By David Square
Homeowners are increasing the curb appeal of their houses by landscaping with flower beds, ornamental trees, boulders, fountains and more. Curb appeal draws buyers back for a second and third look, which means sellers can expect their beautifully maintained homes to sell faster and for more money than those with an unkempt appearance. In other words, first impressions are important in love and real estate.
DIYers not enamoured of heavy lifting (myself included) can leave the earth and boulder moving to professional landscapers. Instead, DIYers can add their own special detail by creating a cedar garden bench on which to sit and contemplate the wonder of their homes’ curb appeal and increased monetary value.
Materials required for outdoor cedar bench:
• 4 pcs. 4”x4”x8’ red cedar (if you paint your bench, treated lumber is acceptable)
• 1 pc. 2”x6”x8’ red cedar
• 12 pcs. 2”x4”x8’ red cedar
• 1 pc. ¾”x4’ hardwood dowel (birch or maple)
• 20 pcs. 5/16”x5” lag bolts and washers, 2 lbs. #8 x 3” brown coated or stainless deck screws
Chop saw capable of cutting 5-degree mitre in 4”x4” cedar, cordless drill, band saw or sharp hand saw, planer, orbital or palm sander, ¾” drill bit, glue (outdoor LePage weatherproof or similar product).
Look for the straightest pieces of cedar possible at the wood lot. Then start by planing your 4”x4” material to 3¼”x3¼” and your 2”x4” to 3¼”x1¼” to remove blemishes and reveal the lovely colour and figure of the cedar. (As a matter of interest, likely only to me, Western red cedar is not a member of the cedar family: it is a true member of the cypress family.) Do not plane the 2”x6”x8’ cedar plank until the bench is nearly completed.
Now cut the following lengths of 3¼” x3¼” lumber to the following lengths: two x 36”; two x 18”; two x 10”; two x 17 1/2”; and two x 23 ½”.
These pieces can now be assembled to create the two end supports of your bench. If you use mortise and tenon joinery, add the length of your tenons to your initial cuts. Though this type of joinery was traditionally used by chair and bench makers, it has a habit of loosening in dry weather and swelling in wet weather to a point where the tenon may crack the mortise.
As an old woodworker, I have concluded that the strongest and longest lasting joint for outdoor benches is a length of ¾” dowel inserted into a drilled OC hole. For example, to join a back leg to an arm rest, bore a ¾” hole through the leg. At the same time, drill a similar distance into the end grain of the arm rest. Your total dowel length is 3¼” + 3¼” or 6½”. Apply weatherproof glue to the dowel and a lesser amount to the inside of the ¾” hole during assembly. The dowel should not need to be hammered into the hole; a friction fit tapped into place is best. Allow the dowel to stand slightly proud of the leg so the protruding material can be sanded flush with the leg.
Next, bore four 3/8” holes 1¼” OC from the dowel hole in the back member to receive lag bolts. Countersink the holes about 1½” deep with a drill bit large enough for washers to fit inside them. Align the back leg and the arm rest joint; then tap the bolts into the hole until the lags’ points make a small mark in the end grain of the arm rest. Now, drill ½” holes about 3” deep into the end grain and glue 3” hardwood plugs (not dowels) into the holes. Holes with glued long grain plugs provide a base for the lags’ threads to get a powerful purchase in the wood. (Threads driven directly into the end grain of softwoods have no holding power.)
In my experience, this type of joint outperforms mortise and tenons as well as eliminates the onerous task of chopping mortises through 3¼” beams. However, as some diehard woodworkers enjoy hacking square holes through timber, the type of joinery used for your bench is up to you.
At this point, I will leave you to construct the arm rest and leg sections. In the next column, I will show you how to complete your eye-popping bench.