DIY Modern Outdoor Bench

cedar bench in front of cedar trees

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Summer is here! We’ve spent the better part of June finishing our backyard. With the fence finally going up we went to work on a lot of the larger structural upgrades. We built the pergola, had the grass removed in lieu of interlocking and enhanced our deck space. Now time to furnish.

This is the first time I really paid attention to outdoor furniture and my goodness things are expensive. I’m not sure if availability is always this scarce or if it’s the Covid factor, but I have not been able to find stock of anything decent under $1000. So while I refresh my Flipp app and wait for something to come up, I decided I’ll start putting together what I can to save some money using some of the scraps I salvaged from the deck teardown. Check out my latest DIY Modern Outdoor Bench!


  • 2x6x12 Cedar
  • 2x6x10 Cedar
  • Scrap Pressure Treated Wood (or 2x4x12)
  • 4×4 Pressure Treated Wood
  • Exterior Top Coat
  • Exterior Screws
  • (Optional) HeadLok Structural Screw for aesthetics
  • (Optional) Exterior Black Paint


  • Mitre Saw
  • Table Saw
  • Power Drill
  • Orbital Sander
  • Chisel
  • Kreg K5 Pocket Hole Jig


4x4 Pressure Treated wood on mitre saw
  1. Cut your legs down to size. Nice thing about 4×4 is that my mitre saw can cut through it easily with one pass. In this case, I set up a stop at 17″ to make sure all my legs were the same height. I was aiming for about 18.5″ total bench height, so subtract your 1.5″ bench top thickness from that total. Of course, you can cut yours down to any size you want. One immediate regret I have is the quality of wood I bought here. I went to Home Depot and they were completely out of cedar and pressure treated wood. They offered me this off rack 4×4 at half off, so I jumped at the idea of a deal. In hindsight, it would have been worth it to go somewhere else in lieu of saving $7 (lol) given how badly cracked this piece was. Suffice to say, this still worked structurally.
Notching 4x4 to create ledger
  1. Mark out your cut lines. I wanted to increase the strength of the legs through creating notched ledger’s which would support the frame. Given the lumber thickness is 1.5″ wide, I marked the direction of the cuts for reference, trying to position the legs such that as many cracks would be hidden under the table as possible.
2x8 on top of table saw
  1. Trying to use the remainder of material from my deck teardown, I grabbed some loose 2×8’s and ripped them down to 3″ wide, that way each 2×8 will yield 2 usable pieces. These will be used to frame the bench top. If you want to save some time, you can easily grab some 2x4s at your local lumber store. The height of these boards will determine the depth of your ledger. I ripped 4 pieces in total, 2 for the length edges, and 2 more which were cut down to size for joists.
4x4 Pressure Treated wood on mitre saw
  1. There are a lot of ways to make ledgers, so I actually took this time to test a few different ones. I’ll go into detail another time, but what worked for me this time around was setting a crown stop on my sliding mitre saw at 1.5″ and cutting a clean depth line at 3″ to match the width of the frame I ripped earlier.
  1. Create ledgers. One of the methods I used to open up the ledger was a jigsaw but as you can see, it was tough to keep the blade parallel, which in turn yielded a pretty crappy ledge. I tried a few other methods, but what looked the best in the end was running the piece against a table saw fence, stopping just short of the depth line, and then finishing the cut with a chisel and oscillating tool. As mentioned, feel free to be creative here.. these cut lines will be hidden and offer a great opportunity to test new ideas and familiarize yourself with the strengths and weaknesses of your tools.
cut lumbar on work table with clamps
  1. Back to the bench frame, I clamped the two long ends together and marked off where my joists will go. In this scenario, I ran 1 on each end to close off the perimeter, one on in the inside of the posts to support the legs, then centered 2 more down the middle at approximately 18″ spacing. Try not to leave too much space between each as you want to ensure the bench holds even the heaviest of your friends.
pocket holes for bench framing
  1. Punch your pocket holes through each working piece.
presassembled exterior bench
