Building Benches and Planters
A combo bench and planter not only adds functionality and beauty but is also a great way to use up decking scraps.
Although they can stand alone, benches and planters are often joined together for mutual support and to offer a more integrated look. They almost always incorporate decking material and thus are a great use of scraps.
A comfortable bench is between 16 in. and 18 in. high and 16 in. to 24 in. wide. For maximum solidness, incorporate the bench into the deck framing; in any case, attach it with toe-screwed fasteners to the deck. Tie it into a planter for additional stability.
A planter is a tripping hazard if less than 18 in. tall. Though it can be almost any height, 30 in. is a comfortable maximum for most situations. When planning a planter, start with a waterproof container and build around it. If you need a custom size, have a sheet-metal shop fabricate a container out of galvanized sheet metal.
How to build a simple planter
Once you select a plastic container, plan the dimensions of your planter so you have enough room at two sides to reach in and lift out the container. If needed, build a 2x platform to hold the container at a suitable height. Use full-width decking for the vertical side pieces, attached without spacing to decking pieces ripped in half lengthwise. Use 8 x 1-1/2-in. trim-head screws as fasteners. For the top edging, glue the miters if you are using PVC decking.
A freestanding bench is the simplest approach
A simple legged bench is easy to build and requires no alteration to the deck framing. If the span between legs is greater than 6 ft., add legs. Use 5/16-in. x 3-3/8-in. or longer structural screws for attaching framing to the 4x4s.
Built in benches add a custom feel
For a more integrated approach, prepare for your bench before installing decking. Add blocking to help support single posts placed about every 6 ft. Use 5/16-in. x 3 3/8-in. or longer structural screws for attaching the posts. The 2×6 framing for the bench all but hides the posts.
Be prepared to make changes
The original design for the following project called for a 2-ft. by 2-ft. by 3-ft. planter box in the corner of the lower deck, anchoring the ends of two 20-in.-high benches. After the framing was complete, however, the homeowners were concerned that the height of the planter would obscure the view of the woods from the hot tub that would be on the deck. We lowered the planter’s height to 2 in. above the benches. At the same time, we decided to add a third bench to create a U-shaped layout.
Top photo: Clemens Jellema; bottom photo, Anice Hoachlander; deck rendering: Toby Welles, WowHouse.