The following is excerpted from a new book, “Furniture Fundamentals: Chairs & Benches,” in which you’ll find collected many of the best seating projects published in Popular Woodworking. You’ll find the full step-by-step instructions for this Robert W. Lang piece in the book, but the measured drawings below are an excellent place to begin.
There is an old Shaker hymn called “Simple Gifts” that begins with this line: “Tis the gift to be simple.” This bench carries many of the qualities that the Shakers valued. The design is straightforward and driven by function, yet it’s also graceful and elegant. The construction is obvious and building it doesn’t require anything beyond simple tools and techniques. The antique Shaker bench that inspired this piece actually led two lives. It was originally made without a back at the Hancock Shaker village. As it got older (and presumably the brothers or sisters using it also got older), wood was comfortable.
Made of pine, the original was longer – 94″ – and likely was used with a dining table. I liked the look and simplicity of this piece, but I decided to make a shorter version for use in an entry hall or mudroom.
I used cherry, and happened upon a single board that was wide enough, and long enough, for the seat and the end pieces. If you’re not as fortunate, you’ll need to glue up stock for width, which is what I was planning to do on the way to the lumberyard.
Adapting the Design
The original seat was 1″ thick, and the corbel supports were short pieces at each end. Because I would be using 3⁄4″-thick materials, I extended the seat supports to run all the way between the ends to brace the seat and strengthen the overall structure.
The second design change was to the ends – on the original the arched cutout that creates the legs of the bench wasn’t centered on the end. Because the back was added, the cutout was pushed forward. I put the cutout at the mid-point of the ends and made it taller and elliptical.
— Excerpted from “Furniture Fundamentals: Chairs & Benches”
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