With just some basic carpentry skills, you can transform a pair of vintage chairs into an outdoor bench that you'll enjoy for years to come. Select seats with contoured backs and rear legs that are fully intact and free from cracks, like these harp-back chairs that we found at a secondhand store. And you needn't fuss over the finish or upholstery, as you'll be removing the seats and painting the entire bench once it's built.
Harp-back chairs are frequent finds at used-furniture stores and flea markets—ripe for a DIY reinvention. This sleigh-style bench takes advantage of the chairs' graceful contoured backs and gets its new seat frame from home-center 1x3s and plywood. A couple of coats of exterior latex paint (we used Benjamin Moore semigloss in Goldfinch), plus upholstery in a water-resistant, fade-resistant fabric (here, Sunbrella in Zara Sunset), and you have a porch-ready perch.
A crossbar under the seat adds stability lost from the removal of the chairs' front legs.
Remove the Seats
Flip the chairs over and locate the hardware used to fasten the seat and upholstery to the frame. Use a screwdriver to unscrew any fasteners and remove each seat top. Use a flush-cutting saw to carefully cut the seat sides off each chair where the sides meet the back. This type of saw cuts on the pull stroke, so start each cut near the handle and pull firmly toward you. Repeat to cut off the cross-supports near the feet of each chair.
Remove the Frame
Lay a chair upside down on a large work surface, with the back flush against the side of the work area. Hold the chair's back, and use a wood or rubber mallet to knock the front of the chair free, separating the joints near the corners of the seat, as shown.
Assemble the Platform
Cut the 1x4s and plywood according to the cut list.
Drill and countersink five pilot holes in the poplar 1x4 end pieces (as shown), and use 1¼-inch exterior wood screws to fasten the bench ends to the inside of each chair back, where the seat previously fastened to the frame. Clamp the 1x4s for the front and back pieces of the seat frame in place, and secure them to the ends with the zinc-plated corner braces. These braces hold the frame together and provide holes so that you can later fasten the seat to the top of the bench.
Reinforce the Frame
On the underside of the front and rear frame pieces, drill ¼-inch pilot holes at 45-degree angles through each end and into the chair backs; fasten with 2-inch exterior wood screws. Dab the ends of the cross-support piece with wood glue, and tap it into place across the center of the bench frame with a mallet.
Prep the Surface for Paint
Fill any gaps or cracks in the chair backs or legs with wood filler and allow to dry. Sand those spots smooth with 150-grit paper. Use 60-grit paper to remove any protrusions where a cross-support previously attached to each chair back. Prep the entire bench for painting by sanding with 220-grit paper. Wipe clean with a rag to remove dust.
Paint the Bench
Apply latex primer to the entire bench, making sure to conceal any wood grain or stain on the chair backs. Depending on the original finish of the chairs, it may be necessary to apply multiple coats. Paint the bench frame with two coats of exterior latex paint and allow to dry.
Affix the Foam to the Seat
Spray the plywood seat bottom with spray adhesive, and place the seat foam on top, aligning the edges carefully so that they're flush. Allow to dry in place.
Cut the Upholstery Fabric to Fit
If your fabric has a pattern, you'll need to align it on the seat before cutting the fabric to fit. Lay the polyester batting, then the weatherproof outdoor fabric atop the foam-covered board, adjusting so that the pattern is where you want it. Flip the whole thing over and cut the fabric to fit, leaving an extra 4 inches on all sides of the seat.
Upholster the Seat
Starting at the center of one long side, fold the fabric and polyester batting up, tuck in the raw edges, and staple the material in place with a staple gun. Repeat on the side opposite the first staple, pulling the fabric taut but not overly snug before stapling in place. Do the same to the two short ends, then fill in the remaining sides with staples about an inch or so apart. To create clean corners, fold the fabric and batting as you would when wrapping a gift, cutting off excess material so that the corners lie square and neat, then staple in place.
Attach the Seat
Place the upholstered seat on top of the bench, with each end flush with the front and back. Drill ⅛-inch pilot holes up through the corner braces on the bench frame and into the wood seat frame. Fasten the seat in place with ⅝-inch wood screws.