Making Another Bench…

… A Garden Bench

I’m making a garden bench. So far it’s taken me a day to cut all the wood, plane it, cut the parts out, joint the 10 2″ deep mortise holes and cut and fit each of the tenons. I know! It’s pine, but making the joints should be easier in the oak I am planning to make the video series from when I get to the version you’ll make. It looks totally chunky and clunky as is the trend of the day right now but shaping will change some of that. You know, heavy mass, the appearance of mass-impressive alluding to longevity at least, but there are things to do to it yet and I start to finalise the looks according to what’s in my head now that the joinery is almost completed. The arms I have yet to add. With Spring nearing (just 2 months away) I wanted to be ahead of the game for everyone a little. Start now and you will be just in time for outdoor seating through spring and summer. Shortened versions will make single seat chairs with or without arms and, longer, a three seater. Remember too, all designs are adaptable. Leave of the end arms and build a table to match and you have a corner unit. Extend the side rails by six feet and you have a bed frame??!!!

The joinery is always enlivening for me, especially with hand tools and all the more so when they are larger and wider where they go together so quickly. In the oak you can split cut more readily than any other wood and more quickly than sawing. You might want to watch for this technique in the upcoming videos. My joints, each one of them, surprisingly, slipped in perfectly with no slackness for air and no undue tightness. We’ll see how we do in the oak in front of the cameras next week when what we see is what you get. Actually, we should have filmed this one!!! But oak is always a joy to work, especially straight grained oak. I am also planning on using draw-bore pins for pulling up the joints and there is still something so unifying that makes the integrity of the method seem so, well, final.

The thing about garden benches is the exposure they get to the elements, one minute rain-soaked joints and then sunshine drying out the whole. To glue or not to glue becomes one key issue. Then to paint or not paint, to varnish or not varnish, to oil or not. Hmmm??? No matter what you read or watch there is of course no finish that is life long and the main problem with almost all finishes is the reality that they actually need regular maintenance. Two thing affect outdoor woodwork of any kind, sun light and wetness, be that humidity, rain etc. The idea at first is to prevent the sun’s rays from turning the natural colour occurring in planed and sanded wood to dulled-out grey and also to prevent water from entering the wood resulting into subsequent rot. There is no one-time finish to last the lifetime of the wood beyond a few years so that means that the wood will only actually last for say 6-10 years or so. The reality is that applying a finish can and does most often result in moisture being trapped behind the finish and resulting in more rot than it ultimately prevents. As sunlight mostly only affects colour retention, ultra violet will eventually break down anyway so you will ultimately lose surface colouring unless you are diligent to recoat say every few years. Ultimately the sun light wins this one.

I will talk about finishes and finishing options in a blog very soon.

22 comments on “Making Another Bench…

  1. Paul, i have used a mix of Mineral Spirits and Polyurethane varnish. To waterproof plywood on Teardrop campers, I don’t know if it will work on soild wood but it mite be worth a try.
    The first coat is 75% Mineral Spirits – 25% Polyurethane varnish, Second coat is 50% Mineral Spirits – 50% Polyurethane varnish third coat is 25% Mineral Spirits – 75% Polyurethane varnish and finish coat is 100% Polyurethane varnish.
    You would change the mix from Polyurethane varnish to a Spar varnish for UV protection.

    • Sorry Robert, most of these outdoor finishes and the diverse range of mixes are something of a dark art. Most of them don’t work beyond a few years and many gurus out there getting the backhanders promote as though they really know. Watching a 23 year old say a finish lasts this or that length of time yet when they are talking about they were more likely still in school if not diapers. Even the older ones spend to much time turning cans replete with clear labels to the camera and name dropping to be completely unbiased. The reality is it must be tried and tested with all of the diverse elements affecting finish not the least of which is the million different eco climates that people live in or are exposed to. Success for one person is a disaster for another and I personally think we must approach this quite differently.

      • P aul the mix was developed back in the 1930’s by a company to water proof model paper airplanes.
        I hav a piece of plywood that has been outside for over a year as a experiment so far it has not delaminated or rotted.

