Many of my projects are designed to store stuff neatly; this one is no exception. It started with the pool noodles. They’re unruly and often dripping wet, and resist organization—until now. This basket bench is the right length to fit a standard noodle, and its slats allow water to drain and air to circulate. Guck doesn’t gather in the corners, either—because there are none. Paddles, lifejackets, skis, and tow ropes also find a welcome home here. To top it all off, this project doubles as a comfortable bench, perfect for a pause beside the lake.
Start with the slats
1. Cut the slats from standard 5⁄4 cedar deck boards: You’ll need five 12′ boards in all. Start by crosscutting the deck boards in half for easier handling. Next, rip all the boards right down the middle, then reset your saw fence for a 2 1⁄2″-wide cut, keeping the freshly sawn, square edges against the fence. This process removes all the factory-rounded edges from the boards as well as any cracks in the board ends.
2. The next step may seem strange, since you’ve just removed the rounded edges, but the effort is worth it. Set your table saw blade to 45° and adjust the fence so the blade cuts off the sharp corners of the slats. Run all long edges of the slats through the saw this way. These tiny bevels add a finished look to the project and disguise minor variations in board thickness—something you’d otherwise notice in the assembled top.
Top, sides, and legs
1. Choose the six nicest slats for the seat and arrange five of them on a flat surface for glue-up (the sixth piece stays separate to accommodate the hinges). To minimize warping later on, arrange the boards so the curve of the growth rings alternates (one board with the curve up, the next with it down), then apply outdoor-rated glue to the edges of the slats. Draw them together using bar clamps and set aside to dry. There’s no need to joint the edges; the cedar is flexible enough to join tightly. Once the glue has set, cut the seat assembly and the loose slat to final length.
2. Cut the remaining 14 slats to final length for the sides, then toss the worst one of the bunch in the scrap bin; you only need 13 to complete the bench. Next, rip one slat to 2″ wide for use at the very bottom. This narrower width allows you to space all the other slats evenly around the curved ends. To complete the slats, drill pilot holes (one at each end) for the screws that secure the slats to the end pieces. Drilling now instead of later ensures that holes are spaced precisely, giving the project a crisp, clean look when it’s done.
3. Cut the legs from a single 6′ length of 4×4, ripped to 2 1⁄4″ by 2 1⁄4″. As with the slats, sawing off the factory-rounded edges will give you crisp, square edges. When that’s done, crosscut the legs to their final 17″ length. Choose the best-looking faces, then orient them to point outward in the finished project, before drilling 1⁄2″-dia. holes for the eight dowels that secure the legs to the end pieces.
I made the rounded end pieces from 3⁄4″-thick exterior-grade plywood, but medium-density overlay plywood (MDO) is also an excellent, long-lasting choice. Cut the pieces to 12″ by 14″ first, then use a compass to lay out the circular ends. Cut the curve with a jig saw, just leaving the pencil line, then smooth the curve to its final shape with a sander. To complete the ends before finishing, drill holes for the dowels on the outside faces.
Finishing and final assembly
1. I don’t usually apply finishes to outdoor projects before assembly, but the painted ends of this piece make it necessary. Before you apply any finish, mask all the areas that will get glue in the final assembly. Dry-fit the legs to the ends to see which portions you need to mask off. Masking tape will keep these areas free of oil and paint.
2. A few coats of polymerized tung oil will protect the cedar; use exterior primer and paint on the ends. We used Para Paints’ Fresh Berries (P5079-63).
3. With the paint and the oil finishes dry and the masking tape removed, attach the legs to the end pieces. Apply outdoor-rated glue to the dowels and the mating faces, and bring them together. Instead of clamping the pieces, I drove three #8 x 1 1⁄2″ outdoor-rated screws through the inside of the end pieces at each leg (I drilled pilot holes and counter-sinks before driving these screws in). Make sure the screws are positioned to avoid the dowels.
4. Next, attach the side slats to the end pieces with more 11⁄2″ screws. Start with the first slat at the top front of the bench and work your way toward the bottom. Use scraps of 1⁄4″-thick wood as spacers to keep everything even as you attach the slats. Leave the narrower bottom slat until last, in case it has to be trimmed to fit with a 1⁄4″ gap on each side.
5. To complete the seat assembly, start by installing the hinges, which attach the glued-up section to the single, loose seat slat. Measure and mark the location of the hinges, then carefully cut shallow mortises to accept the leaves. Attach the hinges using corrosion-proof screws.
6. Apply glue to the tops of the back legs and the top edge of the back slat. Then position the seat assembly on top of the bench with an even overhang at each end. Drill and countersink the holes for the screws; drive the screws home. Finally, install plywood side cleats with glue and screws on the inside faces of the top three front and back slats.
Fill up your bench and your dockside will start looking a little less like a garage sale and a little more like the relaxing retreat it’s meant to be.
Paul Lewis wrangles soggy pool noodles at his family cottage near Parry Sound, Ont.