Meditation Bench – A ‘Pi’ from American Walnut

This meditation bench is a follow on from my Live Edge Cutting Board in an earlier article. Actually, it’s really a precursor because this is where the ‘off-cuts’ of American Walnut, that I used in the cutting board, came from. They were leftover from this meditation bench (or sometimes called a Yoga Bench) which I made in a ‘Pi’ (π) design after trying various other design options.

Why a Meditation Bench?

Some time ago I attended an Art Of Living 5-Day Happiness Program. This was the first time I had ever attended anything like this and it was truly life changing. However, the very first day brought home to me that I wasn’t quite as ‘bendy’ as perhaps I should be! The course involved regular yoga and meditation exercises which required that I sit in what is known as the vajrasana position.

Diagram of the vajrasana sitting position

This is where you kneel on the floor then sit back onto your legs. The idea is to take the weight off your knees by resting it on your legs but if you have any kind of knee ailments or you are not accustomed to kneeling like this it can quickly become very painful. Hence, the need for a meditation bench as it allows you to kneel in this position much more comfortably for an extended amount of time.

The meditation bench takes the weight of your body and thus relieves the discomfort as your legs no longer have to sustain any weight. So as you can see, it was born out of necessity rather than the pleasure of creating something new. My legs were definitely telling me they needed a rest!

Creating a Design

The design was initially very simple; a top wide enough for my butt to rest on and legs high enough to allow my own legs to fold underneath. The first one I made was a basic stool design with a rectangular top and the legs attached with the use of batons and screws. It was quick and easy to make and I had it with me on day 2 of the Art Of Happiness course – perfect.

However, I felt that using screws didn’t really fit well with the whole holistic nature of yoga and meditation so the next version was a similar configuration but with the legs attached with mortise and tenon joints. A much better look but still not good enough for my critical eye.

I realised that having the support in the middle instead of both sides would mean the meditation bench would be much less restrictive as your legs would not have to fit between the legs of the bench.

So next was a ‘pedestal’ design with one single support in the middle and the base enlarged to give it more stability. I also changed the shape of the top to an ellipse which looked so much nicer than the previous rectangle.

Pi symbol

But again I wasn’t happy and quickly understood that the stability was not really an issue as the requirement was simply to support body weight. It was very easy to balance on the bench and it always remained very stable so I looked at a different leg design.

That’s when the final ‘Pi’ design was born. It was still a pedestal style support but instead of just one leg, I added a second. Very pleasing to the eye and certainly the nicest looking of all my permutations.

Getting the Top Right

Having finally settled on a design I had to figure out how to get the oval top just right. I don’t have a tool to draw and cut perfect ellipses so I made a template on my computer and printed each half on two sheets of A4 paper. Why two sheets? Because my top design was 400mm x 155mm at it’s widest points so I couldn’t fit the whole template onto one A4 sheet.

I transferred the shape to my American Walnut board and cut around it on my band saw (if you don’t have a band saw a hand held jigsaw will do as good a job, just take your time to get a nice smooth curve). Once the top was cut I sanded the outer edge until the curve was nice and smooth and consistent. Then it was on to the legs.

Diagram of the oval top of the Pi meditation bench

Mortise & Tenon Joints, No Nails or Screws!

At this point, I should mention that the angle of the top was taken from a meditation bench that one of my friends had. The difference in height from back to front was 30mm and this is the measurement I have used with every design so far.

I did have to decide the width of the legs though because they had to fit inside the top (after rounding the edges of the top) and also allow for a reasonable amount of overhang. I figured around 12mm front and back would be a good overhang so cut the legs 130mm wide. Marking the angle is just a case of deciding the height you want your bench to be and marking the low side 30mm less.

However, and this is very important, I needed to leave enough extra for your tenon joints but subtract the thickness of the top. Sounds complicated but it’s pretty straightforward once you see it marked on your wood. For example, using my bench sizes again I wanted the top to be 180mm and 150mm on the low side. I added 12mm for my tenon joint so that’s now 192mm and 162mm respectively.

My top was 20mm thick so I subtracted that and was left with an overall leg size of 130mm Wide x 172mm High Side x 142mm Low Side. With the tenons cut and inserted into the top the visible leg sizes would be 160mm and 130mm. Please see the diagram below which hopefully makes this a little clearer (bear in mind the 20mm thick top will be added when assembled). And I kept the two angled off-cuts as they would be needed later to be able to clamp the meditation bench square during final assembly.

Diagram of the legs of the Pi meditation bench

Cutting the Joints on the Legs and Top

Depending on what tools you have available there are several ways to cut the tenons. I used my Makita XSL01Z LXT Compound Mitre Saw then a hand held router but you can use a hand saw and a chisel if you don’t have power tools. On the legs I needed to cut the shoulder all the way around which, once the bench was assembled, would butt against the top with the tenon inserted into the mortise.

On the 20mm thick legs I cut a shoulder 4mm deep which left a tenon of 12mm x 12mm. This is the most important part of the build because the more secure i.e. tight, the joints are the more solid your meditation bench will be. Once the saw cuts were made I used my Makita RT0700C hand held router with a 12mm straight bit to cut away the excess wood until I was left with a nice tidy tenon on top of each leg.

For the mortise on the top I wanted the legs to be around 25mm apart when assembled so the 12mm mortises needed to be cut 33mm apart (25mm plus 2 x 4mm tenon shoulders). Again I used the hand held router with the 12mm straight bit but did it in three passes, adjusting the depth by 4mm each time.

I actually cut the mortises about 0.5mm deeper than required to ensure the shoulders of the legs would definitely butt against the top. There’s nothing more annoying than doing a dry assembly and finding your mortise isn’t deep enough to house the tenon! The round ends of the mortise were chiselled square by hand and that was the joints ready. A quick ‘dry’ assembly confirmed all was well with the joints slotting together perfectly.

The Curves Are Just So Pleasing

With this being a meditation bench I felt it didn’t just need to be practical, it also needed to be aesthetically pleasing. Leaving the edges square would have given it a very sharp industrial look so I definitely wanted to soften the whole appearance. Back to my trusty router, this time with a 10mm (3/8″) radius corner-round bit, to add a beautiful rounded bullnose edge to both the top and the legs. It would have been easier to use a 20mm (3/4″) bullnose bit but I don’t have one so I used the next best thing.

Final Finishing and Assembly

Pony Jorgensen Cabinet Master 90° Parallel Jaw Bar Clamp

All three parts were then thoroughly sanded, first with 120 grit then with 240. All the contact surfaces were coated with wood glue before assembling the bench. The mortise and tenon joints were nice and tight and had to be gently persuaded into place with a wooden mallet. The angled off-cuts I mentioned earlier were placed on the top of the bench top to make a square face for the clamps. It was then securely clamped with two Pony Jorgensen Cabinet Master 90° Parallel Jaw Bar Clamps and left overnight for the glue to dry.

Finally, two coats of Woodoc 5 Clear Matt sealer to bring out the beautiful grain of the American Walnut and the meditation bench was ready for use.

I would love to hear your comments on this article and the meditation bench so please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.


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