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Garden Woodworking

A Bench for the Den

Work on The Den continues.

As The Chap gets older, he becomes less likely to want to swing and slide, and more likely to want to sit and read, or to slope off and find a quiet place to do WhatsApp stuff on his phone. The Den could still play a part in this, though its now time that it offered somewhere to sit down.

This project came to life the very first time we visited the newly opened Oxford Wood Recycling. As I’ve said in a previous post, this is an Aladdin’s Cave of all things wooden. You can get pallets here, and huge cable wheels, old roof beams, skirting boards, hardwoods salvaged from fallen trees, everything. On this occasion I spotted an off-cut of Oak; essentially the edge of a live-sawn trunk, having a flat face on one side and a great sweep of bark on the other. It was priced as cheap as chips, so soon it was mine, and it was going to be perfect for the bench.

Now, how to turn this into a stable and level seat? I would need to make legs that could attach to or through the rough, curved underside of the wood and turn it into an even and steady platform. It’s a big chunk of wood, and should have big, chunky legs. Being designed for the rustic and weathered Den, it should itself look rustic and weathered.

I decided to make the bench sit on two legs made from wide and thick planks of rough timber. I sketched a quick design, and went looking for suitable material.

Scaffolding board immediately came to mind, and would probably look right for the piece. Usefully, OWR sell off-cuts of scaffold board for next to nothing. Two short sections would be ideal.

Now to consider the assembly. I had two choices; either I could cut grooves into the wood and slot the legs into place, or I could cut the legs to the shape of the wood and attach to the wood surface. I opted for the latter, feeling that this would result in a stronger seat (and not really trusting my chiselling abilities). Though I did decide first to remove the bark where the legs would attach – bark is not that well connected to its underlying wood, and would’ve just introduced a weakness to the structure if I’d attached the legs to it.

So here I have two clean curves that I need to mirror in the tops of the scaffold boards. I thought the best approach would be to make some templates out of scraps of easy-to-cut hardboard. I could shape these to fit the wood and then cut the scaffold to match them. I began by cutting my templates to be the same widths as the scaffold boards. I could then easily line up the templates with both the Oak wood and the boards to transfer the shapes across.

At this stage I decided the best way to work would be to think of the Bench upside down. I first used a spirit level to make sure my worktable was flat and level, then put the Oak trunk face down on this with the curves on the top. I then scraped away at my template pieces until they fitted snug to their curves and had vertical sides when held at the centres of the wood. I could then copy the curve shapes onto the scaffold boards and have a go with the jigsaw.

The jigsaw gave me the correct basic shapes, but I needed to allow for the curve in the Oak down its length as well as across its width. So, I worked away at the boards with a file and sandpaper until the legs could stand vertically in place by themselves.

Next step was to work on the bottoms of the legs so that the bench would be level and could stand in the Den without wobbling. I first cut the two legs so that they were level with each other when in place on the upside-down wood. This would mean the bench seat would be horizontal when turned the right way up. I then marked a small curve in each leg and cut this out to form two feet. I thought this would look nicer, and would make it easier to get rid of any wobble, as I could just sand down whichever foot was too long.

At this stage I made a cross brace to go between the legs to give them some lateral strength. The four pieces could then be screwed together.

And so, I had a Bench.

It still required some fettling to fit nicely into the Den. I wanted it to fit into the corner against both walls. To get that fit I would need to cut out bits of the back edge to accommodate the Den’s main leg and other structural parts. I think I got a good fit for the seat in the end.

One of the things I like about this bench is how the natural shape and texture of the Oak could be preserved while still making up a flat, level and stable surface. As this next picture shows, I’ve ended up with two legs of very different lengths, but the effect is just right to accommodate and show off the piece of wood.

But in the end, it’s meant to be a functional piece. Does the bench get used? Yes… sort of… by one member of the family at least…

By nickcnickcnickc

I spend my working life staring at computer screens, so in my spare time I look for things to do with my hands, preferably involving wood. It's a little ironic then that I've now starting writing a blog about my woodworking, and thus introducing computer screens to my main hobby..!

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