Outdoor storage bench

A two-in-one outdoor project gives you a place to store and a place to sit

By Rick Campbell


Photo by Mark Burstyn

Your backyard doesn’t have enough of two things: seating and storage. This elegant cedar deck box offers extra seating for unexpected guests as well as plenty of storage under the lid for cushions, small gardening tools and other odds and ends that may be cluttering up your outdoor living space. Build the project without a lid and drill a few drainage holes in the bottom to adapt this versatile design to create a matching planter box. You can also expand the dimensions to construct a larger box, with even more storage and seating for two.


Taking Sides

Regardless of the size and style of your box, building begins with the panelled side frames. These frames have rails, stiles and panel dividers joined with spline joints that surround solid-wood panels. Since the legs of each panel assembly meet at the corners, they also need to be mitred. Use three or four biscuits spaced along each set of legs to keep the corner joints aligned during final assembly.

Start by cutting out blanks for the legs, rails and panel dividers from 1"-thick cedar stock, then mill a 1⁄4"-deep x 1⁄2"-wide slot on their inside edges to receive the panels. Slots are required on both edges of the vertical panel dividers, but on only the inward-facing edges of all the other parts. You may have noticed that the groove on the legs will be visible on the feet as they extend below the lower rails, but this exposure isn’t a problem because you’ll be plugging these gaps with filler strips later on.

You also need to prepare slots on the ends of the horizontal rails and vertical panel dividers to accommodate the splines that connect the frame members. I completed these by running the parts, on end, over the tablesaw blade using the same set-up and cut depth I used when cutting the panels grooves. When I did this step, I used a pushstick to keep my fingers a safe distance from the saw blade as I guided the material from the bottom.

After this work is done, prepare cardboard templates to lay out the decorative profiles for the bottom rails. All the information you need is provided on the grid diagrams on the plans. Transfer these patterns to the rail blanks, cut out the shapes with a jigsaw or bandsaw, then sand the edges with a drum sander to clean up any saw marks. Next, head over to the tablesaw and bevel the outside edges of the legs, with the blade tilted 45° from vertical. When you’re done, pair up the legs to form corners, cut slots for #20 biscuits, then mark the leg tops so the corresponding parts can be reunited quickly during final assembly of the mitred leg joints.

Next, cut out the panels and splines from material that has been machined with the thickness planer to fit precisely in the frame grooves. The splines that connect the lower rails to the legs should be long enough to extend all the way to the bottom of the legs, to fill the exposed gaps on the feet as I mentioned previously. Trim the excess spline stock flush with the legs later, after the frames are assembled. With the splines and panels on hand, you’re ready to dry-fit the frames to see if all the parts are going to fit according to plan.

Finish Early

While you are admiring your workmanship, take a moment to think about how you’re going to finish the project. If you plan on using contrasting colours, as I did, then it’s easier to apply the finish before the parts are assembled. Finishing before final assembly sidesteps the need for taping and prevents painting errors caused by an unsteady hand. For my project, I started the finishing process by staining the exposed edges of the frame members and both sides of the panels. If you follow this method, be careful not to contaminate the unglued wood joints with stain; glue can’t hold to stained wood. Also, leave the faces of the frames unfinished until after assembly, since you’ll need to sand the joints flat and smooth after they come together. I used Sico’s exterior-grade translucent stain for this project–it offers excellent UV protection and provides a durable finish that resists scuffing and fading. I prefer stain to paint for outdoor projects because paint tends to flake and peel over time as the wood is exposed to the elements. Stain simply needs to be renewed.

After the brushes are put away, grab a bottle of weatherproof glue and assemble the frames for the final time. Working quickly, apply glue to the splines, then bring the frame members together with the panels in place. Be sure to keep glue out of the frame slots so the inserts are free to move with seasonal humidity changes. Now, take the completed frames and join them together at the corners with glue and biscuits to form a box. Wrap the entire assembly with web clamps to secure the joints, then square the bottom opening by equalizing the diagonal measurements. After the glue is dry, trim the protruding parts of the splines at the bottom of the legs with a handsaw and sand the surfaces flush. This is also a good time to give the unfinished faces of the frames a final sanding before moving on.

