Seat in a box

By Cathy Dalrymple

Photo by Dave Starrett

This simple, triple-decker project began with a need for spare seating on my deck. I wanted something that could stack out of the way between uses, and which was sized to suit both little and big people. This project was designed with simple joinery and low-cost materials, so it would be fun, easy and cheap.

You probably have more than enough scrap in your workshop to build these boxes, but you can also use finer materials to suit your style-whatever reflects your personal tastes.


Choose your wood

The construction of this project is simple. First, choose your stock. Since I would be painting the wood, I wasn't concerned with appearance. I decided to laminate two thicknesses of 3/4" spruce plywood. To keep things inexpensive, this was the best option. You could also edge-glue 2-by lumber if you wish.

Take two and a half 3/4"-thick sheets of 4x8 plywood and cut them to 22" wide on your tablesaw. You should end up with six pieces of wood, 96" long each. All of the boxes have the same front-to-back width; only the height changes. When you've finished these first cuts, glue and clamp two pieces of ply together in 96" lengths. This takes a lot of glue, so consider using a paint roller to spread it smoothly.

Even when the clamps are in place, you may still have trouble getting the middle area of each double sheet tight. After all, the clamps can only go around the edges. Solve this problem by drawing the middle areas together temporarily with #8 x 1" wood screws. Orient the screw holes left behind in the middle of the boxes so they won't be seen.

Box it up

When the glue is dry, remove the clamps and run the pieces through your tablesaw again to remove irregularities along the edges, which will trim down your ply to a final width of 22" after adding 1/4"-thick edging along each edge. Cut the parts you need for the large box, then glue and clamp the components together. The sizes in the materials list are for boxes assembled with butt joints. Add three inches to the length of the sides if you plan to create mitred corners.

Next, start on the middle box. The parts in the materials list make a box 1/2" narrower than the inside dimensions of the big one. Similarly, the small box will be 1/2" smaller than the middle one. You will need two 15" pieces for the top and bottom and two 12" pieces for the sides. If you are mitering, use four 15" pieces. Cut and install five #20 biscuits per joint before assembly, staggered to miss the joint between pieces of ply.

The finish line

This should be the fun part of this project because there are so many interesting ways to finish your project. Remember that these boxes can be used indoors as well as outdoors. They even work well as nesting tables in your indoor living space. Choose your finish according to how you'll use the boxes.

I brushed alkyd primer and paint onto my outdoor boxes after a final sanding with a 180-grit disc in a random-orbit sander. Sand lightly between coats and use a smooth-surface roller with a fine nap for a smooth finish.

Once the paint has dried completely, add 1/4" bumpers on the bottom of each box so they sit centred within each other. Tack in a small pin nail to keep the bumpers from shifting. You can also use upholstery tacks for this purpose. Slide the boxes into each other and enjoy a nice spot to sit.

Tools & Materials

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

Large box

Top/bottom 1 1/2" x 22" x 22" 2
Sides 1 1/2" x 19" x 22" 2

Medium box

Top/bottom 1 1/2" x 18 1/2" x 22" 2
Sides 1 1/2" x 15 1/2" x 22" 2

Small box

Top/bottom 1 1/2" x 15" x 22" 2
Sides 1 1/2" x 12" x 22" 2
Edging 1/4" x 1 1/2" x 96"** 6
Plastic bumpers
(Lee Valley 00S20.02)
1/4" - dia. 16
**Total length required

* Length indicates grain direction

Recommended Tools


Seat in a box

Illustration by Len Churchill

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