Change of plans

Had to reboot the bench design from long, horizontal slats to short and vertical. This will allow for a tighter radius as well as less wood waste. It’s a simple and more complex change all at once. No matter; it’s a beautiful day to be working under the oak tree. 

This gives a sense of what the top of one of the four sections will look like. I still need to assemble the bases but I needed a change of pace to get the ball rolling on this project.


Tree Rings

Your Dendrochronology fix for the day. This is a cross-section from a 6×6 old growth reclaimed Douglas Fir beam. I count 126 rings and it came from a 100 year old warehouse so by my estimates this guy was a sapling sometime back in the 1700’s in Idaho. Pretty cool. Glad to be giving it a third life as part of the memorial bench I’m building.

Memorial Bench Prototype Part I

A few weeks ago I was asked to come up with a design for a Memorial Bench that will be placed outside at an elementary school near the playground. The bench will be somewhat sheltered by the overhanging eave of the building but will still be outdoors and exposed to the elements.

My experience with building outdoor projects up till now has consisted of a backyard fence and a pergola, made from Western Red Cedar and reclaimed Eastern White Pine, respectively. Both of these projects were then stained with a protective finish and have held up rather well over the last 5 years. None-the-less, my primary concerns with this project were outdoor exposure, durability (will be used by kids/families/etc), not too many sharp edges (safety), a back piece (to house a bronze plaque), and as much creativity as possible given the above requirements.

I settled on a fairly simple design, one that incorporates some curves and that also relies on durable, outdoor woods. In this case, African Mahogany and White Oak.

I had some old Douglas Fir beams on hand to use for the base components. It’s a nice wood to work with hand tools-and it’s fun to employ some timber framing strategies in the shop. Given the expense and challenge of finding usable white oak beams, I may end up using DF for the final bench.

A little glue up and clamping. I’m still debating as to whether I should through-peg the tenons for added support. I’m leaning towards yes, just to make things that much sturdier given the final use for the bench.

And just channeling my inner timber framer…

Creating the curved slats is challenging. The trick of course is to create a good template and go from there. I have a lot of white oak 1″ boards of random width given to me by a friend-I will keep the prototype and we’ll probably use it in our back yard, something to set under the big Pin Oak (and be sat upon).

The first inkling of the final set-up.

And getting a little closer…

The first look at the “final” piece (that being the prototype). This layout gives me the chance to really visualize the final piece and to make any adjustments to the overall design. I may make the back rest thicker to fit with the whole look of the piece and I am also considering adding a few more curves, especially to the stretchers on the base and also to the backrest itself.

I hope to have the prototype finished by the end of this week. I’m still working on sourcing the beams and stretchers for the base and in the meantime I’m working on the finish that will be used on the final piece. It’s pretty involved (like will take 8 days to apply kind of involved). I’m taking a page out of the wooden boat builders playbook and trying to create a finish that will stand up to the elements for several years before needing refinished. That will be a post all to itself.

Simple Pleasures

Late last summer I milled a decent sized walnut trunk into 2″ planks, plainsawn through and through on the LT15. The rest of the slabs are closer to 6′ long but a couple came out closer to 2′ for various reasons. The slabs were air drying for about 9 months which isn’t nearly long enough for 2″ thick walnut but since we don’t have the solar kiln set up yet I thought I’d try my luck at “kiln” drying in the attic.

I wasn’t properly prepared for this in that I don’t have a thermometer up there to measure temp/humidity but if I had to guess I’d say it’s around 110 up there during the day at least during the last few months that I’ve had the wood up there. MC was around 20% when the wood went in and today the reading was closer to 7-8%. Not too bad. It was definitely a lot easier hauling the pieces down.

I need 4 legs for a small hall bench I’m building out of an old walnut slab and thought this chunk would work nicely for that.

After crossing cutting the ends to get it to length (approx. 17″) I ripped one edge to get rid of the last gnarly bit. The off-cut was kind of cool, with the insect damage so I set that aside to use at some point down the road maybe as a decorative piece.


Once cut to size I brought out the trusty Jack Plane and started cross planing to flatten the first side. Always a treat to plane off the sawmill marks and see the grain and figure appear. Never gets old.


And after about 2 hours of handwork I had a lovely 2″ thick 14″x17″ chunk of walnut from a tree more or less in my own backyard. There’s some nice chatoyance when the light hits it right and I’m looking forward to ripping the 4 legs for the hall bench in the next couple days. For now, I’ll let the wood rest and see what kind of movement occurs before proceeding.



Sliding Dovetails By Hand

One of my favorite parts of building this particular bench is the sliding dovetail joinery that connects the legs to the bench top.

Here’s some photos from the tail part of the joint.















And up next are the knee braces.



Back To the Bench(es)

Part I of building the next Shaker Meetinghouse Bench, this time in Cherry. A good portion of the initial work went into planing/jointing/flattening the boards which had been sitting in a barn for several years.



Employing a butterfly joint to stem a crack in one of the legs.





All the pieces laid out prior to the joinery phase. This entire bench came from one plank.


Using the dovetail plane to prep the legs which will be joined using a 12″ sliding dovetail joint.


Almost identical.


Not a bad fit, but still room for improvement. Should finish up nicely.


Dawn in the workshop.