      • This reminds me the time when I looked into the type of varnish I should apply to a canoe. The advice given by experienced people is that even with the best quality marine varnish (which is obviously recommended), one should re-coat the canoe every 3-4 years max, and that’s considering you store your boat away from sunlight and outdoor moisture most of the time which is not the case of an garden bench

        • A few years ago I made a wooden bannister for the stairs in the front yard. I wanted it to look perfect for the next ten years so spared little effort and costs. I coated it in 4 layers of clear, UV-resistant 2-component polyurethane lacquer. Before I applied the polyurethane, the wood was treated with 3 coats of epoxy, as advised for best results by the manufacturer of the PU (‘DD-lak’ from Ijssel lakken; used a lot for boats and the steel frame of aircraft). The polyurethane is supposed to protect the epoxy base from UV, whereas the epoxy is supposed to stabilise the wood so it doesn’t expand/shrink and causes cracks in the PU coating. Synergy between the two coatings. At least, that’s the theory.

          Two years on now and I can see water-damage (milky-white spots) in places. Apparently, not even 3 coats of epoxy and 4 coats of PU were sufficient protection. It’ll be acceptable for another 2 years, I expect, but far less than I was hoping for (10+ years without maintenance). A lot of time and effort went into applying those coatings, not to mention expense. But sun and rain are relentless.

          At the same time the bannister was made I built a garden fence. That one I treated with boiled linseed oil. Every year I splash some new on and it looks good again for another year. Easy, quick and cheap. I dislike the weathered (neglected) look so I will have to maintain. Should’ve used BLO for the bannister too, in hindsight. No UV protection in boiled linseed oil, but a yearly re-application is an hour work, at most, and cheap too. I use boiled linseed oil for the garden furniture as well.

  2. Does all wood eventually turn grey when it is an outdoor piece that is exposed to the sun? Or is there a wood that does well outside and also retains its colour to some extent?

      • Cypress is a rare commodity with the levels of cypressine necessary to be a preserving factor. Only old growth and old wood is likely to have the quality levels needed I believe.

        • My father built a cypress fence in 1970. Twenty five years later he pulled it down and stacked the boards under the eaves of his barn. A few years later he traded some of the boards to a man that wanted them for bluebird houses. The price was some bird houses in return. I have had a couple of these bird houses hanging in my yard for 20 years. They are still sound after spending at least 45 years outside in the humid SE USA.

          Believe it or not as they say.

    • All woods ultimately lose their colour to sunlight without both coating and maintaining coats year on year. Most people ultimately give in and say things like, “I preferred the weathered look anyway.”

      • I have to agree with this comment.

        I had half of a fence redone about 4 years ago. I decided to let it go grey rather than trying to preseve the color. It’s not that I couldn’t it. It’s just that time is limited (for all of us) and I need to pick and choose which battles are worth fighting.

        I have friends who have boats. The wood maintenace on them is very time consuming and makes me glad to not own a boat.

  3. I would recommend
    – placing a tile under each feet to delay rotting by the feet;
    – having the top of the front leg in a recess in the arm in addition to the blind mortise to avoid water coming from the arm percolating in the end grain of the top of the leg.

    Sylvain

  4. “Extend the side rails by six feet and you have a bed frame??!!!”

    Bingo!!! Paul. I am going to build this as a ‘day Bed’ for afternoon naps in the shade of my leanto or a big maple tree where I do most of my warm weather woodworking. Almost ten years senior to you, naps are an enjoyable part of my day! I will be closely following this build. Thank you for the inspiration.

  5. My bench is similar design as your Pendrum Castle bench but 5 feet long and made of Black Locust, mortise and tenon joints in all joints. Bench is 20 plus years old and structurally sound with no rot but has stood on concrete deck outside year round. Has turned gray and not uncomfortably rough. Never finished with anything. Have made several porch swings with ash and nothing artificial works as a finish. Boiled linseed oil works for preserving but needs recoating occasionally.

  6. Last week I told my wife I was going to make a garden bench. Lo and behold, two days later you made this announcement. Perfect timing. Thanks Paul.

  7. Hi Paul,
    why don’t you make videos of this great work?
    We’re all waiting for videos from your great new shop.

  8. I am in agreement with Paul, my current benches are cedar, 5+ yrs. old, unfinished, mortise and tenoned, with copper rivets, sitting on concrete porch, very grey and molded. When they give it up, I’ll go to Home Depot again for some more cedar and make another set.

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