Canadian Woodworking

Deacon’s bench

Author: Adrian Jones
Illustration: Lee Gabel
Published: April May 2004

This red oak Deacon’s Bench provides both convenient entryway seating, and storage for winter boots and clothing.


deacon's bench
Deacon's bench components
deacon's bench materials list
deacon bench material list notes

The inside of the box is lined with aromatic Western red cedar. A full width hinged lid of jointed solid red oak allows access to the 6.5 cubic feet of storage space. In total the bench measures 46″L x 25″W x 41″H.

The design of the bench is centred around a box, based on interlocking face and side frames. All joints are glued only, with no screws or nails. The assemblies rely on blind mortise-and-tenons, groove tenon, and dowel joints.

Cut Legs And Mortises

Cut the legs (A) and (B), approx. 1″ longer than necessary, and mill to 1-5/8″ square. Mark on their bottom end-grain.

Reference all measurements and draw the location of offset mortises, as per illustration, 3/8″ from the outside edge. Cut the mortises (centred on the leg) for the back, and upper and lower rails.

Make The Box

Cut the upper face frame (H) and lower rail (J), the two edge stiles (M), and two muntins(N) that divide the frame into three equal panels. Cut the three oak plywood pieces (Q) that will be trapped in the groove that runs inside each panel.

This groove forms the joinery between the stiles and muntins and rails. Cut the side frames (P) which are single panels without muntins.

Cut the rails, stiles, and muntins to length. Cut a groove to accept the plywood thickness. Centre and cut the groove (1/2″ deep x 15/32″ wide) in one long edge of the stiles and rails. Do the same for both edges of the muntins. Cut a similar groove on the upper and lower back rails.

Cut Tenons

Cut tenons on both ends of all frame rails and the lower back rail (see tenon detail). Use a dado blade and miter gauge on the table saw. Sneak up on the final width and length to provide a snug fit into the leg mortises. Label each tenon with its mating leg reference.

Cut long tenons on the upper back rail in the same manner. Use a bandsaw to trim the tenon to the correct length from the top of the rail. Sneak up until you get a snug fit into the top leg mortises.

Cut Groove

Cut a 15/32″ wide, 3/8″ deep groove 1-1/4″ from the lower edge of the lower face (G) and side rails (J) to accept the base panel.

Dry Fit Frames

Dry assemble frames with the legs you have cut to length. Select two stiles and cut the end tenons. Sneak up on the length and thickness of the tenons until they fit snugly into the rail grooves. Label the stiles.

Face frame: select two stiles and two muntins, and cut the tenons.


To ensure good clamping pressure (when you glue up the frames) use a file to shave 1/16″ off the upper edge of the lower rail tenons. That will allow the lower rail to move just enough to squeeze the stiles and muntins during glue-up.

Back Frame

Cut the curve on the upper back rail. Using a drawing bow or piece of springy wood, trace a curve starting 1/2″ above the top of the tenon to the centre of the top of the rail. Cut out on the bandsaw and sand smooth. Cut the back legs to length at a 15° angle so the top “peaks”.

Cut the nine back slats to length and cut tenons in the same manner as cutting the stile and muntin tenons. Cut the ends of the tenons. That will “hide” the slat spacers and make the back easier to assemble.

Mill stock for the spacers and cut 16 pieces to 2-3/8″ length. Centre the middle slat on the rails and assemble from the centre outwards. Trim the four outer spacers to fit into the width of the back.

Cut The Arches

Cut the arches on all lower rails (G) & (J). Draw an arc which starts 3″ from the ends of rails (G) and rises to 1/4″ below the bottom of the panel groove, at the centre. Repeat for panels (J) but start the arc 2″ from the ends of the rail. Cut and sand smooth.

Prepare Pieces

Separate frame pieces. Apply two coats of Danish oil to all faces (except faces of mating joinery).

Assembly Tips

The glue-up of so many interlocking pieces may appear a little daunting at first but can be dramatically simplified by gluing up smaller sub-assemblies one at a time. Assemble the bench in the following order:

Glue slats (E) and filler (AB) pieces into the upper and lower rear rails. (C) and (D). Assemble with the rear legs to ensure it is flat and square. Don’t glue the rail tenons to the legs yet.

