I Can Do That: Hallway Bench - Popular Woodworking Magazine

I Can Do That: Hallway Bench

 In I Can Do That! – Simple Woodworking Projects, Projects

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from I Can Do That! Furniture Projects, which features 20 easy-t0-build furniture projects. Check out the hallway bench below, and pick up your copy of the book here.

To state the obvious, a hallway bench is an ideal place to sit to put on your shoes. You’ll love having one for dealing with boots in the wintertime. But this handsome bench is not limited to just the foyer. It works well in the living room as a TV console or even as a coffee table.

It has two drawers for storage and a lower shelf to store items off the floor. This bench does incorporate some solid oak, but it’s mostly made out of oak-veneered plywood. Plywood is comprised of multiple thin layers of wood glued and stacked on top of each other alternating the grain orientation with each layer. This alternating grain direction makes the wood very stable from seasonal movements and much more affordable than solid wood. However, the actual top layer of the plywood (in this case, oak) is only 1/32 thick, so keep in mind that the surface can damage easily.

Before buying plywood, inspect it just like you would regular lumber. When it comes to plywood types, a whole book could be written on that. But in general, plywood is graded with A,B,C or D. (“A” being the best and “D” a lesser quality) or graded as Premium, Cabinet Grade, Good 1 Side, and Shop Grade. The better the plywood the nicer the grain pattern and the fewer the defects. For the most part, the Big box stores have B or C grade plywood. Meaning it will have a decent grain pattern on one side while the other side could have minor flaws such as knot holes, mineral streaks or areas with filler in it. Look for plywood that is not bowed, or has the inner layers and glue separating. At least one side should look decent and clean.

Once you have the plywood back in the shop, place it on your workbench with some sacrificial boards underneath it. Before cutting plywood pay attention to the rotation of the saw blade. As the blade exits the wood it will cause minor splintering or tear-out. This splintering is best kept on the bottom side of the finished project. With a circular saw the blade rotates such that the teeth come up through the workpiece, which can create tear-out on the top surface. To counter that, the good or finished surface side of the plywood should always face down when cutting with a circular saw. However, if you’re cutting it on a table saw, the opposite applies – a table saw’s blade rotates such that the teeth exit the workpiece going down, so the good or finished surface should face up.

Here are some tips to help minimize tear-out on the plywood.

  • Apply tape to the wood first. Draw the cut line on the tape and then make the cut right through the tape. The tape helps hold pressure to the wood as the blade exits, thereby minimizing the tear-out.
  • Score the wood on the cut line with a sharp knife. This cuts the wood fibers on the plywood and reduces the tear-out. To do this, adjust the saw to make a shallow cut that only goes between 1/16” and 1/8” into the plywood. This is called a score cut. Then reset the blade depth to make a deeper second cut through the rest of the wood.

Whichever method you use still requires a straight cut. You can build a simple jig for the circular saw that makes accurate straight cuts. The jig has a fence for the saw edge to guide against while the base of the jig is in exact alignment with the blade.

Once you’ve drawn a cut line on the plywood, place the jig right on the line, clamp it to the workpiece and make the cut.

The plywood will yield the top, shelves, sides, drawer dividers, and back rail for the hallway bench by following the sizes and measurements from the cut list. Once the pieces are cut, begin with the middle shelf and drill pilot holes in the ends to attach the dividers.

Besides the pilot holes for the dividers, this shelf, and the bottom shelf, receives pocket holes on the ends to attach the sides later.

Glue and attach the back rail and dividers to the middle shelf piece with screws.

After the back rail is on, the drawer dividers are next. But before screwing the dividers in place, double-check that they’re square with the back rail. These dividers will help guide the drawers, so if they’re out-of-square the drawer can be too loose, or may bind and get stuck.

With the three drawer dividers all in place, the middle shelf unit is done and can be set aside.

