If you’re thinking of buying a new garden sofa you could well be looking at spending over £1000 for anything half decent. Why not create something that is both totally bespoke and more solid than anything you can buy in the shops or online.
By making your own sofa from recycled pallets you can have a truly made to measure garden sofa that is solid, beautiful and much better for the environment. Oh, and you get to save yourself about £960 at the same time.
This is actually one of the easiest projects that you accomplish even with rudimentary woodworking skills. If you want a comfortable solid piece of great looking garden furniture you have come to the right place.
First Find Your Pallets
The first task is to find your pallets. Wooden delivery palettes come in lots of sizes so in order to make just a rudimentary sofa you on the a few that are exactly the same size. The minimum you can get away with is six pallets that are the same size. However, if you go beyond the minimum four and get eight to 10 palletes you will be set to make something really special.
One thing to remember is that all pallets are not equal. Beneath that weathered grey there are bright white pinewood pallets, deep red cedar woods, oak, cherry and pretty much every other wood you can imagine. A few minutes lugging them around and you will already have noticed that pallets of roughly the same size can have drastic weight differences. Some wood is easy to saw and sand and other bits are as hard as iron (and just as heavy).
I like to regularly pop out to my local garden centre where they have an official ‘help yourself’ pile of pallets and whether I am planning a particular project or not, bring home a pallet if the wood seems to be be interesting. I keep a bit of 80 grit sandpaper in the car to help me work out whether the pallet wood is appealing enough to take home. I love beautiful woodgrain and this feels a lot like treasure hunting.
For this sofa project, the pallet wood you use is entirely up to you. I think the simplest rule is that the wood that you actually have available is the best wood for the project. Or to put it another way, don’t put off starting your build because you are waiting for an oak board to magically appear in the garden centre’s free pallet pile.
Layout your garden sofa
Whether you are planning an L-shape or a straight sofa and regardless of how the sides or back will appear, the first thing is to get the size you want. If you can lay a few pallets out in the final location just to ensure they fit the space available. This may sound simple, but it is better to make sure before you start work.
If you need to cut down your pallets to size, then go ahead, rebuilding them to your preferred dimensions. My toolkit for this part of the job comprises nothing more than a sharp handsaw and a pencil for marking cutting lines. Once your saw is blunt, do yourself a favour and go get your self a new one. Alternatively you could sharpen it yourself, but quite frankly that is only worth doing if you have a very expensive saw in the first place. However you go about getting one, a sharp saw is about 20 times quicker and safer to use than a blunt one.
Two layers of pallets will give you a nice low sofa, and three will give you a high sofa.
I strongly recommend using wood screws rather than nails. For this project I went to the local DIY store and got a box of 500 screws. They are corrosion resistant for exterior use and are 4 x 50 mm and should last for this project and a couple more.
Join them together with furniture plates and for the minimalist sofa builder all you need to do is add extra pallet boards between the slats on the top to make a solid surface upon which to lay your cushions.
Alternatively, if (like me) when hunting for palettes you find some with really thick beams (2″ x 1″ or thicker) adjust your plans and just have the top of the sofa from a single palette sitting on a base made of 2″ x 1″ uprights. This arrangement is lighter and gives you a storage area to keep a rain cover hidden away during the summer.
Palettes can then be placed directly on these uprights. You can cut grooves or mortises for added stability or join the palettes permanently to the frame with hardware mending plates. This is a good moment to think about your finish. You can go rustic, like I did,leaving gaps, ground in dirt and rusted nail heads (sunk in for safety) in the piece or you can clean each piece of wood up until it looks fresh from a timber yard. The finish is a personal matter and is largely dependent on how much time and effort you want to devote to the project.
The sides and back can be built separately and then added on.
With the sides and back I opted for a simple design, with vertical boards facing outwards on both sides. The image below shows a cut away so you can see what is going on inside the arm. My sofa arms were low enough that I didn’t feel the need to add diagonal bracing (like you see on a barn door) .
This makes for a stable look, but think carefully about how to attach it to the base of the sofa BEFORE putting it all together.
Also note that this design leaves the ‘front of the arm open and exposed. You might want to cover the front too for a cleaner look. When you attach the tops of the arms I do suggest you countersink any screws that you put in so they are well below the lie of the surface. Not just for the look of the thing, but also to avoid anyone cutting themselves on a screw head, or more likely, snagging a shirt or a pullover. On the same topic, a light shave of the edges, particularly the top edges of the sofa is a sensible thing to do.
In this picture you can also see I have beveled the edges to ensure no snagging.
The back of my sofa will be against a wall so I don’t need to clad on both sides which saves weight as well as effort. I just needed a lot of short pieces for the front of the backrest. I ended up sawing 2 new pallets to pieces to get this quickly.
This photo shows you about half of all the short pieces I gathered to create the vertical slats for the back.
This sketch shows you roughly how the back is put together.
The back gets screwed to the base legs and you are good to go.
The next step is to make or buy cushions for your new garden sofa and then you are ready to relax and enjoy the summer, dreaming up your next project.