Bottoms Up

The bottom panel of the box rests on wooden cleats secured to the inside faces of the lower rails. Cut the cleats to size, then attach them to the rails with glue and rust-resistant screws, installed from the inside of the box. Now, you need to edge-glue boards to create a wide panel for the bottom and another for the lid panel. The finished dimensions for both are included on the parts list, but make them slightly oversized so you have room for trimming. Here’s a handy tip when edge-gluing boards: apply spring clamps to the ends of the joints to keep the surfaces aligned under pressure from the main clamps. This set-up reduces board-to-board mismatch and makes sanding easier.

After removing the clamps on the bottom panel, sand the surfaces, trim the wood to size, put a few drips of glue on the cleats, then drop the panel into the box. Gravity and glue are all that are required to hold the bottom in place.

Reach for the Top

Your next task is to make the rectangular frame that caps the top of the box. Cut out blanks for all four sides, mitre the ends at 45° and glue the parts together using a web clamp to secure the joints. That spring-clamp tip I mentioned earlier also works well to keep the mitred ends aligned while the glue cures. Now, take the completed frame and route a decorative profile on the outside edges using a handheld router and a 1⁄4"-radius roundover bit. With this step complete, attach the frame to the top edge of the box with glue and screws. I counterbored my screws 5⁄16" deep and concealed the heads with tapered wooden plugs.

If you glued up the lid panel earlier, trim the panel to size and round over the edges on all four sides with a router spinning a 3⁄8"-radius bit.

When this work is done, prepare the parts for the three-sided frame that’s mounted on top of the lid to accommodate the seat cushion. Cut a 2"-radius curve on the front ends of the side cushion rails, then attach the rails to the rear cushion rail with glue and counterbored screws. Install wood plugs to cover the screw heads and give the three-sided frame a final sanding before securing it to the lid with more counterbored screws installed from underneath.

I attached the lid to the box using a pair of brass hinges (Stanley 80-3250) and installed a restraint chain to prevent the lid from opening too wide. I found the perfect chain for the job in the plumbing aisle of my local hardware store. The chain is the type made to lift the flapper valve on a toilet-flushing mechanism. Since the chain is made of brass, it won’t rust. The opening in the links is also the perfect size to accommodate the #8 round-head screws I used to attach the chain to the lid and the box.

Now, remove all the hardware you just worked so hard to install, give the project a final sanding, and then apply the finish of your choice to the remaining exposed surfaces. After reattaching the lid and adding a comfortable seat cushion to the top, the deck box is ready to move outside, where your friends and family can enjoy your fine craftsmanship.

Tools & Materials

Part Material Size (T x W x L*) Qty.

Legs cedar 1" x 2" x 16" 8
Upper side rails cedar 1" x 2" x 12" 2
Lower side rails cedar 1"x 3" x 12" 2
Upper front/rear rails cedar 1" x 2" x 19" 2
Lower front/rear rails cedar 1" x 3" x 19" 2
Panel dividers cedar 1" x 2" x 8 3/4" 6
Panels cedar 1/2" x 5 1/2" x 9 1/4" 10
Long bottom cleats cedar 3/4" x 1" x 21" 2
Short bottom cleats cedar 3/4" x 1" x 12" 2
Bottom panel cedar 1" x 14" x 21" 1
Front/rear box caps cedar 1" x 2" x 24 3/4" 2
Side box caps cedar 1" x 2" x 17 3/4" 2
Lid cedar 1" x 19" x 26" 1
Rear cushion rail cedar 1" x 2" x 23" 1
Side cushion rails cedar 1" x 2" x 15" 2
Brass hinges 2 1/2" (Stanley 80-3250) 2
Brass lid restraint chain 20" 1
Splines cedar 1/4"x 1/2" x 7"** 4
**cut to length

* Length indicates grain direction

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Outdoor storage bench

Illustration by Len Churchill

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