame similar to the plan. I also incorporated pipe X’s for the back of the bench and cubby storage on the bottom as was suggested on Facebook. I also made a plan to make a geometric pattern on for the seat. Once the plan was drawn out digitally and measurements were figured, it was time for me to get to work.
I made the cuts for the back of the bench and the seat frame. I dry fit the back together. Although the original plans called for pocket hole screws to attach it all, I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t want to have to fill them. At this point, I wasn’t sure how I was going to finish the bench and I wanted it to have a seamless look no matter what I choose. I decided I was going to use biscuits to join the pieces.
Pocket hole screws were used on the seat frame support because they weren’t going to be seen once it was all assembled.
I also used pocket hole screws on the frame for the inlay portion of the seat for the same reason.
To help make sure I kept everything square and to keep pieces from sliding, I used a tie down strap as a band clamp around the outside pieces. Once everything was secured, I started working on the inlay of the seat. I started with the longer pieces that made an X.
These pieces were 2×4’s cut to 10”. I found the middle of the board and used my speed square to mark 45 degree angles on the ends that were going into the corners. I used my miter saw at 45 degrees to make my cuts. When they were all cut, I sat them in place inside the frame. Next, I used 2×6’s cut to the needed length and ripped to the correct width on my miter saw to make the rest of the inlay pieces. This required a little more math than most of my builds and I was so thankful to have had an outstanding high school math teacher. My math was good but there was also a bit of trial and error on the cuts to make everything fit. I was thrilled when it was all together!
Here is the first place I wish I had done something different. It was my hope that the middle square piece of the X’s would stand out more. Seeing that they didn’t, I wish I had made 45 degree cuts on both ends of the longer pieces to meet up in the middle. The reason I didn’t go ahead with that plan is because I was lazy and cheap. I didn’t have extra 2×4’s on hand, didn’t want to buy more, and I just flat out didn’t want to take the time to redo it in case it also took some trial and error.
By this point, I still hadn’t attached most of my pieces together but I needed a visual on where I was at and what needed done next. I started laying everything out and carefully made each cut as I got to that part of the assembly process. I’ve learned not to get ahead of myself on making wood cuts. Too many times have I cut everything in the beginning only to find out I did something wrong and then have to take another trip to the store. This is where I found a bone headed measurement mistake.
I don’t know why but for some reason I planned for a 1×12 to cover the base of my cubby holes. Since they were about 23 inches deep, that obviously wasn’t going to work. I decided that I would just go to the store and get a 4’x2’ piece of plywood to correctly fix it. Even with that aggravating error, I was pretty pleased with how things were fitting together.
I told you they make appearances from time to time. When I’ve been in the garage for a while, I let them come in to hang out.
Now that everything was cut, I was ready to start assembling. I mentioned that I wanted to use biscuits on the back pieces. My boards were lined up where I wanted them then I drew a straight line across where the boards meet.
I then set the depth on the biscuit cutter and lined it up on the marks on both boards to make the cuts. A biscuit cutter is super simple to use and I urge you to try it out if you haven’t yet.
After the cuts were made, I filled them with a little wood glue as well as the end of one of the boards. I inserted the biscuit on one side and then attached it to the adjacent piece.
Everything was then clamped and left to dry.
I turned my attention back to the seat. Before I put away the biscuit cutter, I went around my seat frame and made several cuts to later use to attach table top fasteners. It wasn’t long before I had to make all of those cuts again a little bit lower because pieces of the next step were going to cover them.
I had to figure out a way to attach all of the inlay pieces together. After considering several different options, I decided the best course of action was to glue them down to a piece of thin plywood and then nail them. In order to conceal the plywood, I cut three pieces to fit inside of my seat frame support.
I stacked my seat frame support on top of the seat frame with the bottom facing up.
From here, I laid the plywood pieces in place and nailed them to the seat frame. I removed the seat frame support and flipped the frame over.
I spread glue over the plywood and began laying my pieces in place. I forgot to mention earlier but I numbered them when I first dry fit them together so it was easy to put them back in place correctly.
After the glue dried a bit, I flipped it over and used my nail gun to put a couple nails in each piece as added security.
It’s time to begin assembling! I positioned the pieces on the back to the bench and used wood screws and pocket hole screws to hold everything in place.
Next was to attach the seat. I’ve seen several people recommending table top fasteners instead of screws to allow room for wood movement without damaging your piece.
I wanted to try them on this so I used them attach the seat. Some people cut a groove in their boards for the fasteners but I was also told a biscuit cutter works as well. And I’m here to tell you it works great! It was so easy to attach the seat with the fasteners.
Up next was cutting the arm rests. The original plan called for just a 2×4. I wanted it a little wider and with some curve so I used a 2×6 and my jigsaw. Mark the middle of the board width and then mark down from the end the same distance. On a 2×6, it would be 2 ¾ inches. Using a compass, I placed my point on the lower mark and drew a semi-circle from the end of the board. This is the arc I cut with my jigsaw. I also cut a curve out of the end of the arm that attaches to the back of the bench but making sure it stays as wide as my back piece (a 2×4) in the process. While I used a jigsaw, a bandsaw or scroll saw would also work great.
