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How To Build A DIY Mid-Century Modern Slatted Bench

How To Build A DIY Mid-Century Modern Slatted Bench

In this woodworking video, I build a DIY mid-century modern slatted bench modeled after the iconic Nelson Platform Bench, designed by George Nelson for Herman Miller. This is a timeless mid-century modern design that makes for a fairly simple yet rewarding woodworking project. The bench can be built from easily attainable materials, including a handful of 1x2 and 1x3 boards from any home center.

Materials Needed for DIY Mid-Century Modern Slatted Bench Project:

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Tools Used On DIY Mid-Century Modern Slatted Bench Project:

I built this project out of 8/4 Hard Maple and oak, but you could also use a mix of 1x2s and 1x3s from your local home center if you don’t have the equipment to mill rough lumber. It was an incredible amount of work ripping down the maple strips, and I would have bought the lumber already milled if I didn’t already have the Maple on hand.

I ripped the Maple into ¾” x 1 ½” strips on the table saw. If you’re using 1x2s, you’ll want to purchase seven 8 foot long 1x2s for the bench top, and cut them into 48” pieces.

Once I milled the Maple into strips, I cut two of the strips to 24” long sections. These short sections make up the horizontal cross-members that run at each end and in the middle of the bench top.

The middle crossmember is twice as wide, so I also glued up a pair of the cross-members. I built three of these benches, which is why you see so many pieces being glued up here.

With the pieces cut to size, it was time to cut the dados into the pieces. To do this, I made a little jig using a piece of scrap plywood. I set up my dado stack to be the exact width of the slats, and then set the height to exactly half of the height of the slat.

Once this was set, I cut one pass into the temporary fence and then added a small off-cut from the slats to this opening. I then used a ¾” spacer block to space this block ¾” from the fence. With the spacing correct, I screwed the fence to the miter gauge and it was ready to go. I did also add a little paste wax, to make it easier to move the piece on and off of the jig.

The way it works is as follows: make a cut with the piece pushed up against the block. Once this cut has been made, slide the workpiece over, putting the dado you just cut onto the block. This will set the workpiece’s position to exactly ¾” from the blade.

Make another pass, then move the workpiece over again. Repeat this until you have enough dados for the number of slats your bench top has, 11 in my case. I cut my cross-memberss extra long, so I had room to trim them to final length after cutting the dados. Also, as you can see, I have all of the cross members taped together, so they can all be cut at the same time. This makes sure the spacing is even.

Once all of the dados were cut, I cut the cross-members to their final length, 15 ¾” in my case, at the miter saw.

With the cross-members cut, it was then time to make the matching cuts into the slats. There is one notch on each end of the slat, and a double wide notch in the middle of the slat. First, I cut the notches on each end of all of the slats. I put a clamp on my miter gauge’s fence which served as a stop block.

With the notches cut on each end of the slats, I added a block to the table saw’s fence and set the distance from this block to the dado stack to be exactly the length of half of the slat, minus ¾”. That way, when I made a cut, it cut a dado, then I could flip the piece around, make another cut, and it was make a double wide dado.

It’s best to sneak up on the fit of this cut, err on the side of too narrow, because you can’t put wood back. Make the width of the center dado just wide enough for your center cross-member to fit snugly. As I said earlier, I made three of these benches, so I had a lot of slats to cut. With the stop system set up, though, it went pretty quickly.

After making all of my dado cuts, I ended up with a ¾” x ¾” notch on each end, and then a 1.5” x ¾” dado in the center of the slat.

Next, I needed to sand off any burn marks left by the table saw blade during ripping, and also any tearout from cutting the dados. I used my drum sander for this, which is the perfect tool for this job. My drum sander, the Supermax 19-38, was provided by my friends at Acme Tools, the sponsor of today’s video. I highly encourage you check them out if you’re thinking of purchasing any power tools or other items for your shop.

With all of the pieces for the bench top cut to size and sanded, it was time for assembly. The glue up for the bench top is a little stressful, since there are so many individual joints. I decided to tackle it in phases.

