At my house, inviting family and friends over for a special occasion means scrambling for extra seating. So in preparation for the holidays, I started looking for a seating solution that would be comfortable, elegant, and easy to build—and stumbled on a photo of a Shaker bench on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I especially liked the way that the angled backrest offered comfort for adults and would keep my kiddos from falling backward.
Inspired by the original, I stayed true to Shaker simplicity by sticking with pine rather than pricey hardwood and using interlocking joints instead of modern hardware. I also made my bench from sturdy stair treads and common 1× stock. At 67 inches wide, it seats three adults or four little ones, and still tucks neatly under the table. I don’t know if history repeats itself, but I know that this bench will play a part in many future gatherings.
Before You Begin: DIY Shaker Dining Bench
To create a sturdy base, I made the legs from 1-inch-thick stair treads and the rail from 5/4-inch-thick stock. These boards are noticeably thicker than standard 1× stock but not as clunky as 2×. The only challenge to using stair treads is their width—most are only 11½ inches wide. This means that you’ll need to join two pieces to make a 15¾-inch-wide leg, but cutting the taper before assembly is easier than making stopped cuts on a wider board. A table saw is great for long cuts, but a circular saw works, too.
Steps for Building a Shaker Dining Bench
1. Cut the parts to size.
After removing the rounded edges from the treads, use a miter saw tom cut the leg pieces, rail, seat, and backrest to length. Adjust the miter angle to 30 degrees and then remove the bottom corners from the rail and backrest where shown in the illustration (opposite).
2. Taper the backrest supports.
Referring to the drawing of the leg detail, draw a tapered line starting 18 inches up from the backrest’s front edge and ending 1½ inches in from its top back edge. Using a circular saw and a cutting guide, cut along the line.
3. Glue up the leg assemblies.
Apply glue and then clamp together the two-part leg assembly, making sure that the bottom edges are flush. Allow at least 12 hours of drying time before removing the clamps and sanding the joints smooth.
4. Mark and cut the arches.
Drill two holes in a paint stir stick 4 inches apart; stick a nail through one hole and a pencil in the other. On a leg, mark ,a pivot point 2 inches up from the bottom and 6½ inches from the front. Use the compass to lay out an arch, then draw a vertical line on each side to the bottom. Cut out the arch with a jigsaw, then repeat on the remaining two legs.
5. Mark and cut the notches.
Lay out a 1¼-inch-wide-by-13/4-inch-deep notch on the mcenter of each leg assembly. Next, lay out three 1-inch-wide-by-13/4-inch-deep notches on the rail: two 4 inches from the bottom ends, and one centered on the length of the board. Use a jigsaw to carefully cut out the notches, trying to stay inside your pencil lines.
6. Assemble the base.
Using clamps to stand up the legs on your bench, align the notches with the rail and test-fit the pieces. Use a chisel to pare the notches until the parts join together with a light tap. Separate the pieces, apply glue to the inside walls of the notches, and reassemble. Before the glue sets, use a square to ensure each leg is perpendicular to the rail.
7. Add the backrest and seat.
Center the seat on the base, and attach it with 15/8-inch deck screws through countersunk pilot holes. Next, position the backrest so that it overhangs the tops of the legs by 3/4 inch, and attach it with screws.
8. Apply the finish.
Fill screw holes with wood filler and sand with 150 grit. Apply two coats of milk paint (I used General Finishes Milk Paint in Basil), scuff-sanding between coats. Finally, apply a satin wax for a soft sheen and extra protection.
- Four 1-by-11½-by-36-inch stair treads
- 1-by-12-by-6-foot board
- 5/4-by-4-by-6-foot board
- 15/8-inch deck screws
- Wood glue
- Wood filler
- 150-grit sanding pads
- 1 quart milk paint
- Satin wax