Building a garden bench

With the variety of garden furniture that you can buy ready made, why build a garden bench? The most obvious reason is to gain a piece of garden furniture that is tailor-made. Another good reason is adaptability. At times a garden bench may be-come a garden shelf for the display of plants in containers or a piece of driftwood. In certain locations, as at the end of a deck or beside a steep bank, a bench can function as a barrier. Put a back rest on the bench and it’s a fence as well.

DESIGN IS HIGHLY INDIVIDUAL

Since most people want to experiment, improvise, and modify the design of a garden bench until it suits their particular sur-roundings, there is no one basic form to keep in mind. There are, however, a few considerations for comfort and usability.

Height. For maximum comfort a bench should be between 15 and 18 inches high, the approximate height of most chairs. You can make it lower if you plan to use a thick mat or cushion. If you plan to use it primarily for sunbathing, then it can be as low as 6 to 8 inches.

Width. There is no set guide. The width will depend on how you plan to use the bench. However, a bench less than a foot wide isn’t very inviting and is apt to look more like a perch than a place to relax. Many gardeners make their benches large enough to accommodate a 24-inch lounge pad. For a combina-tion bench and table, build it 36 to 48 inches wide.

CHOOSING THE LUMBER

Redwood, pine, cedar, fir, and cypress are the woods most frequently used for outdoor benches. Builders and owners of benches stress the importance of using the best grade of lumber for the upper surface of the bench. Well seasoned lumber, without loose knots, will keep its shape and last much longer than that of poorer quality.

Use 2-inch-thick lumber on bench tops for strength. You can also use 1 by 2’s or 1 by 3’s if you set them on edge, as shown in the step-by-step series below. If you do use wide lumber, such as 2 by 8’s or 2 by 10’s, it’s important that it be well seasoned; otherwise, there’s a good chance the planks will warp and split. Be sure to leave about VA to ½-inch space between the boards making up the top of the bench to allow for expansion, and for rain water to drain through.

ANCHORING THE BENCH

Bench legs should be sturdy enough for solid support and still be in scale with the rest of the bench. A good idea is to plan the bench to be sturdy; then build it just a little stronger.

Space the legs about 3 to 5 feet apart, closer if you use light legs (such as 2 by 4’s) or if the lumber used for the top of the bench is narrow and needs more support to keep from sagging.

STEP-BY-STEP CONSTRUCTION OF A CURVED BENCH

Many amateur craftsmen have undoubtedly approached the task of building a garden bench with a certain amount of trepidation. However, once they got going, they found that the actual step-by-step construction presented few problems.

In the sketches here, you see how one homeowner went about it. He wanted a curved bench that would border a patio and also tie in with a straight walkway that led to the house. His project encompassed most of the complications possible in bench-building.

Wood is the most commonly used material for bench legs be-cause it is easy to work with and is less expensive than most other materials. However, you can use 11/4 or 1 1/2-inch pipe, angle iron, flat iron, channel iron, brick, concrete block, or flue tile. All of these materials are rot and termite proof, but they generally take more skill to install and are more expensive than wood.

USE GALVANIZED HARDWARE

To prevent staining of the wood, use only galvanized or non-rusting nails, screws, and bolts. Your hardware or lumber dealer will advise you on the kinds and sizes to buy. It’s a good idea to countersink nails and screws so they won’t catch on clothing. Pre-bore screw and bolt holes, making a wider seat for the screw or bolt head. Countersink nails with a nail set. Fill the holes, if desired, with a non-oily filler, unless you plan to paint the bench. Oily fillers tend to discolor the wood.

A FINISH IS OPTIONAL

Once your bench is completed, you may want to apply a finish. Some bench owners prefer to let the wood weather naturally while others prefer to finish with a sealer, stain, or paint.

Check with your local paint dealer for the various wood finishes available. Be sure you tell him what you want the finish for and emphasize that you want one that won’t get tacky in the sun or one that is slow drying.

First try some of the finish on a piece of wood left over from the bench top. Use a piece that’s large enough to give you a good idea of what the color and finish will be like.

WITH A GLASS WINDBREAK

The slanted back rest is detachable so the wall can be painted. Glass sections stop the wind, but don’t obstruct view. Design: Warren Lauesen.

WITH WEATHERPROOF MATS

Cedar benches 14 inches high, covered with 2-inch-thick, weatherproof mats. Metal legs painted black; ends bolted to concrete. Design: Allen Vance Salsbury.

TIED IN WITH OVERHEAD

Post supporting the patio overhead is also part of 15-foot-long bench. Brac-ing is hidden from view by 1 x 4 fascia. Top is 2 x 6’s. Design: Gil Rovianek.

LOW BENCH RESTS ON CONCRETE

Legs for bench are 4 x 8 x 16-inch concrete blocks. End metal U straps sunk in hollow core of blocks. Top is bolted to straps. Design: Frederick E. Emmons.

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