Driving home from work one day in April, I spied this bench sitting in front of a neighbor’s house. It had a sign on it that said, “Free. Just needs new boards.”
It certainly needed new boards. The metal also had some rust and I figured if I was going to the trouble of disassembling the thing to add new boards, I’d refinish the metal, too.
The next question was what wood to use for the boards. About a week after I acquired the bench, I was out at my friend Mike’s place. He had an old cedar post that he had no use for. Said he’d been saving it for me because he thought I might want it for carving wood.
So I took the post to TechShop and cut it into boards. Here it is on the bandsaw, shortly after I started cutting it up.
And here are the rough cut boards, all of which are between one and one and a half inches thick. They’re about five feet long and almost eight inches wide.I put the boards up in the garage rafters to dry for a while (about two months), and put the bench aside. I also took the TechShop class on sand blasting and powder coating so that I could use that equipment when it came time to finish the project.
I had some time on my hands last week because I found myself between jobs for a week. So one day I went to TechShop with the metal pieces and the boards, planning to finish the bench. It took almost four hours to sandblast the sides and back, and another three hours to powder coat them. A long time, but the results were worth it.
My next task was to dimension the lumber: plane it down to 3/4″ thickness and cut the slats to size (2″ wide by 48″ long). Planing went as planned and when I finished I went to check out the table saw key. But the saw was down due to a faulty safety switch.
Two days later the saw was up and I got the boards cut to size. Then I set up a jig on the drill press and put the screw holes in the end. At about 6:00 that evening I put the bench together for a test fit.
I was so happy the way it turned out. I knew I’d have to take it apart, of course, to put a finish on the wood, but it looked so nice! Until I sat on it and sagged. Turns out that, although beautiful, that red cedar isn’t nearly as strong as whatever wood was originally on the bench. I’d have to strengthen the boards or the bench would be just for show.
So the next day I went back to TechShop and spent some time adding a spine to the bottom of each seat slat:
The spine is simply a piece of wood that’s 1″ wide by 3/4″ thick, and about three inches shorter than the slat. The spline is attached with screws and wood glue (and on this one, a couple of dowels). The spline is attached vertically (i.e. it’s one inch tall in this picture), and more than doubles the strength of the slat. By now it was Friday night and I had to let the glue dry for at least 24 hours before applying a finish.
I applied the finish on Sunday morning: two coats of Teak Oil. I let that cure for about 10 hours, and Debra helped me put everything together.
More than anything, this project was a learning experience for me. I had to learn how to use the sandblasting cabinet (no trouble, really), and how to powder coat something. Although the powder coating turned out okay, there are some things I could have done better. I also learned how to dimension the lumber and make sure that all of the boards were exactly the same size. Even setting up the drill press and making sure the holes were all in their right places took a few tries. I was smart enough to use some scrap wood for that because I had only enough wood for one mistake. And that ended up being used because one of the slats ended up with weak spot that would have broken the first time I sat on it.
And I certainly didn’t save any money on the thing. These benches are available band new for $70 or $80 online or in local stores. I spent nearly $50 on the brass screws! The powder for the powder coating was another $20, although I have about half of that left over. All told, the thing probably cost me $100 out of pocket for various hardware items and tools, not counting the cost of the class. Much of that, of course, can be amortized over many projects. It’s not like I’ll have to pay for another class when it comes time to powder coat the porch furniture that’s losing its paint.
It took a good four or five days of work between cutting up the lumber, stripping the paint prior to sandblasting, and then the sandblasting, powder coating, and extra wood work to add the spines. Learning new things takes time.
But it’s the best looking bench of its type!
Besides, I’ve said before that no self-respecting hobbyist would pay $20 for something he can build himself for $50.
It really was a good learning experience, and I could probably do it again for much less money and in a lot less time. If I run across another of these benches free for the taking, I’ll pick it up. I don’t have enough cedar to do another one, although I could likely get more if I wanted to. I do, however, have plenty of other types of wood that would look good on such a bench.