How to Make a Bench from a Cedar Tree with Pioneer Tools

by Todd Walker

Beautiful wife asks sweetly, “Honey, we need a bench for the front porch *purr*. Could you make one for me?” And the fun begins!

Here she sits outside my shop

I’ve made plenty of honey-do projects for the wife. This one is different. I decided to make this one using pioneer hand tools. It turned out fine. Lessons were learned. Wife is happy.

NOTE: During this post, you’ll see me insert [Prepper Lesson] to highlight our dependency on modern power tools, both electrical and internal combustion.

History: This cedar stock came from my family homestead. It was felled by a tornado a few years ago. A buddy of mine limbed it and stacked it for future use. On my last visit to my folks, we cut a six-foot section (about 12 inches diameter) and hauled it back to my place.

[Prepper Lesson: A chain saw was used to expedite the matter in 100 degree heat. Post SHTF, crosscut saws will require physical stamina and skill in this kind of heat. In a grid-down situation, having quality hand tools and the skills to properly use them are paramount. For me, I learned that I need more practice using older hand tools like my grandfather used in his day. I took a few shortcuts and used a few power tools during the project.]

Here’s the progression on the project.

Step 1: Once home, I used my chainsaw to rip the stock in half. I laid the log on top of a couple of scape pieces of 2×4 to prevent my saw from digging into the ground.

Step 2: I laid out my cut lines on the ends and sides. I used a square and level for the ends. Transfer the end lines down the sides with a long straight edge. You’ll need a lovely assistant or clamps to hold the straight edge. I used my lovely assistant.

Applying level end lines

Lovely assistant!

Step 3: Saw the stock as close to the lines as possible. Cutting this dried cedar really heated up my bar and chain. I liberally oiled during the process. The cleaner the cut, the less work you do planing the rough cut stock. Scotch the log with wedges. I also found it helpful to drive a rod in the ground to lean the log at the angle I needed.

Notice the pry bar used to hold the stock at the correct angle for ripping

[Prepper Lesson: A saw pit was used in old times to rip logs to create usable lumber. The stock was laid on an elevated rack with one man on top, and the pit man below the stock. I would imagine the man below had the worst part of the job. Without modern sawmills, a whole new skill set will need to be deployed.]

Photo via 2010/ 07/ tom-sawyer-and-charles-dickens.html

Step 4: Plane the rough surface to be used for the seat. The tricky part was finding the correct depth setting for the plane and not gauging knots while planing. I found that the depth of the blade was determined by the roughness of the chainsaw marks. This took about an hour as I missed my line on when I was ripping with the chainsaw. A portable sawmill would have been a great help

I know of some Amish who have used steam power to run their saw mill. This would be a huge bartering skill/item in an off grid world.

Hand plane time

[Prepper Lesson: I cheated and used a Dewalt sander to finish the surface after planing. I could have used a sanding block, but electricity was still on.]

Step 5: Use a draw knife to remove the bark on the underside of the stock. I had planned to keep the bark on, but it had already begun turning loose. I helped it along with the draw knife. If you don’t have draw knives, you can order them from Lehman’s and other companies. I found the one pictured below in an antique shop. Closely inspect used knives for any signs of cracks or damage. Blades can be sharpened and handles replaced.

Draw knife to remove the bark

Step 6: With the other half of the stock, I split it to make four legs for the bench. Use an axe and splitting wedge for accuracy.

Splitting rails for the legs

Step 7: Shave the legs. Once I split the rails for the legs, I realized I would need a shaving horse to complete the legs. So I built one from scrap lumber I had lying around. That was a two-hour rabbit hole. If I had to buy the material, I would have spent maybe $25. It’s a simple plan and worked incredibly well. I used a plan I found online. I can’t find the link. I’ll keep looking and post it when I find it.

Simple shaving horse

Update: I had lost the link to the tutorial I used to build this shaving horse. Dave found the link and shared it in the comments! Here’s the link to the tutorial I used.

Shaved rail will make two legs

[Prepper Lesson: Using pioneer tools means retooling my entire shop. I’m not throwing out my power tools. I do see the need to acquire more tools and skills. Electricity is wonderfully addictive.]

Step 8: The auger I used bore 1 1/8 inch holes. Bore four of these at slight angles about 6 inches from the end of the bench bottom. I used square and a level to keep the angles about the same for all the leg holes. You could eyeball it I guess.

Auger four holes

Step 9: Create a tenon on the end of each leg to fit the holes. The draw knife was used to take the stock down most of the way. I used a spokeshave to dress the tenon’s final shape. Make sure not to take too much off the tenon. You can’t add wood to the tenon. Also, I tapered the tenons to make the tip fit the hole and drove the rest in with a mallet. No glue needed.


Four legs inserted

Step 10: Level the legs. I only had to cut 1/2 inch off one leg to make her sit evenly. Use a 4 foot level or just eyeball it.

Here she sits outside my shop

Last step is to put a couple of coats of sealant on to preserve the beauty. I also carved a love note on the bottom to my wife. What a sap!

If your interested in pioneer tools or have helpful links for their use, please leave your tips and comments. I need lots of help with these lost skills.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


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Categories: DIY Preparedness Projects, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “How to Make a Bench from a Cedar Tree with Pioneer Tools

  1. Pingback: The Regular Guy Strategy: Escaping Prepper Prison « Survival Sherpa

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  3. anita

    Do you have suggestions on where to purchase pioneer tools??


    • Anita, I’ve gotten many of mine from yard sales, antique shops (more expensive), family, and flee markets. Also look on Craig’s List, FreeCycle, Ebay. Good luck on your search. Let me know what you find.


  4. Dan

    Swap Meets are a great source! Craigs list is my second favorite. If you have a bunch of stuff you’ll never use but can’t bear to recycle, put it on Craig’s list as a trade for antique or vintage tools. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you’ll get! Cruise the web to find out what tools are valued display pieces or users, and their values as a collectible. Don’t let the grime & a little rust fool you! These are old quality tools made by craftsmen & good materials not the junk sold today. Another plus is the fun & pride that comes from the restoration.


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  8. From the looks of your shaving horse I think this may be the link to the plans you used –

    Thanks again for all the good info!


    • Sure is, Dave. Thanks for going to the trouble of finding and sharing the link with me! I’ll update the post and credit Mr. Abbott.

      Keep Doing the Stuff, bud!


  9. Martin

    I enjoyed your post on making the bench, and also the loving, husbandly references to your better half. A few questions/suggestions, though:
    Why didn’t you just split the log down the middle and clean up the surface with the axe and drawknife? Also, it looks like you made the bottom of the bench flat. Why not just leave it round?


    • Joe W

      Hi Martin (yeah… like a year ago, so not sure if this will help you)..

      you are in principle right. However, as Todd wrote, the wood was dry already. Dry wood does not really like to split in my experience – at least it is much harder to do so. For fresh wood splitting would indeed be preferred (and I was wondering about that for a split 😉 second as well, but then I remembered the log had been lying around a while).



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