  1. Complete your frame, while paying attention to your leg fittings and keeping things square.
work bench in garage paint black
  1. Disassemble and paint. Here’s another mistake I made by being cheap. I had some leftover exterior grade paint that I wanted to burn through, so naturally I thought this would be the perfect project to use it on. The one regret I have is not using a semi-gloss or above sheen. While satin may look fantastic on indoor accents, it is not a finish of choice for any high traffic area. The moment I finished first coat of paint, I could see every finger print and piece of dust.
  2. Assemble the legs. Simply insert them into the slot, and the table will stand securely on them. Use a large speed square to check for 90 degrees and secure the legs from the inside with deck screws. On the outside, I mounted 1 HeadLok lag replacement screw on each leg. The bench likely didn’t need this as ledgers distribute downward weight very well, but to be honest I like the way these screws look and they match the same screw heads I used on my Pergola and deck.
preassembled cedar top on exterior bench
  1. Next up, I bought 2×6 Cedar and ripped it down to 2.5″ again yielding 2 slats per piece. I moved the pieces around until I found the right colour and layout for me and then cut each piece to size. I left about 1/4″ overhang around all 4 sides to allow the wood pieces to expand / contract naturally. The 4 ends will be framed vertically and mitred to picture frame the bench.
pocket hole in cedar bench top
  1. Pocket holes again. Be careful not to predrill into the fronts of your pieces, as you want to hide all screw holes on your finished product. Also, don’t put holes on through your end pieces (picture frame), as they will be mitred.
sanding cedar bench top
  1. Nice and easy quick sand. You don’t need to spend much time on the sides and bottom here, but you want to make sure the top is nice and flat. I ran a 100 grit through all sides, with a slight roundover on the edges. My router is out for service, so I did this all with the orbital sander. I ran a second pass on the top layer at 240. Vacuum and wipe clean.
exterior water based polyurethane varathane semi gloss on cedar bench top
  1. Next up, I applied 4 coats of exterior grade Varathane semi-gloss finish, knowing that the sides would be out of reach if I did this later. This water based finish goes on milky but dries clear. Quite easy to work with, as I applied a generous amount on each slat and wiped off all puddling in the direction of the grain with some old rags. Each coat was applied about 4-5 hours a part, with a very quick and light sand before the final coat.
  1. Screw on your slats. For slat work, it’s always idea to use spacers as they ensure your project has a symmetrical look at the end. I used a 1/2″ fortsner bit that worked very well. I just dropped it in between each slat as I pieced this together. Measuring my 6 pieces, with 1/2″ spacing between, I was left with a 9/16″ on each end to ensure the 6 slats were evenly spaced. Small detail here, and your measurements will likely reflect the sizing and dimensions you choose for your bench / slats. Premise remains the same – just make sure everything is evenly spaced. To ensure the face of each slat was flush with each slat, I used a solid leftover piece of a mitre gauge and clamped it onto both work pieces, This ensures that the pocket screws will force the slat along the plane for a flush finish.
  1. Now flip the bench top over and cut your ends down to size. I left mine about 1/2″ longer than it needed to be, and then cut it down to exact size with the rest of the base secured. This ensured a tight fight with perfect mitre. To secure it, I glued all 4 corners and held it up with some clamps to ensure a flush connect.
  1. My 3rd regret on this project is not completing the clean look by just inserting some L brackets under the bench top and hiding all screws completely. However for transparency, this is what I ended up doing. I marked holes 3/4″ from each corner and secured with exterior deck screws.

There you have it. This project can likely be completed in 2 days if you have the right material. I learned a lot and will continue exploring new ways to DIY outdoor furniture as I look to add a band saw to my garage shop soon.

Cedar as a material is beautiful and there’s nothing quite like that sauna smell. I will definitely come back to this on a future DIY.

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