Saturday, January 8, 2011

Taking the Stress Out Of Meditation Benches

Meditation benches are made up of three boards. How hard can they be to build?

That's what I thought. And by the time I was building the third one—and had made lots of mistakes on the first two—why, it wasn't difficult at all.

I decided to make benches for my partner and brother, who are both into Buddhist philosophy.

These types of low stools are canted forward, and the person tucks his or her legs beneath the bench, which makes their back perfectly straight. They're also surprisingly comfortable.

I wanted theirs to be able to knock-down for easy transport to retreats, and be stable enough that they wouldn't take a tumble while meditating with their transcendental buddies.

So, I decided on mortise and tenon joinery.

The seat needed to be thick enough to support the legs' tenons, and the legs needed to flare at the bottom and angle outward to provide stability.

Which meant compound angles. ew.

Therein lies the stress, at least for me, a geometry challenged individual.

I made a prototype in pine to sort out the trouble spots, then set to work on the two benches—one in cherry (finished) and the other in walnut (in progress).

My partner wanted the sanskrit symbol for "Om" carved into her bench (shown above), which was the easiest part of building the benches.

The photo montages show you how I made them, along with basic dimensions, in case you'd like to make one for the granola head in your life.

The seat is 1.125" thick and the legs are .875" thick. I bought a seat cushion (optional) with velcro straps from here.

If you have any questions, shoot me an email. I'll be happy to help make your meditation bench building process as stress free as possible. Namaste, peeps.


Jim B said...

An interesting project, clearly not as easy at it seems. Your step by step helps a lot.

Good to have you back!

Dyami Plotke said...

Well done, Kari.

I'm sure the benches will get many more hours of use than of construction. I trust that both recipients love their new benches.

JimK said...

Namaste Kari,
Now I must admit I had to look that one up... not having spent much time in that part of the world.
Looks like that little bench has its share of challenges... a lot like building chairs I would surmise. Looks like you've mastered it though. Looks good.

Really glad you're back Kari...
keep-em coming.

GoFigure said...

What beautiful benches! I came across your blog while you were taking your "break" and it was a true pleasure to find your new entry. Take care and please keep describing your fabulous projects!

Mark Poulsen said...


Anonymous said...

HI Keri,

Exceptional Design and Woodwork.
Wonderful tutorial.

the Village Sexton

EMBO said...

This granola head approves!

tom buhl said...

Kari, magnificent work, stunning photographs, valuable notations; now I want to go in the shop and make like Kari. Two weeks ago I went to an amazing wedding. Held at the Lotus Theater of SBMS, a base-camp for world travelers and connectors. Couple (he from UK. her from SB) met in Uganda (or maybe Rwanda), Many attendees have spent time in India and Nepal. Was going to give the couple some money as they need to travel light. But they may need a Buhl/Hultman meditation bench. You rock. Namaste.

The Apprentice and The Journeyman said...

Love your carving...
....a nice play w/ light and shadows.

Gye Greene said...

Nice work!

Also good for anyone taking Aikido (Jp. martial art, with [usually!] an emphasis on ki and breathing exercises) that has bad knees.

The knock-down aspect means they could take it to class.


Gye Greene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Not all us Buddhist likes granola, nice bench

Ralph Boumenot said...

Hi Kari,
As usual very stunning results. Is there any significance to the design in the center of the stool?

Alex Comes said...

I enjoy your blog. The montages are clever way of showing your step-by-step.

I've no need for a meditation bench, but you make me want to make one--I think that's inspiration.

Kari Hultman said...

Thank you for all the nice comments. :o)

Gye, I found some images of benches online that use hinges to fold the legs beneath the seat when transporting to class. That's another option if someone doesn't wan to go to the trouble of the M&T joint, but I wasn't sure how well the screws would hold up over time.

Joey, yeah, that was just my attempt at being funny. No offense intended. ; )

Ralph, the symbol is sanskrit for "Om." I asked my partner if she wanted a carving on the seat and she chose that. I also suggested the yin yang symbol, but the liked this one better.

Vic Hubbard said...

I think Sylvia would love one. I might steal the design, if that is OK.? How did you finish it?

tom buhl said...

Kari, curious as to fit of M&T. Nancy probably doesn't "borrow" your rubber mallet each time she runs off with her bench. But loose-loose wouldn't satisfy the woodworker. Also, what is weight of that little gem? Those are nice hunks of cherry. ciao

Kari Hultman said...

Vic, by all means, copy it. That's why I provided the dimensions and tutorial.

Buhl, the M&T is friction-fit. You lay the seat face down and slide the legs into the mortises. To remove them, you put your knee on the back of the seat and pull the legs out with both hands. If you hold the seat upright with the legs in, they do not fall out. But, they are pretty easy to pull out. MIght be a different story come summer. ; ) The bench weighs six pounds.

Kari Hultman said...