Glue stiles (M), muntins (N), and panels (Q), into the upper (H) and arched lower (G) rails of the rear face frame. Use the legs (A) and the back assembly to ensure it is square and flat.

Repeat to glue the front frame, using the front legs (B) to ensure square and flat.

Glue stiles (L) and panels (P) into upper (K) and arched lower (J) rails of both side frames using front and back legs.

Dry fit the frame with the pre-assembled panels. Measure and cut the base panel (R) to fit into the groove in the lower rails allowing 1/16″ clearance on all edges. Cut notches in each corner to fit around the legs. (Apply a couple of coats of Danish oil to both faces of the panel prior to main assembly.)

Glue the rear legs (A) to the two back assemblies. Glue the front legs (B) to the front face assembly.

Glue up the side assemblies into the rear and front legs along with the base panel.

Bench Lid

Choose the boards for the lid (W) and set aside to settle for a couple of days. Mill flat and to required thickness. Cut as many as required for approx. 22″ width and cut them an inch longer than required (I ripped 6 boards to 4″ width). Arrange the boards for the best grain match. Alternate the grain orientation of adjacent boards to minimize cupping. Apply a coat of Danish oil to top and bottom faces and joint adjacent edges. Glue up a couple of pieces at a time and clamp alternatively top and bottom making sure that the panel is flat.

Clean up each sub panel when the glue is cured, re-joint and glue final lid assembly. Leave to cure.

Rip and cut the lid surround moulding. Centre the back piece (Y) and mark the leg notches. Use the bandsaw and miter the ends to meet the side molding (X). I used an angle of 48º. Rout a bullnose on the outer edges and round over the ends where they transition to the legs. Join the lid surround molding to the box with dowels; use dowel centres for accurate hole locations. Use a large square to ensure that the sides meet the back at 90º and adjust the miter accordingly. Dowel, glue, and clamp. Cut the corbels (V) and glue centred on each front leg. Use masking tape and small clamps to hold it flush with the top of the front leg.

Cut two lid supports from scrap stock and countersink three screw holes (2″, 6″ and 8″), centered on the stock. Screw to the side top trim (S).


Cut out the arm rests (F) from 3-1/4″ wide stock. Tape the two pieces together (top face in). Cut the rear leg notch. Cut front and back curves. Sand smooth.

Separate the pieces and lightly sand to relieve the edges.

Drill a couple of 3/8″ diameter, 1/2″ deep holes into arm rest where it joins the rear leg. Clamp a straight edge to the bench back and use dowel centers to transfer the hole locations to the rear leg. Drill to 13/16″ depth.

Drill similar depth holes in the centre of the top of the front leg and its corbel.

Install dowel centers. Align arm rest and mark front dowel locations. Drill the arm rest to 1/2″ deep. Install the arm rests with 3/8″ diameter 1-1/4″ long fluted dowels.

Glue and clamp.

Attach Lid

Cut the lid (W) to size leaving a 1/8″ gap on both sides and a 3/4″ overlap at the front. Rout a bullnose on the front and lightly relieve all edges. Cut a piano hinge 1/4″ shorter than the lid opening and screw it to the lid. Drill pilot holes for the screws. Rest the bench on its back, centre the lid in the opening and screw the hinge to the surround molding. Try a couple of screws first and adjust as necessary.

Cut three stiffeners (Z) from scrap oak to size. Position them on the lid 3″ from the front. The outer ones are 6-1/2″ from the edge. The middle one is centered on the lid. Mark screw hole positions, so that each hole is centred on one of the four boards used to make up the lid. Drill countersunk pilot holes and counter bore from beneath to allow the lid to move with humidity. Attach to the lid using screws.


To enhance this storage space, line the box with aromatic cedar.

Final Finishing

Attach a pair of lid stays to the sides and to the lid. Attach felt pads to the legs. Final sand to 220 grit and apply the final coat of Danish oil. Allow to dry for several days. Then, apply a top coat of paste wax. Buff to a shine.

Put your deacon’s bench in your hallway entrance and enjoy!

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