Ronn’s Garden Bench

Ronn WinklerEden Prairie, MNAdded on June 26, 2014

This is one of my favorite projects to date. Last year my wife asked me to build a bench for her garden so she could sit and watch the tomatoes grow. She found a plan online that looked to be a real challenge. Not a simple bench but a very nice looking solid design.

I like each project to have a new element or challenge that I have not done before. This one was all mortise and joints and all of the main pieces were at least a full 1” thick. The legs gave me my first band saw experience and I got to work with Redwood.

Since it would live outside most of the year, cedar seemed to be a good choice but finding good quality western cedar in Minnesota is not easy and what I did find had so many knots that I just dreaded the prospect of routing mortises. Then the woodworking gods smiled on me when a friend said that he had over a dozen 16 foot long pieces of 2×4 Redwood that he had rescued from a deck demolition. The wood was obviously very old and was covered with a reddish brown deck stain. But each 2×4 was, to the eye at least, perfectly straight. It turns out that the grain was nearly dead straight with no pith or even curves of the grain visible on the ends of the 2×4’s. This wood must have come from a very large tree.

The wood that was exposed when I trimmed the stain off the pieces was beautiful with quite a variety of colors. The old nail holes just added to the character of the piece. I learned that old dirty wood will ding up your jointer and planar blades in a hurry, but it did not seem to bother my carbide tipped saw blades.

I decided to make my mortise and tenon joints square rather than rounding off the tenons. It was a lot of chisel work but, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed every minute of it.

The slats are planed to 3/8” thick and are mortised into the rails without cutting a tenon. Everything else is a full 1” thick with 1” deep mortises into the legs. The legs are 2¾” square. I had to square up and glue four 2×4’s together and then re-cut them to make the legs. The only fasteners used are the #8 screws that hold the seat slats in place. Those are countersunk and plugged.

Since the bench is meant for exterior use, I decided to try epoxy glue for the first time. I am very happy with the results and the fact that I had a good 20 minutes or more to make adjustments and get my clamps in place.

Even though the Redwood itself can take the weather, I wanted to try to preserve the beautiful color of the wood. So I chose high gloss marine spar varnish for the finish. Three coats with the first thinned 50%, the second 75% and the third 15%. It is my hope that the varnish will block enough sunlight to keep the wood from turning gray for several years.

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