First, I glued the center cross-member and the slats together. I didn’t go crazy with the glue, because I wanted to avoid as much squeeze out as possible. Cleaning it up from the inside faces of the slats would be a total pain. My joints were pretty snug, which is a good thing, so I used a rubber mallet to drive them home. Once they were pounded in, I added a clamp widthwise to close up any small gaps.

Next, I moved onto one end of the bench top. Once again, I didn’t go crazy with the glue because of squeeze out. I got the joints started with the mallet, and then applied clamping pressure lengthwise to pull the cross-member tight against the slats.

Next, I used a hardwood caul across the top of the slats and applied clamping pressure on each end, to close up the gaps between the bottom of the slats and the cross-member. I added a clamp width-wise, to close up any gaps in that direction, and finally added one more clamp in the middle to pull the slats closed. Man, that was stressful!

Next came a ton of sanding. I first used the drum sander again to get everything flushed up. You could use a belt sander to do that. Then I spent a lot of time with the random orbit sander and just hand sanding to get everything smoothed out.

I also used a little trick to sand in between the slats. I took a piece of ¾” plywood, which is slightly less than ¾” wide, and attached some sandpaper to one edge of it with spray adhesive. I cut away the excess, and I was left with the perfect tool for sanding between the slats and the cross-members.

Finally, I eased all of the edges, making sure to leave them nice and crisp. The biggest design element on this bench is the clean, crisp lines. I just didn’t want them to be so sharp they were uncomfortable.

With the bench top essentially done, I moved onto the legs. I decided to use a huge chunk of Oak that I had lying around, but I based the size of the legs on a standard 1x3. For both legs, you’ll need two 6 foot long 1x3s.

I milled the chunk of Oak to size with the bandsaw, jointer, table saw, and planer and then moved onto cutting the leg pieces. The legs are pretty simple, made up of four pieces that are joined with screws and dowels. All of the pieces are cut with an 8 degree bevel on each end. The top piece and two side pieces are 14” long, and I cut the bottom piece to fit.

The top and bottom pieces have the 8 degree bevel cut angled towards each other, and the side pieces have the bevel cut parallel to each other.

To assemble the legs, I pre-drilled and countersunk holes and then added 2 inch screws. I added a little paste wax to allow the screws to be driven more easily. I used a clamp to keep the pieces flushed up during assembly.

With the top piece and side pieces assembled, I marked a line on the bottom piece and then cut it to length at the miter saw. This will help account for any errors made while cutting the other pieces.

I labeled the pieces then disassembled them, added glue, and reassembled them. Next, I added one ⅜” dowel in each corner to reinforce the joints. This probably isn’t totally necessary, but it adds a good bit of strength to the butt joints. I also plugged the screw holes with the same dowel.

With all of the holes plugged, I flushed everything up with a low angle jack plane, which smoothed everything out nicely. Next, I sanded all sides of the legs and chamfered the bottom edges with a block plane.

The legs on the Nelson bench are traditionally stained black, and I decided to try using a leather dye to do this. It worked really well on the test pieces I tried, so I gave it a shot on the legs. It goes on really easily and I just used the included applicator to wipe it on.

I added one coat, let it dry for about an hour, then came back and added another coat. I let the second coat dry for another hour, then wiped off any excess stain and let it dry overnight. I sealed the dye with a coat of spray shellac, then added two coats of spray polyurethane to finish the legs.

For finish on the bench top, I used an aerosol pre-catalyzed lacquer. I sprayed on a coat, let it dry for about 30 minutes, sanded with 320 grit sandpaper, and then repeated for two more coats.

I let all of the finishes to dry overnight and then attached the legs to the bench top from below using 1 ¼” screws. I pre-drilled and countersunk the holes, paying close attention to make sure I drilled into the slats squarely. I used about six screws per leg. With the legs attached, the bench was done.

I hope you enjoying this DIY mid-century modern woodworking project! I plan to build quite a few pieces in this style over the next year, so stay tuned. If you'd like to keep up with my builds, subscribe to my email newsletter or subscribe to my YouTube channel.

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