Built-In Bench with Shelf Help


We’ve transitioned somewhere from wanting the house to look nice, to wanting the house to be nice all the time. 

More and more, I’m turning to “built-in” furniture for my home.  Built-in furniture is the cornerstone of an organized home – it creates permanent storage for every single thing you own. Down to the tiniest lego, you know exactly where everything goes.

Built-in furniture also encloses your belongings – so it visually simplifies your home, hiding mismatched patterns and colors.  It’s why kitchens can work so hard, and store so much, but still appear neat and tidy.

I also love that built-in furniture, or custom cabinetry – is designed to fit your space exactly – sometimes even attached to the wall behind, with often a fully enclosed bottom.  It’s these little details that make cleaning easier, and that make your home look cleaner.  

Built-In Bench Build

I’m working on a toy storage system for my toddler.  She’s in the million tiny toys stage.  The goal is a bench with hutch system (like this one), so she can sit on the bench, use the bench for play, or stand on the bench to reach toys in the upper hutch.  This week I got the bench done!

Other Uses for this Bench

While I’m going to use this bench for toy storage, it’s the perfect bench for other uses in the home:

  • Mudroom or Entryway – Add coat hooks or a hutch or shelf with hooks above for a custom mudroom.  For deeper benches, use baskets at the back of the open shelves for out of season shoes, and leave the front open for daily use.
  • Kitchen Banquette – Configure to create a banquette in the kitchen, or built in kitchen bench
  • Window Seat – Perfect bench for under a window seat.  Add cabinetry on either side for a built in window seat wall.
  • Media Console Bench – Add a TV on the wall above and towers on either side for a media suite wall

Tools and Materials

Here’s what you’ll need to build your bench

  • Plywood carcass kit (either order from Shelf Help or download diagrams and cut yourself and finish front edges)
  • Kreg Jig with 1-1/4″ pocket hole screws (depending on bench size, I used about 50)
  • Drill
  • Compound miter saw 
  • 18 gauge brad nailer
  • 1×3 bay supports, 4 per bay (can be low grade wood)
  • 3-1/4″ tall base moulding for bottom
  • 3/4″ or 1″ long brad nails
  • wood glue
  • Finishing supplies: wood filler, 120 and 200 grit sandpaper, primer, paint, brushes and rollers, or stain and staining rags

Designing a Built-In Bench

Use our free Shelf Help Configurator to design your bench to fit your space – this takes all the math and mistakes out and gives you visualization. Here is the exact bench dimensions for the photograph and video:

Design Considerations

When designing your built-in bench, here’s a few tips to help you get professional looking results:

  • Overall height should be between 16-18″
  • Overall width up to 8 feet – if longer, you will need to add a solid wood top as max plywood length is 8 feet, or break the bench up into two or more.
  • Depth is recommended at 20-1/4″ or 23-1/4″
  • Avoid shelf spans more than 36″, as the wood may start to sag
  • Consider the size of any baskets or bins to fit in shelves
  • Consider the height of baseboard trim when placing the shelf heights.  Normal baseboards are 3-1/4″ and 5-1/4″.

Main Carcass Assembly

Once you have completed the design of your bench, either order the pieces or download the drawings and print out and cut plywood as directed in the cut list.  Also finish front edges with edge banding.

Mark out all pocket holes on plywood, and drill pocket holes on 3/4″ setting.  Use 3-4 pocket holes per joint, evenly spaced.  Avoid pocket holes too close to the edge.

Assemble the bench, using 1-1/4″ pocket hole screws and glue.

Bay Supports

The plywood carcass needs to be reinforced with bay supports.

Cut four 1x3s per bay, to match the widths of the shelves.

For the front, top bay support, only drill two pocket holes on each end, and attach.  Then attach to the underside of the top with 1-1/4″ screws (can use pocket hole screws), inset about 1/4″ from the front edge for dimension.

For the remainder of the bay supports, drill two pocket holes on each end, and then pocket holes facing upward every 8-12″.  Attach with pocket holes facing backwards.

Base Trim

Base trim finishes out the bottom.  If you are adding other cabinetry components, for example towers on either side, add base trim in place, wrapping all cabinetry.

For standalone bench, simply cut the base trim with a miter saw, with corners at 45 degrees, and nail on with 3/4″ brad nails and wood glue.

Finishing

The wood can be finished in a variety of ways, from stains to paints.  This bench was primed and painted with several coats of semigloss paint.


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