I’ve spent an ample amount of time in the workshop lately, practicing woodworking in order to build myself a new desk. This bench is the first piece of furniture that I’ve ever built, aside from a poker table several years ago, and as the last coat of varnish dries, I find myself quite pleased with the results. It’s not without its imperfections, but I’ve learned enough in the process that I’ll be able to build my desk with a lot more confidence. And hopefully fewer mistakes.

I used two kinds of wood: .75” plywood with an oak veneer and .75” solid pine. The photo above shows most of the various pieces cut down to size. I used mortise and tenon joinery for the front and back pieces, while the unpictured bottom piece used tongue and groove joinery. I cut the pieces so that the grain would show vertically.

I started with the inside structural frame, which had to be the same dimensions as a plastic shoe tray that will be sitting under the bench. I used tongue and groove joinery for most of it, then a simple dado joint for the crosspiece, which is also reinforced with a screw. I ended up having to build this piece twice because after gluing up the first, it twisted beyond redeemable use. It was my own fault; I’d built it using scrap wood that was slightly warped, and it only got worse. The second time around, I used solid pine as well as some corner clamps. No twisting or shouting this time.

After the inside frame was done, I did a dry fit and then cut my bottom piece to the appropriate length. I ended up having to do some extra sanding and chiseling in order to get the pieces into a best fit.

Once I was happy with my dry fit, I taped up the areas around the joints that I’d be gluing. It was a good idea because it saved me some time with having to clean excess glue, but my taping was just a tad too tight to the joints, which ended up being a problem later on. The photo above shows the glued joints of the outer frame all clamped up in position. I ended up having to frantically loosen some clamps and tighten others to get a proper 90-degree angle.

After my outer frame was dry, I slid my inner frame into position, glued it, clamped it, and then screwed it into position. At this stage I definitely didn’t want any wood to split, so I pre-drilled and countersunk where each screw would go.

After removing the clamps, I was content with the results, although I tested its strength with a fair bit of hesitation. Thankfully, it stayed together.

This is a close up of a booboo. While trying to plane the height of the inner frame, I cracked an end piece in half. After it was glued into the outer frame, I made a shim out of the same material, glued it up, and slid it into the crack. After it was dry, I trimmed it to size and sanded it down, and now you can hardly tell it was there in the first place.

Next, I used golden oak edge banding tape to conceal the ply of the plywood. It was my first time using the stuff, but it went on as advertised. Apply heat, apply pressure, trim the excess, and sand it down.

After a few rounds of 250-grit sandpaper, I got it all nice and smooth. If you look carefully, you may notice a thin green line running along the joint of the bottom piece and the side piece. That was a result of my masking tape being too close to the joint, and then the glue keeping it there. I either should have kept it further from the joint or removed it sooner after gluing. Either way, I didn’t want it to show in my final product.

I picked up some golden oak wood filler from the store and worked it into the crack in tiny amounts. I masked off everywhere I didn’t want to have wood filler or be unnecessarily sanded.

I cut the wood for the seat down to size and noticed that it wobbled when laying on the inner frame. I took some shims and glued them into place, cutting and sanding them to be as seamless as possible.

This photo us after the second coat of stain. I used a water-based stain called Classic American, and applied it using a foam brush.

While the stain was drying, I glued the foam to the wood for the seat. I chose a composite foam that was more dense at the base so that it wouldn’t compress below the lip of the inner frame. Once it was dry, I trimmed the extra foam off with a sharp knife.

I marked out the vinyl using the wood and foam as a template, adding extra space for the wrap-around.

Keeping the vinyl as tight as possible, I stapled it to the bottom of the wood. Then, I tried placing the seat into the frame, only to find it didn’t fit. I had to unwrap it, trim the wood with a router, trim the foam with a knife, and wrap it again… twice, and then it fit nicely.

See? The upholstered seat fits just fine into the frame. Told you so.

Finally, I applied my first of six coats of varnish. I used a water-based varnish that is initially an unnerving milky white colour. As advertised, though, it dries perfectly clear. I gave it a light sanding with 300-grit sandpaper after the first two coats, but when I noticed some undesired stain loss on the edges, I stopped sanding between coats.

And the final result? Well, it was at the beginning of this post… and as you can see, it turned out well enough to sit on!

(Note: this post contains references to many images that were, unfortunately, lost during a hack.)