A prayer bench is similar in design to this altar, but smaller.

The "prie-dieu" or prayer bench has been around for centuries. Today’s prie-dieu has become a standard in chancel or “sanctuary,” furniture as a small oak frame with a sloping top and an 8-inch kneeler. The single prie-dieu measures approximately 32 inches in height, 24 inches wide and 24 inches in width. Building a prie-dieu isn’t difficult with a few skills. Stop by a cabinet shop for some oak planed and sanded to 1 1/4 inch and if you have a few tools at home, you can build a prayer bench.

Lay both legs out flat and make a mark 1 inch down from the top on one side. Placing a straight edge from the other top corner, draw a line across the 8-inch span to make a 1-inch slope. Cut the 1-inch slope on both pieces with a table saw or miter saw.

Clamp and glue the 4-inch feet to the legs, flushing the front of the foot to the front of the leg forming a large “L” shape, with the slope on the top of the leg angling to the back of the feet. Drill four pilot holes each in the feet and screw them on.

Stand up the “L” with the feet on the inside and center a stretcher between the legs at the top with one edge barely flush with the top angle. Put a bar clamp across the top and tighten slightly. Center another stretcher between the legs resting on top of the feet and place a bar clamp on the back and front of the legs, tightening slightly.

Drill two holes in each leg 3/4 inch deep with the Forstner bit, corresponding with the stretchers' locations. Then finish pre-drilling with the 5/32 bit. Screw all the stretchers on and plug with the buttons.

Lay the 8-inch kneeler on the feet at the back of the “L," overhanging the back of the feet by 1/2 inch with equal overhang on both sides. Pre-drill, screw it down, and plug with buttons.

Center the top on the angle with equal overhangs on the front, back and sides of the legs, then pre-drill, screw down the top and glue in buttons. After the glue dries, chisel off the top of the buttons and sand smooth.

Things Needed

  • ['2 pieces of oak for the legs, 8 by 30 3/4 inches', '2 pieces of oak for the feet, 4 by 21 inches', '3 pieces of oak for stretchers, 3 by 21 inches', '1 piece of oak for the top, 10 by 24 inches', '1 piece oak for the kneller, 8 by 24 inches', 'Table saw or miter saw', 'Drill', 'Screw gun', '1 drill bit, 5/32', '1 Forstner drill bit, 1/2 inch', '12 oak buttons or plugs, 1/2 inch diameter', '25 No. 10 wood screws, 1 3/4 inches', 'Glue', '2 hand clamps', '2 bar clamps']


  • Take a 1/4- by 24- by 8- inch piece of plywood to a local upholsterer's shop. Have it foamed with 1/12 foam and stretch fabric over it for a padded kneeler. Attach it with hook and loop material. This model can also have a shelf and a decorative front or can be doubled in length to make a wedding prie-dieu. If you can obtain 1/2-inch plugs instead of buttons, use them and make sure to align the grain pattern of the plugs or buttons with the grain of the wood.