Shoes, boots, and all sorts of messes tend to accumulate in our houses’ rear entries and mudrooms as we transition from the outdoors to the inside. The pileup reaches a peak in winter when gloves, hats, and other outerwear are shed and then mysteriously go missing the next time they’re needed.
Therein lies the value of a mudroom bench, one with cubbies to corral the accoutrements of the season and keep them neatly organized. It can also provide a welcome place to sit while donning and removing footwear.
TOH general contractor Tom Silva designed this bench to be made from just one 4x8 sheet of medium-density fiberboard (MDF), a solid, uniform, affordable material that takes paint beautifully. He sized the bench to hold three woven baskets, but they’re optional. What’s not optional for such a heavily used piece of furniture is sturdy building techniques employing strong deck screws, grooved joints, and plenty of wood glue. Follow along on these pages as Tom uses these methods to assemble this useful mudroom organizer.
Shown: Tom and Kevin show off their latest project: a three-cubby storage bench that took them just a couple of hours to make from scratch.
Step 1: Dimensions and Cut List
18”W x 48”L x 18”H
Download and print the cut list:
- Top: 18 x 48
- Bottom: 16 ½ x 46 ½
- Divider (4): 14 x 16 ½
- Back: 14 1⁄8 x 46 ½
- Front base: 3 ½ x 48
- Side base (2): 3 ½ x 18 1⁄8
- Center support: 3 x 16 ½
- Side filler (2): 3 x 16 ½
- Front filler (2): 3 x 22
Step 2: Cut Pieces to Size
Following the cut list, saw the MDF into 14 parts. Leave the top and bottom as a single 3-by-4-foot panel for now. Smooth the faces and edges with 180-grit sandpaper. Mark a line widthwise on the 3-by-4-foot panel 3⁄4 inch from each end, then two evenly spaced parallel lines between them.
Step 3: Rout the 3-by-4-Foot Panel
Using a guide, rout a 5⁄16-inch-deep dado along the inside edges of the end marks and down the middle of the other marks. Stop the bit 3⁄4 inch from one edge, as shown. Square that end with a chisel, and saw the panel lengthwise into two pieces. The top piece has the stopped dadoes.
Step 4: Drill Pilot Holes
Make 3⁄4-inch rabbets at the ends of the bottom piece by slicing off one side of each dado. Then use a countersink bit to drill three evenly spaced pilot holes into every dado and rabbet, top and bottom, and along the back edge of the top piece. Countersink each hole through the board’s opposite face.
Step 5: Glue the First Divider
Lay a bead of wood glue, such as Gorilla Wood Glue, in the rabbet and brush it over both sides of the cut. Set the first divider in the rabbet, then turn the assembly on its side to expose the countersunk pilot holes in the bottom piece. Enlist a helper or use clamps to steady the corner.
Step 6: Secure with Screws
Align the ends and edges, then drive a deck screw into each of the three pilot holes and recess its head slightly. Flip the assembly back upright and wipe off excess glue with a damp cloth. Spread glue in the next dado, tap in a divider with a mallet, then flip and screw as before. Repeat with the other dividers.
Step 7: Fit the Top
Spread glue into the top’s dadoes, and, with the dividers resting upright, set the top in place, as shown. Tap it down with the mallet. Check that the chiseled dado ends are tight against the dividers’ front edges, and that there’s a 3⁄4-inch overhang at the back. Drive three screws through the top and into each divider.
Tip: Put away the tape measure
- For tight miters in trim, line up your base pieces against the cubby assembly, as shown on the right, then mark the cuts directly on the pieces themselves. That ensures your miters will be tight, and that the cubby assembly will fit snugly in its base.
- For perfectly aligned dadoes, top and bottom, run the router across both pieces at one time. In this case, Tom carved long dadoes across the face of one panel, then cut the panel in two lengthwise, creating two pieces with matched dadoes. This same technique also comes in handy when building cabinets with fixed shelves.
Step 8: Fasten the Back
Lay a bead of glue along the top edge of the back piece and the back edges of the dividers and bottom piece. Press the back into the glue lines, and drive three screws through the top and into the back. Hold the back in place with clamps or pneumatically driven brads.
Step 9: Assemble the Base
Cut miters in both ends of the base’s front and one end of each side piece. Glue and nail a filler to the inside of each side piece; glue and nail an end of those pairs to each of the front’s miters. Glue and nail the center support, then the fillers, to the front’s back side.
Step 10: Set Cubbies in Base
Put glue on the top edges of the fillers and center support, then, with a helper, drop the cubby assembly onto them. Shoot a brad through the midpoint at the front of each cubby and into the front fillers. Smooth the wiped areas with 220-grit sandpaper, then prime and paint.
Step 11: Prime and Paint
For the finish, they applied a shellac-based primer and two coats of semigloss acrylic-latex paint. A cushion makes for comfortable seating.