A Perfect go-anywhere Garden BenchA Perfect go-anywhere Bench
Build this versatile pine bench that will do double-duty in the garden and indoors
There’s nothing like an old-fashioned wooden Garden Bench to bring back memories. While traveling around your area, I see them everywhere, proving that they fill all sorts of needs and they last almost forever. I’ve even seen reproduction benches tagged at $150 and up, though you’ve got to wonder who buys them, considering how easy they are to build. My version of this old classic keeps to the original virtues of simplicity and strength; the qualities that make this pine bench so popular.
• Forstner drill bit
• band saw, jigsaw or handsaw
• palm sander
• 1 pine seat: ¾” x 12″ x 48″
• 2 pine aprons: ¾” x 3½” x 44″
• 2 pine legs: 1½” x 9½” x 17½”
• 18 plated wood screws: #10 x 1½”
• 4 plated L-brackets: 1½” x 1½”
• 220-grit sandpaper
• exterior latex paint: matte black and dark green
• oil-based wood stain
• spar varnish
Construction of Garden Bench
Since chair height is typically 18″, I made my garden bench the same height. Start by cutting two legs to length, then, in the center of each one, mark a point 5″ up from the bottom. This is where you’ll be drilling a 1¼”-diameter hole that accents the top of each leg cutout. Before you drill, draw two lines beginning from the point you just marked down to the bottom of each leg, 2¼” from each side. This outlines the all-important V-shaped leg cutouts.
I used a Forstner bit (which creates a flat-bottomed hole) to drill the hole at the top of each leg cutout. Put a piece of waste wood under the garden bench legs as you drill to prevent ugly fuzz from developing around the bottom edges of the holes.
You can use a band saw, jigsaw or handsaw to cut the angled sides of the leg cutouts. (If you opt for a jigsaw, apply only light pressure in order to keep the blade from wandering out of square. If your jigsaw features orbital blade action, turn it to full power, since the leg stock is thick.)
The tops of the legs need notches called shoulders. These make the bench more rigid by offering greater support to the aprons, which hold the entire bench together and give it stability. Two quick cuts take care of each one. The legs are now done, though you may opt to sand and round over the outer edges.
The seat on my garden bench is made of a 12″-wide piece of ¾”-thick pine. To create the handle cutouts on the bench seat, begin with two 1½”-diameter holes, removing the wood between them with a couple of jigsaw cuts. Rounding the edges of these holes makes them nicer to grab.
The aprons are next. Cut two aprons, nipping the bottoms of the corners off at a 45-degree angle for aesthetics.
Assembling the bench
The top of each leg is notched to provide extra support for the aprons. In turn, the aprons are secured to the seat with L-brackets. For added strength, four screws are then driven through the top of the seat into each leg and one screw into the center of each apron.
Lay the legs on their edges and nestle one of the aprons into the uppermost shoulder cutouts. Position the legs 4″ in from the ends of the aprons, square them up, then lock them in position with two #10 x 1½” plated screws per joint. (Driving the screws into pre-drilled countersunk holes in the aprons greatly reduces the chance of splitting, especially with wood that contains knots or wavy grain near the screw locations.)
Turn the seat upside down on your workbench, then center the leg frame on top. There should be 2″ of overhang on each end. I used pocket screws to secure the top to the aprons, though metal L-brackets work, too (as above). Flip the bench over and drive four 1½” screws down through the top into each of the legs, and one in the center of each apron for added strength.
To create a weathered finish, I began with a coat of exterior latex paint in matte black. Once dry, a second coat was added (this time in dark green). Distressing was done with a ring of keys banged against the bench to create dents and dings, with a palm sander providing the necessary wear in all the places you’d expect. The idea is to remove some of the outer coat of paint, as well as some of the first paint layer, down to the bare wood. To tone down the contrast between bare wood and paint, a coat of oil-based wood stain was added to create a rich burnished look before sealing everything under three coats of spar varnish (tough enough for outdoor use). Be sure to do a light 220-grit sanding between each layer.