Please feel free to download and build along!
A Design Exercise
A seemingly simple outdoor sitting bench can serve as an excellent learning tool for design. To do it’s job, a bench really only needs to have legs and a top. But there are so many things we can do within those initial functional design requirements to make the piece beautiful, elegant, and worthy of your time and effort. In this project video, I’ll show you how I start with a basic design and then kick it up a notch with some simple modifications.
As designed, the bench incorporates 46 mortise and tenon joints! All you need to make them is a router and a table saw, plus a few hand tools for finessing. While there are certainly other tools and methods we could have used for these joints, my goal was to show you that it’s possible to get the job done using the fundamentals and a Hybrid Woodworking approach. Since the project will live outside, I used an outdoor-friendly glue for the entire assembly: Titebond III.
I’ve used a lot of different outdoor finishes over the years with varying levels of success. There’s one particular finish method that I like to call “bulletproof” and it involves the use of an epoxy sealer followed by a marine varnish. The sealer is a 2-part epoxy known as CPES (Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer). This material is somewhat unique in its application nuances so follow the instructions carefully. I apply two coats. After the epoxy, I switch over to Epifanes Clear Varnish. The key is to apply the varnish while the epoxy is still curing and the varnish layer will adhere aggressively to the epoxy. CPES is designed to cure slowly so after an overnight drying period, you should still be within the curing window and can move onto the varnish. Two coats of Epifanes clear (diluted 50% with mineral spirits) should do the trick.
If you want a glossy finish, apply two additional coats (or more) to create a substantial varnish film that should provide a great deal of protection. If you’re like me and you don’t much like the super glossy look, you can follow up with a couple coats of Epifanes Woodfinish Matte. I dilute the stuff by about 10% with mineral spirits just to make it easier to brush on. By the way, I sand between every coat of this entire process with 320 grit paper just to remove any lumps and bumps.
The End Result
Personally, I think the fancier version of the bench has a lot going for it. What was square and blocky now has a touch of elegance and grace. The changes aren’t crazy obvious, but they give the bench that certain something that the first version lacked. I’m sure lots of folks will like the first version better and that’s perfectly fine. We all have different tastes and the most I can do is discuss my own opinions and the logic behind them. I encourage you to develop your own design opinion and exercise them as much as possible.