Vic, I used two coats of Circa 1850 Antique Paste Varnish. It's a really nice, durable finish.

Unknown said...

Thats one of the nicest representations of "Om" I have seen. The joinery is perfect as always.

Welcome back :-)

Unknown said...

none taken :) I do think I will try to build a bench like yours. I have one that folds with the hinges, and I think I like your design much better. I moved my bench inside the dinning room for winter and this will give me a chance to reconnect with some hand tools.

Mark Rhodes said...

Love these little benches, I came across this Blog while looking for other woodworking info, it's very well written, and very entertaining. Thanks for taking the time to document your work

helen said...

Beautiful bench Kari!! The meditation bench is on my list of things to build for a while now, maybe I can actually try it this year :)

Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

Namaste Kari
Another beautiful project.
Your talent level just keeps growing.
Thank you.

Gye Greene said...


-Nah -- I like the M&T; more elegant than hinges.

-Friction-fit, summer: maybe some pre-emptive candle wax on the tenons? ;)


johnjoiner said...

"Which meant compound angles. ew.?"

Aw, c'mon. Flat and square is dull. It should be "compound angles, Yeah!" ;)

Beautiful work and photos as always.

Mike Zilis said...

That is just beautiful, Kari. Thanks for the "underneath" photos. Simple design and elegant craftsmanship make for a wonderful combination. I love the carving!


Unknown said...


I'm thinking of a modifying your design to 3-board step stool for my grandsons. I'll remove the lean and add wedges to secure the tenons. Think I should add a stretcher?


Gye Greene said...


I'm not Kari -- but I **am** the father of twin 3yo boys.

Rest assured that some child in the future of that stepstool will try to put it on its end and stand (or sit) on the other pair of legs.

In which case, a stretcher would be highly desireable. :)


Kari Hultman said...

Mark, the joinery is far from perfect, I assure you. I had to shim two of the tenons because I got a little over exuberant with the handplaning.

Joey, I'd be curious to see how well hinged legs hold up. I wasn't sure about the screws.

Thank you, Mark, Helen (have fun with the build!), and Eric. :o)

Gye, I figured I'd mail a piece of wax to my brother, along with his bench for warmer months.

John, baby steps....

Mike, let me know if you have any questions if you decide to make one.

Pappy, I made a couple stools like the one you're describing, and they are tippy if you stand too on them too close to the ends. The angled legs and flared bottom portion of the legs of the meditation bench really help with stability. If you go with the straight legs, I would definitely add a stretcher. And because these are for little kids, I would round over all the edges to a large degree.

*What Gye said*

woodworking patterns said...

Thanks for sharing this detailed info, I'm a noob with this stuff and Your blog will be a big help for me :D

Woodbloke said...

Hi Kari - nice job, not as easy at it seems with those compound m/t's. A mock up in softwood is always the way to sort out the constructional gremlins...not that I ever make any, you understand! - rob

Philip Roybal said...

Very nice work, and a Beautiful job on the carving! You got very sensuous curves in the letters. A wonderful job on the project.

Venerable Sha'ul said...

I have been using a bench with hinges for over 10 yrs now (on a daily basis) and have never had a problem with the screws. The real problem is that the hinges become very loose over time making bench less stable.

Unknown said...

I have been researching medatation benches for a couple of weeks now, by far this is the best bench I have seen. Thanks for posting this blog.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing! Any suggestion where we can get a stencil of the 'om' you used? Love to try and make one for a gift.

Kari Hultman said...

Anon, I just downloaded an image of the "Om" symbol from the internet and traced it.

Macnando said...

Wow! How beautiful! Really a pro work! After looking for many ones to buy, I just saw this one and it is so much better! Beautiful job! Congratulations!
Fernando from Brazil.

trophysucka said...


First— thank you for documenting your work throughout. The diagrammed photos are particularly helpful. Second— I am a sub-novice woodworker, having only ever made a shelf in a high school wood-shop class almost a decade ago, but I would like to build a meditation bench with a similar shape to yours; would you recommend starting out with something simpler or is the one you made doable for a beginner (assuming I have access to the tools)?
Also, I am thinking of making mine with metal hinges instead of M&T joinery as that would greatly simplify the project, but what do you think? I know you mentioned you’re not sure how long the screws will hold up, but would you say that was the hardest part of the project? (Not including the engraving).
Lastly, how much wood would you recommend purchasing?

Thanks again

Kari Hultman said...

Sorry that I'm so late in responding. I hadn't gotten notification that there was a new comment here. To simplify the project, you could just cut your top board straight, without curves. Also, it would be much easier to use screws and hinges rather than cut M&T joints. If you do that, I would use rather thick boards so you can use longer screws. Also, I would definitely use a hardwood rather than pine, so the screws are more secure. You could make the upright boards perpendicular to the top board, instead of angled, but it might make the bench a little tippy. It would certainly make the build simpler, though. You may need to make a couple benches until it works well for you.