The legs are cut from solid oak 1×4, while the sides are another piece of plywood. From the plans cut the angle for the foot of the leg and then cut the plywood sides. TIP – cut one leg and then use that as a template for the other legs and sides.

A jigsaw can be used to cut out the shape, but before using the jigsaw choose the right blade for the task.

When choosing a jigsaw blade, pay attention to the direction and number of teeth. Blades have either “up-cut” or “down-cut” teeth. The direction of the teeth is vital to know because it determines which side the splintering or tear-out may occur. Also, the fewer the teeth, the faster the cut – but also the rougher the final finish will be. More teeth on the blade results in a slower cut, but smoother finish. After making the cuts, clean up any edges with saw marks or rough edges using a block plane or file.

Also, if your jigsaw has a setting for orbital action – which angles the blade into the cut on the up stroke – set this to zero for the smoothest cut.

Keep the inside of the workpiece facing up while cutting with an upcut blade.

With the legs cut and cleaned up, attach the middle shelf unit to one of the sides with pocket screws. Attach the lower shelf to the same side with pocket screws. Now, flip the assembly over to attach the opposite side in the same manner, and the basic carcase is done and ready for the legs.

The legs have a 1/4” reveal from the side. To keep this reveal consistent all the way down the side, make a pencil mark on the top and bottom of the leg to offset it from the side piece, then glue and nail the legs to the carcase.

As you’re creating the side reveal, make sure that the inside edge of the leg is flush with the drawer divider so the drawer can slide easily.

Using the same procedure, attach the other three legs in the same manner.

Make the drawers before putting the top on the bench. Having the top off gives easier access to the drawer opening for measurements and checking the fit.

The drawers are made from 1/2” plywood. From the cut list, use a circular saw to rip the plywood to the height and then crosscut the sides to length on the miter saw. The lengths for the drawer front and back should be taken right from the bench. If the middle divider is slightly off to one side or the other the length of the front and back pieces will change.

To get an accurate measurement of the length of each front and back, place the side pieces together inside the drawer space. Then with a tape measure, measure the distance from the side pieces to the divider.

Test fit the front and back pieces in the drawer opening before assembling the drawer. Once a nice fit is achieved, glue and nail the drawer together.

The bottom of each drawer is also 1/2” plywood and fits inside the drawer frame. First make sure the corner edge of the drawer is square. Then place the drawer on the plywood fitting one corner of the plywood lightly inside the corner of the drawer. Then trace the opposite corner onto the plywood and cut the plywood with a jigsaw. Stay on the waste side of the line when cutting the plywood. Then slowly shave down to the line with a block plane and test the fit of the bottom into the drawer.

Once a snug fit is achieved, before gluing and nailing the bottom in place, double-check to make sure the drawer has remained square by running a tape measure diagonally across the drawer from corner to corner, checking in both directions. The measurements should be the same.

Since the drawers are made entirely of plywood, let’s improve their appearance with drawer fronts of 3/4” solid oak. And adding some shoe moulding around the drawer faces will dress them up even more.

The shoe moulding is mitered at the corners. The measurements and cuts should be precise in order to achieve a nice fit for your trim. You’ll cut the trim on the miter saw, but measure your trim directly from the drawer front rather than by using a tape measure to ensure accuracy.

Turn the miter saw to 45° and cut one end of the shoe moulding. Place the mitered tip to the corner edge of the drawer front. Then at the opposite end mark the backside of the moulding with a pencil. Turn the miter saw to the opposite 45° angle and make the cut. Continue the procedure for all four pieces all the way around each drawer front.

This trim is a nice decorative touch and thereby your eye goes directly to this drawer front. However, a nail in it would draw too much attention and the hammer head might leave an ugly mark. So glue the pieces in place, using some masking tape as a “clamp” to hold it in place while the glue dries.

Once the shoe moulding is dry on both drawer fronts, attach them to the actual drawers. Drill clearance holes through the drawer box and then screw the drawer front  to the drawer box.

