25 Nov , 2015 Video
A friend of mine is a professional photographer and wanted a small bench for a toddler. It was for a series of family Christmas photographs for a Christmas card. I was provided a picture off the internet for reference and set to work finding the idea piece. The plan was to obtain a piece of wood from the cabin and combine it with a thick wide board from the lumber store. After numerous trips to the lumber store, I couldn’t find the right piece of wood. The boards were actually in too good of shape and would take a lot of work to distress to a more rustic look. Then I went home and looked around the workshop for a suitable piece of lumber, but just couldn’t find it. So, I grabbed a coffee and sat on my deck staring at the pile of wood drying in a neat row. My eyes picked out a piece that was sticking out from the pile and realized it was a little bit longer (19″) and wider (8″) than the rest of the logs. If it was cut lengthwise, it would make a fantastic bench. Note: The first bench (pictured above) was made from Cedar. YouTube video was the second bench made from Douglas Fir.
First, the piece had to be split to form a crude seat. Since my axe head broke off, I took an old splitting maul and positioned it a few inches off the centre. All it took was one whack from a 6-pound sledge hammer and the wood split. Did the same on the other side. A quick go over with a hand brush and all the surfaces sawdust off. Next, the piece was secured in the vice and the large burs were removed with a 3/4″ wood chisel. Lucky for me, the wood had been drying for about 2 years and the chisel easy knock off the imperfections.
The next step was to sand the sitting part. The log was placed on top of a bench mate on a foam mat. (I don’t like to sand inside the shop, the sawdust settles everywhere and the mat keeps the surfaced from being damaged from the hand sander.) Started with a 60 grit sandpaper in the orbital sander and then a 100 grit. Try to get in all the nooks and crannies. One the surface is fairly smooth, use a fine grain of sander paper like at 200 or 400 grit. I use one of those soft sponge like holders for the sandpaper. Works better for inconstant surfaces.
Before I put a finish, I like to put on the bench legs. Find a thick branch about 2 inches in diameter. It should be more than enough strength to hold a small child and the occasional adult (it happens).
The legs will be connected to the bench by a thread system. The nut will be inside the bench and the bolt will be secured to the legs. Go to the hardware store and ask for (4) 5/16″ x 2″ Hanger Bolts. and (4) 5/16″ T-Nuts. A hanger bolt is a bolt with a fine, machine thread on one end and a course, lag style of thread on the other. The lag part will screw into the legs. The fine thread will be simply screwed into a T-Nut. A T-Nut looks like a nut with teeth. It’s pounded into a piece of wood and then a standard bolt can be secured in.
Drill a 5/16 inch hole, at the end and middle of each leg. (I use the rings to determine the middle) To make things easier, it’s best to pinch the fine threads of the hanger bolt between two pieces of scrap wood in your vice. Then just screw the lag part into the legs by hand. Ensure the fine thread is exposed.
The next step is to drill four 5/16 inch holes in the bench. Try to keep the drill bit as level as you can. It’s not the end of the world if the drill is on an angle, but you will run into problems screwing in the legs. Drill the holes about 1-1/2 inches id depth. The next step is to drill slightly bigger holes for the barrel (body part) of the T-Nut. Position the T-Nut over the hole and pound in with a hammer. Once the all the T-Nuts are in-place, try screwing in the legs for a test. Try not to tight the legs too much. It will grab the T-Nuts and shred the footings.
Paint, stain or varnish
The next step is to add a finish to the bench. A spar varnish is a good route. Adds a glossy look and it very comfortable to sit on. The only downside, very stinky, expensive and will take a while to dry. I had some Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane left over from the Giant Jenga project. Whatever you choose to use, apply thin coats and sand with 800 grit, in-between each coat. I was in a bit of rush and only had time for 3 coats. The clear coat really brought out grain in the wood and made it look fantastic.
Once finished, the bench will work fantastic for little people. Depending on the type of wood, the bench can be easily picked up and moved to different locations. It also makes a great foot stool for the tired legs.