Once everything was together, it was time to work on my X braces for the back. I used standard ½” iron pipe from the hardware store. When you bring it home, it may leave a black residue on you or other things it touches and it might have printing on it. With some acetone and a rag, they are super easy to clean in no time. A drill bit a little larger than the pipe was used to drill holes in the corners of the openings on the back of the bench. This was not necessarily an easy task due to the angles.
But, once the holes were drilled, the bench assembly was complete and it looked like my plan!
Now for the finishing touches! The cubbies were assembled with pocket holes and I wanted them covered. Due to how the bench was assembled, it was not going to be easy at all to use plugs. I recalled that Brad at Fix This Build That did a video on different ways to fill pocket holes so I watched it. I learned that Bondo is a good filler for pocket holes and I wanted to give it a try.
I mixed it per directions in small amounts. They weren’t kidding about this part because it will dry out fast. Be sure to wear clothes you don’t care about because I ruined one of my favorite shirts. This stuff can be messy. Especially if you aren’t very good at applying it, like me.
I let it dry then sanded it as best I could. It was awkward to get into these spaces. For the places I didn’t get it filled well with Bondo, I went back over it with wood filler and sanded it again. I’m not ruling out Bondo completely because I’m sure there are great applications for it but I think I should have just stuck with wood filler on this project. However, part of the IG Builder’s Challenge is to step out of your comfort zone and try new things.
With the pipe X’s, I wanted to take this in an industrial direction. I bought some zinc brackets from Lowe’s and spray painted them with hammered black spray paint. I love this stuff because it quickly dresses up basic hardware and makes it look more expensive. To make it a bit more durable, I used a primer spray first on the hardware. I then sprayed a few coats of the hammered spray paint and finished with a clear coat. It seems to be holding up really well, especially compared to how I usually do it.
I attached the hardware to the bench using short black screws.
The final task for the bench was how to finish it. I struggled with this for a bit because I just couldn’t picture the end result. I knew I wanted the seat stained. What was harder was how to do the rest of the bench. I kept thinking it needed to be painted but I couldn’t decide on a color. I picked a few from Lowe’s and put them up for a vote.
Sleek Gray (second from left) was the majority winner. But I didn’t pick it. I went with Sea Salt Blue (far right). As soon as I started getting paint on that bench, I regretted the color choice but I wanted to stick with it to see if I felt differently after everything was together.
I still don’t like it and am considering repainting it. The color itself is pretty but not for this bench. I should have gone with what everyone else said. I opted to stain the seat two different colors. I did two coats of Dark Walnut for the frame and X’s with Special Walnut for the inner pieces. I love it!
The challenge was put on by the Wood Grain Girls and judged by Ana White, Chip Wade, Dap Products, Spax screws, and Osborne Wood Products. There were 138 completed benches to judge and there is no way I would want to have to pick the winner. There was an incredible amount of talent. Unfortunately, I did not win the big prizes. I did, however, get to experience an amazing community of makers supporting and encouraging each other throughout the process. That makes it worth it in itself.
I can’t leave you all without showing off some of my favorite builds. There is no way I could show you all of them that I love (you can check them all out here!) but I wanted to share the ones that I spent a little extra time looking at.
First and foremost, I have to share a bench and maker that had me enthralled from the very beginning. Jedidiah captured the hearts and attention of the whole woodworking community with his bench. His bench has metal, wood carving, fabric, a yellow brick road, and grass! His theme was an ode to The Wizard of Oz for his love. There is so much attention to detail in this thing and I absolutely love it! Be sure to check out his Instagram (@irishcraftsman7) to see better detail pictures and his building process. You won’t regret it!
The X’s on this bench have me coming back to stare at it. They are wood inlayed with rebar and it looks fantastic! Michele at Love of Woodwork (@loveofwoodwork) did a great job.
It was love at first site for this bench from Chris at Generations Hand Crafted (@generationshandcrafted). I love dark stains but this one also has copper and a beautiful patina finish, two of my favorite things. That’s not paint on those X’s, folks! Check out his Instagram for more detailed pictures of the work he did.
If you know me, you know it’s a no brainer why I love this bench. ZD Designs (@zd_designs) chose the Thin Blue Line as his theme. I love his take on the bench but I love even more that he incorporated a TBL flag into it and did it so well.
I just love the clean lines of this bench from Backpacking Mom (@backpackingmom). It’s so simple but makes a huge statement at the same time. The way she added the reclaimed wood really makes it pop. I may have to borrow this idea.
From the first drawing they shared of their design idea, I knew this bench was going to be fantastic. And I was not wrong. Michael and Leigh Ann with Knotsman Woodworks (@knotsman.woodworks) put a lot of work into this bench, especially that back. I can’t imagine the patience it took to get all of those cuts just right. By the way, the bench looks exactly like the original drawing which impresses me more than you might think.
I love how this bench from Chris at One21 Rustic Works (@one21_rustic_works) just pops! I truly love the combination of white paint and dark stain. Plus, he added a sweet electrical outlet for charging phones or other devices. I really thought this one was going to take the cake when I first saw it.
Please go check out all of these amazingly talented builders as well as all of the others. There is some truly great work from everyone. What is your favorite bench? Do you think you would be able to pick a winner if you were the judge?