How to make a Seiza
First, what is a seiza? It is a bench to sit on during kneeling meditation.
Do I need one? Nope.
WHAT YOU NEED
- A sheet of wood, ¾-inch (2 cm) thick, and about 20 by 20 inches (52 cm). Alternatively, you might use scraps of wood of various sizes, according to the actual sections required.
- At least ten 1¼-inch (3 cm) countersink woodscrews
- A hand saw for wood (a cross-cut hand saw, if available, or possibly an electric table saw/rip saw)
- A drill (or power drill), a small drill bit for wood, and a countersink bit or a countersink tool
- Wood glue
- Two or more C-clamps
- Sandpaper (and perhaps a disc sander)
CHOOSING THE WOOD
Any strong, solid wood used for furniture will work. Be sure the wood doesn’t bend easily (you’ll be sitting on this), and that it wont split when screws are put into the narrow sides.
A solid, single piece of wood like pine or cedar will probably look better and be easier to work with — especially if you plan to varnish or stain the wood later. Avoid standard plywood and chipboard, which will probably bend, flake or disintegrate. Make sure your wood is flat and not warped. Solid scraps of wood that match the sizes needed could work fine as well; your seiza doesn’t need to be fancy, just functional.
CUTTING THE LENGTHS
You need to cut five pieces of wood, like this:
MAKING THE LEGS
After cutting, the parts may be a little rough — one leg may not exactly match the other. Even wood bought from a shop may not have edges that are exactly straight.
To fix this, simply clamp the legs together and sand the edges until they all match. If you can, get a few of the sides to line up before starting; it will provide a good reference point. Try to clamp the sides together in an ‘average’ position, to minimize how much sanding is needed. Don’t worry about detail sanding right now, such as rounding corners for aesthetic purposes. Right now you just want things to line up.
Before long, you should have two identical legs.
THE FIRST LEG
Attach the reinforcement to the inside edge of the leg, in the center of the slanted edge. Like this:
Line up the edges of the two pieces as best you can. Measure the distance to both edges, so that the little piece is in the middle of the leg’s edge. Clamp the two pieces together using C-clamps. Place one at each side, along the flat edges (not the slanted edge) of the leg, so that they’re not in the way of your work. You need to small drill holes in the pieces. The holes shown here are bigger, for clarity.
Using a drill, bore two pilot holes for screws into both pieces of wood. Pilot holes guide the screws and prevent the wood from splitting. Use a drill bit around half the diameter of the wood screws, or a little smaller. If the diameter is too large, the wood screws won’t get a strong grip and the seiza could break easily.
After drilling the pilot holes, you to countersink them. Countersink screws have a triangular head with a flat top, designed to sit flush with the surface of the wood. Countersinking makes a similar triangular shape into the top of the pilot hole, to allow the wood screw to be flush to the surface:
Once the pilot holes are drilled and countersinking is done, join the pieces together. Release the C-clamps, add a little glue between the pieces, re-clamp, and screw the pieces together. Be careful to put the screws in from the outside — from the larger leg, into the smaller reinforcement:
Make sure the screws are tight, wipe off any excess glue, and leave it to dry for a few minutes.
THE SECOND LEG
Be careful which side you attach the reinforcement to on the second leg. It needs to be the opposite of the first. Take the first piece, and place it with the slant coming down from the back to the front. Whichever side the reinforcement is on will be the inside. Take the other leg, and place it further over, across the inside edge, and then place the second reinforcement on the new leg’s inside edge:
Line up the pieces, clamp them together, drill and countersink the pilot holes, un-clamp, glue, clamp again, and finally screw the pieces together. Remember to drill the holes and put the screws in from the outside edge, opposite the reinforcement, and when finished, allow some time for the glue to set before removing the clamps.
COMPLETING THE LEGS
When the legs are assembled, sand off the top slanted edge to make sure that the reinforcement and the leg edge are even. The seat should be flat against the legs to best distribute your weight evenly.
Place the seat on top of the two legs, making sure the reinforcements are on the inside edge. Line everything up, so that the edges of the seat are tight against the edges of the legs.
You could move the legs in slightly to allow the seat to overhang the legs, creating a more interesting shape. This could make it more difficult to line up the seat screws, and you need to have enough space for your legs underneath the bench.
Clamp your seat down by placing the C-clamps around the seat and the reinforcement bars. If you have a limited number of clamps, place them diagonally opposite around the seat. Even two clamps will do, but four would be ideal.
Drill and countersink three pilot holes in each side of the seat. Two should go through the seat into each leg, and the other should be further in, so that it goes into the reinforcement. Measure all the distances carefully, so that the screws are centered and symmetrical on each side. Something like this:
It’s particularly important to countersink the holes properly, since they’re on the seat that you’re going to sit on. If they’re not deep enough, the screws will sit up and be rough. Once the holes are drilled, release the clamps and apply glue to the top of the legs. Re-clamp, and screw down. Leave the clamps for a while so the glue can dry.
Once the glue dries, you’re done!
Finally, check once more that it sits well. Hopefully, you won’t have any major problems with one leg an inch lower than the other. If you notice a little rocking, it should be easy to fix by sanding the bottom surfaces to be even.
You can cover the screw holes completely with a product called ‘plastic wood.’ Or try just mixing some wood glue with sawdust you made earlier, place it into the recessed screw hole, and sanding it down when dry.
You have a few finishing options. You can stain it to match your other furniture, or make it look like a more interesting kind of wood perhaps — or you can varnish it to give it a professional, glossy finish that’s easy to clean.
A smooth well sanded surface is important. You don’t want to sit on, or even carry a seat that’s rough. Splinters aren’t much fun! If you are planning to use a varnish, sanding will be an important first step. Sanding by hand is pretty simple — just keep going in a circular pattern, with very light pressure, until things feel smooth. Pay particular attention to corners and edges. It’s nice to get those smoothly curved — especially at the front where you legs will leave the seat.
The folks at the WildMind website suggest that seiza benches need more hand support than other meditation methods. You may want to use an extra pillow to support your hands more fully above your waist as you kneel. WildMind has lots of great guidance on posture, though — I’d suggest referring to that site, if you’re having difficulties.
About this guide
I’m deeply indebted to Matthew Braden, for the original seiza instructions on Michigan Buddhist, and to Lee Braiden for refining them and adding visual aids and woodworking advice.
Lee would like to hear your comments, criticisms, or suggestions for improvements: Lee Braiden firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy your seiza bench!