The drawer fronts fit flush into the bench so handles are needed. The handles should be properly centered in the drawer fronts or once again your eye will really notice the mistake.

To properly position the handles, begin by dividing the drawer front in half, vertically and horizontally. This gives you the center of the drawer front.

Then measure the distance between the holes on the actual handle. TIP – use a compass to set the points in the holes of the handle.

Then measure the spread of the compass on the tape measure. In this case, the distance was 3″. So from the middle of the drawer front measure over 11/2″ for the first hole, then place the compass on that pencil mark to find the spacing for the second hole.

With the two marks established, drill the clearance holes through the drawer front and drawer, and screw the handles in place.

The drawers are done and look great, but all the raw edges of the plywood are visible. Covering these edges with oak edge banding gives all the plywood the appearance of solid oak. Edge banding is a thin veneer strip of wood that is slightly wider than the 3/4 plywood. It also has an adhesive on the back that is activated when heat is applied.

A hot iron can apply the heat to melt the glue on the back side of the banding. It’s a fairly simple method however, as the glue melts the banding has the tendency to slide around. This can be frustrating. So to help minimize that, cut the edge banding to length and temporarily hold it in place with tape. Do not place the iron on the tape. Heat the banding between the pieces of tape. Remove the iron and let the glue dry. Then peal off the tape and place the iron back on to melt the glue where the tape was.

After the glue has cooled and dried, use a razor blade and shave off the extra width of the edge banding as needed and use a sanding block to sand it flush with the plywood.

Since the top is plywood, it too receives edge banding around it. And once the banding is on, attach the top to the bench.

When placing the top on the bench, make sure to measure equal distances on both ends and front-to-back.

The top is nailed to the bench, which doesn’t give as much holding strength as a screw, so it’s a good idea to add glue before nailing to give it extra holding power.

At this point the bench is built and is ready for finishing, but before applying stain give all surfaces a good sanding.

Sand the project beginning with #100-grit sandpaper. Normally I begin with #80 or sometimes #60-grit, but because the majority of this project is plywood the veneer is very thin #80- or #60-grit can easily sand right though the nice oak veneer layer and expose the plywood underneath.

In this case, begin with #100, then #150, and finish up with #220-grit. Even with the finer grit sandpaper you still need to be careful not to sand through the veneer, especially at the edges. Make sure to wipe off all dust in between each sanding of different sandpaper grits. This will help achieve a smooth finish ready for stain.

I used an oil based penetrating stain on this bench. Use a rag and work the stain into the grain of the wood with acircular motion, then wipe off excess stain with another clean rag. NOTE – Properly dispose of oily rags so they don’t spontaneously combust. Either place them in an airtight metal container or hang them outside to completely dry before disposal.

For the topcoat, I used an oil-based polyurethane. Water-based poly dries fast, but on a larger project I prefer oil because it gives me a longer working time to achieve a smooth finish. Speaking of a smooth finish, I prefer a foam brush for the top because it doesn’t leave any fiber marks from a bristle brush. But the bristle brush is good to use to fit into the corners of the trim around the drawers. 

Once your hallway bench is completed, you just might like it so much you won’t let the kids sit on it to change their shoes.


By Chad Stanton

Build Your Skills & Make Great Furniture

Anyone can build these attractive woodworking projects using the step-by-step instructions. No expensive tools or machines required. Working with only some basic measuring tools, jigsaw, miter saw, drill, sander, biscuit joiner, pocket hole jig, clamps, a hammer and a screwdriver, the absolute beginner (or the woodworker in a hurry) will be able to quickly create 20 quality furniture projects using only wood and hardware found at their local box store. By replacing much of the complicated joinery common in woodworking with mechanical fasteners (biscuits and pocket screws), the learning curve is greatly reduced, but the appearance of the project remains intact. Get your copy today at shopwoodworking.com!

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