A Simple Bench

When I realized I needed to make some of my own miniature furniture for my dollhouses, because I couldn’t find what I was looking for in mini shops, one of the first things I made was a bench.
This is the bench, something rustic and old world for the cottage I had just built.

Let’s start however, with a basic style.
This is as simple as it gets, a seat, 2 supports and underneath a structural piece.
This particular bench was made of balsa. I use a band saw to cut my wood. I had a scroll saw, back before I got into miniatures, but it broke, and I’ve never gotten around to buying another one.
Generally, you can sand balsa pretty well, except for the grain, which shows up no matter how much you sand. If you have a Dremel, or similar tool, it makes sanding curved cuts so much easier. These benches are pre Dremel, but it’s ok, they’re rustic and a somewhat rough look is quite appropriate. On the other hand, don’t leave your rustic furnishings too rough. You need to decide just how much you want to sand to give things the look you want.

When designing a bench like this, just decide on how wide, long and high you want it to be. This particular bench is 1 & ¾” high. The seats of chairs and benches should be around 1 & ½” to 1 & ¾” high, with 1 & ½” being the most common used height.

Once you’ve decided how long and wide you want it to be, cut out a simple rectangle for the seat. With the supports, you can stay simple or get a little creative. I tend to lean towards curves, some people like straight sides. Look around at benches for sale in stores, or pictures in magazines and catalogs for looks you like and adapt them.

My favorite tool to draw curves for furniture is a anything I have in my kitchen. I have a compass up in my studio, but I find I do most of my planning while I’m in my kitchen. When I kept the compass in my kitchen drawer, I always found I wound up needing it up in my studio. I suppose the smart thing would be to buy another compass for the kitchen drawer, but I keep forgetting to. Anyway, as long as my kitchen is full of glasses, lids and coins, I can make a curve whatever size I want.

I’ll start designing the supports by drawing a rectangle that’s as high and about as wide as I want the support to be. As an example, here I drew a rectangle 1” wide and 1 & 3/8” high. Assuming that I’m using 1/8” thick wood for the seat, that would make the finished bench 1 & ½” high.
In the upper illustration I drew a curve with a red pencil using an item I had on my desk. In black pencil, I drew another pair of curves using a larger cup. The smaller stamp holder is 1 & ¾” in diameter, the cup is 2 & ¾”. You can see how the curves differ.
Note also, in the lower illustration, that I marked off the bottom and top of the curves. I’d cut those little tips off when I cut the bench support. Those tips tend to break off eventually.

The final piece you need to cut is a brace that helps hold the bench pieces together, and here it is.
Below is another bench, made just like the blue one, only it’s longer. Notice that there are 2 braces, one at the top, one lower down. You need extra bracing to make a longer bench a sturdy piece of mini furniture that won’t break into pieces the first time you drop it.
By the way, use wood glue to put it all together. Wood glue is formulated to hold wood, and is a basic woodworking tool.
Also, sand your pieces before you glue them together, it makes things easier.
Finally, lets talk about the paint.
I painted the bench, then sanded it smooth. Paint will raise the fibers of the wood and make the piece seem very rough. The sanding takes off quite a bit of paint. Use an emery board to sand your curves and edges. If you have a small rotary sander like a Dremel, that’s great, however, use the Dremel to sand before you paint, not after, it will take every bit of paint off.
After sanding, I painted the bench again. This time I sanded gently, to give it a worn look. I used very fine sandpaper and the finer side of the emery board. Another great sanding tool is a foam sander. They come in various grits, in blocks or in sheets. I’ll cut smaller squares off sheets of foam backed sandpaper to sand my miniature pieces.
I’ve seen lots of pieces of miniature and real sized furniture that were sanded to give a worn effect. The problem is that many over sand and/or do it in the wrong places. Places that get handled or kicked will show wear and tear. Places that are constantly rubbed will eventually loose some paint color. Edges get worn before anything else.
Don’t wear your paint down willy-nilly, give it a bit of thought and you’ll be glad you did.

10 comments:

  1. This post is perfect for me! I just bought a darling dollhouse that needs fixing up. I've been wondering how to make my own furniture for it. What on earth is a scroll saw or a band saw for that matter? Where do you find one?
    I thought balsa wood would splinter if you tried to cut it on an angle? Have you ever used an Xacto (sp) knife? How to keep from slicing your fingers when you are doing this??
    I love this little bench! Love the blue too!

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  2. A band saw or a scroll saw are power tools, you can find them wherever they sell power tools. You have to be quite careful with them lest you cut off the tip of your finger!
    I've used X-acto knives, but not often, too slow going for me.
    Balsa can be great to work with for somethings, but not for everything. I did use it for some furniture pieces early on, but once I tried basswood it became my wood of choice for furniture.

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  3. beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  4. Thanks for this - especially for all your finishing tips. Lately, I've been finding finishing techniques to be even more important than building!

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  5. Just love it! The basic ones are great and the longer one is my favorite :)

    Dutch greetings,
    Grumbler

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  6. What wonderful info! I am wanting to make some furniture and this will be a perfect start. I've only assembled kits and stained unfinished pieces.

    Jody
    Mini Leaps and Bounds

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  7. Hi Grazhina,
    I just wanted to say thank you soooo much for your article on the bench, particularly the long bench. I have a picture of a table that I want for an alchemist's lair that is just the type you described except that the horizontal support extends through holes in the legs. You make me realize I don't have to search the internet and pay a fortune...I can make it from scraps! Thanks again, Jo

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  8. Grazhina,
    I have an award for you at my blog. You can pick it up at http://random-aspects.blogspot.com/

    Your tutorials are wonderful! It is so generous of you to take the time to share your talent!

    Traci

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  9. Wonderful tut. I love when people share tutorials, tips and ideas.

    For some of my furniture and depending on what I am making I use thin wood that can be cut with a good pair of sharp scissors and shaped with sandpaper.

    For those of you who like myself enjoy TTT
    I have also made benches with foam as well, the kind used for fruit and/or meat as trays.

    If you like you can see a couple of them in my Trash to treasure album.

    Continue mini sharing everyone!

    Thanks again for this and all the tuts shared.


    Leilani

    Miniature Creations By Leilani
    http://www.picturetrail.com/Leilani43
    http://community.webshots.com/user/msfierce

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  10. Thank you for sharing your wonderful tutorials
    I wouldn't mind a real life size bench like that!

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