Thursday, August 22, 2013

Porch Built-In Bench

Porch when we bought the house
I think one of the best features of our old farm house is the attached 3 season porch. It is sweltering hot in the summer and like an icebox in the winter but I love having a buffer between the outdoors and the main house. It is great for stripping off dirty boots and storing all the odds and ends of family life. Unfortunately, it is such a useful space it quickly became cluttered with junk we never got around to finding a permanent home for in the house or surrounding outbuildings.

Megan and I decided after our 3rd attempt to clean up the area and give it purpose we would try something more drastic. The plan was to construct built-in benches with open front storage along 2 walls.  I worked up a quick plan and bill of materials and set to work clearing out the area. While moving our famous hoosier cabinet that I have moved more times than I can count, I stepped on a really soft spot in the far corner of the porch.

The bench design including building right over this area of the floor so I needed to first tear it out and shore it up. After peeling back the glued down carpet I realized this was going to be a bigger pain than I was hoping. It seems to me that the previous owners noticed that the floor was rotting and crumby so they just put another layer of T&G floor boards right over the failing ones, so now I had two layers of junk to rip out. Break out the trusty sawzall and get cutting!

After removing the floor back to sound material, I measured everything up, cut and installed some frame work to support the old and new floor I was about to put in. A chuck of ¾” CDX later and I had a solid floor to start my bench build over. Notice the use of the levels which was an exercise in futility as my new section might be level and square but the rest of it was, lets say… not.

Using my new clamping straightedge, I ripped down and cross cut two sheets of ½” birch plywood to size. Some glue, brad nails and clamps transformed my pieces into benches. For this project the plan was to trim them in place after they were level, squared and installed. Building the raw benches is the easy part, the hard part was just beginning.

As I stated before, this porch and most other rooms in an old (sometimes new) house are rarely square and level so I had to build a base for the bench casements to sit on. Most cabinets have a recessed space at the bottom which is called a “XXXXX”. It allows you to stand right up to the cabinet and have space for your toes to go, gives you space to level/trim and it also brings your pots and pans, etc off the floor height so you don’t have to bend down all the way. This space is usually 3- 3 ½” but since I knew how high I wanted the benches to be on average, I found a good center point on the floor and made that my level point to start measuring from. What that got me for this project was about 1 ½” on the lowest point and 3 ½” on the highest point. I set my bench casement in place, shimmed it to level and took readings every foot along the bottom so I know how to cut my frame. You end up with a 8’ long wedge that will level and support the casement.

I installed all the frame work, set my casements on top and screwed everything solid. The plan I started with in my head was to create a hinged trap door in the corner for my muck boots to hide out when not in use. I was going to use concealed hinges so when the door was closed you wouldn't even know it was there. When it came down to it, I no longer liked the idea and instead thought it would be more useful if I built a bookshelf into the benches to store Megan's cookbook collection. Megs was hesitant at first but I talked her into it and in the end it is her favorite detail about the new storage unit. I measured her cookbooks and found three common sizes. I usually make all shelves adjustable using pins but ½” plywood is too weak for that in my opinion so I secured them with glue and Kreg pocket hole screws. Once dry, I set the shelf casement in place I tightly shimmed it level and square (do you see a common theme emerging from my work?) and secured it with cabinet screws.
Corner "hole"
E "sleeping" in the bench
With all the casements roughed in, it was time to start trimming! I ripped down some 1x pine for all the exposed faces and set to work gluing and nailing in place. The really fun part came when I had to trim the newly installed units to the existing clapboard siding. Megs came out to me carefully scribing a board to match every nuance of the 60 year old wall and proclaimed… just put a strait board there it will be fine. WHAT? To quote one of my favorite movies, The Rock… “No scissors, you must be joking me no scissors, do you think they told Picasso no brush?” When she says these types of things to me it makes my heart hurt; like she was almost going to convince me. Ha!

After a few back and forths to the shop I had a pretty good match for my liking. Some caulking and hole patching then off to Megan for priming and paint.  Viola, storage unit/ bench to sit and enjoy the view.